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Subject: People still play this? Well, yes actually :) rss

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Ken Savage
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It's been a long time since anyone put a review of this game, but there are still a few copies of this out there. And every now and again, some of us get lucky and meet someone who's happy to pull out their copy. And when the stars align - you can get a table of 5 players who are ready to put the long hours in that are required to play - this is that story!

I've only gotten to play this once, but it was a long long game and I think I really got the full measure of this game. In playing it once, I have now spent more time on this one game than the majority of the games I own (10 hour game, we did get finished).

I think, for being such an older game, that the look of the game has aged quite well. Components are cardboard tokens, but are all fine. The board comes in a few pieces, and looks great. It has paper money for currency, not a favorite of mine in a hidden information game - as people store it in pockets leading to notes getting crumpled, but that's a small complaint.

I did try to read the rules. This is a major problem as they're not very clear at all. Luckily, we were being introduced to the game by Asperamanca from BGG. He has played the game multiple times and has actually written his own version of the rules (deservedly the top downloaded file for this game on bgg), so this was a huge plus for us going into the game. His friend Leo would also play, giving us 2 experienced players in the game which really helped the flow of the game.

The game is a civilization type game, with area control and learning of new "technologies". There is a bit of book keeping and mathematics involved, but I've no problem with a game being complex. Likewise, the playtime of the game is fine by me - I've no problem dedicating 8+ hours to a boardgame every now and again. The mechanics of the game are, suprisingly, simple. Turn order is very important, the first player gets a huge bonus to attacking - but will have a correspondingly low amount of tokens to use on attack! "Attacking" an opponent's territory mainly statistically favours the attacker, except later if someone wants to attack your "home" territory. We found that battles tended to avoid home areas, mainly being conducted in the neutral areas of the board around Africa and the East. Attacking is exciting, defending is nail biting. Playing later in the turn, you can always threaten someone who wants to attack you that you have a large amount of tokens and are "undecided" about who to attack..... The mind games and diplomacy can really be fun.

With all I've said so far, surely I should love the game?

Well, no actually. In between all of the great mechanics here is some very harsh mechanics. Events are randomly drawn, but planned play. Some cards are actually ridiculous. The biggest example is easily the "Black Death" card. This card can instantly make any player be completely out of the game. Seriously - it's that bad. It got played on myself and my girlfriend (shared territory, Genoa and Venice) in (what we knew would be) the last turn of the game. Our entire fully defended territory, fully built up and developed - every single territory reduced to a single population point of defense. My girlfriend got the same card earlier in the game, she had to play it (it costs currency to keep it in your hand indefinitely) so she played it in the East where it even hit her! She knew it was so harsh, that it was a horrible game ending card to play on anyone in their home area. If she had played it on someone properly early in the game - then that player would be so far behind that they would have zero chance to win. They'd have the pleasure of playing for another 6+ hours as nothing but a kingmaker.

Some other cards can be just as bad. One player played "War" first turn and randomly picked someone else to go against. One lucky roll later and that player lost their capital. FIRST TURN! While I didn't realise it then - this was a crazy huge swing. Like any civilization builder, it's a snowball game. This put that player turns behind everyone else. When he was preparing to take back his capital, I happened to play "Papal Decree" and forbade the very tech he had saved for turns to get to allow him to take his capital back. Nearly an hour into the game and he's reduced to being practically a "nothing" nation. Kudos for him for coming back so well (and also not leaving in disgust), but looking back - it really was an unwinnable position he got put into early.

Diplomacy is mainly about persuading others not to attack you and to focus on someone else. When you increase techs, you have the option to really attack anyone (as you can attack any coastal territory, most of the board). At least in most civ builder games, you're limited to expansion near to your borders. So each player will not be facing off against all other opponents, only the nearest ones. Being able to attack every one else anywhere just invites dogpiles on the leader. Yes, this curtails the power of a runaway leader - but it also seems a bit arbitrary. I'm not sure if this is particularly good design or not, tbh.

