Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Amyitis

Design by:  Cyril Demaegd
Published by:  Ystari Games and Rio Grande Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 ½  – 2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

NOTE:  This review first appeared in Counter magazine.

 

While there are several game companies that have a great track record in terms of releasing games I thoroughly enjoy, only one is batting one-thousand:  Ystari.  I have enjoyed each of their releases, and was pleased to hear that company owner Cyril Demaegd, creator of Ystari’s original release Ys, designed their latest release.  

Remaining with their tradition of using difficult-to-pronounce names, the latest game in their line is Amyitis.  Just how that name is pronounced has been the subject of much discussion, but the general consensus is that it sounds suspiciously like a medical disease.  The truth, however is that Amyitis is said to have been the beautiful wife of Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar.  He so wanted to impress her, that he ordered the construction of the famed Hanging Gardens.  While referenced several times in various tomes, the existence of the gardens has never been proven.  Nonetheless, it does make for an interesting subject for a game.

 

The game is played on two boards.  One depicts the hanging gardens, as well as three temples where players will place priests.  The Mesopotamia board shows a track listing the various cities that trade with Babylon.  Players will move the caravan around this track and take the action allowed by the city where the caravan comes to rest.  

Each turn, craft cards are set out in groups of three, the number of groups being dependent upon the number of players.  Players get income if they possess a banker card, and then alternate taking actions until everyone passes.  Possible actions include: 

1) Recruit.  A player can select one of the face-up craft cards and use its action.  If this is the first card taken from a grouping, the cost is free.  If it is the second or third card taken from a grouping, the player must pay one or two talents, respectively.  

Depending upon the card recruited, the player may: 

a)      Place a priest on one of the temple tracks.  A newly placed priest pushes all previous priests one space to the right, often causing one to fall off the track.  The objective is to have a majority of priests on a track, which will grant rewards later in the turn. 

b)      Place a marker on the resource track and take the appropriate resource.  Resources are needed to take actions on the Mesopotamia board.  Further, having a majority of cubes on one of the two resource tracks when it fills rewards the player with a Gardener card, which can be used to upgrade the quality of plant being purchased.   

c)      Irrigate a space in the hanging gardens by placing a marker.  Irrigating earns the player an instant two victory points, which may not seem like a lot, but these can add-up over time.  Added to this are bonuses, which are earned for the player who has the most irrigation markers surrounding a space if that area is ultimately planted.

d)      Take a camel token.  These tokens are needed to move the caravan on the Mesopotamia board.

This part of the game can cause quite a bit of angst — and frustration.  Often, there is a limited number of a specific card revealed.  For example, the card that allows a player to take a resource is extremely valuable, as resources are needed in order to take actions when moving the caravan.  Without resources, a player cannot purchase plants or Court cards.  Performing these tasks is essential, as it is doubtful one can accomplish victory without doing some planting or acquiring some Court cards.  So, the Peasant cards are used quickly, and players late in the turn order may well find themselves without this option.  That can be painful, but one must prepare for this possibility. 

2) Move the Caravan.  For each camel token spent, the player moves the caravan clockwise one space along the track on the Mesopotamia board.  The caravan may be moved further if the player possesses advanced caravan cards.  Depending upon the city wherein the camel comes to rest, the player will be able to: 

a)      Purchase a plant for the garden.  First, the player must pay the specific resource or resources depicted.  He may then select a tile on the garden to plant.  This space must be fully irrigated on at least one side, and the quality of the plant to be planted must at least equal the level of the plant.  Plant qualities range from 1 – 3, with a gardener card needed to plant quality “3” foliage.  The active player earns the rewards listed on the plant tile, and the player who has the majority of irrigation markers around the plant receives victory points equal to the quality of the plant. 

b)      Purchase a Court Card.  There are three types of Court Cards: one grants victory points in an increasing amount, one increases the distance a player can move the caravan, and the final one gives income each turn.  Cards are purchased in order, and the benefits increase the further a player progresses within each type.  There is a gradually decreasing supply of each card, however, so there is a race to progress in one’s purchases lest the cards deplete, denying one or more players the opportunity to progress any further in a particular type of card. 

c)      Trade.  On one space, a player may trade one or two resources for three or six victory points, respectively.  This also allows the player to place an irrigation marker.  One has to weigh whether spending the resources in this manner is more beneficial than using them to purchase plants or Court cards. 

3) Pass.  When a player elects to pass, he places a marker on the appropriate box.  If others take an action and play returns to the player, he receives one talent in income.  A player continues to earn income in this fashion until every player passes.  Since money can be tight, occasionally a player will pass very early in a round in order to earn several talents as others perform actions. 

Once all players pass, the player who was last in turn order gets to place one of his cubes on a temple track, and neutral cubes on the other two tracks.  This can easily alter the majority status on one or more of the tracks.  Each track is then analyzed to determine which player has the majority of priests present, and rewards are received.  These rewards include receiving a talent, camel token, prestige points, a resource, or the ability to exchange a resource.  Any ties are awarded to the player whose cube is closest to falling off the track. 

The round concludes with all players reducing their resource supply to two or four, depending upon their caravan level, and moving the start player to the left.  New rounds are then conducted in the same fashion, with the game ending when there are four or fewer garden tiles remaining on the board.  Players then receive bonus points — 5 or 10 points — depending upon the number of plants they contributed to the garden.  Most points wins. 

The game should play to conclusion in about 1 ½ – 2 hours, but I have been involved in one game that overstayed its welcome by running close to three hours.  This was mainly due to a few folks at the table carefully analyzing and weighing each option, and by a constant barrage of table talk and kibitzing.  Fortunately, that was an isolated occurrence, and the other games I have played moved along at a brisker pace.  

Amyitis is a perfect fit for the Ystari line, as it is a deeper game with lots of choices and options.  There are numerous ways in which to earn victory points, and choosing whether to pursue one or multiple methods can be tough.  The actions of your opponents can directly affect your plans, and it is possible to directly interfere with your opponents.  However, one need not worry about military style attacks or being eliminated from the game.  

I find finding the right balance between irrigating, purchasing plants and/or Court cards, and vying for control of the resource and temple tracks to be quite challenging.  There are numerous small, but continuous battles for control occurring in various arenas of game play that persist throughout the game.  While losing one or two of these struggles is not lethal, one must triumph enough times in order to compete for victory.  In the games I have played, one or two points were all that separated the top few players, and one game even ended in a tie!  Every point does count. 

If you have been enjoying games in the Ystari line such as Mykerinos, Ys, and Yspahan, then you will find much to like in Amyitis.  While not as deep as the company’s star performer Caylus, the game is filled with a multitude of options to pursue, and decisions that will often cause angst and consternation.  These are marks of a good game, and Amyitis possesses them in abundance.

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Responses

  1. A solid game. I found it a little hard to plan. There are only a few actions available but there are a lot of ways to use each action. Each other player never seemed to do what I thought they would do. So I must have missed something in the strategy area. (7/10)


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