The game: Amul by Remo Conzadori and Stefano Negro, published by Lautapelit.fi in 2019.
I don’t own a copy, I’ve played with copies owned by other people.
Elevator pitch: A card drafting and set collection game for up to eight players.
What’s in the box? The game is a deck of cards, a small central board and a block of scoring sheets in a medium-sized box.
Everything is functional and useful, but I’m not a huge fan of the graphic design style used. The art by Eilene Cherie is fine.
What do you do in the game? The game lasts for nine rounds and each round has a similar rhythm, like breathing: draw a card from the deck, place a card on the market, take one card from the market, place one card on the table.
The market is the drafting mechanism, and it works great. The market is seeded with up to three cards from the deck, then each player adds one card face down. When everybody has placed a card, they are turned face up and everybody then gets to choose one card. The choice happens in turn order, which rotates on every round, but acquiring military power in the game will let players jump ahead in the turn order.
When everybody has taken a card from the market, players then choose one card from their hands and those are played and revealed simultaneously. The cards may trigger actions, which are resolved in turn order, then it’s cleanup and next round.
After nine rounds, the cards are scored. Each card is either a hand card or a table card (some may be both). You can only play table cards on the table and can only keep hand cards in your hand at the end of the game. Thus, you end up with maybe ten or so cards in your table (the nine you play plus maybe few extra cards from the palace or the bazaar) and up to four cards in your hand.
There are couple of different scoring methods: some cards are straight-forward points, some score more points in sets, some have multipliers, some have toggles, some depend on the cards your neighbours have and so on. The cards also have mongol and arab symbols, which affect the scoring of some cards, and there’s also majority scoring for both at the end of the game. Choosing which cards to keep isn’t always straightforward, but it’s not terribly tricky, either.
Lucky or skillful? There’s always luck involved when there’s a deck of shuffled cards. All the cards in the deck come into play, though, it’s just a question of who gets them. Knowing what’s in the deck certainly helps and experience is useful in figuring out what to collect. Good luck may help, but in the end, skilled player will win more often.
Abstract or thematic? There’s theme, but it’s mostly decoration. Things make superficial thematic sense, but it wouldn’t be a terribly tricky task to retheme the game to something else. The Silk Road theme feels like a safe, if a bit boring choice.
Solitaire or interactive? You need to consider what other people are doing. Your immediate neighbours are your biggest concern, and at some level you need to be aware of what’s going on at the other side of the table. In lower player counts, keeping cards other people want is an option, at bigger player counts that becomes impossible. There’s no direct conflict or meanness, just competition for the same cards.
Players: 3–8. The game really scales that well by manipulating the deck contents. The thing is – I find the game a wee bit boring at the lower player counts. Things get more interesting at the other extreme, and I generally wouldn’t consider playing Amul with less than five or six players. At three or four, and maybe five, there are so many other games that are more interesting.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 10+. That’s fine, even though I wouldn’t suggest Amul to children: I’d categorize Amul as an advanced family game.
What’s to like: To me, Amul’s main strength is in the player count. This is something that has clearly worked well for 7 Wonders and I expect this will be the reason why Amul succeeds: there aren’t many short strategy games that work well with six to eight players. Amul does that, and that’s why it’s interesting.
What’s not to like: If you have just three or four players, Amul is ok, but nothing else: while the drafting mechanism is an interesting one, there’s still fairly little of interest in the game at lower player counts.
My verdict: If you have less than five players in your game group, by all means give Amul a go if the idea of a set collection, hand management and drafting sounds appealing. But do try before buying, I can’t recommend Amul without reservations for lower player counts.
If, on the other hand, you often have six or more players and would like to play a strategy game that’s easy to teach, plays in less than an hour and supports up to eight players, Amul is one of the best game I know for the job. I certainly like it better than 7 Wonders, because Amul has a more interesting drafting mechanism.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Amul gets Suggest from me.