The power of some of the cards is also an issue. Some cards are frighteningly powerful, as I have mentioned. The difference in drawing attack cards in the turns you want to attack is huge. You don't want to hold cards long (they cost a lot to hold, especially early turns), so you can often play them just to get rid of them. But when you go on the attack, the difference they make is so large. We house ruled the Crusade card, it could only be introduced after turn 2 as it was incredibly powerful too. For me, this card should be limited to the northern Europe nations - only going in on turn 3 or later. Venice/Genoa getting this would be very OP. As you can see - I think getting lucky with cards at the right time is a huge difference.

Likewise, getting lucky with "your" commodity card coming out during a turn where there is a shortage - it makes and breaks the game. To put it in perspective, the difference between a commodity (that you own 2 of) being in surplus/shortage can be the difference between receiving 6 money (enough to buy nothing) to receiving 60 (enough to buy a whole technology). The difference is just too huge to be left to random chance like this - and I think the surplus/shortage mechanic should not give the increase/decrease in money received. As the beneficiary more often than most others - it meant I had a laughable amount of money at times. As the game went on, nothing was ever too expensive for me.

Overall - I think this is a good game and I'm glad I got to play it, but it has a few things in the game which are way too harsh and would need to be house ruled before I'd consider playing again. Namely:

1. Black Death - just removed.
2. War - Not included until turn 2 at the very earliest (maybe even all the way to Epoch 2)
3. Surplus/Shortage only give card benefit/money penalty. Do not give/remove resource value for calculating income.


Following the BGG system, I'd give this a 6/10 (OK game, some fun or challenge at least. Will play sporadically if in the right mood). I could be talked into committing to setting aside the time to play again, but some kind of discussion would need to happen on my major highlighted issues.
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chuck dunn
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the funny thing with implementing these changes are who wants to playtest this or that subtle change in a 6 hour game... remove crusades and spice from the deck prior to the first card dealt to everyone is the only one that really needs to be implemented ... shortage\surplus is hellish when you've done all you can to corner the silk market then it tanks, but such a boon when it pays off that you could be right.. I'd play the game with you to test it for sure, sadly ...wrong country. though I will be in Vienna in April probably no chance for a 6 hour game and retaining the wife as a family member.
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The Seal of Approval
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Ken, you are absolutely right in everything you write. It is a tremendously unbalanced game at times. What I love about it is this epic feel, and the fact that it lasts 10 hours, but I hardly felt I could leave for the bathroom, because I would miss something important.

I agree that something could be done about war and black death. Maybe I can do some playtesting on that over the next decade or two.
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Daniel Takai
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There was a time in my life when this was the only game I owned - I must have played it at least twenty times, and enjoyed every minute. But that was a long time ago. As far as I remember, we did take out the Black Death card as well. Thanks for the review.
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Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
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Well, historically the black death was pretty nasty.
Our games take six hours pretty consistently.
Great game: I would not screw with it much myself.
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The Seal of Approval
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mi_de wrote:
Well, historically the black death was pretty nasty.
Our games take six hours pretty consistently.
Great game: I would not screw with it much myself.


However, historically, the black death affected all regions at one time or another. An no one had it in their hands to decide who wasn't affected.
Maybe change the card to "on the whole gameboard, every token..." That would screw some plans all right, but for everyone. The player playing the card would have the advantage of knowing when it hits.
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Ben Foy
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Genoa and Venice start closest to the good stuff. Black Death is their weakness. If you play Genoa or Venice, you should expect to get hit by Black Death at some point and plan accordingly. Black Death is not devastating if you plan for it.
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Ken Savage
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Asperamanca wrote:
What I love about it is this epic feel, and the fact that it lasts 10 hours, but I hardly felt I could leave for the bathroom, because I would miss something important.

There is definitely something to be said for that!

During our game, there never seemed to be any suggestion of "not" finishing by any player - no matter how long it took! And you do always want to pay attention during other people's turns.

