Review: Attika

RIO231_in

Introduction

There have been many games of city building and construction in recent years; Moon and Weissblum’s Capitol, Delonge’s Big City, Seyfarth’s Manhattan and of course Kramer and Kiesling’s Torres. Attika is in one sense a city building game, but the basic theme of building your ancient city is where the similarity ends.

Attika is basically a game of connection, a la Go, Hex, Twixt, Connections and a number of others. Indeed, in respect of connections one might even liken the game to Acquire with the important difference that each player owns his own “chain”. These connections aim to stretch between two points of the area of play to which holy shrines are adjacent. Failing that, players try to build every building they have; and in building there are benefits to connecting certain buildings together.

Components

Three building countersThe box graphics are not too inspiring, but well themed. On opening the box you are greeted with a set of die-cut counters for each player which are colour-coded to match the playsheet which each player uses to store un-built counters. These counters are of good quality, and the stylized graphics are, well, stylized. Unfortunately, they are not always easy to read, especially when placed on the area tiles and as a result, it is difficult to keep track of who has built what without a detailed study. Each counter is duplicated on the playsheet, so a player has a space for each counter. Again the appropriate space for a building is not the easiest thing to locate during the game and I found a lot of time was wasted while players tried to find their way around their playsheets.

Alongside the counters there are four shrines, each made from one illustrated stand-up piece of thick card and a base of the same card to slot them into. Some have reported difficulty getting these to stand up properly; I haven’t had any trouble with mine as yet but I can see where a small dab of PVA glue in the slot might help.

3 terrain tilesThere are also the area tiles; these are well-made and each consists of 7 hexes, some of which are blank and some of which contain terrain symbols. These are used in various configurations (depending on the number of players) to create (and later expand) the playing area.

A pack of terrain cards is provided; these show the same terrain features that are on the area tiles.

There is a bag of small, wooden, orange amphorae; these jugs are taken as bonuses during the game and allow extra actions.

The rulebook is very easy to read although there was one very slight ambiguity I noticed (it is not made clear whether a building taking advantage of terrain on the board needs to be placed over a space containing terrain—very slight as I said so we all assumed it need not), the rules were quick and easy to learn. I would go as far to say the rules seemed almost obvious.

Also in the box is, of course, the storage tray itself. The areas designed for the building counters, shrines and to store the loose bits (amphorae) are all well-designed; however the slot for the terrain cards is rather a tight fit and many will find they have difficulty either storing them securely or, if they manage that, extracting them easily. For some reason this was moulded with a tapering edge and narrows at the bottom; big mistake and very annoying.

Play

Attika shrineDepending on the number of players, a number of area tiles are randomly chosen and placed arbitrarily in a fixed layout. Shrines are placed at two or more corners depending on the number of players . Each of these tiles has different terrain layouts; either clear spaces, mountains, hills, forest or water. Terrain is dispersed differently on the tiles so that no two tiles are the same. The result is a different board every time the game is played.

The players are aiming to connect any two of the shrines with a chain of their own buildings; this is something not usually inherent to building games and introduces strategic elements akin to games such as Hex or Go. Of course it can be difficult to achieve this with the limited number of pieces available and with players working against each other. There is an alternative victory condition; be the first player to build all 30 of his or her buildings.

On a player’s turn the first of a damning number of choices is faced; whether to draw or to build. A player will start the game with four building tiles on their playsheet, from which they may build up to three tiles. Of course, in order to build more buildings a player will have to draw from one of his stacks of unused tiles but only two may be drawn per turn. Terrain cards Building and drawing may not be done in the same turn, although a drawn tile may be immediately built. At any time a player may take a terrain card instead of an action, but cannot then return to building or drawing; this is the next damning choice, as any remaining actions would have to be used to pick up cards.

To balance the advantage the first player has when choosing where to build, and the subsequent disadvantage of each subsequent player, each is dealt a different number of terrain cards to begin the game. Building is carried out using a combination of existing terrain on the board and terrain cards—each building requires specific terrain to be built, and if the required terrain exists on or borders the space on which the building is erected then less cards need be expended to build it. Buildings may also be built for free if this is done in the correct order; for example once the fortress is built a tower may be built next to it at no cost.

