Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Ryan Laukat


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Over the last few years Ryan Laukat has established his own label RED RAVEN GAMES as a source of unusual and beautiful games, and indeed he deserves admiration for the fact that he is designing and publishing his games as a one-man business. He has the ideas, creates the games, illustrates everything and even handles the whole production and distribution process. Kudos for this - even in the games industry so much effort of a single person is rather unusual!

As some of you will remember from my coverage in 2012 and 2013, I have been rather fond of Ryan's games Empires of the Void and City of Iron, and these ranks have been joined late in 2013 by Eight-Minute Empire - Legends, a rather cute area control game which is driven through a common card deck and features an unusual short playing time. However, as it turned out, 2014 now has become even more of a Laukat-year for me, since I have backed all three of his new Kickstarter-projects: The City of Iron - Experts and Engines expansion has been delivered in August, and Eight-Minute Empire - Legends - Lost Lands is scheduled early next year, but today I was able to collect a new big game directly from Ryan here at the SPIEL. With my fondness of Ryan's creations I was really looking forwards to check out The Ancient World, and today I am more than happy to share my initial thoughts with you.

Let's start with some common facts: The Ancient World operates on a worker-placement mechanism, featuring a beautiful gameboard with different locations where the players can send their citizens to perform different kinds of actions. The players aim to gather military strength which will enable them to fight the horrible Titans, a crowd of mystic creatures which have been terrorizing the land since time immemorial. Defeating a Titan will trigger various benefits for a player, but most important is the fact the he will keep the Titan card, giving him one or more banners of the five ancient tribes roaming the land. At the end of the game the players will count their Tribe banners on all their Titans and Empire cards, and the different sets of banners then will be transformed into victory points in order to determine the winner of the game.

To fight a Titan, a player needs at least one army for an attack action, and in addition combat symbols from useful Empire-cards which have been purchased to strengthen a player's capital city can be used as well. However, armies in The Ancient World are not simply purchased and then can be used forever, but instead an army needs to be paid in order to attack. The first attack of an army will cost the player one Gold coin, but money paid to an army always will be left on the army card and any subsequent attack then will cost one more Gold coins than the total of coins already placed on the card. So, the second attack will cost two Gold coins, the third attack four Gold coins, and the fourth attack seven Gold coins etc. As can be seen, the long-time use of an army quickly will deplete a player's treasury, and so a time will come when an active army is no longer profitable and needs to be retired. This can be done by purchasing a new army, and as a nice feature the new army will be trained by the old army, allowing the player to place the retired army beneath the new army card so that it increases the fighting strength of the new army. This procedure may be repeated several times, and it is connected with some interesting timing-considerations since the army chosen for retirement may not have been used during that round.

However, hiring efficient armies and purchasing Empire-cards of course is not as easy as it may sound, and so the players will face certain limitations which they must efficiently tackle in order to play successfully. As might be guessed, one limitation is a player's treasury, and Gold coins can be obtained either by sending a citizen to work or by owning Titan and Empire cards which give the player a continuous income. In turn, Empire cards can be purchased by money, but once again the player is faced with certain restrictions. For one, each player's capital only has a limited capacity for new Empire cards, and this needs to be increased by obtaining Districts and Titan cards. In addition, some of the more powerful Empire cards also require Knowledge tokens in order to be built, and this - once again - can be gained either by a citizen action or by possession of a Titan or Empire card generating a Knowledge token each round. A player who wishes to purchase a new army also has to observe a limit, but this time it is the army limit which in turn can be increased by means similar to the increasing of a city's capacity.

