Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Atilla

Designer:  Karl Heinz Schmiel
Publisher:  Rio Grande Games & Hans Im Glück
3 – 5 Players, 1  – 1 1/2 hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser
 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appeared in Moves Magazine #105 

Attila’s designer, Karl Heinz Schmiel, has been conspicuously absent from the game design scene for a few years.  This is surprising since Herr Schmiel has been responsible for a wide range of games, from simple children’s games to perhaps one of the most complex games ever to emanate from Germany (Die Macher).  Many inside the gaming world consider him to be one of the cleverest and most original thinkers working in the industry.  

I have played several of Herr Schmiel’s games, including Extrablatt, A La Carte and Was Sticht, and, truth-be-told, have found them a mixed bag.  I thoroughly enjoy Extrablatt, find Ala Carte very light and silly and had my brain fried with Was Sticht.  Still, when I learned that he had a new design being released with the intriguing name of ‘Attila’, I just couldn’t resist and was forced to part with more of my gaming budget funds.  

I was not disappointed. Although the title would be more suited to a bloody, conflict style war game, the immigration theme somehow fit reasonably well to not be a hindrance. The basic theme is that of immigrating Germanic tribes moving into Europe and Northern Africa.  Players vie to gain the most influence in these ever-proliferating tribes.

 

Surprisingly for a Schmiel design, the mechanics and rules are quite simple and easy to understand. There are no complex, intertwining mechanisms, which take numerous playings to understand and comprehend.  Trying to get through the Die Macher rules was akin to completing a college Calculus course, while Extrablatt was no walk in the park either. So, it was a pleasure, indeed, to find that these rules were easy to understand and, even more important, they flowed smoothly in practice.

The handsome board depicts various territories in Europe and Northern Africa. There are six Germanic tribes (Huns, Franks, Goths, Saxons, Teutons and Vandals) immigrating into these areas, represented by six different colored pieces (which look similar to little heads). There is also a deck of cards, which correspond to these colors. Further, each player has seven markers of a color, six of which are used to track their influence in each of the tribes on a separate influence chart and one of which tracks that players victory points on the scoring track, which runs along the edges of the main board. 

Here is where the only real confusion of the game surfaced. Most of the colors representing the players are the same as the colors representing the tribes, but they aren’t related. It becomes confusing to move the accurate markers on the correct tribal track. For instance, if Jerry is playing yellow and gains influence with the red tribe, one has to move the yellow marker up on the red track. This sounds easy enough, but it does get quite confusing. Often, we found ourselves moving the red marker on the red track, or the yellow marker on the yellow track. Sure, one does grow a bit more accustomed to this as the game progresses, but I don’t think it would have been very difficult to make the player’s colors different from the tribal colors. Or, maybe my fellow gamers and I are all just a bit dimwitted. 

Each player is dealt a hand of six cards. On a turn, a player plays one card and places a marker of the tribe corresponding with the color of the card played. So, if I play a black card, I place a black marker. Initially, tribes enter the board in one of six provinces. After a tribe has a marker in a territory, subsequent markers can be placed in either: 

                             1) One of the six starting areas;
                             2) Any area which already contains a marker of that tribe; OR
                             3) Any area adjacent to an area containing a marker of that tribe. 

Thus, tribes can slowly expand across the map. 

After a player plays a card and places a corresponding marker, he then has a choice. He can either place another marker of the same color as outlined above, or elect to increase his influence in that tribe. If he elects to increase his influence, then he moves his marker up 1, 2, 3 or 4 spaces, depending upon the current turn of the game. In round one, influence is only increased by one point, but in each subsequent round this increases by one per round. Thus, in round 4 (if the game lasts that long), influence increases are four points each time! 

Each territory can accommodate up to four markers from the various tribes. When a fifth marker is placed into a territory, a conflict arises. Players then play cards to determine the outcome of the conflict. Each player who has cards which match any of the tribal markers present in the disputed territory MAY participate in the conflict. 

The conflict procedure is quite simple. The phasing player plays as many cards as he desires face-down. However, these cards MUST match one or more of the tribal markers present in the territory experiencing conflict. Then, each player has the opportunity to do the same thing. Once all players have had the opportunity to play cards, the cards are revealed and the strength of each tribe present in that territory is determined. A tribe’s strength is equal to the number of markers it has in the territory PLUS the number of matching cards which were played in their support. So, if red has two markers in a disputed territory and three red cards were played by the players, red has a strength of five. The tribe with the lowest strength is ousted from the territory and their tribal markers are returned to the general stockpile. If two or more tribes are tied for lowest strength, they are ALL ousted from the territory. It is quite possible that ALL tokens could be removed as a result of a conflict resolution, a very nasty occurrence for the player(s) who had significant amounts of influence in that tribe. 

Deciding whether to participate in a conflict is an important decision for several reasons, the most obvious being the desire to maintain as many markers on the board from the tribes in which you have the most influence. Of course, you may wish to participate in order to help evict a tribe in which an opponent has a hefty influence status. Another important consideration is your hand of cards. You see, at the conclusion of a player’s turn, he and ONLY he can refill his hand to six cards. Thus, if you participate in a conflict and play a card or two (or more), you will not be able to refill your hand until the conclusion of YOUR turn. So, plan your conflict participation carefully. 

