Booth: The Realm Of Fantasy
On the table: Atta Ants
The Saturday in Essen's Spiel fair tends to be the busiest day of all and there was no difference this year. In the past I had avoided staying in hall 6 for too long - the fantasy gamer's hall - as it is usually packed with people (and because I am not too interested in fantasy games anyway). This year was different, though, due to the fact that my son was looking for extensions to his Magic - The Gathering card collection. As in previous years he was quite impressed by the folks in the hall as many, many dress up in fantasy game style; some looking really frightening while others, especially the girls (am I really developing into a dirty old man?), were looking rather cute.
While Sebastian was flipping through the folders of the card dealers I spent my time roaming the hall. And there I found this small booth of "The Realm of Fantasy", a Dutch fantasy game mail order company. Richard de Rijk, the founder of TROF presented his two games: "Anera's Arena" published already two years ago and his brand-new game "Atta Ants". This little game about leaf cutting ants immediately caught my attention so I sat down and had an introduction into the game.
Atta Ants is a 2 to 4 player game with a variable board layout. During the setup phase 8 tiles (good quality cardstock) are placed around a central "ant nest" tile. The tiles represent terrain around the ant nest. Most of the tiles have brown "tracks" printed on them, which represent the preferred route of roaming ants. Some of the tiles carry atta ant food, represented by an oak leaf while others have a little spider printed on them - spiders are the enemy of the atta ants as they feed on them.
Each player has 6 ants represented by colored wooden disks. Once the initial board has been setup by laying down the first nine tiles, each player places 2 of his ants in the central nest. In addition all tiles with a spider illustration receive a larger black disk representing a spider (there is a maximum of four spiders). Any tiles with leafs receive 2 glass tokens representing food.
The players' task is it to collect the food tokens with their ants and to bring the food back to the nest. For each food token returned to the nest the player may place one new ant into the nest. The first player who has placed all 6 ants on the board wins the game. Alternatively, the game ends once all 24 terrain cards have been placed. In this case the player with the most ants on the board wins. This would be all too easy were there not movement restrictions and the deadly enemies of the ants.
Each round begins with the start player adding one new tile to the board. New tiles must extend any existing ant paths and must match with already existing tracks. Once the tile is placed the start player moves his ants: Ants may travel a distance of up to 2 tiles on the ant paths or 1 tile through the "rough". At any time during its movement an ant may pick up one food token, either from the ground or from another ant. The round then continues with the next player moving his ants. Once all players have moved their ants the start player completes the round by moving the spiders. Spiders move only one tile and into the direction of the tile holding the most number of ants (excluding the nest). If there are more tiles like this, spiders will move towards the closest one; if there is more then one possible route the start players decides which route the spider will take. If a spider ends its movement on a tile with ants it will eat all of them and the ant tokens are removed from the board and given back to their respective players. The startplayer position then moves on in a clockwise fashion.
On the booth we had a three player game and on the same day I played three more two player games in the evening with Sebastian. What is surprising to me is how different the game works in a two vs. a multi-player setting. While with two players the game can become quite a brain teaser when considering the right routes to take for your ants and the spiders. The game has a completely different "flavor" with three (and possibly four) players. With more then two players it is of course much more difficult to precisely plan ahead and to build "traps" for the opponent's ants. It is much more important to stay clear of the spiders and to correctly time the picking up of food so that other ants cannot steal it from your.
The friendly girl at the booth pointed out that a good move is to set up a "delivery chain" which makes it possible to move food into the nest in just one turn (I leave you to sort this one out by yourselves) and it seemed to me that this may be vital for winning the game. Another important thing to consider is to actively "steer" the spiders: As spiders always move into the direction of the tile(s) with the most ants on them it can be very wise to move one of your ants onto a tile which holds already some opponent's ants. Particularly in a two player game this is one of the tactical moves you can make when you are NOT the start player. In a multiplayer game it can be wise to team up with one opponent for "spider steering".
All in all, "Atta Ants" is a very nice game. It has high quality components, can be explained and played in under 45 minutes and last but not least works very nicely as a two player game as well as a multi-player game. I'm curious to see how it will work with the rest of the Westpark Gamers.
Westpark Gamers score: 7.0