Session Report & Review 21.05.2003

Autor: Moritz, Aaron

am Tisch: Loredana, Günther, Peter, Moritz und Aaron

auf dem Tisch: Alhambra, Amun Re

  1. AlhambraAlhambra

    This new offering is part of the selection for „Spiel des Jahres“, this is why Guenther nudged us gently to play it...

    The game is similar to other German games (well, aren’t ALL German games similar to other German games???) and immediately creates associations with “Princes of Florence” (each player builds his own “Alhambra” palace, in arabic Spain) and Carcassonne (Tiles have to be placed in a tricky way, you try to build a “long wall” instead of a long road).

    And of course the long list of games where you have to have the majority in a specific attribute (buildings in “Alhambra”).

    Nothing new – how does it play?

    Each player gets a hand of numbered cards in 4 colors (the different kinds of money used in arabic Spain), valued 1-9. The drawing mechanism brings a little luck into the game: Each player draws up to the exact limit of 20, if s/he doesn’t hit 20 exactly s/he may surpass the sum, resulting in different sized hands for each player.

    On a small board 4 building tiles are placed at random (and constantly replaced). Each can be acquired with only one specific kind of money, so the building next to the “yellow” money symbol can only be bought with “yellow” money. Building prices range from 3-13. There are seven kinds of buildings, some are very rare, some are very common. Hidden in the money draw pile (and therefore functioning as a random scoring) are two scoring cards, a final scoring happens at the end of the game, when all buildings have been sold. The more common buildings give you more points, as it is more difficult to have the majority with them. The first scoring round only scores the leaders (with scores ranging from 1 to 7), the second scoring round scores the leaders and runner-up’s (leaders now receive more than double the sum before, the runner-up the basic sum), the final round includes a third place as well with equally raised stakes. If 2 or more players are tied, they receive the sums of both scores divided by their number and rounded down.

    Each player has only one action (normally).

    S/he can:
    1. Take any of the open and constantly replenished 4 money cards
    2. Take a combination of money cards up to the value of 5 (rarely achieveable!)
    3. Buy a building with the correct money cards
    4. “Destroy” an already built building (goes to “reserve”)
    5. “Rebuild” a destroyed building somewhere else
    6. “Exchange” a building with a building from the reserve that fits

    One unique mechanism needs attention: You have to use the cards you have when buying buildings (no change), so most of the time you have to overpay because your cards don’t match the exact price. If you however manage to EXACTLY pay the price, you get an ADDITIONAL action. Theoretically you can gain a string of actions in this way, so it very often makes sense to sit back and improve your card hand instead of building or buying at all costs – It might pay off in later rounds when you suddenly have a lot of actions available!

    Alhambra Building buildings is not easy: they all have to be orientated in one direction, walls have to be next to walls (all square building tiles have none, one, two or even three walls), and you have to be able to access all placed tiles from your central “start” tile. Your longest series of walls give extra points every scoring round. If you acquire a building that can’t be placed right now, you have to put it in reserve, hoping to build it another time (which eats up one action, though). In my opinion it is mostly better to accumulate cards instead of buying a building you can’t immediately build – cards INCREASE your options, whereas the reserve building takes away TWO actions. In fact our reserve space was rarely used in our first game.

    All actions are very important, as the game is over pretty quickly, and very often you won’t be able to achieve what you wanted to. The final scoring round gives the most points, and is therefore most important.

    That’s all there is – no surprises, really.

    The sentence to sum up this game is: it works. It is not overly complicated and plays quickly because of limited options. The tension lies mostly in the management of your card hand, or if another player gets a specific building before you can pay for it. It is satyisfying to pull off a string of actions, but that’s about it. There is very little to none player interaction (you look at what the others have built and plan your own buys based on that info, that’s about it), and the excitement factor is not really high.

    Guenther was the only one of our group who reacted enthusiastically to this game (even saying that it had a chance for “Spiel des Jahres”, the others liked it, but not in a very “emotional” way.

    Our rating for this session: 6.2

    Moritz Eggert

  2. Amun ReAmun Re
    Amun-Re is this year's "Hans im Glück" major Nürnberg release (besides another Carcassonne extension) and like "Euphrat & Tigris" it is by Reiner Knizia. This time the setting is ancient Egypt during the time of the Pharaohs and players take on the role of rival dynasties.

    The game board is an abstract map of 15 provinces in Egypt, divided into "lower" and "upper" Egypt indicated by a horizontal line that separates the board into a "south" and a "north" section. The board is further divided by the river Nile, creating four separate areas on the map. These four sections take an important role in the scoring phases of the game as certain sets of provinces may grand extra victory points. The main source of victory points however are pyramids built in provinces; hence the objective of the game is to acquire provinces and to build pyramids in them. Both require income which is earned by selling crops. On the other hand, growing crops requires farmers, which can be hired for money - and we are right in the middle of this great resource management game.

