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I start and end this review with information from the GMT Games Website at www.gmtgames.com

COMPONENTS

PUBLISHED: 2019   GAME DESIGN: Christopher Vorder Bruegge and Mark McLaughlin
SERIES EDITOR/DEVELOPER: Fred Schachter    MAP ART: Chechu Nieto     CARD ART: Blackwell Hird
RULES & LAYOUT: Chad Jensen  PRODUCTION COORDINATOR: Tony Curtis
PRODUCERS: Mark Simonitch, Tony Curtis, Andy Lewis, Rodger MacGowan, Gene Billingsley VASSAL MODULE: by VPJ Arponen assisted by Phil Buczkowski

If I ask my wife, who herself is an extremely competent gamer, to play a GMT game with me, she automatically says 'no' because her major dislikes in modern board games is extensive rules reading and countless tiny cardboard chits/tokens with really small writing on them. So when I brought Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea to the table for the first time she physically cringed. But when I showed her that the Rules booklet is just 24 pages, including front & back covers, and that the players 'army' pieces were regular wooden counters, she decided it was more to her liking.

There are 50 counters per colour, one colour per Nation, though no colour, except Black is designated for specific Nations. Black has been shown to represent the Non-Player Barbarians (but that's not written in stone, or ink), thus the designers have recognised that players do prefer to play with their favourite coloured pieces. As it was, with our first 2-player game, we ended up using the colours shown in the example because Fran prefers Purple pieces and I have a preference for Green. Barbarians are NPC nuisances, designed to test your skill and strategy. They generally come into play via an opponent playing a card when it suits them to hold up your advancement. Barbarians can be thought of as nasty speed bumps on your autobahn, so as to speak. (no, there aren't any actual speed bumps of autobahns in the game)

There are some larger, light brown wooden cubes (you need to put stickers on these) that represent the Ancient Wonders when you build them. There are also some white cylinders with a gold star imprinted on one end - these are ingame reference and visible notification markers; they mark Epoch's and Turns etc. These blocks are in place once on the map and cannot be moved.

Of the 24 pages of Rules, pairs of double-spread pages show the setup for the number of players. Pages: 6 & 7 (2-players), 8 & 9 (3-players) 11 & 12 (4-players)  through to 14 & 15 (6-players) - You can even play solo with an NPC.

On your first game you are advised to play through the extended example of play on page 50 onwards of the PLAY book. This takes over after the original setup for a 2-player game. The player's of this game are Sue and Bob. As luck would have it, on our play through my wife turned out to be Bob as she had chosen to be Purple and Egypt; leaving me to remember the old Johnny Cash song and be Sue as my preference was Green, thus in this case Troy. The Sue & Bob example basically tells you what cards you have in your hand and when and how to play them.

We soon came to discussions about these 'characters' choices during their Turn. Bob in particular seemed intent on making, what Fran (my wife) said were illogical, decisions (she also called Bob a lightly rude 'xxxx'). Fran isn't a wargamer, but she is very good at strategy games, and on a couple of occasions she was ready to make her move when the Playbook said 'Bob does this ...'  (Grrrr! says Fran, but went along with it at the time - she booted Bob's way of playing as soon as we got into our first full, no Bob & Sue, game, leaving me wishing I was still playing against Bob!).

There is a mechanic that most games players will recognise and this is having a Supply (where the pieces not yet available are assembled) and a Ready box (where the pieces are ready to be used). Camps (one disc) and Cities (3 discs) do not supply pieces to the Ready box. Of the Land areas controlled, only Settlements (2 discs) allow for reinforcements to your Ready box. This is important to remember when you are in the Growth phase as this is when you gain pieces (discs) from Supply and place them in your Ready box and then onto the board.

If you go first and can decimate your opponent's Settlements then you are severly limiting their supply for their next turn. Knocking cities down obviously affects the opposition, but only knocking one disc off of a city returns it to being a Settlement, thus you have helped them gain supply pieces.

The Rules book is very PC about invading areas, whether they are occupied or not. Occupied areas are contested by Competition (not War) with each side alternately losing a disc from the area. You may discard a Talent (coin) or Card (from hand) to prevent the loss of a disc. Because of this rule, and depending on which side removes a piece first, the authors have deliberately set the competition into repeats of step 4 (disc removal) rather than simply saying if the area has 4 or one colour and 3 of another each side removes 3 discs leaving one side in control. A controlled area lost to an invader can lead to any City there being sacked and looted. There are conditions for looting cities but the gain is the same, either 1VP or 1 Talent - a lot of expenditure for little reward (very realistic). Players can make Diplomatic agreements, but in truth they are not worth the papyrus it is hieroglphed on as they can be broken unceremoniously at will.

 Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea is one of the easiest of all GMT / Historical tabletop games to 'get into' without wading through pages and pages of rules, appendices and examples. But being brief on rules and examples isn't always such a good thing as in the need to keep things tight minor irritations can occur. Choosing your conflicts thoughtfully and carefully is necessary, as is placing your pieces from your Ready box onto the board. You can tempt other players to push at you or build up strong defences that may just prevent them trying to explore your areas; the best strategies are the ones that work at the time.

The example of play on page 50 of the Playbook is where new players are supposed to run through a complete first turn so that they can then proceed to turn 2 with the knowledge of knowing some, if not all, is expected of them. Unfortunately for new players, the example-writer has gone from 2-player Setup, through the Growth and Card play phases and then inexplicably jumped to the Competition phase of Turn 2. This threw us first time we read it, mainly because it wasn't the promised/expected 'example of the complete first turn'.

