Designed by Sungwoo Hyun & Minwoo Hyun. Art by Carolmind. English Translation: Channing Jones
Published by Baccum Inc. (makers of Generalship) www.baccum.com
GGO Note: If you have a first edition of 'Generalship' and find the rules poorly written/translated and also confusingly set, you will be pleasantly surprised with the rules for ATHENS. They are not perfect (though this may be because I am playing from the demo game sheets) but they are much clearer and the translation from Korean to English is far better than my experiences with 'Generalship'.
I first saw Minwoo of Baccum at Spiel in Essen where he had a fair sized stand in a reasonable position. I saw him again this year at UKGE where his company was in possibly the worst spot possible, right at the end of the hall on the end of a small row with no through traffic. ATHENS, the new game, deserved a better introduction. To highlight the difference between the Rules for 'Generalship' and the Rules for ATHENS, ATHENS Rules are on just two sides of A4 printed [landscape] and with large amounts of the space taken up with full colour photo visuals. I first played ATHENS at UKGE. Since then it has been regularly enjoyed here at GGO.
The Rules are split into Components (on Page 1: with the theme story), Preparations (Page 2: how to lay out the table), Playing the Game (Page 3: a 4 box flow chart) and Pages 4, 5 & 6 which are fully described details of the Action cards (along with picture ID) and some of the rules on how the cards are played. There is also the two-line Game End (and Credits) Page 6. (all comfortably visual, in a good sized text/font). For reminding of the game play there are 4 Round Summary cards, one per player, duplicated text on either side. Just a minor point, but using 'they' or 'their' instead of "his or her" throughout the rules would make them slicker.
ATHENS is set in the Persian Wars during the 5th Century B.C. The players are Leaders in the Delian League prior to Pericles moving it to Athens which eventually provoked the Peloponnesian War, but that's another story for another day. The point is that as Leaders you have contributed to the prosperity of the League and thus Athens and now you need to manage the people, raise an army, hold a festival (or two), trade and plan and perform events regularly. This is all done through the careful and clever selection of cards from the display (similar to a deck builder) and some luck when drawing People tiles from the bag (Upper Class, Middle Class and Lower Class) and a little help from the Goddess Athena. (not that she is any help!). There are 7 Upper class People tiles, 14 Middle class and 21 Lower class in Purple, Yellow and Blue, so there is more chance of drawing a Lower class or Middle class person than there is an Upper class one, the odds on drawing the tiles you require changes as the game goes on as tiles drawn and used remain put aside out of play until the bag (of People tiles) is empty at which time all tiles put aside are returned to the bag. The Pericles Tile/card is there only to denote who is he Start Player.
There are a lot of components, mainly cards, 157 in fact, (Action, Base, Oracle and Events) for the game play, plus 50 for VPs and 12 Summary cards (3 sets of 4 for English, German and Korean), a lot of small wooden cubes in 8 colours (different numbers for each colour), People dice, a Turn order Die, wood cylinders in black and white, heck you don't need a full list of components just know that there are a good amount and they are all of top quality, Baccum, like the majority of Korean game manufacturers, does not skimp on quality or quantity - if it is needed it is in the box.
There is a neat twist in the People Dice rule, for amongst the components are 2 Grey People dice, these are the exception to the rule but only if you have at least one ECCLESIA card. When the Start player rolls the White People dice all players work off the same roll, but players with ECCLESIA card/s have the opportunity to roll the Grey dice, as many times as they have ECCLESIA cards if they wish (but they have to accept the roll of their last Grey Dice roll) before selecting an Action.
The 'board' is made up of a large display of cards, 6 cards wide (one exception) by 4 cards deep, though some of the cards are small stacks rather than single cards and there are 7 Base cards (in stacks of 8 identical cards and slightly smaller than the other cards) which can be stacked or spread downwards so that the number remaining is visible to everyone.
The top row of the display are the Event cards: War, Migration, Festival, Olympics, Drama and Contest. Note: The Rules state "beware that the two sides of an Event card are different" This is a bit of a misnomer as what it means is that you can easily tell the Event cards from the other cards by their backs (flip-side) having a different design. (At least that is how they are on the game edition (beta) I have, it may mean something else in the retail version. Event cards are not removed from the display when they are activated but they can only be activated up to 3 times by the addition of the necessary resources (shown across the top of the card in 2 rows) and after the third occurrence the card is flipped over to show its decorative rear side then the Event ends.
