A great turn-out tonight as Dave and Carrie were joined by Jeff and Lawrence at Rich's house to play games. I had been thinking of 3 player games expecting a more modest turnout. With the larger turnout, we opted back to our traditional method of game selection - everyone nominates a game and then we vote (using Sticheln cards) with the group playing the game with the highest vote total. From all the games on offer Antike was the favourite and Rich launched into a rules explanation as the game was set up.
Each player represents an ancient civilization hoping to achieve fame and glory by attracting ancient personalities. Once a nation has acquired the requisite number of personalities, the game ends and that nation wins. The game of course is in how to acquire those personalities. In essence, the personalities are victory points that once gained, can't be taken away. In the game, the personalities are represented by cards - 5 different types of cards representing 5 different tasks that can be completed to gain a personality (victory point).
Before we get into the mechanics of completing those tasks, let's look at the bits in the game. The mapboard is double-sided. Players can opt to play either on a Mediterranean map (Roman Empire) or on an Eastern Mediterranean/Western Asia map (Alexander the Great's reign). The map is divided into abstracted hexagons. In each hexagon is a city that (once settled) will produce iron, gold, or marble.
One a player's turn, they will get 1 coin (equivalent to a wild card as it can represent either 1 unit of iron, gold, or marble) and then move on an action rondel to decide their sole action for the turn. (I will discuss this in a moment.) After taking their action, players can then establish new cities (paying 1 each of iron, gold, and marble) and then gain personalities for any tasks completed.
The heart of the game is the rondel for deciding which action to take. On it are 8 spaces in a circular track. Three (3) of the spaces are for the production of the raw materials in the game. There is one space for iron, one for gold, and one for marble. When a player selects a space, all the cities of that type now generate that specific raw material for the player. For example, if the player lands on the iron space, all their iron cities now provide iron to the player. Another 3 spaces are the development action associated with the raw material (armies, know-how, temples). Landing on one of these spaces lets the player spend the raw material to get a specific development. Iron can be spent to purchase armies for land (legions) or for sea (galleys). Gold can be spent to invest in knowledge and progress. Marble can be spent to build temples (adding to the production and defense of cities.) The final 2 spaces are maneuver which lets a player move their armies into new territories and possible conquer cities belonging to another player.
The key to the rondel is how movement is limited. The two associated production & development actions (eg. Iron and Arming) are 4 spaces apart. Each turn, the player may move 1, 2, or 3 spaces at no cost, but each additional space costs 1 resource. So if a player should wish to immediately spend produced goods there is a cost to do so. Also, movement around the rondel is in one direction only. So there must be some thought to how to proceed along the rondel for if one jumps over an action that might be desired in the near term, one must consider that one needs to move all the way around the rondel to get back to that action. So there is a bit of thought how best to proceed to get to the desired actions.
So what sorts of personalities (victory points) are available for players? Kings are awarded for establishing cities. For every multiple of 5 cities established by a player, a king is awarded. The first king is awarded when a player establishes his 5th city. The next king when a player establishes his 10th, etc. Scholars are awarded when a player is the first to invest in a specific know-how on the knowledge track. This involves an extra cost in gold but has the downside that other players can now invest in this same know-how for less gold. Navigators are awarded for occupying 7 sea areas (and a second for occupying 14 sea areas). Citizens are awarded for possessing 3 temples (and a second for 6 temples, etc). Finally, generals are awarded for destroying a temple belonging to another player.
As the number of cities, legions, and galleys a player can possess is limited, it isn't quite possible to focus on just one task as a path to victory. As an example, each nation has only 17 galleys, so could at most occupy only 17 sea areas. This results in just 2 navigator cards. (There is also a limit on the number of sea spaces on the board also.) So while players will need to develop in multiple areas, players will probably focus on one or two tasks (personalities) as an overall strategy, but need to respond tactically to what other players are doing around them.
