Back to the Rondel-Roots
Epic conflicts in Sandals without conflicting rules
The Roundel: A decade ago we have encountered it for the first time in „Antike“, and since that time it has developed into the „signature feature“ of a gamy by Mac Gerdts. Already in 2006, „Imperial“ did follow, the play-wise ingenious, albeit as regards to topic somewhat cynical version on WWI, using the roundel again. The building of churches in the 17th century in „Hamburgum“, published in 2007, was the temporary end of the Roundel series, as in, „Die Prinzen von Machu Picchu”, the Roundel was, in a way, newly invented due to the mechanism of triggering an action by way of the 15 districts of the Incan town. An alternate end-of-game condition that enhances the challenge even further probably was based on the well-known punch line from a Monty Python sketch: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”; and llamas are nearly as numerous as in the front credits for “Die Ritter der Kokosnuss”. The topic used in “Navegador”, published in 2010, were the discoveries and colonial expansion of Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries. “Concordia“, published in 2013, even made it onto the nomination list for Kennerspiel des Jahres 2014; here you all but take the Roundel up into your hand of cards and then again make your way around ancient lands, using a moderate deck-building mechanisms with cards. In addition to the respectively intense and atmospheric interpretation of the topic, all those games feature a booklet with historic background information; a very nice service that once more enhances the game play experience; all other components in Mac Gerdt’s game leave the same positive impression.
But what is a Roundel? Viewed in an abstract way, it is a circle that has been segmented into eight pieces like a cake; each of those segments represents an action. On this circle players move their markers in analogy to the hands of a clock and decide themselves, which action they want to implement next. However, the Roundel is not only another action selection mechanism, it creates a very dynamic feeling for the game, as most of the action options (earning or spending money or resources) only take little time to implement. As a film is made up from individual pictures, this system creates many short actions and thus a stirring game flow, nearly without any downtime at all – unless you have a die-hard ponderer in your midst.
This speeding-up effect is enhanced further by this special effect: Aim of the game somehow is not so much the most efficient use of your money but the optimization of the number of actions you manage to do. You need to achieve an interim goal with the minimum number of action to give yourself a chance to win the game at the end. So, for all players, the usually time-wise niggling question of „it is my turn, what shall I do?” shifts to „I just did my turn, so what do I do next?” An answer to this question can usually be found while the other players do their actions, as the Roundel only allows advancement of up to three steps without cost. To move further forward and thus the use of a “later” actions must be paid for, which results in sparing use of those actions. Furthermore, based on those additional cost you can more easily asses the possible next actions of your opponents.
In „Antike“ the Roundel has been designed and equipped with nearly purist or ascetic beauty: Three cases on the Roundel represent the acquisition of resources – marble, gold and/or iron), three cases represent the spending of resources (for building temples, acquisition of progress or upgrading/military deployment) and two cases for the movements of armies and fleets. In general, everything is clearly structured and easily analyzed: If I move my action marker onto the case for marble, I will receive one unit of marble for every town that produces marble (only one such town at the start of the game). The more marble-producing towns I hold, the more marble I receive. As an alternative to holding more marble towns is, to set up a temple in a marble-producing town: This results in a yield of three units of marble from this town. You can also raise production by the acquisition of a certain type of Know-How. In analogy, those mechanisms and rules apply to gold and iron, respectively.
In the later course of the game marble is primarily used by players to construct temples in their own cities. Gold is usually mostly spent to acquire various types of Know-How which then in turn can be used to improve the abilities of your own people. Iron is the currency to acquire new armies and fleets, which are, in the early stages of the game, primarily used to expand your population on the board. For this purpose the Roundel offers two spaces for the movement action, used by army and fleet units. Each region that you acquire/move into you can found a new city for the cost of one marble, one gold and one iron. In case of contact with not too friendly populations guided by your fellow players battles are fought, by simply matching units 1:1 and taking them off board – and this has taken us through all of the most important rules.
