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AGE OF MYTHOLOGY

Reviewed by Herb Levy

AGE OF MYTHOLOGY (Eagle Games, 2-4 players, 2-3 hours; $45)

 

Eagle Games has made a name for itself with its lavishly produced line of conflict games including American Civil War (Spring 2002 GA REPORT) and War! Age of Imperialism (Fall 2002 GA REPORT). With Age of Mythology, their latest release, Eagle has matched the quality of their components with quality game play to create what is, unquestionably, their best release to date.

Age of Mythology is another Glenn Drover design and comes in a deep box containing the type of high class components we’ve come to expect from Eagle Games. There are four player boards (divided into three sections: the Holding Area, Production Area and City Area), resource cubes (green, blue, light brown and yellow wooden cubes representing food, favor [of the gods], wood and gold respectively), victory point cubes (in red), four different sets of cards, building and resource/production tiles and hundreds of molded plastic figures representing military units and villagers. Players direct one of three cultures (Greek, Norse and Egyptian) in their quest for victory.agemythbox

Each player randomly selects a culture. (In a four player game, two players will “share” a culture. However, they do NOT play as a team and, in seating, they sit opposite so the other two cultures separate them.) Once selected, a player receives that culture’s playing board, Permanent Action cards, decks of Battle cards and Random Action Cards (each specific to that culture) plus a full set of plastic pieces in their culture’s color. Depending on the number of players, resources are made available (in the “bank”) ranging from 20 of each (in a two player game) to 30 of each (when four play). (If combining two sets of the game to accommodate up to 8 players, these totals increase.) Regardless of the number of players, only 30 red victory point cubes are in play. Players begin with four of each of the resources and a starting army of six “mortal units”. Now, the production area of the board is “seeded”.

Six resource production tiles are drawn and placed face up. Beginning with the starting player (and moving clockwise), each player may choose and place a tile. (The player going last, goes first in the next round as order is reversed.) Tiles are placed in matching terrain areas on the board. (Terrain varies from mountain to swamp, from hills to desert etc.) Tiles may generate one or two cubes of a specific resource. Tile placement continues until all players have had six chances to choose a tile (or pass). Now, play begins.

Each game turn has six phases. First, three victory point cubes, one by each player, are placed on any of the four victory point cards. (In a four player game, one player does not do a placement.) The four cards are “Won the Last Battle”, “The Most Buildings”, “The Largest Army” and “The Wonder”. Cubes on the “Battle” card are collected by the first player in a round that has successful defeated an enemy. All of the other cubes are awarded at game’s end to the player with the most buildings, largest army or the honor of having built the “Wonder of the World”.

Now, players select action cards. Depending on the age your culture is in (all cultures begin in the Archaic Age and may advance to the Classic , Heroic and Mythic Ages), players may draw from 4 to 7 cards. Cards from the Permanent Action deck must be drawn first with the remainder of the hand filled by drawing from the Random Action deck. (Random Action cards are similar to the Permanent Action cards but are more powerful.)

The Permanent Action card deck consists of 7 cards that allow you to do specific actions. These are:

Explore – A number of Resource Production Tiles (as indicated on the card) are exposed and all players, starting with the player playing the card) may pick and place one tile.

Gather – The player chooses which type of resource or terrain is “harvested”. All players may then reap the specific resources generated. (A “Gather All” card allows players to reap ALL resources available to them from all production tiles.)

Build – The active player may build the specified number of buildings and place them in his city area. Buildings bestow various advantages on a civilization but their effects only go into effect on the turn AFTER they are built. Only ONE type of building may be constructed per civilization with the exception of houses. Ten houses may be built in each city.agemythback (1)

Recruit – This allows the player to buy additional units for his army, placing them in his Holding area.

Trade – After paying the cost on the card, a player may exchange resource cubes for cubes of a different color. Should a player have a Great Temple built, that player may exchange eight blue favor cubes for 1 red Victory Point cube.

Next Age – By playing this card and spending the quoted number of resources, a player may move his civilization ahead to the next age allowing him to draw more cards (a significant advantage) and make more (and more powerful) military units available.

Attack – By playing this card, battle commences between that player and a bordering civilization.

