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Subject: Geeks Under Grace Review: Amun-Re rss

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Chris Hecox
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Original Review at: http://www.geeksundergrace.com/tabletop/reviews-tabletop/rev...

Introduction

Amun-Re 2nd Edition is a reprint of Rio Grande Games 2003 printing of Amun-Re. A “Knizia modern classic,” Amun-Re is one of over 600 board games Reiner Knizia has designed. Knizia has a PhD in mathematics and previously worked in the banking industry before taking on board game design. Knizia has designed famous titles like Modern Art, Tigris & Euphrates, Ra, Samurai, Battle Line, Lost Cities, Medici, Schotten Totten, Through the Desert, and many more. Typically a designer of “mathy” games, Knizia is well-renowned throughout the industry.

Tasty Minstrel Games was established by owner Michael Mendes in 2009, where Michael worked with his close friend, Seth Jaffee, to immediately begin publishing games starting with Terra Prime. TMG has reprinted a few old favorites, like Colosseum, At the Gates of Loyang, Belfort, and others. Other popular titles from TMG include Flip City, Orleans, Scoville, Village, Aquasphere, Cthulhu Realms, Eminent Domain, and more.

Review

I’ve written before on my odd fascination with Egyptian things. I, again, harp the descriptor, “underused,” at the top of my lungs when I discuss it. I’m not necessarily conversant when it comes to the old lands of sand and mystique, but by golly I’ll still prefer it as a theme when possible.

Amun-Re ships with a weighty and massive six-fold board, covered in initially unintelligible iconography. Like hieroglyphics printed across the thick paper of printed illustration Egyptian landscape, one is not to grasp understanding on how to play until halfway through his first game. This is, in part, due to the complexity of interactions in Amun-Re, and partly to a confusing rulebook to wander through.

Note of Sadness: I know the illustrative paper tacked on the game board is thick because it didn’t rip when my friend mistakenly misfolded the board. Other games, the paper would have ripped and sadness would have abounded. Here, we all watched, eyes-wide, subtly forming tears around our retinas as this beautiful game was about to be massacred. Instead the paper pulled up off the edges of the game board. A token to the high quality printing of the game, but a tale of sadness that must be shared indeed.

Amun-Re makes players into pharaohs as they rule over the vast sands of Egypt. Split into two ages, players must do the following in order:

- Bid on various locales
- Spend money on favor cards, pyramid construction, and farmers
- Give offering to Amun-Re to flood or not flood the Nile
- Receive income

Like an ancient mashup of moguls and financial planners, players must excruciatingly spend money to expand control while meticulously giving just enough offering to gain income from farmers or merchants.

Money seems eternally tight in Amun-Re. You’ll have just enough to buy the last farmer you need, only to end up a buck or two short to buy the stones you need to finish a pyramid. Pyramid are the necessary element for end-game points, but farmers generate mad income depending on how gracious players are to Amun-Re. Learning to balance production vs end-game prominence is critical to success.

Amun-Re is played over two ages, which is actually the crux of the game. All pyramids on the board will remain after the first age, but all player tokens and possessions are removed. Players finally get to score at this point before beginning the second age. This makes a fascinating statement on history, where those ancient leaders are of no consequence to the future. They simply laid the foundation for future generations. Oh, the puns. The second age of Amun-Re completes the cycle, where each location from the first age will regenerate, allowing players to bid on properties anew. This means a location populated by pyramids from player one in the first age might be controlled by a different player in the second age—all of the hard work for nothing as a new player takes the helm and reaps the benefits.

The game actually grants a slew of points for various achievements during scoring. Each pyramid is worth a point, where the players with majorities of pyramids on either sides of the Nile gain 5 points. Players can gain points for being the richest, or for various scoring cards (some of which are incredibly tasking to replicate conditions for). Amun-Re ultimately deals in the minute. Players shouldn’t count their lead, but instead their margins. Making the most of what one has and chancing it for big income or big points is the balance of the game. Learning why to bid how much on which locations is key. Every dollar counts, and I’d argue if the table is full of wise players, the final scores will likely be very close. Players who mismanage and haven’t a clue about the economy and income will be punished and come out with very few points.

