Posted by: gschloesser | July 13, 2011

Amun-Re

Rio Grande Games & Hans im Glück
3 – 5 Players, 2 hours
Designed by:  Reiner Knizia
Reviewed by:  Greg J. Schloesser

This one was perhaps my “most looked forward to” game of the new Nürnberg releases.  Why?  Well, from the information I’d read, Reiner Knizia was returning to “meatier” games with this release.  I much prefer his ‘deeper’ games and, truth-be-told, had grown increasingly disappointed with his departure from producing such games.  Plus, the pictures of the game on the ‘net certainly were enticing.  Finally, it was a Hans im Glück release and I tend to enjoy most of their games. 

Often, however, I must be careful about expecting too much from a game.  Sometimes the reality just fails to meet the expectations or the hype.  Fortunately, this isn’t the case with Amun-Re.  Although the game isn’t at the same level for me as his best effort to date – Euphrat & Tigris – it still is a very good game and considerably better than most of his recent designs.  Of course, personal tastes may vary! 

Since we’re on the subject of personal tastes, I’ll register another one – I’m not overly impressed by the artwork.  This is surprising to me since I consider Franz Vohwinkel a brilliant artist and am usually well pleased with his work, as well as the attractiveness of most Hans im Glück releases.  Not that the art is bad; it just appears, well, uninspired.  Functional, yet not truly attractive.  The only impressive components are the sand-colored plastic pyramids.  Fortunately, the artwork doesn’t detract from the overall gaming experience, but it doesn’t really enhance the atmosphere, either. 

As one could guess, the game is set in the ancient land of Egypt in the time of the pharaohs, with players assuming the roles of rivals attempting to gain control of provinces, enhance their wealth and construct great pyramids.  This struggle continues through both the old and new kingdom eras, with only the great pyramids surviving the passing of the epochs. 

The game has a rather straight-forward and rigid sequence of play, which is followed for six turns.  A scoring round is held after the third and sixth turns and the player with the most cumulative victory points has won the favor of Amun Re and is victorious.  Perhaps it is easiest to explain the game by following the sequence of play. 

Before I begin the explanation, however, it is very important to understand the layout of the board, its various features and the various symbols located within the provinces.  The board depicts fifteen provinces, divided amongst “lower” and “upper” Egypt, which is indicated by a horizontal line that separates the board into two sections.  The board is further divided by the Nile river, which runs from north to south (well, actually, south to north!).  These subdivisions are important to understand as certain power cards will grant bonuses based on control of these provinces and their specific locations.  

Provinces also depict various symbols which are potential benefits conferred to the owner of that province.  Some provinces grant the owner immediate benefits in the form of money, power cards and/or building stones.  One province even comes partially populated with two farmers!  Other provinces provide on-going benefits, usually in the form of income, temples or the ability to purchase additional power cards.  Further, some many provinces provide space for farmers, which provide income, but the capacity of each province is limited.  Players must carefully consider these potential benefits when engaging in the bidding struggle to gain control of the various provinces.

The board also depicts various tables and charts. There is a price table that lists the costs of purchasing power cards, farmers and buildings stones.  The temple track is used to indicate the level of tribute, in the form of sacrifices, paid to Amun-Re.  This level will also determine the production output of the farmers as well as the value of temples during the scoring rounds.  Finally, there is a score track that rings the board. 

Phase 1:  Place the Province Cards.  A number of province cards equal to the number of players are revealed and placed into the corresponding provinces.  These are the provinces that will be available for purchase during the next phase. 

As mentioned, there are a total of fifteen provinces on the board.  In a five player game, five will be revealed each round and all fifteen provinces will be owned by the end of three turns.  When playing with fewer players, some provinces will not be auctioned. 

Phase 2:  Acquire the Provinces.  This aspect of the game is quite clever and reminiscent of the bidding mechanism employed by Phillipe Keyaerts in Evo.  Each player will be able to acquire one card per turn, with the each province going to the highest bidder.  

Each province card depicts a bidding scale, ranging from 0 – 36 (rising in multiples).  The start player begins by placing his bidding stone (which looks temptingly similar to a chicklet!) onto one of the province cards at a level he is willing to bid.  Each player, in turn, then does the same.  If they place their stone onto a province card that already contains a bidding stone from an opponent, they must place their stone at a higher level.  That player will then have his stone ‘bumped’ and must then re-bid by placing his stone on a DIFFERENT province card.  He cannot immediately place it back onto the same province card (exception:  a particular power card does allow this).  This process is repeated until each province card contains only one bidding stone. 

At that point, each player places one of his province ownership markers into the province and takes any ‘free’ gifts the province bestows.  Any farmers or building stones received must be immediately placed into that province, while province cards and money are kept by the player.  The province cards are discarded, to be re-used in the second-half of the game when the ‘new’ kingdom emerges. 

This bidding round can be quite competitive and engaging.  There are tough choices to be made here.  There are numerous factors to consider: 

a)      The benefits and rewards granted by the various provinces available for bid;
b)      The requirements of any bonus cards a player possesses;
c)      The cost you are willing to pay to obtain a desired province;
d)      How much to initially bid and the consequences of getting “bumped” from a desired province; etc.

It is this phase and Phase 4 that, for me, are the most exciting aspects of the game and cause the most tension and player interaction. 

Phase 3: Actions of the Players.  In turn order, each player purchases power cards, farmers and buildings stones, in that order.  The cost of each category is calculated separately, with the amount being listed on the price chart located on the board.  The cost escalates based on a mathematical formula that escapes me:  1 = 1, 2 = 3, 3 = 6, 4 = 10, 5 = 15, etc.  

