Reviewed by Herb Levy (as seen in the Summer 2018 Gamers Alliance Report)
ANCESTREE (Calliope Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, 20-40 minutes; $30)
One of the recent developments in modern life is the desire to know your background. Today, there are a host of services available where you can submit your DNA or go online to trace your roots and discover just where you came from and who is related to whom. In this design from Eric M. Lang, players can approach this search from a different direction by building a family tree in the aptly titled game: Ancestree.
Ancesstree is a mixture of two genres of play: drafting (think Seven Wonders [Winter 2011 Gamers Alliance Report], Sushi-Go [Spring 2015 GA Report] and Between Two Cities [Summer 2016 GAR]} and tile laying (think Carcassonne [Summer 2001 GA Report] and so many others).
Players begin with a scoreboard and a hand of six tiles. They will choose one to play and then pass the rest to the left (in the first and third rounds of play) or right (in round 2). Tiles belong to one of five “heritages”, noted by color and symbol. In addition, a tile may contain light and/or dark leaves (evoking a family “tree”), half a heart (representing potential marriages) and/or gold circles (representing gold). The first tile chosen is played in front of each player simultaneously. After that, tiles may be added to the “tree” as long as they follow a few simple rules.
First and most importantly, played tiles must match at least 1 attribute: light leaf to light leaf, dark leaf to dark leaf and/or heart to heart. Tiles may be linked up or down or side to side. Tiles of the same “heritage” (color) vertically connected indicate “dynasties” (so a 3 tiered connection of a single color counts as a 3 dynasty link). Tiles must be played portrait style, may not be rotated and, once played, may not be moved. Once a round leaves players with 2 tiles, only one of these is played with the other tossed out of the game. After each round we score.
Dynasties between players on the right and left of each player are compared. In the first round, a longer dynasty of each heritage earns players 1 point. In the second round, this is worth 2 points. In the third and final round, each longer dynasty earns 3 points. Chits of the appropriate denomination are placed on each player’s scoreboard. In addition, gold coins are counted each round with players receiving that amount of gold from the bank which is stored on its designated space on the scoreboard. After the third round scoring, hearts, symbolizing marriages, are counted. One complete heart is worth 1 point, 2 worth 3, 3 worth 5 and then 5 more points for each complete heart. (The value of hearts is also found on the scoreboard as a play aid.) Half-hearts do not score. Players now add the face value of the tiles earned in the three rounds and the amount of money generated to the heart point total. The player with the highest combined total wins!
Although the game has a light learning curve, there are interesting decisions to be made. Building vertically increases long lines of dynasties which gain value from round to round. But marriages only happen horizontally. You have to decide when to sacrifice length of a dynasty for the end game payoff of marriages. (The game is extremely stylized when it comes to marriage. Identical portraits can link and sex has no bearing on the joining of hearts or linking of tiles.) Money too is a strong consideration. Each gold is worth 1 VP and gold scores EVERY round. But tiles with TWO gold on them are usually limited in the connections they offer. You need to be sure you don’t cut yourself off from growing your dynasties as tiles that do not connect do not expand your dynasty and, if you happen to have two separate chains of the same color, only the longest one can be used. The scoreboard helps serve to remind players to score ALL of the heritages as you can go from color to color and it also is a good way to see, at a glance, where your strengths and weaknesses lies in a particular heritage (color) so you can choose tiles accordingly.
Eric M. Lang has made his reputation by designing challenging Euro games. We recognized his talent in his early efforts such as Midgard (Spring 2007 Gamers Alliance Report) and he has ramped up his designs such as with the very popular Blood Rage (Summer 2016 GA Report). Here he steps back and has come up with something simple and streamlined that can have a very broad appeal. With its ability to handle up to six players, Ancestree is an ideal choice for a game night opener or closer. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy