2-4 players, Competitive, Worker-Placement, Set-Collection
Designer: Ryan Laukat
Artwork: Ryan Laukat
Publisher: Red Raven Games
Overview of Gameplay
The Ancient World is a pretty straight forward game for the most part. It has players performing the typical placement of workers to collect resources and other items in order to eventually spend those resources and items on other things all in an effort to collect the most points by the end of the game. The biggest difference here though are the Titans, these huge monsters that are constantly threatening you. You have to deal with them in one way or another or risk losing much that you have gained.
So the game is played out over the course of 6 rounds with each new round bringing something new into the fray. I like this aspect a lot actually as it is always pushing the game forward with cool, new features. Each round players will take turns placing one of their starting three workers onto a specific spot on the board to take the action it lists such as Build a new building for your tableau or collect money etc. One feature here is that these workers are numbered and if you ever place a worker on the same spot as another players worker that has a higher number than your worker, you have to pay the bank 1 coin. So that creates an interesting placement dynamic especially at higher player counts as you can effectively hinder other players in one form or another.
After everyone has placed all their workers then players will move to the end of round phase where each player confronts their specific attacking titan. At the beginning of each round players are assigned a titan card to their player boards so it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on that beast and see about possibly building up enough to take it down before end of round. If you cannot take it down before then, it attacks! What we have here is a simple dice roll to see the damage it does. Depending on how many banners are displayed on its card depends on how many die are rolled from 1-3. This thing could either destroy one of your buildings (effectively limiting the amount of food you have to feed your workers) or another building of your choice. It could also perform the specific attack listed on its card and these range from losing coins to losing more buildings to losing troops. After all the destruction is finished, players collect their amount of coins, ambrosia and knowledge that they have developed for their particular society based on the buildings and cards they have acquired. Workers are returned and you set up the board for the next round which has you trashing any cards remaining with all new cards being drawn.
The key point generator here are the cards you collect in your tableau. Each card will have from 1 -3 different colored banners with a total of 5 different colors to choose from in the game. The more banners you collect of the same color (up to 6 of each color), the more points they are worth at end game. So for example, 1 green banner is worth 2 points, 2 greens are worth 4 points each, 3 greens are worth 7 points each etc. etc. But at the same time you want to collect different colors to try and maximize your points. Not only that, but there are other cards that reward you for collecting certain sets. So when all is said and done by the end of the 6th round whoever has rounded up enough points from banners or other cards will be the winner!
The clear highlight of this game is the incredible artwork adorned beautifully on the board and cards. This propels the game from a pretty standard worker placement to something a joy to play just for the looks. The Game Board is gorgeous to behold and I love how the artwork transcends from the monster cards directly to the player boards when placed. The card stock is of a high quality with a linen finish and the plastic ambrosia components are awesome as well with a unique design. The worker pegs are solid colored wooden blocks that you have to affix stickers, so you can show the number of worker. Never a fan of stickers in games as I’m always fearful of them peeling off over time, plus the amount of time it takes to place them perfectly without any overlap on the edges.
The player boards are also really colorful and nice with easy to understand iconography. As an added bonus they are double sided with one side bringing a standard way to play the game and the other of each having a unique asymmetric player power! Each of these powers exemplifies each societies’ natural tendencies, such as military for one or knowledge for another. The 3 dice included in the game are unique and also a high quality with a heavy feel to them and custom images on the sides. On top of that there are also wooden tokens for the knowledge scrolls that can be collected in the game. AND if you don’t like using the wooden components, the game comes packed with cardboard pieces for the scrolls and workers as well. Overall I have super high regards for the look and feel of the games board and components.
The box is also gorgeous with the incredible artwork inside and out. There is a tiny cardboard insert that serves nothing more than a prop up for some of the pieces but honestly this can be tossed out easily if you choose and you can still find that amazing art underneath. The box itself is a pretty standard size which can easily fit on most shelves.
Visual Appeal /Theme
I mentioned this a bit already but man, this game is gorgeous. Of all the categories I rank this is the highest for this game. From the colors and the contrast of different lands on the board to the way the titan cards co-mingle with the player boards to the colors of the components on the boards. Everything just works together wonderfully and harmoniously. It’s like a beautiful chorus of the most heavenly sounds, the primmest of ribs, the most succulent of pastries.
The theme is ok. From what I can tell it’s just different societies struggling to develop their civilization amidst an ever-growing threat of titan invasion. Which in itself sounds awesome but when playing the titans come off as slight hiccups in an otherwise streamlined journey. That said I’m glad they’re there to mix things up a bit.
The rules were good. I had little trouble understanding what was being conveyed and the back of the manual even has a nice round summary listing to follow easily as you are learning which I always love. The only real thing that confused me was the end game victory scoring. The explanation in the manual wasn’t exactly super clear right off the bat on how to score banners. I was confused on whether to collect a pair of colors or one of each or multiple of each? I eventually resorted to watching a play through online to see how it was scored to get confirmation. After viewing this it was pretty clear, unfortunately the way it’s written in the book wasn’t as much.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
So here is where the game suffers a tad. Playing from 2 to 4 players the player interaction is extremely limited. Each player mostly focuses on their own player board, building up their own tableau, worrying about how best to handle their own personal invading titan. Heck there are even cards that you can build in your tableau that allow you to place your own workers on those cards completely avoiding the main board. The player interaction comes entirely from the main board and is almost always a “take-that” style of interaction. If you are observing what other players are doing then you can be crafty and place a higher numbered worker down on a spot to try and prevent them from placing or costing them coin in doing so. Or placing workers first in specific spots to grab up certain cards or some ambrosia build-up before others. The main game board is a very cut throat place to be during these harsh titan-invading times. Of course of all the games I’ve played I haven’t seen this happen much with most players tending to stick to themselves going about their own civs upgrading in whatever way they have available.
Now all that said I do have a lot of fun playing this. There are a plethora of cards included in both the A and B decks and you never end up going through them all in a single game so this changes things up and makes each game exciting. Also the management aspect is fun to try and wrap your head around, how best to deal with your personal titan AND feed your workers but at the same time improve your society to collect the most banners.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
The game is optimized at any player count which is really cool. On the board it has listed the spaces you place each rounds cards based on player count. So whether playing 2 players or 4 you still feel some pressure to get those juicy cards before the other player. Now that said the game did feel more pressured at 4 players than 2. There are still only a certain amount of spaces to visit on the board and at higher player counts you will see many more player tokens ending up at spaces more often. So at higher player counts the numbered worker mechanic comes into play much more often, even by accident. Unfortunately there is no solo mode which this game in particular would benefit greatly from considering the lack of player interaction.
I touched on this briefly before but replayability is pretty high here. There is an A and B deck for buildings and you never end up seeing everything in a game so that adds some newness to different games. There are three titan decks of increasing difficulty that you will probably get to the bottom of each so you never really know which titan you will be fighting next. And of course the double sided player boards with the asymmetric civ powers adds to the flavor of additional playthroughs as well.
Positive Final Thoughts
The artwork is outstanding and visually this is one of the most beautiful games I own. I love the management of your specific society and like how each players will differ as the game progresses based on what actions they take and what cards they collect. You can never be too sure who is in the lead.
Negative Final Thoughts
The lack of any real meaningful player interaction is a bummer and the fact that there is no solo mode considering this game seems like it would be perfect for one is a let-down. You will also need a bunch of table space for each player as you start collecting cards. These things will be sprouting out of your player board at all angles and can get quite messy. I do enjoy the titans in the game but wish they were MORE threatening or perhaps had more options when they attack. Usually you are just facing a destroyed building which you can easily repair.