The second row in the display are the Base cards, Barley Field, Smithy, Shipyard, Kiln, Vineyard, Olive Grove and Quarry. Seven decks of 8 identical cards. These cards are double-sided with one side (the side first positioned face up in the display) showing one Resource, the flip side showing 2 Resources and 5 VPs. The number of cards per deck is determined by the number of players, less players less cards. Players take one Base card each Round building up their Resources, to keep and use. After taking a Base card the players also take one of the Workers (these can be taken from any space on the board) to use in the next Action Phase. There are 4 Phases per Round and 14 Rounds per game maximum (less if all the Event cards are flipped over earlier).
The third and fourth rows of the display are the Action cards: One card each of - Barracks, Stable, Piraeus Port, Atelier, Trader, Laurion Silver Mine, Delphi. 14 cards each of Village, Ecclesia, Agora and Workshop. Together these single and multiple cards make 11 'stacks', 6 in row 3 above 5 in row 4, with the 12th position in the Action card rows (last stack in the display) being a single deck of Parthenon, Erechtheion, Panathenaic Stadium, Theatre of Dionysus, Temple of Athena Nike, Propylaia, Stoa and Temple of Hephaestus; all decks/single cards in the Action card rows are placed face up with the exception of the 12th stack which is shuffled and placed face down. I am only mentioning all of these cards to show how much research has been undertaken.
The idea of using tiles or cards to 'buy' cards isn't new, but I like the idea of combining the People dice with the People tiles so that it is sometimes possible to hang onto tiles for later turns, though at the end of your turn you may only be holding 3 people tiles. The game is about scoring Victory Points and of course having the majority at the end of play. Due to the variation of cards there are many strategies you can try. There is enough planning to keep it interesting without it going into the realms of a 4 hour game (it should only take about about an hour once you know the mechanics and how to use the cards). By planning I mean knowing/deciding which Base cards to take, remember you only get one per Round, which People tiles to keep, what Actions to take etc. Using People Tiles (and/or Dice) on an Action card allows you to perform the, or one of the, actions associated with that card and in this way you gain the wooden block Resources required to complete the Events and thus gain VPs for doing so Events aren't the only way to gain VPs, you can also get them direct from Base cards, Action cards and by owning and upgrading Temples, also some cards have an end-game value.
You don't need an actual strategy though, in fact you can have fun by blocking opponents from going where you think they might be going on the display; you do this by selecting your action and placing a Worker piece onto it - you have to select your action and then place a Worker which then blocks another player from taking the same action. To prevent any player having an advantage every Round the Pericles card/tile is given to the player to the left of the current Pericles holder and then the Turn-Order die is rolled to determine whether play will be clockwise or anti-clockwise; this way there is always a new Start Player every Round but the previous Start Player isn't always relegated to being last player immediately after being first player; this works well but it does take away a little of any forward planning.
ATHENS is sort of a neat addition to the deck building genre although it only just about reaches the requirements to be classed as such. It isn't DB in the same way that Thunderstone or Dominion are, but it has enough DB elements for it to lean more towards being a Deck Builder than it does to being a board game with cards or simply another card game. The Rules are brief for the four phases and setup but it should be brought to attention that several rules are found within the Action card descriptions so please remember that when you read the rules you should spend more time than you normally would on the card details; I was going to add an 'otherwise' here but I think just saying to make sure you read the entire rules book first and have it close by when you play.
When I spoke with Minwoo Hyun at UKGE the game was ready for publishing but the decision whether to Self-Publish or go the Kickstarter/Crowd Funding route hadn't been made then. At the time of writing this I still do not know where the game is available from or what the retail cost of it is. You can find it on Boardgamegeek.com but there are no reviews, forums or files. My suggestion is that you keep an eye open for it in your local store and/or online. In my opinion it is one of the games for 2-4 players that actually plays as well with 2 players (obviously you need not use the Turn Order die with 2 players) as it does with 3 or 4 players.
A special word for the artist, Carolmind (https://www.facebook.com/carolmindspace/). Nearly every piece looks like it would make an amazing framed painting (it probably does somewhere) being unique in style compared to all other card games I have played or seen. I do not know whether these illustrations were created specifically for ATHENS or taken piecemeal from full paintings as TSR's 'Spellfire' cards were (there are some backgrounds on the cards that look as if they might be from one larger painting) but they are perfect for the game.
ATHENS is definitely to keep a lookout for.