On each turn, players will often have to face the option of either playing for their own gains or to block somebody else. The latter will usually involve creating what is called a new settlement. New settlements cost more terrain cards than normal, players having to cash in one extra card for every settlement already in existence. A settlement is defined as a connected group of buildings; so two settlements can join to make one single settlement. Here then is another strategic subtlety that players must consider; if one is forced to build in an area other than next to one’s existing settlements (for whatever reason) then one better have the terrain cards to cover it.

During the first 10-15 turns or so, players tend to try for the seemingly easiest objective of connecting two shrines; and of course other players try to prevent them. After this initial objective is rendered near impossible the game becomes a race to place extra area tiles in order to connect shrines via an alternative route, or else get all your buildings on the board. In the few games I have played, all four-player games, the winner connected two shrines. Until we become a little more experienced, this will probably happen more often than not.

Critique

The choice of strategy coupled with the tactical freedom and flexibility inherent to this game make it one of the most interesting and enjoyable games of its type. The exasperation and frustration when a player knows what must be done but cannot do so suits my gaming palette to a tee. For a game so easy to learn and teach this has to be near (if not at) the top of its class.

The level of chaos in the game is a little difficult to discount (though this is not necessarily something to be unhappy about); there is the luck of the draw when drawing building tiles or terrain cards. Both unknown elements will probably affect a player’s chances of getting anything built in subsequent turns; however with good planning and preparation in the early game the late game becomes an open and shut case influenced by nothing except the player’s decision. In conjunction with this, the late game is a little less prone to chaos, for the obvious reasons that most of what will be built can be ascertained from what has already been built. This also applies to extra area tiles; the later stages of the game will tend not to be affected by the introduction of new area tiles—the scope for alternative connections will have been realised by this time.

In the few games I have played I have found the bonus given by amphora collection to vary in usefulness; in the early and mid-game, it is highly likely these bonuses are of little help; but if saved, an amphora becomes not only a useful commodity in the endgame (especially if players are trying to build as much as possible) but forces other players to consider the possibility of a four (or more) build turn coming up for one player.

Most importantly, what sells this game for me is the coupling of an easy to learn rules set and depth of play. Such games do not surface very often, but Attika has this appealing characteristic. When all is said and done, Attika is one of those games that ought to be taken along to a games session whether or not your group is set on playing something else; this game may replace Web of Power at selected venues as my choice for a short strategy game.

In recent discussions more than one person has implied Attika will quickly outstrip Puerto Rico as the game of choice in many circles; I personally believe this synopsis to be a little premature. While Puerto Rico is not at the top of my list of favourites, Attika still has to stand the test of time Puerto Rico has already stood. While Attika smacks of the greatness of games to which its mechanisms bear some resemblance only time will tell if its appeal will stretch far enough to convince.

Attika playsheetWhich brings me onto things I personally do not like about the game. The components for me could have been better; while I cannot argue with the quality of the printed counters and the area tiles, I think there are areas both could have been improved. The counters are a little difficult to make out at times, and while the themed artwork is atmospheric something a little more symbolic would make buildings easier to spot on the tiles. The area tiles themselves seem a little bland to my eye, but perhaps I am just being a little fussy here; the themed artwork would have been more at home on these than on the counters in my view. What really did annoy me (as it has many others who bought the game) is the ill-fitting compartment in the insert tray for the terrain cards. I fear it may cause damage to the cards if I store them in the tray, but I am reluctant to cut the tray to ease their storage.

Attika is indeed a great game; my considered opinion leads me to believe that this game will appeal to most gamers and might even succeed in making a few converts of non-gamers. The components are durable and functional, the rules light and easily digestible; yet the resultant game has sufficient depth that play on several levels is possible. The end result is a well-rounded and virtually self-balancing system which appeals to the tastes of both the heavy and the light gamers; there are a lot of games I have recommended to others in the past, but very few earn the “must-have” status that Attika has done with me. You really must have this game; or at least you must try it!

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