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Subject: ProCon Review ("Sophisticated and Savvy" - 4/5) rss

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Crazy Adam
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Hopefully this writeup will offer a short and helpful pro/con review for those trying to make their mind up about playing or purchasing this game.

GAME: ATTIKA (2003)
PUBLISHER: RIO GRANDE GAMES

PROS

- Engaging tactical options. Attika is big on tactics. Through the whole game you are trying to dominate over a small territory of space, either to link two opposite sides (shrines) of the original board configuration, or to get out all 30 of your buildings onto the game board. I found I was trying to think of the best way to cut my opponents off from great swaths of land, either so I could build into it without much confrontation, or so that I could create clearer paths towards shrines. All the while, my opponents could still plonk into these nice pieces of captured land, but at a cost. All the while you are trying to predict how your opponents will react to your play, while trying to find ways to prevent your opponents from capturing prime land as well. You have to make some careful considerations when making your moves.

- Quite a few essential choices to make for such a small game. Attika is a rather conservative Euro in terms of its components and rules, but every choice you need to make rarely feels like the definite move. By taking one option, you can also see how choosing a different option could have also been to your benefit (or to the disadvantage of your opponent.) Figuring out what would be the best option at a certain point is not as easy as one might think when observing this game. Even at moments when the best option seems clear (e.g., I have no resources; I should collect some instead of drawing buildings from the stack) other options are always possible and with a little luck could be more advantageous (e.g., I could draw a building and hope it meets the requirements so that I could build it for free without needing resources.) This is only one example of the several 'if-then' options that are open to you. You are rarely - if ever - limited to one choice that is clear to everyone.

- Practical scaling building requirements. Catan might have first inspired the idea in city building games that you need roads before towns, towns before cities, etc. Attika also has a neat building mechanic: by placing out certain buildings in the right order on the board (as prescribed by the player boards) a player may place buildings for free. For a thematic example, if you build your 'quarry' first (a main [initial] building) the rocks from there go towards building your 'fortress' for free, and in turn you may build your two 'towers' as part of your fortress for free as well. There are 7 such configurations in this game, and when building one complete configuration (as long as the individual buildings are correctly adjacent) earns you a token that allows you to take an extra action at any time.

- Great box and components. I think the components and box are wonderful. There is something minimal about the design, but particular enough that Attika has its own style. In terms of component quality, it is everything you would expect from Rio Grande Games. Thick cardboard components, well-written rule book, and a little touch of wood to make it distinctively Euro. Even the 3D shrines are a nice touch. It all handles well, the cards fit nicely into the hand, and it is just a beautiful presentation. The box has a formed plastic insert for all the pieces (except I noticed that some of the pieces might get dislodged while traveling with the game.)

- Good scalability between players. I have read that I am in the minority here; a number of reviewers have stated that this is a perfect 2-player game, but loses its appeal beyond that. I haven't played 4-player, but I think 3-player adds more tension to the game and more well-earned frustration. Unless you are playing terribly, each player seems to have a good chance at winning. I know in the games that I've played, two players would work to prevent the leader from getting any further, all the while having to keep in mind that soon they too will have to battle it out, thus leaving the original leader a chance to sneak back to the top. The power shifts that happen in this game are super fun, whether I was beating my friends or being beaten.

CONS

- Theme vs. Mechanics. The simple theme is thus: four city-states of Attica - the ancient region of Greece - compete to build their city in a way that dominates throughout the region. Already an issue here is that players can build their city directly adjacent to somebody else's, which doesn't really make the building of a city all that believable (especially considering the real distance between these cities in Ancient Greece.) A further point to this frustration is that certain groups of buildings can be joined together as a way to decrease building costs. One of these groups is the 'Shipping' group, which requires a 'Harbour' and three 'Ships'. It is perfectly legal (and sometimes advantageous) to build your ships in the middle of the playing board, perhaps even between two roads and surrounded by two cities. As you can imagine, the theme gets stretched pretty thin when a player's buildings don't make any geographic sense. While the idea of building a city is neat, I personally would have made up cities (instead of using real terrestrial locations) and I would have avoided the 'Shipping' line as they can be built successfully in areas that are completely devoid of water.

- Less control with more players. Although I haven't yet played with 4 players, it is easy to see that with more than 2 players, by the time one player's turn comes around again their strategy has probably been made redundant by other people's plays. I can see why two players seems to be the most favourite choice with this game: you can easily manage your tactics. But if each player has to wait three turns before getting to make a move, the feeling of chaos might lessen the enjoyability. I didn't find this to be a problem with 3 players. And with most turn-based games, 4 players often means that each player has less control turn-by-turn.

FINAL COMMENT


I think Attika is fantastic! It certainly has a lot of smarts behind it. Merkle is a savvy designer and this game doesn't feel like any other tile-placing game that I know. For a quick-playing Euro (about 30-40 minutes) there is a lot to think about in Attika. Merkle also has a way of making games look great (I'm thinking of Taluva as well) and this one is efficient and meaty enough that my casual and hard-core gaming friends both would like it. Although the theme is not essential, if you were to remove it you would have a very sophisticated abstract underneath. Although the board is modular and no two games play the same, I still wonder if I will be as intrigued with Attika in the future as I am now. But Attika is definitely a game I won't shy away from pulling out, and I think it is a perfect example of a game you can use to introduce your friends to Euros.
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Stephen Sanders
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I would second virtually all these observations and sentiments. My last game played a couple of weeks ago was in fact a fun 3 player game that was won by a surprise (and rare) shrine connection. Still a solid 8 out of 10 for me after 8 plays.
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I couldn't agree more with your pros, cons, and overall conclusion. All in all, the minor points against it don't detract much from the playability of the game - I hope we give this one another go at future game nights!
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