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I have a couple of English Dictionaries, a Webster and a Chambers, and I think in both there is an error, for in neither can I find that the meaning of CALLIOPE is QUALITY. 
The nearest description of the word/name (to "quality" in the various meanings), is ELOQUENCE and that is also a good word for describing the production of CALLIOPE GAMES publications; there is a degree of eloquence about them.

ANCESTREE (despite it being a simple play on words, I think it's quite clever) is a family game from the imagination of Eric M. Lang, possibly with some little influence from other tile/card laying games, that players from the age of 8 years and upwards can easily pick up (the mechanicis simple also) and play. The only confusion for youngsters, even in this day and age, I will touch on gently in a short while.

For now let me explain the components.
The aforementioned cards (I prefer to call them tiles because of their size and shape, and the way they are played) are known as Ancestor Tiles. There are 110 of these in five different colours, Purple, Grey, Yellow, Blue and Red, with 6 illustrations and 22 Tiles per colour. There must be a reason but three of the five coloured sets, Yellow, Blue and Red, have the same composition of tiles, by Ancestor not necessarily by abilities or effects, being 22 tiles in sets of 2,3,3,3,5 & 6, but for some unknown reason the make up of the Purple and Grey tile sets is 2,2,3,3,6 & 6. As I say, there must have been something in the author's head that caused these differences but it hasn't been shared. The illustrations feature beautiful, distinctive National ancestors from the magical pens and brushes of the great Larry Elmore with elegant overall graphic design by Adelheid Zimmerman, all under the expert eyes of Ray Wehrs and the talented Scottish artist, Andrew Hepworth.  More on the Tiles later (see below).
The rest of the components, the 6 player scoreboards, the Coins, and the Dynasty Tokens are less exquisite in design but are still colourful and functional.

When sitting down to play you must ensure that each player has a fairly large space in front of them as they will be playing tiles more North to South than East to West, at least in most games your Ancestral Tree will grow tall rather than wide. Each tile belongs to an ancient dynasty, a family defined both by its choice of colour and by the icon on its ancestral patriotic Standard. In ANCESTREE these symbols are as follows: Blue = Camels, Red = Dragons, Yellow = Eagles, Purple = Elephants and Grey = Lions. Each players scoreboard shows these symbols in 5 columns and 3 Rows, each row representing a Dynasty, I, II or III. The varying shades of green Dynasty Tokens show these numerals I dark green, II lighter green and III even lighter green, and are the least attractive, but equally as functional, of the components.

Played over just three Rounds taking between 20-30 minutes in total, the game is about creating the largest Dynasty in as many colours as you can. The Ancestor tiles feature Men and Women of five different Nationalities and each tile also has one, two, three or four unique features; the rules actually state that "each Ancestor tile has four unique features:" but each feature, Heritage (Dynasty symbol), Leaves (Light and/or Dark), Hearts (half a heart on either the left or right of the tile), and Coins shown as gold circles below the Ancestor illustration.


When placing tiles onto your family or Ancestral tree (ANCESTREE) the unique features on the tiles do NOT have to butt up together but they are worth more Victory Points if they do actually connect. The Heritage icons, Camels, Dragons, Eagles, Elephants and Lions, are always placed top central on each Tile and as tiles are laid in one perspective only they can never directly connect (tiles must all face the same way in the same orientation). The leaves on these tiles, top and bottom corners may contain half-leaves, either the top or bottom of the leaf, are featured in light green or dark green. The Coins indicate the wealth that each ancestor on the tree contrbutes to the family. Finally the Hearts; these are also presented in halves either on the right hand side or the left hand side, always central, of tiles that they are on. Hearts represent a marriage between the two ancestors on adjacent cards where their heart halves form a complete heart. This is where 8 year olds may get a little confused because the gender of the ancestors on the tiles does not matter and thus it is possible to have marriages of Man & Woman, Man & Man, Woman & Woman, indeed as there are several tiles, at least two in each family, that have half hearts on both sides, it is possible to have marriages that look to be (they aren't) between, Man & Woman & Man, Woman & Man & Woman, Man & Man & Man and Woman & Woman & Woman - in cases where a heart tile is placed against an already married ancestor then it can be assumed that the (already placed) ancestor has divorced their previous partner. None of this gender business actually affects the game, it is the number of full hearts (even when there are two full hearts in a marriage) that give bonus VPs.


