Thought I’d kick off an entry reviewing a nine-year old board game:

Age of Mythology – The Board Game

Yes, I finally got around to playing it with Alex, Darren and Paul Thursday night over pizza and wine in the Griffin (I had the wine, a bottle of Pinotage). It was very helpful to have read through the instructions but that didn’t stop us referring to the rules every few seconds!

Right, so the board game is based on the (vanilla version) video game released for the PC about 11 years ago (give or take) and is a fair approximation of the skirmish mode. Up to eight players can play though not without purchasing additional sets to allow more than four. And the three classic factions feature in the game – the Greeks, the Norse and the Egyptians.

To declare victory, one has to amass the most victory points at the end of the game. There are three ways of ending the game; by reaching the end of the tenth turn, by completing the Wonder or the extremely less common way is to wipe out your opponents. Victory points are earned throughout the game and are “bet” at the beginning of each turn on victory condition cards which ensures no one person can have a runaway lead.

One could almost say AoM:TBG is a 4X game rather than having more in common with an RTS – there are all the usual elements which are explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. Players scout resources, harvest them, construct buildings and units and finally attempt to wreck each player’s economies. There is a great deal in common with Settlers of Catan in how the game is played except there’s combat and there’s less dice luck.

The game offers a fair approximation of the factions of the RTS; although they don’t replicate them exactly, there are nonetheless bonuses to units and how each faction begins which correlates to how an experienced AoM player might choose his player. Bad syntax? Probably but let’s illustrate with examples: the Greeks have the best Hero units in AoM and this is taken over in this game; otherwise they’re evenly balanced. The Norse have some good combat units whilst the Egyptians have a good headstart in pursuing a building strategy (though with no mountains on their map, they will be needing to trade a lot of what they need).

Turns are strictly ordered and each player has seven options based on the cards they choose: build, recruit, explore, gather, trade, attack and age up. They can also forfeit their turn if there’s a strategic advantage to doing so. Each team has a unique deck of cards they draw from as well, some of which are discarded after use, others are returned to what is called the “permanent deck”. A player may only choose a certain number of cards to play a turn with though the number is determined by what “age” they are playing in.

At the beginning of the game, players explore the map to add resource cards to their pool potential, then they harvest resources in order to build units or buildings. As play progresses, units are sent off into battle in order to sabotage production, steal resources or to plain cause havoc. And as combat is a major part of the game, let’s have a paragraph on it.

Unsurprisingly, combat is determined by dice and unlike most board games, it’s not the total of the result but rather the number of sixes (or whatever number one declares) thrown. Each unit will have a base number of dice to throw but various cards have modifiers depending on the units involved or instructions on the card. The highest number of sixes will win the combat, the defeated enemy is removed from the game. Each player has the choice to withdraw from combat but that may mean a victorious opponent achieves his objective or a defender successfully repels an assault.

So, that’s the game in a nutshell, what about the actual review?

I suppose the first thing to do is to draw comparisons with the video game; does the board game replicate faithfully the original? Certainly all the elements are there: explore the landscape, find and gather resources, construct buildings and recruit units before sending them over to batter your opponents. And the plastic units do look nice, reproducing the various human and myth units that you’ll be fighting with. It’s a pity that this doesn’t extend to the buildings but hey-ho.

It’s definitely a good thing that the entire game isn’t given over to random chance with constant dice throwing for all aspects. And even when used during combat, it allows some upsets rather than the biggest units to steamroll through armies by virtue of whomever got them first. One of the irritating things about the game is that you only have eight dice to roll despite some cards + modifiers needing nine or ten dice so you either have to re-roll some or cannibalise another dice set from somewhere.

Each faction plays slightly differently which allows a little more variance and encourages players to try a new faction out making for a unique experience each time one plays. The varying maps which allow each faction to stake a claim to a particular type of resource (Egypt is more likely to have a food monopoly, the Norse a monopoly on Gold whilst the Greeks are more rounded). This enhances the replayability value of the game and the fact that players are prohibited from ganging up on whoever is winning or on the verge of being eliminated.

What else can I postulate about? Well, the rules do take a while to read through and digest – and one will probably make mistakes. There is a crib sheet included in the game but it’s still easy to forget certain things. I certainly stuffed up a couple of things when I played. And another frustration with the game is that whilst you have game pieces for six, you only have cards and resources for four which does seem a bit of a swizz. Expansion packs are only available from the manufacturer (not helpful if you don’t live in the USA) so if you want more than four players, a second copy of the game would be helpful.

Worth getting? Yeah, if you can track down a copy and have at least three mates to play with. You’d be hard pushed to find it in any stores so the interweb is going to be your friend – its between £30 and £50 for a brand new copy, about £20 to £40 for a second hand copy depending on the vendor.

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