    The game is divided into two halves - the old and the new kingdom, and each kingdom is played in three rounds with each round having 5 phases:

    Phase 1: Revealing the province cards

    As many provinces as there are players are randomly selected in order to be put up for auction in phase 2. Since each province has different properties players already now have some input for making up their minds about the strategy they will follow during the game: provinces have different amounts of farmer spaces or they allow different amounts of power cards to be purchased, some provide free gold or power cards and others provide free building material.

    Phase 2: Acquisition of provinces

    One by one the provinces are now put up for auction: beginning with the start player each player selects a province and bids the amount of money s/he will pay if successful. Once all players have made their bid any player having been outbid must select a new province and bid again. This continues until each player has won a province. Here, and throughout the rest of the game prices increase in distinct steps: 0, 1, 3, 6, 10 and so on.

    Phase 3: Buying resources

    Players now acquire resources for their provinces. There are three types of resources: power cards, farmers and building material. For each type of resource the complete number of resources must be bought at once making large numbers prohibitively expensive (e.g. 2 farmers cost 3 gold, 3 farmers cost 6 (1+2+3) gold. The amount of resources a player may buy is limited by the numbers depicted on the provinces.

    While the power cards are maintained by the player (no hand limit) the farmers and building material must be distributed amongst the provinces. As soon as a province contains three building materials these are converted to a pyramid.

    Phase 4: Offering to Amun-Re

    Amun Re Players now secretly select a number of gold cards and simultaneously reveal them. The sum of all gold cards played amended by the possible "-3" cards (each player gets one of these at the start of the game) is then used to determine the value of the offer and the appropriate position of the temple marker on the temple track. This marker indicates the amount of gold paid for farmers and pyramids in phase 5 (the higher the sacrifice the higher the income paid).

    The player who offered the highest amount to Amun-Re is rewarded with three resources of his choice - power cards, farmers and/or building stones. The player who offered the second-highest amount receives two items, while everyone who sacrificed at least one gold receives one item. Any player who played a -3 card "steals" 3 gold from the treasury, but does not receive a free gift from Amun-Re due to his affront. All gold sacrificed is returned to the bank, while -3 cards are retrieved by the players having played them.

    Phase 5: Harvest and other income

    Now players receive income based on the number of farmers they have in their provinces and the position of the temple marker. In addition players receive gold for some of the provinces, indicated by a corresponding symbol. Some power cards which can be played in this phase grand an extra income, too.

    Phase 6: Scoring

    This phase is only played at the end of turn 3 (end of the old kingdom) and at the end of turn 6 (end of the new kingdom and end of the game).

    Each player now receives victory points based on the status of their provinces:

    At the end of the old kingdom all resources except for the temples and the building stones are removed from the board and the game continues with playing the new kingdom.

    At the end of the game - when the new kingdom has been played and scored - extra victory points are granted to the three players holding the most gold.

    And how does it play?

    Amun-Re is a resource managing game par excellence and in some respects it "feels" slightly familiar with Reiner Knizia's "Euphrat & Tigris". Money is the most important resource with respect to flexibility of actions while VPs are generated by provinces, temples and power cards, all of which need money for their acquisition. Therefore, players find themselves in a permanent dilemma of spending money on farmers to generate more money or to spend money on building stones and power cards to generate VPs. Although the rules are clear and strait forward this dilemma makes the game rather complex - another resemblance to "Euphrat & Tigris". That's why we don't give it a high chance of receiving the "Spiel des Jahres 2003" prize but it is my personal favourite for "Deutscher Spielepreis 2003".

    Here are some hints for good resource management in Amun-Re:

    Go for the money

    During the first half of the game (when playing the old kingdom) it is a good idea to generate money with high priority - especially in a five player game, where all provinces will be played. This is because the old kingdom will generate far less VPs than the new kingdom (only about 1/3) and you need money to bid on the "good" provinces of the new kingdom. Which provinces are good for you is determined by the number of pyramids having been built in any one province. Don't get nervous if you are behind in VPs when the old kingdom dies - chances are that your fellow players are short of money now.

    Get those Power Cards

    Acquiring power cards early has a lot of benefits. On the one hand you might get one or more of those cards which yield special bonuses for certain sets of provinces. If you have the fortune to receive these cards during the old kingdom you can follow a matching strategy during the new kingdom. And secondly, it is a lot better to have e.g. a Master Builder card in your hand that you cannot play (you are only allowed to play one type of card per turn) than letting another player have it who may be able to play it. And remember: prices increase depending on the number of cards you buy, so buying small numbers regularly saves money!

    Watch those sets

    Distribute your pyramids equally between your provinces as this will pay extra VPs for complete sets at the end of a kingdom. A safe set of pyramids (yielding 3 VPs) is better than an insecure "most pyramids" bonus of 5 points, so consider carefully where you place your building stones.

    Our current rating: 7.9

    Aaron Haag