And yet, “Antike” is not another game of „explore, expand, exploit and exterminate“- war game, and thus a game solely for male players, instead you need to acquire a certain number of victory points, in relation to the number of players. Those victory points are gained, naturally, by expanding your people across the board and/or for the destruction of opposing temples, but you also earn victory points for the construction of a set of three temples and for the first acquisition of a certain type of Know-How. Those victory points are not only marked on a track, they are additionally also visualized by a card, named after a personality of ancient times. The reason for this: For all peoples together there is only a limited number of victory points available from each of the five areas. At some point, therefore, it is useless to construct more temples, when all victory points for temples have been handed out. It is also not really necessary to defend with all might you own temples or the expansion you achieved for your realm; it is much better to relinquish incriminating property and possessions and to invest the time and resources saved into acquiring additional points in another area. The flow of the game, obviously, demands frequent tactical changes of purpose to quickly acquire the odd victory point here or there or snap it up from under another player’s very nose.
What are now the main differences between „Antike“ and “Antike II“ ?
In a nutshell, designer Mac Gerdts wanted to tone down the “bellicose” aspect of the game and to leave players a bit more chance to win when using purely pacific strategies. In consequence, there are now three neutral temples that are already built at the start of the game, albeit also needing to be destroyed in order to acquire the corresponding victory points, but of course this destruction is not hurting other players as much, compared to erasing their private temples. In addition, the price for military units has been doubled in “Antike II”, so that you also think twice before starting aggressive conflict moves. The newly introduced card “Bellona”, on the other hand, mitigates this additional effort/cost a big again, as it provides you with an additional free unit when you acquire a unit. Then you must hand on the card to your right neighbor, that is, counter-clockwise, which reminds one of the similar function of the “Navegador” card or the “Praefectus Magnus” card from “Concordia”. Another new feature is that you now need fewer movement actions in order to conquer opposing cities or to destroy opposing temples. To avoid that nasty neighbors arriving instantly at your own doorstep, all peoples are provided with a defense bonus, while they are small - and thus are still disciplined and able to defend themselves and not yet decadent and greedy for victory points. The eight types of Know-How have been revised, too, for “Antike II”, they have different prices now and there is a new category; on the other hand, the second upgrade level for movement over land or water has been deleted. To make acquisition of victory points for spreading out over water there are now some ocean regions that give advantages for that.
The majority of changes seem to be very well engineered. The two new Know-How types of “Mercatura” and “Commercium”, which allow you to swap resources, are definitely a positive addition to the game. Only the changing of the exchange ratio (from 2:1 at the start to 3:2 later) seems a bit incongruous, as the other two Know How types of two levels are coupled with a doubling of the respective advantage. All in all, the doubling of armament prices has also a positive influence on the game, that is, reduces frustrating experiences for “victims”. However, the price for this is a certain loss of interaction, especially as one does not go for conflict as frivolously as in the earlier version of the game. This in turn gives, in a fair way, a certain advantage to the opening strategy that puts its bets at first on expansion on the board and the founding of new cities. This expansion strategy is coupled to a higher degree of vulnerability than the strategy of “Temples” (that is, a quick construction of three temples which enable you not only to triple the initial productivity, but also help in defense and expansion) or the strategy of “Gold” (that is, constructing a temple in a “gold” city and in consequence fast first acquisition of various Know-Hows due to the enhanced gold production).
The fact that it is possible to block the “Bellona” card over quite a long period, especially when playing the temple or gold strategy, should be countered with the use of a house rule (similar to the rule in “Navegador”). This new “Old World Peace”, however, is seen to be a disadvantage when all players tend to ensconce themselves in their respective empires, as the military aspect of the game is a very essential element of interaction between players. As the optimization characteristics of the game are still very strong in “Antike II”, newbies will not have much of a chance against seasoned architects and commanders, which in turn does not result in much real satisfaction to the winner of the game.