When attacking, the aggressor must declare which area (Holding, City or Production) is under fire. Now both attacker and defender secretly select which army units they will commit to the fray (the number of which being determined by the number on the Attack card). Battle cards from the Battle Deck for the committed units are selected and now the fighting begins.

Single units (in the form of battle cards) face off against each other. Battle cards show how many six sided dice will be rolled by the unit. In addition, should the units “match up” in a certain way, bonus dice may be awarded to one side or the other or both! The dice are rolled. Each roll of “6” signifies a “hit”. The unit that inflicts the most hits eliminates the opposing unit. If a tie, the dice are rolled again. Fighting continues until either all units of a combatant are eliminated or one side retreats. The winner of the battle collects any Victory Point cubes on the “Won the Last Battle” card. If the winner is the attacker, he also reaps a reward based on what area was the target of his attack: destruction of an enemy holding (City Area), taking a Resource Production Tile and placing it in his own area (Production Area) or taking five resource cubes (Holding Area).

With all combat completed, “resource spoilage” occurs. All players who have more than 5 resource cubes of any type return the excess to the bank. (A player who has built a storehouse may hold 8 resources of each type.) Finally, players may discard any unused cards from their hands. Permanent cards go back to the Permanent Card deck ready to be used again; unused Random Action cards go, face up, to the bottom of the Random deck.

The game ends at the end of the turn when the last victory point cube has been placed OR when the Wonder is built. The player with the most red Victory Point cubes is the winner.

Despite what could have been immensely complicated, Age of Mythology is strikingly user-friendly. Each player board contains a breakdown of the buildings available and the resources needed to purchase them. Each production tile contains the necessary information as to terrain and resources. (They’re not fancy but extremely functional.) The same thing can be said for the building tiles which succinctly note the advantages conveyed to the owner.

Play remains tense throughout the game. As the lion’s share of Victory Points are rewarded at game’s end, competition stays keen as you really don’t know who will come out on top until the final turn. The balance can swing on one crucial decision or a roll of the dice.

The game combines successful elements from other game systems. The use of individual player boards and choosing player actions ALL players may do is reminiscent of Puerto Rico (Spring 2002 GA REPORT). Resource generation strikes a responsive chord with anyone who has ever played The Settlers of Catan (Fall 1996 GA REPORT). And, of course, once you introduce dice for combat, you bring in an element of chaos that fans of Risk will be sure to recognize. Yet, the way in which these elements are combined gives Age of Mythology a distinctly different feel.

The biggest knock on the game seems to be the combat system. The die rolling certainly adds a significant amount of down time to the game. (And a word of recommendation: when sorting your army, try to arrange them in type. This will cut down on the time needed to find the right piece.) While dice are being rolled, the player (or players) not involved can go out for a cup of coffee and come back without missing a thing! But, honestly, I didn’t find that a problem. When you are involved in the battle, the continual die rolls hold a certain fascination as momentum can change with each throw and even outnumbered (by dice) combatants can upset a stronger enemy and change the course of play. Even when not directly involved in combat, I found myself interested in each roll of the dice since the outcome of every conflict had a direct impact on my own strategies since, in a three person game, you border on BOTH combatants and, even in a four player game, at least one of the cultures involved borders on your holdings to be an even greater threat or a possibly weakened potential target for your aggressive tendencies. Also, choosing which units will face off is a “game within the game” as you try to divine which unit your enemy will send against you. Guess right and you can get bonus dice to roll and improve your chances to inflict damage.

There has also been talk as to whether or not the game plays better with three or four. It has been suggested that the game was designed with three in mind and that four was an “afterthought”. Not being privy to the design process, I can’t comment on whether or not that is true. What IS true, however, is that the game plays well with both 3 or 4. Dividing the Random action deck between two cultures (as directed with 4 players) is not the problem that was feared. There are enough cards so that both players have plenty and random is random, whether you’re picking from an entire deck or only a portion. (On the other hand, we prefer the 3 or 4 player game over the two player version as one of the strengths of the game’s dynamic lies is the multiplicity of targets.)

Age of Mythology is inspired by a variety of game sources: the computer game of the same title from Microsoft and Ensemble Studios, Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan and Risk. Although the inspiration for this offering is evident, the concoction created is a unique game that stands tall on its own. Recommended. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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Fall 2003 GA Report Articles

 

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