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ANTIQUITY

Reviewed by Frank Branham

(Splotter Spellen, 2-4 players, ages 14 and up, 3-4 hours; about $130)

 

I just spent $130.00 on a game. This is not even close to the first time this has happened for me, any miniatures game, collectible game, or mega-deluxe wooden game costs. Antiquity, however, has none of this — it is pretty much die-cut cardboard.

A LOT of diecut cardboard. Splotter, specifically the twisted folks Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga who gave us the micromanagement classic Roads and Boats, has created a European-style game with as many counters as a classic SPI monster wargame. Actual play leaves the table practically drenched in counters ranging from tiny half-inch counters to Tetris-like building shapes. Clearly, the folks at Splotter are completely barking mad.antiquitybox

The art design of the game is your first clear indication that you are dealing with something unusual. The plain blue box has no artwork and is styled to resemble an archaelogical archival box with some authorization stamps, and some scrawled dates and approval signature. The archival theme is carried over into the components which are…brown. Everything has a faded crumpled and foxed paper look. The buildings are brown with simple fonts, the hextile maps are brown backgrounds with some murky green and blues. The player sheets are tan (light brown), and most of the counters are varying shades of browns and muted colors save for the pollution counters which are maroon (which is of course a brownish red.)

With all of these pieces, you would expect to see a massive rulebook. What we have here is a fairly petite 8 page A4 booklet (also brown). The base rules are actually amazingly simple. Each player has a city represented by a 7×7 grid. The first phase of each turn has you buy new Tetris buildings in your city simultaneously. Each building gets you a special power or tweak, with the two most important ones being houses (which give you men) and cart shops (which let you send these men outside the city). While you are buying buildings, you also allocate men to various buildings to be able to use that building’s special effect during the turn.

Then you send your guys out to the outside to “do stuff.” You can basically “do stuff” on any hex within two hexes of your city. The kinds of stuff you can do pretty much boils down to collect resources, build inns, and build new cities.

Collecting resources is the heart of the game. You send your guy on cart shop out into the world with whatever resource is required to build his farm, mine, pier, fishing fleet. The hex the guy is sent to receives a pollution marker and a resource marker. Each adjacent hex of the same terrain type receives the same pollution and resource markers.
Every turn from then on, you collect one resource marker. When the last resource marker is picked up, the guy comes home. The pollution stays. And you cannot collect new resources where there is pollution. This is why there are all of the counters, as your starting city is contained within a massive cloud of polluted hexes. Each city you have also forces you to plop down three more pollution each turn.antiquitycomp

That’s where inns and cities come in. Inns expand the area in which you can put down farms and such, cities not only expand your range, but also give you another grid in which to put more buildings.

There is one more nasty aspect to the game, which the designers strongly recommend avoiding for beginners. There is a famine level which grows every round. Players who do not have enough food to meet the famine level must add graveyards to their cities (which take up space).

The tactical part of the game comes from the buildings. Buildings can allow you to harvest more, clean up pollution, start farms without needing a resource, increase your range to three hexes, build inns, and you must build a cathedral.

When you build your cathedral, you must declare it to your choice of saints. The saint chosen determines what special power you get as well as your victory condition. Victory conditions include things such as: build 20 houses, build one of each building, or surround another player with your area of control.

Antiquity is a polarizing game. It tends to produce fairly strong likes and dislikes among my fellow gamers. The game has a quirky nature: it takes 3-4 hours to play, and does not have a lot of interaction. (The interaction comes mostly from crowding out folks in the later game as you are racing to build inns away from your polluted core.) You have to be thinking a couple of turns ahead in your production, and getting used to the building powers takes 3 or 4 games.

The game is also fairly merciless. With the famine rule turned on, it is entirely possible to make a mistake that will send your empire into a death spiral, covering your cities with graveyards. You are also perpetually messing with the thousands of counters. Mostly, you are building one or two farms per turn, so you only place 8-10 sets of counters. However, you are also thinking about placing your buildings so that they actually fit, and worrying about how you are going to keep enough space and growth moving so that in a couple of
turns you will actually have moved ahead. You even have to worry about maintaining enough space in warehouses to actually store your goods.

It is pretty freaking hard, and I totally adore it. Every game I play, I’m running on sheer terror-fueled adrenaline, absolutely certain that I’ve screwed up somewhere and that it is all going to go horribly wrong. So far, I’ve been good enough to avoid catastrophe. My opponents–not always so fortunate. The buildings in the game are designed to help you against the nasty forces in the game, and all of them are useful. (Even the one which allows you to tear down and rebuild your cathedral, which changes your victory conditions.)

As to whether you should pick it up, that is a harder choice. Imagine a more massively complex and longer Puerto Rico (Spring 2002 GA REPORT). Imagine playing a game that may completely destroy you your first couple of times playing it. Now imagine paying $130.00 for it. Hard call. I love games in which I am not entirely sure what I should be doing, and being forced to learn over multiple plays. I do not mind that the game does not require me to interact much with other players. If all of this has not scared you off, odds are you’ll love this game. As long as you don’t hate brown. – – – – Frank Branham


 

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Spring 2005 GA Report Articles

 

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