For a 5 player game, the starting countries are Arabia (Rich), Persia (Jeff), Egypt (Lawrence), Phoenicia (Dave), Greece (Carrie). While the rules require that Egypt go first in the 5 player game, we opted to let Rich go first by random draw to demonstrate the overall turn flow.
With Arabia starting to the extreme east, Rich didn't feel threatened immediately by his neighbours, so opted to pursue gold and try to get benefits from knowledge development. Jeff, Lawrence, and Dave all starting more or less in the more central positions (especially Dave right in the middle of everyone) started with iron with a view to getting legions and defending their empires. Carrie started to the west and went with marble initially. Rich picked up the first knowledge (Market which allowed his cities to produce more) for the first victory point in the game. Jeff, Lawrence, and Dave continued from Iron to arming to develop legions which then maneuvered into neighbouring areas establishing further cities, gaining each Kings. Carrie wasn't far behind expanding her galley fleet to gain the first navigator.
The game continued with rather equal development. With other players starting to invest in know-how also, Rich changed his development strategy towards temples. Placing his second temple in Gerrha, Rich hoped to defend this outpost city, but found that instead it became a tempting target for Jeff who massed his forces to destroy the temple and gain a general as a result. This also had the effect of pulling Jeff's forces to the East away from Dave who used the opportunity to expand into Jeff's western borders. Jeff admitted that he had been targetting Dave's iron cities, but the temple was too tempting to pass up.
The destruction of Rich's temple set back his progress as he had to reinvest not only in temples, but also in the armies that had defended the town and with the loss of the city, his production was also curtailed a bit. Lawrence (as Egypt) continued to develop west and east along the northern African Coastline, but didn't really venture towards other civilizations. Carrie also quietly expanded in her corner gaining kings for cities. All the while, Dave was in the middle producing iron, getting a modest amount of legions and galleys. Having achieved 6 of the necessary 8 victory points, Dave pushed his fleet out to have 14 sea areas for his 7th victory point followed by purchasing 3 temples for his 8th victory point the next turn.
Rich (Arabia) - 5 (2 x Scholars, King, Navigator, Citizen)
Jeff (Persia) - 6 (2 x Kings, 2 x Scholars, General, Citizen)
Lawrence (Egypt) - 3 (Scholar, King, Navigator)
Dave (Phoenicia) - 8 (3 x Kings, 2 x Navigator, Scholar, General, Citizen)
Carrie (Greece) - 6 (2 x Scholars, 2 x Kings, Navigator, Citizen)
Having heard the buzz about the game, I was excited to try the game. Looking back at our first play, I suspect we weren't aggressive enough to keep Dave in check. Not necessarily direct aggression to destroy his cities, but repeated probes to reduce his galleys/legions would have minimized his ability to spread as much as he did, especially as he didn't have any temples in any of his cities. As Arabia to the East, I found there was little I could to stop Dave as I had Jeff (Persia) and Lawrence (Egypt) between me and Dave.
I did like the rondel action control as it requires thinking ahead to consider what moves might be useful not only for the current move, but the next few moves also. With but a single action to complete each move, the game moves fairly quickly so one doesn't really have to wait long before it is time to move again. As there is no luck in the game (even combat is deterministic), it is very easy to track all the information and know exactly where one stands and where one's opponent's stand.
The benefit of Antike is that it can play up to 6 players and as few as 2 as the starting nations/cities all shift depending on the number of players. I am suspecting that 4 might be a good number for the game based purely on speculation that the starting cities would all be in approximately the same proximity to each other - allowing more direct interaction but still keep the board fairly congested to force player interaction.
The two sides of the board allow for a slightly different play - the primary difference being the impact of galleys. The English (Alexandar) side has 2 bodies of water while the German (Roman Empire) side has 1 (the Mediterranean). More importantly, the game can be finished in a reasonable amount of time. Our (first) playing took just over 2 hours, but that time includes set-up and rules explanation. While the initial moves seemed more tentative, we moved much more quickly as the game progressed. Future plays shouldn't take so long.