Speaking of confusing new players the rules book clearly states that there are only two types of card, Fate and Wonder. This may be true as to what is written on the back of the cards but when you start reading the rules the chatter is about:
Event cards, Negating cards, Competition cards, Investment cards etc (I'm sure I missed one or two, but you get the idea. They are all marked as FATE cards but clearly they all have different resolutions and game involvement. Luck of the draw should have no part in this game (in my opinion). Unlike many area control games you can just walk into empty areas unopposed, there are no active militia.

The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World can be bought for 5 resources. Please do read the complete section on Build A Wonder before proceeding to purchase for it goes on, after the list of what resources can be spent, to state that at least 2 of the resources must be discs returned to supply from the map. Talents and cards or more discs can be used to make up the 5 components required. To build/buy you take the card of the required Wonder and place it in front of you - this shows that you built it (important at the endgame) - and take the wooden block representing that Wonder and place it in an area you control (a heavily defended or defenable area is best).

Each Wonder has its own specific ability that you can apply according to the text on the Wonder - so get to know your Wonders and build then as quick as you can safely do so. In our games Wonders fly up so fast if you blink you miss them. Once you have built a Wonder it is yours, no one can take that away from you. The area it is in can be contested and lost, but if you lose the area the Wonder that you built is still yours, but without its ability. Winning an area with a Wonder does not make the Wonder yours - the building player retains the Wonder's card.

The Wonders, and their ability phase are: Grand Gardens (Growth); Grand Temple (Competition); Great Library (Card Draw); Great Lighthouse (Growth); Great Pyramid (Adjust Turn Order); Mausoleum (Card Draw) and Stairway to God (Growth). As you can see, Growth is considered to be very important.

The White discs are not meant as player discs, although there is no reason they cannot be, especially if one player 'always' plays White in all games where it is possible. Just choose another coloured set of discs and whenever you come across white discs in the rules or Play book simply read the chosen colour instead. White discs are used to block of the map when playing the first game. You need both sides of the map available as there is the Epoch/Turn Order chart on the unused half. The 'inner seas' are basically the waterways and lands around the Mediterranian.

White discs can also be used as additional pieces to boost a country's defence or offence, in which case when Competition takes place they are always the first to be removed and are not placed back in the player's hand - they are discarded back to the supply of unowned White discs.

 Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea as a game cannot, because of its own phrasing throughout the rules, be regarded as a war game - it is too PC. It is a game of compromising take-overs, where opponents are squeezed out of their homes and lands rather than being fought out/outfought. It is possible through Diplomacy to share an area with an opponent, but it is unlikely that the detente will last. The only mention of  the word 'war' that I could find is in the Playbook. The rulesbook makes it all sound like a friendly game of nations, though what is friendly about one nation pushing another nation off its own lands or seas I cannot fathom. It is almost as if the Playbook has been written for a different game.

The Playbook adds the possibility of an 'Exploration' phase which is performed at the beginning of every turn before the Growth phase - it doesn't negate any of the power the Growth phase has. There is a pre-made Pool of discs, 6 white, 4 black, 1 yellow and 1 for each NPC (colour not chosen) - again if someone has chosen to play yellow as their favourite colour then you have to substitute the yellow disc from the Pool with one from a colour not being used by a player. As all NPC colours are included you must remember (write down on a slip of paper) which colour is representing yellow in the draw. (it's easier if you just tell the player who wants to use the yellow pieces 'hard luck, you can't'). There is also a New Civilization phase to be considered - all optional for when you know the game well enough to begin tweaking.

Additional Notes:
In the Exploration phase there is mention of Hostility, War and Peace, which rather proves that this is a war-like strategy genre game.

Two spellings of Silicia are used on the board and in the Rules book. Silicia or Cilicia? 

Talents are gained and spent. Use white discs as the otherwise unassigned Talents. (I may have seen this in one of the booklets but reading through them I cannot find it again).

Games/scenarios mostly last as long as you want them too. You are not under any timed pressure, though some scenarios may only have 'N' turns.

Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea seems to be aimed more at solo play than many GMT games. There is an opposition mechanic or you can play both sides yourself. I prefer it as a game of high-intent-contentious 2-player contests/competitions (I really struggle to say 'competition' when I mean 'battle'. 

Overall this is an interesting diversion from regular tabletop war/strategy games. Once we had the odds and sods clear in our heads both Fran and I have had some very good and very tight endgames. 

An unusual, but welcome, exception which should persuade the pre-formed views of players who thing GMT? No thanks, to think again.

Get to command the greatest powers of the era: Rome, Carthage, Celt-Iberia, Gaul, Mauretania, Mycenae, Troy, Phoenicia, Minos and Egypt. There are Nation cards for each that hold all the necessary information you need to begin with. Despite my pleading Fran wouldn't let me play Troy, Troy and Troy again........

I wouldn't recommend it to someone totally new to this genre unless they have someone who has played before or is use to this game style. Two novice players could become well confused.

Fran liked it and played several games, so using her as my judge, it is a good, playable game.

There is a lot more to playing Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea than I have managed to describe, although I think I have covered most (if not all) of the salient points. It is not a complex or complicated game, but it does require thought and passion - the passion to mentally live the lives of the nation/s you are shepherding, expanding and ruling over. They are not wooden blocks they are/were living, breathing souls who helped carve out (and up) the World as we now know it.

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