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Subject: Attika Attacktika rss

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Matt Thrower
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Attika dwells in a very special place in my heart because I don’t think I’ve ever persevered so long in playing a game at which I am so utterly rubbish. I’ve recorded seventeen plays of this so far, mainly on BSW, out of which I’ve won three – and one of those was against someone who plainly had absolutely no idea of what was going on. So, what is it about the game that makes me come back time and time again for another dose of punishment?

Rules

There are rules for Attika out on the web if you know where to go look for them – try googling for “Attika Rules” for starters. Read them – they will make a better job of explaining how the game works than I ever will. I’d rather focus on how the game feels to play, but here’s a summary of how it works for reference.

Attika is one of those games that isn’t difficult but is kind of hard to teach because it’s full of slightly unusual concepts. All the players represent Greek city-states from the ancient world, each of which has a set of identical buildings to build to complete their cities. The winner is usually the first person to finish building all the component building of their city, although a minority of games can be won by connecting two points (called shrines) on the map with an unbroken chain of your buildings. The board is modular and consists of same-sized pieces with hexagonal spaces, some of which have resources (wood, water etc) on them, which can be used in place of resource cards.

To start with you’ll have a few building tiles (drawn randomly) ready to build and a hand of resource cards. Each player has a sheet with a plan of all the possible buildings and your building tiles live there until they’re built and placed on the map. Building tiles all have a cost in resources which varies from building to building but they’re also grouped into flowcharted sets and if you’ve already built a building lower down the flowchart then you can build the next building in sequence for free, although it has to go next to the qualifying building and there must be an empty space to put it. A ship, for example, normally costs two wood and a water, but if you’ve previously built a harbour, and there’s empty space next to it, you can build the ship for free. If you manage to build all the buildings in a group together you get an amphora, which you can exchange to take an extra action. A group of buildings of your colour together are called a settlement – you can connect new buildings to an existing settlement for free but it’ll cost you an extra resource to start a new one.

Play is sequential and during a turn a player can make one of two actions – draw or build. If you draw then you take two buildings from your stack and either build them right away – if you have the resources or qualifying buildings – or place them on your playsheet. If you build then you can take up to three buildings from your playsheet and build them on the board, providing you’ve got resources or qualifying buildings. You can substitute the chance to build or draw one building during your action to get more resource cards. As part of your draw actions you may end up emptying one of your stacks of buildings in which case you can randomly draw a new board module and connect it to the board as you choose, thus expanding the playing area.

Play

Attika is essentially a game of efficiency. Having to draw and place a building on your playsheet take up an action and you then have to use another action to build it. This wastes time in what is effectively a race game so it’s better to able to draw and build right away if you can. But you’re faced with the constant temptation of trying to draw more buildings in the hope of getting as many free builds as possible. Without some sort of random draw for the buildings this would become insanely tedious, but too much luck would render the game pointless. Thankfully the “starter” tiles for each set of buildings are separated into a stack on their own so you have some control over what you draw and when.

This would still be a rather tedious exercise in accounting were it not for the positional play of the game, and it’s this which keeps drawing me back to the game for more. You see it’s not just the random draw of buildings that stops this being a game of nothing but calculation – when and where you choose to play your buildings also adds a delightfully intangible value to the efficiency decisions you’re trying to make. There is, for example, the fact that you can win the game by connecting shrines. This might not happen very often but the rule can make all the difference in the way the game is played – if you choose to build aggressively then your opponent is forced into building defensively instead of to optimum efficiency. One can also play aggressively by occupying space next to opposing buildings and thereby prevent your opponent from using all the space available for free builds. Sometimes this is well worth paying the extra resource for a new settlement, sometimes not – the value is not always immediately clear and this helps add to the sense of interest in the game. The amphorae really add to this side of the game since a well-timed choice of extra move in terms of stealing space can massively increase the impact of your move.