Still, there is - if you set aside military interventions - no other mechanism in the game which facilitates catching up with the leaders for players that have fallen behind with their peoples. And, by the way, the cover of the new edition, gives a wrong, that is too bellicose, impression, compared to the way the game really plays in this new edition.
During the last decade there has again and again been also some criticism on the Roundel itself: One seems to be very restricted or too pre-determined in one’s choice of play due to the always identical sequence of actions and the limitation of only three actions that are free of charge; some players also believe the Roundel to be too „mechanistic“ or „dry“. In this version, those objections do only apply in a limited way, as the jumping over cases on the Roundel only costs one resource for each left-out case; that means that you can introduce actions beyond that „Three-Case-Limit“relatively cheaply into your own tactical considerations and you can rather lightheartedly jump over maybe several cases in order to implement the action of your choice. However, as many board games integrate a very easily playable, moderate deck-building mechanism with cards as the mechanism for selecting actions - for instance “Rokoko”, “Lewis & Clark” and, especially, “Concordia”, I can recommend the following variant, if you want to achieve a similar feeling for „Antike II“:
Each player takes eight cards which replace the Roundel and the eight action options depicted on it, and displays those cards open-faced. When you use a card for an action, you turn it over and can only use it again when all used cards have been reactivated and turned back to their front side. Such a reactivation is possible before or after each turn of a player. To reactive all used cards always costs you as many resources as you have unused, open-faced cards still on display minus two resources, which simulates the option to jump over two cases on the Roundel free of charge.
If you want to use a certain card twice in a row without activating another action first, you would have to pay seven resources (for the cards still face-up in the display) minus two resources, so the price would be five resources and thus exactly as much as you would pay if you want to select the same action twice in a row on the Roundel. Contrary to the Roundel is is possible, in this version, to play an action with the 6th card from your display and to use it again for free in your next turn, because you can - with two remaining cards open-faced in your display - reactivate all cards free of charge. If you would like to try this variant, you can use the templates at the end of this review, one with card explanations, the other one without explanations.
For the „Bellona“ card this supplementary rule kind of suggests itself: When the card is handed on to the next player, it is placed to the left of this player. When this player then reactivates his cards, he moves the “Bellona” card to his right and must hand it on the the next player when he reactivates his cards again, even if he did not use it. If the player uses “Militia” in between two reactivations, “Bellona” is handed on instantly.
Once again, the Roundel creates a whole new universe of up to six developing ancient peoples in the Mediterranean or - on the back side of the game board - in the area in which Alexander once rose to greatness. “Antike II” in a way represents the Iron Age version in contrast to „Antike“ which is the Bronze Age of te3n years ago. Waging war has become a lot more expensive so that interaction among players is a lot more peaceful. This goes hand in hand with a more intense flair of an optimization task, which could, basically, also be mastered in a solitary game. However, there is still hardly another game that lets you enact a competitive civilization development with such moderate rules and such a reasonable amount of time while at the same time providing a satisfactory amount of in-game depth and stimulating complexity without being complicated.
Hier die Druckfiles anhängen - antike_II _d und antike_II _d1
Designer: Mac Gerdts
Artist: Mac Gerdts
Price: ca. 40 Euro
Publisher: PD Verlag 2014
Genre: Development, civilizations
Users: With friends
Rules: de en
In-game text: no
Well-fitting interaction of topic and mechanisms
No chance elements
Concise and clear rules
Very good rules summary
Antike, Antike Duellum, Imperial, Imperial 2030
Rio Grande Games, Oya
My rating: 6
Yet again a mirror image of developing civilizations, with noticeably more expensive military engagement and higher optimization demands, based on moderate rules efforts, accompanied by lots of in-game depth and alluring complexity.
Chance (pink): 0
Tactic (turquoise): 3
Strategy (blue): 2
Creativity (dark blue): 0
Knowledge (yellow): 0
Memory (orange): 0
Communication (red): 1
Interaction (brown): 2
Dexterity (green): 0
Action (dark green): 0