Review of Antiquity in Finnish is available.
Antiquity is a game of competing city-states. In the beginning, cities are empty and the landscape is open for all to take. As the game progresses, cities grow and new towns are founded, while the landscape is exploited and becomes a polluted mess of useless land. The question is will the players be able to fulfill their goals before all farmland is spoiled.
It’s an impressive game. The box is huge and contains lots of small cardboard pieces. All components have this kind of faded old-fashioned look; the result looks consistent, pretty and historical. Even the box is modeled after an archive box — a clever idea that some people love and others loathe.
Men at work
So, Antiquity is about exploiting the land. Each turn players put their men at work. The men work the city buildings, which provide all sorts of benefits and abilities. Some are must-haves for every player as they facilitate almost critical functions, some are better suited for certain strategies. Choices of what to build and use aren’t always simple, as the amount of men available is limited.
Men on cart shops can be sent outside the city to work the fields. Those workers bring in resources: building materials, food and luxuries. These are then used to build more buildings and to achieve the victory conditions.
Players can choose their own victory conditions. The most important building is the cathedral. When built, it must be dedicated to one of the saints. Each saint has a victory condition and some kind of benefit. Thus players can choose the victory condition that best suits their playing style or the conditions of the game.
With the cathedrals, there’s also the choice of when to consider. Is it better to build the cathedral right away and use the special ability more, or is it better to hide one’s goals and build the cathedral later? It’s also possible to tear down the cathedral and choose a new one. There’s also Santa Maria, who gives all the benefits, but requires the fulfillment of two different victory conditions.
Pollution and famine
The two aspects that make the game stand out are pollution and famine. In Roads and Boats, the other popular game from Splotter, raw material is produced every turn until the end. Not so in Antiquity! Each hex produces exactly once, then it’s polluted. Forests are an exception: when harvested, they become fields which can be farmed once before they are polluted.
There are plenty of hexes, but since player’s actions are limited to a two-hex zone of control around his cities and inns, the farmland is going to run out fairly soon. There are fortunately solutions to this problem. The easiest thing to do is to expand, which will soon lead to a fierce competition between the players. There are also means to get rid of pollution.
Production isn’t the only polluter. Cities pollute, too: each turn players must dump three pollution markers in their zone of control for each city they have. If you can’t, you’ll have to build graveyards to your city. They eat up limited city space and might make buildings defunct, once the room runs out.
The other source of graves is famine. Every turn you need to have a certain amount of food available, otherwise your people famish. The amount needed grows with one each turn. Five is not bad; fifteen is. Fortunately there are means to control famine (besides having a huge stockpile of food, which is of course also possible), but it still is a ticking clock that brings a lot of tension in the game.
Heavy thinking required
I find Antiquity one of the most amazing experiences ever. Every time I play it, I spend the next few days thinking about it, coming up with all these new ideas and strategies I want to try the next time. I find it very charming, how there are so many ways to approach the game. The problems are always the same, but there are many solutions to those problems. I’ve seen different strategies win, too, so I do think they are balanced well.
The game is pretty complex, though. Well, it’s not that hard, but there are lots of moving parts. The time spent on stacking small cardboard chits might be too much for some people. The game is long — newbies should expect it to take at least three hours and more if they’re slow players.
However, even one experienced player driving the game forward will reduce the time. Last time I played it took us a bit over two hours; we had two newbies and two experienced players. With rules explanation, I’d schedule three hours for the game and that should be plenty.
Antiquity isn’t for everybody, but for those interested in building cities, managing problems and enjoying the thrill of simple survival, it’s an amazing experience.