The build-as-you-play board enhances the whole aspect of positional play, a design concept that is not new but generally underutilised and it works really well in this implementation. You can use your new board in a variety of different ways – you can use it to expand the space available for free builds around a key building your opponent thought he had blocked for example, or it can suddenly provide a new route round a block to a shrine for example, allowing you to burn a couple of amphorae for a quick win. Because you control when you get these extra board modules (you can choose how quickly you draw from each stack) there’s a further aspect of the strategy for you to consider.

The resources on the board further muddy the maximum-efficiency calculations and keep the game from accountancy hell. Sometimes, if you’re careful, you can use these resources to build for free without having a pre-requisite building. If you try this then where, exactly does your new building go? Are you going to try and isolate that resource from your opponent? Build on top if it for a quick boost to your own play and stop anyone else from using for the rest of the game?

The buildings in the game offer a nice selection of choices for the player. Building vary enormously in cost, both in terms of number of resources required and type – it’s easier to collect one wood, one water and one stone for example than it is to collect three water. They also vary in value by what they can offer in terms of free builds – the city core can expand into something like six free builds but these are all fairly cheap and your opponent will seek to surround the core at the earliest given opportunity. So do you risk slapping it down early for maximum free builds or just build the outliers anyway because of the cheap cost? The cheap builds also offer another aspect of choice since it’s sometimes worth it to collect a few of them just so you can slap them down to either make, or respond to, an aggressive play. Often these cheap buildings might be pre-requisites for something else though, so the best choice is not obvious.

Problems

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the positional play in the game because for me, that’s what makes it as a worthwhile game. There is no escaping however that card-management and calculated efficiency remain the most important skills in good play however much random draws and aggressive play mix things up. I’m less skilled at these sorts of accounting games and that, in a nutshell, is why I keep playing and keep loosing – this is a sort of game I’m bad at and generally dislike cunningly dressed up as a game type I’m better at and considerably more skilled in playing.

Attika lists itself as a game for 2-4 players but I won’t be the first person to mention that it works best as a two-player game. This again arises from its split personality nature as both an efficiency and positional game. The positional aspect means it’s possible for one player to make an aggressive play toward shrines and clearly be one or two moves away from a win – the onus is now on one of the other players to stop him. However, the player that takes on this task is likely to be taking on sub-optimal plays in terms of efficiency to do this, handing an advantage to the third (and possibly fourth) players. In a two-player game you can take the efficiency hit and then try and plan to counterattack to get back your lost moves but this isn’t possible with multiple players at the table. You see this a lot in positional multiplayer games but they usually have something – diplomacy, random combat, rewards for the looser etc, to combat its impact. Because Attika is at heart a game of efficiency it can’t pick up any of these mechanics and as a result suffers as a multiplayer exercise.

Conclusion

In my opinion all the best Euros have something to stop them becoming cleverly dressed up maths puzzles. That something is often an aspect of positional manoeuvre and in this respect Attika is one of the best examples out there.

I usually end my reviews with a rating. Attika gets seven out of ten from me – the disappointing multiplayer aspect and the fact that this is still basically an accounting game in a wargames’ clothes knock a couple of marks off. The third one gets lost partly because of too-quick burn out and partly out of frustration that I just can’t seem to learn to play the game properly. Unfair, probably, but then again so is drawing a handful of wood cards when all you need is stone. Settlers, anyone?
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Nomadic Gamer
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It's great with 3 or 4 players with the '3 amphora reward" for a shrine connection variant here on geek. meeple
 
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Shellie Rose
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This is a game where you play against the other players, not against the game. I play regular 2 and 3 player games with two people who aggressively go for the temple connection. When you play this way there is the element of bluff, gamble and BS. We usually get to the point where everyone is within a few spaces of completing their path. You then have to decide if you think your opponents have the cards to play off their mat and finish their path. Should you blow your cards to block them? Should you gamble and pull buildings from your stack in hopes that you will get the two buildings that you have the resources to build and finish your path for the win? Can you BS the second player into blocking the third player so you can pick more resource cards and set yourself you for the win next turn? We swear, lie and threaten through the whole game.
 