The number of power cards a player may purchase is limited to an amount equal to the number of power card icons displayed in the province he owns that depicts the greatest number of power card symbols.  This is important as it limits the number of cards that may be purchased and adds yet another consideration to a player’s dilemma when deciding upon which provinces to acquire. 

Power cards are maintained by the player (no hand limit), while farmers and building stones must be placed into the provinces the player owns.  When three building stones are present in a province, they are removed and a pyramid is immediately placed into that province.  Some power cards allow pyramids to be constructed with only two stones.

Phase 4:  Sacrifice to Amun-Re.  Sorry, no virgins included in the box, so the sacrifice takes the form of currency.  Each player secretly sets down a number of currency cards – OR his “-3” card – and simultaneously reveal them.  The value of all of the cards are tallied, with –3 being subtracted for each of these cards played.  The temple marker is then moved to the appropriate space on the temple track.  There are power cards which allow the player to adjust this total up or down three, but these cards must be played with the gold cards when making a sacrifice. 

The player who sacrificed the greatest amount to Amun-Re is rewarded with three items of his choice – power cards, farmers and/or building stones.  The player who sacrificed the second-most 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 playing them. 

There are important considerations when deciding on how much gold – if any – to sacrifice.  Since the temple level determines the amount of income produced by farmers, players who possess numerous farmers may desire to see the temple level at a lofty level.  Thus, they may wish to sacrifice large amounts of gold.  Players with few farmers, however, may not desire a high temple level.  However, by sacrificing too little money, you will likely not receive much from Amun-Re.  And, of course, since all gold sacrificed is returned to the bank, one must consider the impact this will have on his financial coffers! 

Phase 5:  The Harvest and Income.  First, players earn income equal to the number of farmers they possess times the current temple level (1 – 4).  Certain power cards increase this value by one per farmer in a particular province.  Thus, the more farmers a player possesses, the more income he derives.  Unfortunately, farmers do not translate directly into victory points during the scoring rounds, so players must balance their expenditures on farmers versus expenditures on other items which will yield victory points. 

Players also earn gold based on the provinces they own – maybe.  Some provinces grant a certain amount of gold each turn, while others only grant this gold if the temple level is at level 1 or 2.  So, players who possess these ‘conditional gold’ provinces have an interest in keeping the temple level suppressed.  

Finally, there are power cards that may be placed into a particular province and grant an income of 8 gold, regardless of the other factors present within that province. 

Phase 6:  Scoring (only following rounds 3 and 6).  Following the third and sixth rounds, players receive victory points as follows: 

1)      Pyramids.  Each pyramid is worth one point. 

2)      Complete Sets of Pyramids.  For each set of one pyramid in each of the player’s three provinces, 3 victory points are earned.  So, if a player has two pyramids in each of his three provinces, he would earn 6 victory points. 

3)      Province with the most pyramids on EACH side of the Nile.  5 victory points for the player owning each respective province.  If there is an equal number of pyramids in more than one province, the tie is broken in favor of the province with the most building stones.  If this is still tied, then both players receive the points. 

4)      Temples.  Three provinces depict temples, one of which depicts two temples.  A player receives a number of victory points equal to the current temple level for each temple he possesses.  

5)      Bonus Power Cards.  Certain power cards grant 3 bonus victory points if the conditions on the card are met.  These include having all of your provinces located along the Nile, or located on one side of the Nile, or located either in upper or lower Egypt.  There are bonus cards for possessing at least 9 farmers or provinces depicting seven power card symbols. 

6)      Gold.  This category only applies at the end of turn six.  The player with the most gold receives 6 victory points; the player with the second-most gold receives 4 victory points; and the player with the third-most gold receives 2 victory points.  

This cycle is repeated for three full turns.  After victory points have been tallied at the end of the third turn, all farmers and province ownership markers are removed from the board.  Only the pyramids and building stones remain.  Three more turns are played, after which the victory points are tallied one last time and the victor determined.  This means that in turns 4 – 6, provinces will already contain pyramids and building stones, making them tremendously more valuable.  This usually results in a substantial increase in the amount being bid for the provinces. 

A few additional notes are in order.  Power cards seem to be essential.  There are a decent variety of cards, with multiples of each type.  Some, however, seem inherently more powerful than others.  A good string of luck can give a player some significant advantages.  For instance, in one game, I failed to draw one of the cards that give the player an extra farmer, while one of my opponents drew one every turn.  He won.  It is also possible to draw multiples of the same card, which is not beneficial since the rules prohibit playing more than one of each type of card in a turn.  The rules do allow players to surrender undesirable card for 1 gold, but this small consolation does not overcome the setback for having poor draws.  

Even though one seems to have a variety of choices during Phase 3 (actions), as the game progresses, these choices actually seem to become more limited.  Often, players have a limited number of cards they can purchase and a limited number – if any – of farmers they can accommodate.  Thus, it becomes a simple matter of acquiring the few cards and farmers you can purchase and then spending the rest of the money you have allocated to building stones.  This feeling of “too few choices” has grown more pronounced for me with each passing game.  Further, in the past two games I’ve played, money has been plentiful, so after the first turn or two, there was no real “tight” money management aspect to the game. 

All of these factors do not translate into a “bad” game for me.  On the contrary, I enjoy the game and find it quite challenging.  However, it is fading a bit — far quicker than I had imagined it would.  It is certainly a good game, but not a great game.  After some initial euphoria over a new “meaty” game from Knizia, this one is settling into the realm of “good”.

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Responses

  1. Amun-Re is a solid and thoughtful title, but it doesn’t have enough energy. The characteristically sparkling Knizia auction plays second-fiddle to a slew of repetitive business that mostly generates downtime. Yes, there is a rich tapestry of math problems that can be solved, but only hardcore afficionados will care. (5/10)

  2. This one never hit with me. I think the bonus cards are to random for one thing. (6/10)


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