I'd certainly rate the "gaming experience" much higher than I've rated the game
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Eric Monte
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Thanks for posting the review. I love this game and am happy to hear people are playing it.

I've played those 9 hour games too but really, anyone playing this game should cut it off at 6 - it just doesn't deserve to be played for longer than that. Experienced players should knock this off in around 5 hours and the final at this year's WBC took just about 4 hours - with four long-time expert players.

The game can be rough, specifically for new players who can't really predict which events will come up and how to deal with them. This makes it hard to get past the first couple plays without a feeling of defeat. But, really, it's quite easy to avoid getting devastated.

I wanted to expand on what Ben said:

- If you write 20+ after epoch 2 starts, black death might even work in your favor. You'll probably get the expansion card or at least be able to change where your influence is. If you get hit in late in the game you can shift your dominations to goods that are sure to pay out later. Granted, black death should probably be played to avoid a potential big payout by the person getting hit. There's not much you can do about that.

- Bidding high numbers also helps you with many of the other events and keeps you a perpetual threat to other plays who may take their expansion turn before you. Other than ensuring a massive payout or leader play, I don't see the point in trying to go very early in the turn order via very low bid because they can backfire so easily.

- If you have Black Death or any other bad event card, avoid playing it until epoch 3. That way you ensure you don't get hit with it. You'll also have a much better idea of who is winning and who deserves to be hit. It's usually worth paying for a 4-6 card hand so you can do this. I once played War on a guy during Epoch 3 almost entirely because he chose to play it early on and shift the burden onto me. Holding onto cards also has the added effect of shortening the game.

- The biggest balance in the game comes from other players using the events on the players who have the lead. It does become a problem when all of those people, or even worse that one person, has all of those events.


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Les Marshall
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Hmmm.

Broken elements? Age of Renaissance is one of the most elegantly designed games I've ever played.

Is payout of a commodity during a shortage powerful? Sure, but did the other players let you corner the market and did they fail to pay attention to unplayed commodity cards up to that point?

Is Black Death a gruesome experience? Yeah but, are you overly concentrated in one area or have you arranged to share the pain? I've seen games where Black Death merely blunted a game for the winner rather than knocking them out.

Likewise, I've seen games where multiple players were pushed way down the misery scale while one person holds all the grain and plays famine.

AoR is definitely a game of strategic planning, diplomacy, timing and gambling. It is one of the very rare multiple player boardgames where the field of play shrinks with less than the full number of players. It rewards differing paths to victory with heavy investment in commerce or exploration or religion. It's also unique in making attack successes inversely related to turn order so that the advantage of going last is often mitigate with lesser odds of success.

I've played this game well over 20 times. I've seen Black Death played more than once and I've seen it held til the 3d epoch as others have suggested. It's run a leading player into 3d or 4th place while sometimes barely slowing another down. Risk management better be a big part of the tool kit if you want to win.

Fair to say it is very long and very fiddly. Still it's the highest rated game jun may collection.
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The Seal of Approval
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Rulesjd wrote:
Hmmm.Is Black Death a gruesome experience? Yeah but, are you overly concentrated in one area or have you arranged to share the pain? I've seen games where Black Death merely blunted a game for the winner rather than knocking them out.


As in this case...it didn't stop the winner.
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Rich Radgoski
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As it happens, I pulled this game out today and played it with my sons for the first time. (24 & 21). I may have not played this game for 15 years or more. I think its a great game... but the boys did notice some of the original Ops issues. I think its what you have to deal with in this game. Its hard to plan as a first time player for those things, but as you play, you know they are out there and can do some things to mitigate and stratigize...

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Nicholas Jost
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I haven't played in over fifteen years. I am about to inflict it on my children. I'll let you know how it goes. First and only time we played was with three couples. We made it through I think two epoch's. The women hated it, the guys all loved it. I remember we pushed the women out for that reason (they didn't fight very hard to stay) before we all went home.
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Bruce Sears
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It has a "Misery Index".

No more need be said about why this is an awesome game. ;-)
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