So, Amun-Re is lots of fun to play, extremely punishing, and looks breath-taking on the table for the most part.

Like The Godfather: Corleone’s Empire, the card backs of Amun-Re all share the same artwork in order to keep intrigue as to what cards players have in hand. Players can exchange bigger dollars for smaller change, and this will happen very frequently. The board on its own is quite nice to look at, but the surroundings contain piles of pyramid bits, farmers, and various stacks of gold. This makes things pretty messy, as this was a common point of contest when playing with my groups.

The pyramid components are amazing. It’s already a frontrunner for “Best ‘Single Component’ award for 2017. I’m not up to snuff on the types of materials used to create game components, but the feel is amazing. They aren’t plastic, they aren’t metal, they aren’t wooden. Placing them onto the board is satisfying, and I look forward to building pyramids because it’s so tactile.

Once players get a handle on iconography, games of Amun-Re should play rather quickly. Cards are covered in icons that don’t make sense and carry so many particulars about when and how to play that you’ll need to reference the back page of the rulebook a few times per icon. This might be more my own issue, but the rulebook is fiddly and difficult to navigate. This is due in part to the complexity of Amun-Re and the interconnectivity between mechanisms in the game. I don’t have 10 games in, and can only learn a game once, so my conjecture is: this rulebook is hard to read and translate to gameplay and communicate to others at the table. That said, once players are on the same page, expect Amun-Re to flow quite naturally. It’s a smooth process once grokked.

Amun-Re is a game to be played many times with the same group of friends to best learn and love the game. I expect each game will provide more than enough nuance at varying player counts (as that’s been the case for me). Different players mean more or fewer locations to reveal. Each location provides different bonuses, so games are always dynamic. With so many cards in the favor deck for varying abilities and end-game bonuses, Amun-Re manages a different experience each time you play.

I discovered one of the most fascinating things while playing Amun-Re during our last session. A generous offering to Amun-Re will result in big payouts for players who’ve invested in farmers, where a poor offering will result in a pitiful payout. This translates to a mutual trust between players as they discuss how much they may or may not donate to the god.

I’m not sure why it wasn’t before, but what became clear to me was how players around the table entirely determine the looseness or tightness of a game’s economy. Tight pursed opponents result in hard times, as they might rely on traders, mines, and lucky card draws for their gold. For those who’ve invested heavily in farmers however, it’s critical for the offering to pay out big time for the investment to pay off.

Amun-Re is still typically a tight game in terms of finances, but people at the table determine the atmosphere. Not only does the separation of ages and reinstalling of new and powerful pharaohs make Amun-Re unique, but the actions of players also have huge impact.

If you’ve not, you really must play this game.

POSITIVES
+ Great presentation with high quality pyramid components
+ Crunchy gameplay where every decision matters
+ Gameplay is always dynamic where player interaction defines the availability of income
+ Cool theme and separation of ages is a great touch
+ Plenty of variability at different player counts
+ Shows promise for staying interesting after many plays

NEGATIVES
- Looks kind of messy on the table (components piled on top of each other and such)
- Steep learning curve, so difficult to get into
- Not a great rule book

BOTTOM LINE
Amun-Re is a great game. It’s interactive, decisions matter hugely, and aside from the mess of components, looks great and plays better.

A review copy of Amun-Re was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.

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Peter Mumford
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I think its the tension between competing incentives of farmers and traders that makes this game so interesting. Generally a player has to decide if they will be making offerings to Amun-Re or stealing from Amun-Re in the first round of any age. Using farmers to generate cash is not the only viable strategy. It is playable to buy only the trading provinces, and steal from the offering.