As you can see, the game features some elements which are rather typical for games where each player has to plan and build his own game engine: you must to A in order to receive B which, in turn, will enable you to achieve C, and for doing all this you have to observe certain restrictions. As indicated, the players deal with all this through a worker-placement mechanism. This alone will not seem unusual, but Ryan has adjusted the classic mechanism in a way which poses some interesting challenges for the players. So, the three citizens in possession of each player have different skill levels, and instead of capping the number of workers which can be sent to each board location the players face that restriction that a location which has already be used only can be entered by a new citizen if he has a higher skill level than the citizen(s) already there. This twist actually gives the classic mechanism an interesting new angle, since the players now are faced with the option of keeping others out of a location by sending a citizen with a high skill level. However, this means that the player's own higher-skilled citizen will be gone, making it harder for the player to enter other locations with his lower skilled citizens.

In addition, all this encourages a player to use a citizen for an action which increases his population with a new citizen, and that citizen will have a higher skill level than any other of the player's citizens which are already in use. However, to make things harder, a player who wants his population to grow needs to keep an eye on his food level, since each citizen needs a food symbol on the player's city or his Empire/Titan cards. If a citizen cannot be fed at the beginning of a new round, that citizen is considered to be starving and cannot be used for an action during that round.

Quite nice is also the possibility to send citizens to a player's own Empire cards. Some cards which can be acquired actually show their own opportunities for special actions, and so a player may use a citizen on a Caravan card to gain some gold, to the Desert Archive to get some knowledge etc. These actions are not really different from the possibilities available on the main gameboard, but they are exclusive to their owner, allowing him to save his higher skilled workers for more important actions.

All this should nicely illustrate the way the different options and limitations which can be found in The Ancient World interact with each other. It is actually quite interesting to see that the game does not draw its playing depths from a great choice of different actions and special abilities, but instead the players will need to focus on dealing with the comparatively simple needs of money, food, capacity and fighting strength in the most efficient way. All this can be done by fighting Titans and obtaining new Empire-cards, but whatever a player does he also needs to keep an eye on the Tribe banners provided by the new cards. Everything will be in vain if a player cannot show a collection of well-matching Tribe banners when the game is over, and so all considerations outlined above stand under the additional provision that they should be useful in terms of collecting banners.

In addition, the game features a nice degree of player interaction, most of it triggered by the ever-present timing considerations which are contained in the chosen worker-placement mechanism. There is always a risk that another player takes an Empire-card from the display or kills a Titan if I do not do this first, but the dilemma is always the same: you cannot act everywhere at the same time. So, you have to chose your actions on the basis of being useful to you and hampering your opponents at the same time, and as outlined above this classic scheme of action and effect is nicely boosted by the skill levels of your citizens, forcing a player to take the skills of other players' workers into consideration. However, player interaction does not stop here, but there also exist Empire cards which allow a player to use another player's Empire cards or which trigger a benefit for a player if one of his neighbors uses a specific action. All this keeps the players from focusing only on the events on their own player board, an observation which nicely sets The Ancient World apart from most other games of this type.

In the end, it is rather interesting to see how skillful Ryan was in re-aligning some elements known from City of Iron to form a new game. The purchase display, the use of Empire- and Military- decks, the limitation of available actions and the capacity limits all are known from City of Iron, but nonetheless The Ancient World has its own unique feel which sets it well apart from Ryan's earlier creation. Despite the good amount of individual cards The Ancient World feels somewhat lighter than average for a game of this category, and this is due to the fact that many of the screws and levers which can be operated by the players all lead to the adjustment of just a few basic factors. However, for me this is a feature which makes the game rather attractive, since it makes The Ancient World refreshingly different from other worker-placement games.

G@mebox Special

The Sacred Cave

It's good tradition that a selfmade downloadable mini-expansion for a game is presented each year during my SPIEL-coverage, and in 2014 I was able to secure an extraordinary item for this year's reports. Once again Ryan Laukat, one of my favourite game designers, has created a downloadable mini-expansion for his new game The Ancient World for my SPIEL-reports, and even though he cannot make it to the SPIEL this year due to some travelling problems I would like to say a big "THANK YOU" for providing this nice extra!

Rules: When a player sends a citizen here, he may pay 1 coin to temporarily gain 1 sword. He may then immediately draw the top 3 Titans and attack one of them. This temporary sword can count for additional Titan attacks in the round.

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany