Thursday, February 09, 2006

"Never Try to Play a Player" - Tikal, Film-Noir Style

*cue mournful sax solo and distant police siren*

Ever get the feeling you were being played?

It was a cold and wintery night on the mean streets of Hogtown. There was a knock on the door, the sort of knock that makes a man put down his cheap scotch and flat soda and bother to answer it. They stood there, looking cold and lost - they looked like the sort of people that get eaten if they stay out too long after dark. I had seem him before - he went by the handle of Shamus - strangely, he wasn't a brother gumshoe. He had a slim gal with him, a nice looker, but you could tell she had some brains to rattle around behind that pretty face. I figured her for his moll. Shamus introduced her as "Ms. Potter", and you could hear him put enough "zee" on the Ms. to make it clear they weren't married.

I invited them in.

I had some of the boys in the back already fixing to start up on a game of Tikal, so I pointed the loving couple in the direction of our couch and broke out another copy of the old Mayan shellgame for my new guests to play. Tikal is like a pretty dame from a Sicilian crime family - nice to look at, but you'll find a couple slugs in your back if you let your guard down. Shamus I knew was a bit of a player - he'd run away with a train job a couple of weeks previous, but I chalked that one up to beginner's luck. Tikal was a good game to get to know a person; the real person, if you know what I mean. It's easy enough to suss out, I guess, but it's got more twists than a cheap dimestore licorice, and defeat tasted just as bitter.

Shamus and "Ms. Potter" looked like easy pickings. I laid out the rules and the situation and we got down to brass tacks. Early on, I thought I'd be sailing into the win easy-like. On the first couple of scoring round, I was ahead. I shoulda checked the rear view, though; "Ms. Potter" wasn't far behind. It got a little cut-throat - Shamus and Ms. Potter muscled in on one of my pyramids early on, and I gave Shamus the heave-ho on one that he'd worked up from a 4 pointer. On the second scoring round, I could hear the dogs nipping at my heels... well, if a dog looked like a pretty dame and came at you sideways from an alley with a Saturday Night Special. "Ms. Potter" caught up and passed me by a hair on the second round, and it was off to the races after that. All I was able to eat for the rest of the same was that dame's dust, and it didn't taste nearly as good as Tili's lasagne, or a decent scotch and soda, for that matter. No, defeat was dry as Mayan pottery dust in my mouth, baked in the hot Guatemalan sun.

I had to hand the game over to Trixie... er... Tili, because the other game was done with and the boys were explaining the rules for Antike, but from what I heard, Ms. Potter cleaned up. Ms. Potter won by a good eleven points.

Nope. These kids weren't amateurs. They were players through and through. They'd be back; I could tell by the way they smiled that they knew an easy mark when they saw one. Shamus and his moll Ms. Potter: a couple of cool cucumbers who knew their way around a game of Tikal. I've played the game enough to know when I had been played, and I had been played like a Stradivarius violin; smooth and expert-like, with a clear finish.

*siren fades out, echoing in the street*

[To be honest, I couldn't figure out a way to fit the review of Antike into the film-noir themed session report above, so I'll just do it the old-fashioned way.]

Antike is that rarity of rarieties, the Civilization building game that doesn't go too far into detail (Sid Meier's Civilization) and doesn't gloss over details a little too much (Vinci). After a quick rules explanation by JayWowzer, we were good to go.

I have to say that the roundel-based turn and action selection method is pretty unique. I have to laugh a tiny bit at the concept of a game where gold and currency are two separate and quite distinctly differently used commodities, but that's pretty much my only quibble with the game (oh, and the cover box art. That needed work).

Antike uses a fairly standard area-movement based movement mechanic, but resource acquisition and building are handled in phases which exist as sectors on a roundel. The players place a marker on the action they took, and then can advance up to three sectors for free (or pay one currency unit per sector to advance more) and then take the action on the next section. There are four commodities - iron, marble, gold and currency. The first three can be mined from specific area-based cities - the second, currency, is a per turn income and can be used to substitute like a wild-card for any of the other three resources.

Victory is point based, and varies from 9 points in a 4 player game, up to something like 12 or 13 in a three player game. Players acquire points (one point each) by gaining 5 land areas (king), being the first to develop "know-how" in two steps of five (six?) different categories (scholar), having ships in 7 different sea areas (seafarer), building 3 temples (citizen), conquering a city with a temple (general).

There are basically two types of manoeuvrable units, a land-army (which look like militant meeples) and a fleet (which are cute galley-like things). Other markers and pieces include a white temple, which triples resource output from a city, cities, which are little round dics, and eight-sided tall pieces which are used for markers on the techology tracks and the above mentioned roundel (which governs action types). The components are well made of wood, all are distinct colours and all (with the possible exception of the angry meeple) seem suited to their use.

Combat is similar to the Vinci one-for-one exchange of mutual destruction, with a few modifiers thrown in for defensive know-how (monarchies and democracies defend themselves more effectively) and for temples.

I'm really quite impressed with the game, which combines a simple but clever method for managing resources and buying different types of units and improvements. Combat is simple, but evocative, and options for attacking from sea, land or both at once add a little uncertainty to the strategic scope. It is quite possible to win without attacking anyone, as Agent Easy admirably demonstrated during the game, but I think in future games closer attention will be paid to leaders to prevent a straighforward purchase of victory.

This one is a definite keeper. I'd rate it a 8.5, which might bump up to 9 in subsequent plays. It has the fantastic attribute of being playable in 60-90 minutes, which for this level of detail (medium-light, admittedly, but better than Vinci, for example) is really quite remarkable.

Agent Easy walked away with the win, with JayWowzer coming a close second; Hapi and I fell to distant fourth and third place respectively.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there,

    Slick write-up!

    Sorry for double posting, I hadn't noticed yours.

    but...but... what about Saboteur?