Play begins with all the Ancestor tiles being shuffled together to form one stack - in our opinion there are too many tiles to make a successfullly safe stack so we always separate the shuffled tiles into three stacks of about equal number - and the players, in chosen turn order, each taking six tiles. All players then look at their own tiles, decide which one to keep, and then pass the remainder on to the next player; this will be clockwise on the 1st and 3rd Rounds but anti-clockwise on the second Round (not sure what difference this makes as you begin each Round with a new draw of six tiles). The selected tiles are revealed and placed in front of each owning player somewhere near the middle of their chosen free space. This will be your start to building your ANCESTREE and later tiles may be added to it either from the top, the underneath, or from either side, placing them by Marriage (half-heart to half-heart) or by Leaf (representing Children and Parents). If you choose a tile that that you cannot place on your tree that tile has to be discarded out of the game.

We found at first that we all had a tendency to concentrate on building the longest Dynasty rather than trying to get reasonable length run in two or three Dynasties. The game is really won or lost, so we discovered after a few plays, at the draft phase when you are deciding which Tile to keep. It is often the first thought to go for the one with the most Coins or one that will stretch your already lengthy Dynasty a little further, but there is a sublety about ANCESTREE despite it being a quick paced family game, that is often missed because it is a quick paced family game. Hearts can win the game for you because they score so well, but chasing them above all else is rarely a good idea.

In the first of these 2 pix the Blue Male is the Tile being placed. In the second pic it is the Yellow Male. 
Despite the mis-matches (X) the Tiles are legally placed because there is at least one Tick showing a legal joining.

When you are adding a Tile on your tree at least one connection (Leaf or Heart) must link correctly. However if there are no symbols on the two sides that would become adjacent by the placing of a tile then they may be positioned with no problem, for example: the wooden branches on one side of a Red tile may be placed adjacent to the wooden branches on the to-be-adjacent side of a Blue tile. 

The Round continues until each player has but one card left in their hand. This card is discarded out of the game and then a scoring takes place as the Dynasties are compared. Players count only the longest Dynasty (vertically) in each Heritage on their family tree. As long as each tile in the Dynasty is legally attached/linked to the one above or below it the Dynasty is counted. For each Dynasty (Heritage) in turn the players determine who has the longest unbroken chain by comparing them to the players (neighbours) on their Left and Right only, thus someone sitting opposite you may have a shorter Dynasty than you but still score from it. For every neighbour's Dynasty that you beat you gain one Dynasty Token. In Round one you gain the Tokens marked "I", after the second and third Rounds you collect Tokens marked "II" and "III" respectively. Each Token you win is placed on your player board on the Heritage icon associated with the Dynasty you won it/them in. If, in the first Round, you won one Token by having the Longest Camel Dynasty then you would place a "I" Token on the top Row of your Player Board in the Camel space. At the end of the game each Token you have won is worth its own value in VPs, thus the third Round Tokens are worth 3 VPs each.

At the end of each Round you also collect one Coin (a "1" coin) for each coin shown on the Ancestors in your ANCESTREE. However if you collect 2 coins you must take 2 x "1" coins but if you win six coins you must take a "1" and a "5" coin. Coins on Ancestor Tiles from Rounds prior to the current Round are gained again, thus if you gain one coin from an Ancestor in Round one, you will also gain one coin again from it in Rounds two and three. Marriages only score at the end of the final, the third, Round. Everyone receives bonus VPs depending on the number of Marriages they have in their ANCESTREE - there is a chart on page 13 of the rules book (and on the Players Score Boards) that show how bonus VPs for Marriages are distributed. 1 for 1, 3, for 2, 5 for 3 up to 50 for 12 and then +5 VPs for every Marriage after the twelfth. VPs are also scored for Coins owned, each coin is worth its face value in VPs, so a "1" = 1 VP and a "10" equates to 10 VPs.


Most VPS wins the game.

The mechanic of laying Tiles adjacent to each other, whether exact side to side or partial side to side is not new and has featured in quite a few of the Euro style games. The Dynasty touch is neat, although it does bear a slim resemblance to placing people from the same country next to each other around the CAFE INTERNATIONAL tables. I can understand why it is allowed to place some Tiles next to each other when there is no matching Heart or Leaf, it's actually quite like placing fields next to fields in Carcassonne, but at first it doesn't feel right and indeed looks a mite odd. I am also not against same gender marriages but seeing them regularly, along with three people marriages, in the game is definitely confusing for the majority of 8 year olds. I'm not saying that we should shut our youngsters off from what is occurring more and more openly and correctly in the world but perhaps in a game for 8 year olds a little discretion ? For instance, in the aforementioned Cafe International you have to have a table made up of Man, Woman, Man, Woman sitting alternatively.Then again maybe a family game is the right way to introduce young players to the fact that some men marry men and some women marry women.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015