A fan of new Knizia games
Debbie Pickett writes:
Tina, David, Roger, Debbie
This new game from Warfrog had turned up last week in the Great Essen Delivery, and I insisted that David bring it back this week. The game claimed a playing time of at least two hours, so we decided to play until the other table had finished Die Händler. What follows is our interpretation of the rules, which may or may not be completely correct!
David read out the rules as we set up the world with its terrain tiles (incongruously they are squares while the spots they go on are hexes, but I imagine squares were simpler to manufacture). We really didn't have any idea about what was a good layout, so we essentially just stuck them down at random. (We all agreed that it would have been good to get a "recommended first-game world" layout in the rules.) It turned out that there were very few adjacent hexes with the same terrain type, so it seriously restricted the movement of our people, who are only allowed to stay in the same terrain type as they start in.
We then started the game - each player took a card featuring a number and terrain type from their hand, and all were revealed simultaneously. Then from smallest-to-largest we placed that many barbarians onto a terrain of that kind, as dictated by the card played. (Then the card is replaced with one from the draw deck.) Things went fine for a few turns, then civilization happened.
Each player is allowed to civilize one hex - anywhere on the board at first, but then only next to already-civilized hexes. To mark the hex as civilized the tokens marking barbarian units are flipped over to reveal civilized fellows in togas. Civilization increases the value of the hex, but it also means that the hex can no longer attack. This mechanism meant that there was often a dilemma - do I civilize myself, thus improving my score, or do I civilize an opponent who will otherwise beat me to a pulp next turn? This delicious problem faced us all throughout the game.
Once a hex has become civilized you can replace one of its tokens with an altar token, which increases the hex's value yet again. This of course makes it a prime target for your opponents, so it is useful to put your temples out of the line of fire of barbarians.
Combat - well, raids, really - occur between adjacent hexes - with a water hex allowed to intervene if the attackers are island-dwellers. The attacker rolls two dice and hits on a total of six or more (eight or more if the terrain type differs); the defender rolls one die and hits if its number is greater than each attacking die roll. This interesting mechanic makes combat more believable than something like Risk, which is still a dice-fest but a less interesting one. Also, it isn't clear whether combat favours the attacker or the defender - I'll have to figure it out. As additional food for thought, if the attacker rolls a double number, the attacking player's turn is over right then and there.
The game is over when the draw deck of terrain-number cards is empty and two players play identical cards at the start of a round. Now barbarian hexes score one, civilized hexes two, and civilized hexes with altars three.
In our game, because of our small contiguous land areas, growth was slow. David and Tina fought over the "mainland", while Roger and I managed to dig in around the permeter of the board, with me getting a pretty impregnable position from which I could attack at will about halfway through. I then spent the next several turns civilizing the hinterland and putting up altars all over the place. The others caught on and tried the same tactic - Tina at first, then Roger - but because they were needing to civilize their own hexes they couldn't also civilize my barbarians that were beating up on the other end of their territories (there is a limit of one civilization per turn). With help from David, who was also on two fronts against Tina and Roger, I managed to keep my lead.
Final scores (Barbarians, Civilized, Altars = total):
Debbie 1 8 10 = 47
Roger 1 6 10 = 43
David 2 3 9 = 35
Tina 1 1 10 = 33
My rating: right after I finished, I was giving it a 5, which in my scoring system is a fair game that I'd happily play again if I was in the mood. But this morning I'm wanting to try it again, so that would warrant a 6. Quite entertaining, I'd call it a relative of Populous (the computer game). This game has some interesting and unique mechanisms, and is well worth trying.