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Un Streetfighter avec un doctorat
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While it's quite good with two players, I have a lot of fun playing with 3-4. When someone is close to connecting temples, you have to evaluate whether the player on your left is able to block; if so you dump the problem on him, if not you might have to do it yourself. At that level the game shifts to a power struggle: you want to credibly show that you can't block an aggressive player so as to force others to sacrifice themselves. It affects the way you play your buildings and the hand size you maintain.

I haven't played a lot of games with 3-4 players, so I might be wrong, but every time I saw a player connect easily, it was because someone else didn't read the situation correctly, not because it was inevitable.
 
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Matt Thrower
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ubarose wrote:
We swear, lie and threaten through the whole game.

You can play Attika like this, and I've no doubt it adds to the fun immensely. The problem I have with it as a sort of proxy-negotiation game is that the underlying mechanics are too analytical for this to work properly. It's blatantly obvious that player X will win next turn if Y and Z don't do something so any threatening that goes on between Y and Z to get one of them to shoulder the burden is on the premise of cutting off your nose to spite your face. To get the most out of this scenario you need hidden information and there are many (much better, IMO) games other than Attika that provide this.
 
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Shellie Rose
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Quote:
To get the most out of this scenario you need hidden information and there are many (much better, IMO) games other than Attika that provide this.

The hidden information is the resource cards. Player X can only win next turn if he actually has the correct resource cards to build. It is rare that we get to this point of the game and someone can build off something that requires no resources. Also, I'm the loose canon in the game, because I don't play analytically. I'm the gambler that goes for the 50% chance that I will blindly pull the three buildings that I can build for the win, rather than build the one that will block.

Additionally, when you play against people who see this only as an efficiency game, they expect you are doing the same. They get caught off guard when you do something inefficient, like feint in one direction, and then go around the other way.

I should add that I play this with a "mixed" group. One of the players really likes abstracts, one only plays Euros. This game is a good middle ground for us, and it usually plays in less than half an hour. It fills that, "We have half an hour to kill before . . ." niche. Usually the games suggested for play in this situation are Attika, Ingenious or Blokus.

You mention that there are other games that you feel are much better. I'd love to hear your recommendations
 
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Matt Thrower
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ubarose wrote:
You mention that there are other games that you feel are much better. I'd love to hear your recommendations

I rate Attika a 7. The facetious answer would be "all the games I rate higher than 7".

However I presume that's not what you meant and that you're interested in games that fit into the same sort of time/weight category as Attika. In that regard you've got a point - there are few if any worthwhile confrontational/negotiation games that fit into a 30-35 minute time slot. The closest game I could think of was Citadels, but that's a bit of a left-field game which has no positional play, so it's not a direct replacement.

If you're willing to look at more complex and longer games then the obvious answer is Catan - no surprise to me it gets a lot of comparison to Attika because it does many of the things Attika does and does them better. You could also try Nexus Ops although that ups the confrontation levels and tones back on the negotiation.

That's probably it. Does that answer your question, or did I presume wrong?
 
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Shellie Rose
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Yes, Matt. You and I are on the same page. Settlers, Nexus Ops and, I would add, Mission: Red Planet are better richer games that scratch the same itch Attika scratches. However, they take more time to play.

Citadels is a good suggestion for when we have less time. I'll have to put it in a more visible location on the shelves so I don't overlook it next time. Thanks.

P.S. I rate Attika an 8. I think it gets that extra point from me because I rate relative to other gamers in the same time/weight class.
 
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generalpf wrote:
davedanger wrote:
It's great with 3 or 4 players with the '3 amphora reward" for a shrine connection variant here on geek. meeple
That doesn't quite fix it. It's still easier to connect with 3/4 players, and someone still has to go out of their way to prevent a player from getting such a great reward.
No - no one has to stop a player if they're behind. That's the point. Plus I don't see that many connection opportunities regardless of # of players & I've played many times.
Then again, I don't know how YOU play... laugh
 
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