Yet another consideration when deciding to participate in or even initiate a conflict is the fact that the only way to dispose of cards from your hand is to play them in some fashion.  Oftentimes, you find yourself with a hand consisting of cards representing tribes that you do not desire to compete for in regards to influence.  So, you likely do not have the desire to play these cards and place even more tribal markers of that color onto the board.  What do you do?  Well, one way to rid yourself of these cards is to force a conflict involving that tribe or tribes, if you have cards of more than one tribe in your hand that you wish to discard.  Then, in the resulting conflict, you can play all of these cards and re-fill your hand, hopefully acquiring cards which are more beneficial to your plans and goals.  

Once a conflict is resolved, a ‘peace’ marker is placed in that territory and no further tribal markers can be placed into that territory.  This opens yet another strategic possibility as it is quite possible to cause a ‘road-block’, so to speak.  If a territory has a peace marker in it, it may become impossible for certain tribes to get past that ‘closed’ territory.  Thus, their expansion in that direction will be blocked for the remainder of the game.  I’ve seen this tactic used with some nasty effects for folks. 

The game can potentially last for four rounds.  I say ‘potentially’ as there are three possible methods in which the game can end: 

1) When the 10th ‘peace’ marker is placed, the game expires. Rounds end when the peace markers for that round are placed. Round 1 ends following the placement of 1 peace marker. Round 2 ends when 2 more peace markers are placed. Round 3 expires following the placement of 3 more peace markers, while the fourth and final round ends when four more peace markers are placed.  This is easy to track as the appropriate number of ‘peace’ markers are placed on the turn track and removed as needed.  

2) When the final marker of a tribe is placed, the game expires. Of course, if a conflict results in markers from that tribe being returned to stock, then the game continues. 

3) If a player’s influence in a tribe reaches the top of the influence track, the game concludes. I have some doubts about this method as it could possibly be used to cause a quick and premature end to a game.  Sure, it’s a viable tactic, but the potential for abusing it is present. 

When a round concludes, players then gain victory points in the various tribes. The player who has the most influence in a tribe receives 1 victory point for each marker that tribe has on the board. The player with the second-most influence receives 1 victory point for each territory in which that tribe has a marker present. Any ties are split. 

Players must keep a careful eye on how many more ‘peace’ markers remain so as to be in the best possible victory point situation at the conclusion of a round.  Indeed, one clever tactic is to force an end to a round when you are in a favorable position on the influence charts, thereby scoring more influence points than your opponents.  

To add a bit of spice to the game, each player is given three special markers, which allows them to interrupt the regular flow of the game by performing a special action.  Only one of these markers can be used by a player on each turn.  These actions are: 

1) Take a second turn;
2) Increase your influence in one tribe by 2 spaces, or increase your influence in two tribes by 1 space apiece; AND
3) Discard any number of cards and draw new ones. 

The careful timing of the use of these special actions is critical and can often spell the difference between victory and defeat.  The ‘take a second turn’ action is particularly powerful, and is best used when you can trigger the end of a round or even the game. 

The game is filled with important choices and decisions: which card(s) to play on a turn, where to place the corresponding tribal marker(s), whether to place two markers or take influence, when to instigate a conflict, whether to participate in a conflict or not, whether to push an end to the game by attempting to deplete a tribe’s markers or reach the top of an influence track … the decisions are many and have a great impact on the game. My mind still spins at the multitude of options and even after numerous playings, I still have not gleaned an optimum strategy to be pursued.  I like that in a game. 

The game is not without its potential flaws, however. One poster to the rec.games.board internet discussion forum explained in detail how a player could force an end to the game in round 4 without any other player having a turn during that round. It involves the use of the ‘2 turns in a row’ action tile and the placing of two markers during each turn, causing conflicts with both markers. This, of course, could only be effective if that player was winning at that time, went first in the turn order and no other player had planned the same tactic. Still, it is a concern, but I haven’t seen it attempted in any of the games I’ve played. If it did, indeed, emerge as a potentially devastating tactic, it seems this could be dealt with effectively by not allowing the placement of two markers during the final round; i.e., a player can only place one marker and MUST increase his influence instead of having the option of placing a second marker. 

Others have complained that constantly receiving a bad hand of cards can doom one’s chances at victory in the game.  This same charge could easily be levied against many, if not most games that utilize cards as their central mechanism.  However, I’m not sure this is a fair criticism of Attila.  There are effective methods incorporated into the game wherein players can cleanse their hand of undesirable cards.  The skillful player will utilize these methods at the proper times and increase his chances of obtaining more beneficial cards. 

I’ve played Attila many times and continue to enjoy each and every experience.  I also greatly appreciate that a player is never really ‘out’ of the game.  Even a player who is far behind on the victory point track can come back and win.  I’ve managed this feat several times myself, and have had opponents surpass me in the final scoring round.  The mechanism wherein influence movement increases with each passing round provides this opportunity and is a clever idea. 

So, this sort of evens out my ledger of ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ in regards to Karl Heinz Schmiel games.  Attila is highly deserving of a listing on the ‘hit’ side.

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Responses

  1. Interesting area control game. Plays fast. Everyone should try this one. (7/10)


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