The available provinces on the first round of any age can change the balance of that age. If several good farming provinces are up for auction at the beginning of an age, they will be very valuable. Each of their farmers can pay out three times. The farmers will have the advantage that round, and players will be incentivized to make generous offerings.

If more trading provinces are available in the first round, players will find that a trading and stealing strategy is easier to pull off than a farming and offering strategy. Harvests will more likely be poor that age, and farming will be difficult.

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Shane Laporte
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Great review! Do you have anything to share about player count? I've heard some say that it's only good at 4 and 5. Any thoughts?
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Michael J
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Quote:
Steep learning curve, so difficult to get into


I think this is overstating it a bit. Amun Re is quite straightforward and is very streamlined, and leaves the meat of the gameplay on the table, not the rulebook. I've never had anyone struggle with the rules. I think that's one of the reasons it's a great game.
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David B
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mjacobsca wrote:
Quote:
Steep learning curve, so difficult to get into


I think this is overstating it a bit. Amun Re is quite straightforward and is very streamlined, and leaves the meat of the gameplay on the table, not the rulebook. I've never had anyone struggle with the rules. I think that's one of the reasons it's a great game.



I agree. It's not a gateway game, but it is quite easy for a hobby gamer to learn. Ten minutes to teach,tops. And I don't know anything about the new Super Meeple/TMG rulebook, but the original HiG/Rio Grande rulebook was fine.
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Chris Hecox
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pfctsqr wrote:
mjacobsca wrote:
Quote:
Steep learning curve, so difficult to get into


I think this is overstating it a bit. Amun Re is quite straightforward and is very streamlined, and leaves the meat of the gameplay on the table, not the rulebook. I've never had anyone struggle with the rules. I think that's one of the reasons it's a great game.



I agree. It's not a gateway game, but it is quite easy for a hobby gamer to learn. Ten minutes to teach,tops. And I don't know anything about the new Super Meeple/TMG rulebook, but the original HiG/Rio Grande rulebook was fine.


For me, the rulebook felt really disorganized (TMG) and it was super difficult to transfer what I'd read into actual gameplay.

It's very possible that my misunderstanding of the rulebook contributed to the learning curve or steepness of the game.

That said I'd love quick little reference cards. That might have cleared things up for us. Luckily the game is incredible, so once we figured it out, we were mesmerized by how good it was.
 
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Chris Hecox
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mainshane wrote:
Great review! Do you have anything to share about player count? I've heard some say that it's only good at 4 and 5. Any thoughts?


I've played games at both 3 and 4. For me, both were interesting for different reasons.

At 3, I think the meta gets set in stone (lol) pretty definitely. In other words, like someone said further up, the provinces that show up might lean toward the need for farmers, or they might lean toward lower offerings. You won't know until the end of the third round, so it's a bit more gambling and hoping. This isn't bad, but it demonstrates the interesting balance between bountiful offerings and scarcity.

At 4 players, you still miss out on a few provinces, but it's not enough to force players into high/low offerings IMO. You have a bit more wiggle room to choose your pace. It seems like the best of both worlds to me. Bidding is stil tight, and depending on how aggressive other players are, the game can be quiet until the start of the second age, and then pick up dramatically.
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David Gibbs
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mainshane wrote:
Great review! Do you have anything to share about player count? I've heard some say that it's only good at 4 and 5. Any thoughts?


I've found the pay-off for offerings to Amun-Re are biased by the player count; to be more specific, since how much farmers pay is based on a simple count of how much is contributed to Amun-Re, then with more players in the game, it is easier to hit the higher or top pay-off values than with fewer players and this distinctly affects whether famers are/are not a good choice. Also, I find it plays better with more of the total lands available.

So, I'd agree that clearly better with 4 or 5 than 3 -- and probably even better with 5 than 4.
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Matias Vierimaa
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It is better with 4 or 5 than 3 but main reason is that winner can be seen easier. Land price is not a problem, although camels are often better with 3, you simply pay more when buying camel regions.
 
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