Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011


Designed by:  Knut Happel
Released by:  Schmidt Spiel
2 – 4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Editor’s Note:  This review first appeared in Counter magazine. 

Every Essen, I am lured into purchasing a few games based solely on the attractiveness or the description of the game.  Sometimes, this decision is made based solely on advance pictures published on the internet.  Sometimes these decisions to purchase a game on such inadequate information prove wise; other times, they prove to be foolish.  

Angkor from designer Knut Happel was once such impulse purchase.  Set in the deep jungles of the Far East, players construct temples, erect monuments, and attempt to fend-off the ever-encroaching jungle.  The game sounded and looked appealing; I couldn’t resist.  When will I ever learn? 

There is no denying that the components of Angkor are attractive.  Each player receives a 3-D board, wherein tiles depicting temples, courtyards, pagodas, water and jungle will be placed.  Each board has two temples already constructed in the center.  Each player also receives a tiger, dwelling and statue token.  A screen fits into a slot on the board, allowing players to conceal their tiles and tokens. 

Game play is very simple.  Each player begins with five randomly drawn tiles, and on their turn, may place two items onto the board, any combination of tiles and/or tokens.  Tiles are drawn to replace the ones placed.  Temple, courtyard, pagoda and water tiles are placed onto a player’s own board, and must be positioned so that they are adjacent — either orthogonally or diagonally — to a previously placed tile or one of the two fixed temple locations.  Jungle tiles are placed onto an opponent’s board, and must begin at one of the board’s edges, expanding from there.  

Tiles may be placed onto any empty location, or on top of a previously placed, non-water tile.  The idea is that jungle tiles can be placed to cover opponent’s temples, pagodas and courtyards, as these will ultimately earn victory points for players at game’s end.  Conversely, a player may reclaim land infiltrated by the jungle by constructing these point-earning tiles over previously placed jungle tiles.  Since water tiles cannot be covered, they do provide a defensive barrier, and players can position them to protect their point-earning tiles from the encroaching jungle. 

The three tokens are placed adjacent to specific terrain or structures in order to earn end-game points.  Tigers will ultimately earn one point for each connected jungle tile, dwellings will earn a point for each connected water tile, and statues will earn one point for each connected courtyard.  Further, these tokens cannot be removed or have a tile placed over them, so they, too, serve as a protective barrier.  Since these tokens cannot be re-positioned once placed, it would seem wise to wait until late in the game before placing them to the board.  However, the game can end quickly — sometimes very quickly — so those who delay in placing these tokens may discover that time has run out on them. 

Therein lies one of the game’s problems:  it simply plays too quickly.  The game ends when the fifth princess tile is drawn from the bag of tiles.  While odds would suggest that the fifth and final tile wouldn’t be drawn until most of the tiles had been selected, this certainly isn’t a guarantee, and it could occur very quickly.  There isn’t enough time to properly plan a long-term strategy.  Further, placing jungle tiles to hinder your opponent’s progress means that you have lost the opportunity to place a tile to benefit yourself.  With the game being so short, the opportunity cost is simply too high.  The real strategy here seems to be to place as many scoring tiles on your own board as quickly as you can, and only mess with your opponents when you have no other choice.

Once the fifth princess tile is drawn, the game ends immediately, whether all players have had an equal number of turns or not.  Players then tally their points, earning 1 point for each courtyard, 2 points for each pagoda, and 3 points for each temple.  Points are also tallied for the tokens as described above.  Of course, the player with the most points wins.  

The game SOUNDS good, but it is just too limiting.  Due to the brevity of the proceedings, the only real strategy is to place point-bearing tiles onto your own board.  Group your temple and water tiles together so you can place the appropriate tokens to earn additional points.  Only place jungle tiles onto your opponents’ boards when you have no more beneficial option.  The lack of real choices and strategy options is very disappointing. 

So, once again we have a game that turns out to be all show, with no real substance.  It is one of those games wherein clever folks could likely devise a better game using the pretty components.  As is, in spite of its attractive, three-dimensional board, game play is decidedly one-dimensional.  My advice is to stay out of this jungle.

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