My little Sunday game group just keeps getting bigger and bigger. One of our more recent additions is Eric C (not to be confused with existing member Eric S). For a game group, a new member not only adds another player to the mix, it also adds that player’s games, and Eric has been treating us to a bunch of new ones. Yesterday I got to play one of the games that is no doubt a jewel of his collection, Antiquity.
Antiquity is a game published by Splotter Spellen, a Dutch Company. It’s one of their signature games and, like all of their stuff, it looks utterly gorgeous. Every part of the game has a weathered, antiqued look to it. These games aren’t produced in huge quantities and they tend to go for a lot of money. As a result, Antiquity (and another of their games ‘Roads & Boats’) are games one hears about but doesn’t expect to play. So I was very excited to get the chance to play it on Sunday with Eric, James, and Rachel.
As its name implies, Antiquity (actually set a little more recent than actual antiquity) is a civilization-building game. I’ve never been very good at games of that type (even on the computer. When I tried to play Civ on the PC I would do OK until I got to my fourth city or so. Then there was too much to keep track of and I’d end up with one city building canoes for 400 years because I totally forgot about them.) but I was willing to give it a shot. It’s not a short game; our session took about four hours. And it has billions of little cardboard bits. It also can be mercilessly unforgiving, and a slight mistake can have horrific results. That might not sound appealing, but let me tell you, after you’re done, you KNOW you played a game.
If you’ve played ‘Settlers of Catan’ you know the gist of a Civ game. You start with a city and some resources, and you produce more resources to expand your city to gain more resources to expand and ultimately win the game. That’s pretty much how Antiquity goes, except things happen a little differently.
Here’s my first city (the big hex with the yellow Autobots symbol on it), with a few things going on outside of it:
And here’s what’s happening inside of it:
You use your starting resources to both build structures inside and start activities outside your city. Outside you can see one guy on the far left chopping down trees. The guy just left of center is catching fish, and the one on the right is just finishing up a mine. Inside the city you can see my granary, my storage (holding some wood and some stones), a couple of cart shops (they are where you go to do things outside the city) and the dump. At the moment one guy is working in the dump and two guys are in their houses (I had just bought those houses; they supply the workers you’ll use elsewhere.) I also have a Cathedral, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
Collecting resources is important, but can cause a problem — resources are finite. Once you chop down all the trees in an area, that’s it for those trees. You can then farm on the cleared land, but farming causes pollution — the red “skull” counters you can see in the exterior city photo.
There’s plenty of pollution to go around:
(And that’s just ONE of the pollution dispensers.)
After a while, things start to get a bit hairy. Here’s a picture from a little later in the game, when I have a second city. The pollution is really getting out of control.
The dump helps cut down on the pollution your cities generate, but not by much. Eventually you’ll want a Faculty of Alchemy, which allows you to clean up some pollution and thereby reuse land.
Pollution isn’t your only problem. The dark specter of famine also hovers over you. Every turn the people demand more and more food. If you can’t feed them, you get these:
Graves go IN your city, taking up valuable building space. If at any point you need to place a grave in your city and can’t, you’re out of the game. The only reprieve you have from this is the hospital, which removes graves. (I’m not sure I want to know how that works.) Some players have even built an extra city JUST to hold graves.
How do you win? Well, do you remember the Cathedral? Until you build a Cathedral, you CAN’T win. Once you do, though, you pick which of five saints you will dedicate it to. That determines your victory condition and a special power you get. Once you satisfy the victory condition for your saint, you win.
So how did I do? Well I don’t want to boast, but I won. Pretty sneakily, too. I built my Cathedral early and went for St. Nicolas. To win I had to build all 20 of my houses, which have increasingly difficult costs to build. However my special ability was, if I built a house I could get a second house for free. I was able to put together a house-building engine by constantly farming and clearing pollution from land. I got the Faculty of Philosophy to make it so I didn’t have to diversify my resources too much and a Market so I could trade for the things I wasn’t producing. I kept my pollution down by only ever having two cities, and since one of the things I was producing in bulk was food, my corpses never got to be too much for the Hospital to handle. By the final turn I was resorting to storing corpses in the University, but at that point I didn’t need it anymore, the game was mine.
I have to think I lucked out to a large extent. None of the other players encroached on my territory. I was able to stay confined to a small portion of the board, letting them fight over other areas. I had plenty of open space to farm in and still had enough room to dump pollution where it wouldn’t bother me. James picked a tough victory condition for himself (it has great benefits, though). Eric came close but seemed to run into some trouble about halfway through. I was never in very dire straits, though sometimes I cut it very close.
It’s a great game and I’m eager to play again. I’m not just saying that because I won, either. Congrats to Spellen Splotter for a fun, challenging and beautiful game, and thanks to Eric for hooking up with us and giving us the chance to play it!