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Review: Assyria

Posted by Eisley on 6th November 2009

Assyria[Below is my initial review of Assyria.  A two-part interview with the game’s designer is available too:  Part One – Part Two]

Ystari games usually contain careful planning and thinking, so when we were at the Rio Grande Games stand we decided to give it a try.   Players place huts on a landscape featuring two rivers, supply their huts with food and can perform other actions too.  The goal is to score as many points as possible from building ziggurats, hut placement and winning favour with dignitaries.

The game lasts eight turns split into three reigns (lasting 2 turns, 3 turns and 3 turns each).  In the first phase of a turn, players select food from the cards available.   There’s never enough food for what you really want and the food you select will determine player turn order too.  Next, players place their huts on the board’s hex spaces.   Placing huts on rivers earns camels (used to perform important empire expanding actions later) and huts placed elsewhere earn points.

Once huts are placed, they must be supplied or they will perish.   Each hex space on the board has a specific food type on it and it is this food type that the player will need to supply the hut with.  If a player has a group of huts next to each other then they create a well which scores instant extra points too.

After removing any unsupplied huts, players use their camels to perform actions, all of which give the player the chance to earn points at the end of the turn or end of the game.  The actions include building or developing ziggurats, vying for favour with the dignitaries, buying one of the remaining food cards, and so on.  If it’s now the end of a reign (i.e. after the 2nd, 5th or 8th turn), the river floods and any huts on a river space are removed.

Assyria is a very tight and strategic resource and building game.  Huts must be placed next to your existing huts/ziggurats which means you’ll need a wide variety of food to feed them which of course you’re unlikely to get because you only get a small variety of food each turn.  You want to place huts to gain camels, but also want to place huts to build wells and earn points.  In most games, you ensure that anything you build survives, but in Assyria you start to realise huts are actually (fairly) easy come, easy go.  It just isn’t possible to feed all of your huts every turn especially when you add further huts to existing ones, but still only get a small amount of food each turn.  Once you realise huts being removed is okay (although you still need to have a plan), the game’s full tactics start to reveal themselves.

The mechanism for turn order and food is very clever.  Five food cards are drawn randomly but are laid down so that the cards have increasing amounts of food going from left to right.  A second row of five cards is added below the first in the same way.  Players then get to pick a column of two cards for their food income.  Taking the cards on the far left means they get the least food but means they will go first in the turn order, and vice versa.  It’s a very neat game balancing system.  Unfortunately, sometimes the food type you really need just isn’t available which can really get in the way of your plans.

I liked the flood at the end of each reign as it resets the board quite a lot because so many huts get removed.  This means a player who had a bad couple of turns can progress from a more level point.

I had a problem with the wells as they scored a lot of points, are limited in number and, once you have one well, it seemed too easy to build more.  Unfortunately, certain food types weren’t available at the start so I was unable to build huts to create a well.  As a result, I found I just wasn’t able to catch-up.  During the game, I closed the lead my opponents had gained from their wells but there was no way to catch them.  I dont think this is a flaw in the rules, but it was a harsh lesson to build wells early.

Overall, Assyria offers lots of thinking & planning.  I enjoyed the mechanics especially as you never felt comfortable and were always scraping for resources.  Due to the inter-related resource management, I felt I only really understood the game after the first few turns.  I would gladly play it again but would definitely focus on building wells and not trying to keep huts when trashing them and building others would serve me better.  An enjoyable thinking game (maybe prone to analysis paralysis by some players) and not as heavy as it might sound.

James.

[Played with 3 players]

[A two-part interview with Assyria’s designer is available too:  Part One – Part Two]

Second Opinion: Read the thoughts of the other player (my friend Rick) at: http://www.gamesetupmatch.com/news.htm#11

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2 Responses to “Review: Assyria”

  1. Johan Van den Wouwer said

    Dear James,

    We played Assyria last Saturday.
    Although a game which becomes more and more gripping, the longer you are playing, we may have found a flaw in the rules. I wonder if you came to the same conclusion as we did ?
    Here is what we found out : it was a 3-player game. My 2 fellow players both build some ziggurats and “wasted” quite some camel resources in doing so. I built no ziggurats and used my resources to gain influence with the dignitaries and so on + I concentrated on scoring points with my huts instead of using them to gain camels.
    It turned out that the ziggurats do not deliver enough scoring points : the base costs 6 camels – that is OK because you need at least 1 level to start scoring “ziggurat points” – but levels 2 (3 camels) and 3 (2 camels) do not deliver anything extra except for the points at the end of the game. However, for each 2 camels, you gain 1 point, so why spending 3 camels to build level 2 ?
    We would be most curious to hear about your experience with the game.

    • Eisley said

      Hi Johan,

      Did you score points for ziggurats every turn? Your description sounds like you may have only scored ziggurats at the end. The game’s designer gave me some feedback about the game and he said that ziggurats are good points generators if built early and he liked the way they generate points each round and don’t need feeding either.

      When we played, ziggurats did seem expensive (I started one new ziggurat and developed another) but I didn’t feel they earned many points as they didn’t seem to generate too many points each round. However, looking back, I can see that whilst the points earnt each round seem small, they do add up quite a lot during the game, plus you can develop the multiplier at the bottom of the board too. The other players didn’t develop ziggurats much because they were too busy making wells. My strategy was more about getting camels and the dignitaries. When I play it again, I look forwards to trying different strategies.

      I hope to have an interview with the designer on this blog soon. Meanwwhile, you might find this article on BoardGameNews interesting on Assyria tactics by Ystari Games

      Cheers,

      James.

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