Author: SIMMY PEERUTIN
Ankh: Gods of Egypt
Designer: Eric Lang
In Ankh players represent Gods whose goal is to gain enough Devotion to become the supreme God of Egypt. They do this by building monuments dedicated to themselves and engaging in conflict with other Gods to dominate regions. To build monuments the Gods need to sacrifice Followers, and Followers are also used to increase the Gods Ankh powers.
This third game in Eric Lang’s trilogy of asymmetric multiplayer combat games is arguably his best. It follows Blood Rage and Rising Sun and, while he explained in a recent interview that these game ideas have been around for a long time, it feels like a distillation and a development of the ideas from the first two games. I make this bold statement after only 1 play (note this is a first impression) for the following reasons:
The rules are very straightforward and easy to digest, but the asymmetric powers coupled with the interactions of these simple rules brings on an initially bewildering array of possibilities.
A player has 4 action choices on his turn and takes 1 or 2 of the following actions:
- Move figures
- Summon figure
- Gain Followers
- Unlock Ankh powers
The number of these actions are tracked on a common action chart, and when a particular action comes to the end of a track, an event occurs. There are 3 types of events, occurring in a pre-determined sequence on the event track which is also the game timer:
- Control a monument
- Camel caravan
- Resolve conflicts
The player that moved the common action tracker to the end of one of the 4 tracks gets the benefit of the first two types of events. In the first, they take control of a neutral monument or, if none are available, an opposing God’s monument. In the second, they set down a string of (maximum) 6 camel minis along hex sides to create a new Region.
The new region has 2 effects:
- It creates an additional Region which is evaluated during conflicts
- It separates hexes that were previously adjacent
The third type of event – Resolve Conflicts – is real genius!
All players start with an identical set of 7 combat cards, and while the end result of the combat is generally one side kills the other sides units (except Gods, which never die), the other steps to the combat sequence are even more consequential than the final outcome.
The first step is for each player in a Region to select and reveal a single card…and this simple process is laden with decisions. You see, the cards have 2 parts – a value from 0 to +3 that will be added to the units in the region – and an action or an effect. The cards, once played, remain on the table for all to see until you use a card (with value 0) to take the played cards back into your hand. And given that there are 4 regions at start, and battles occur in each region IN SEQUENCE 1-4, what cards to play and when, is a sweetly agonizing choice. That’s because of the card effects and the Battle Steps:
- Select and Reveal cards
- Build Monument – if you played the Build Monument card, probably because you were assured of victory, or more likely because building that monument would give you majority in that type of monument in that region which would score a Devotion point. Costs 3 Followers.
- Resolve Plague – if anyone played the Plague card. Then all players with units in the region secretly bid Followers and all players’ units, except the player who bid the most Followers are killed. In ties ALL units are killed. (But remember Gods are never killed)
- Monument Majority – score Devotion for the God with the majority in each type of monument (there are 3 types). Ties don’t count. This could score a player 3 Devotion points.
- Battle Resolution – players with the most strength kills all other units. The card with +3 strength really helps here. All other units – Gods, Guardians and units – count as 1 strength point each. The winner of the battle gets 1 Devotion.
Note, the battle winner only gets 1 Devotion, while there are 3 devotion points available from Monument Majority. In all, there are 4 potential Devotion points up for grabs in each Region.
There are two other twists to the game that my group is not sure about, but that I think are great:
The first is that at a certain point along the event track, about two-thirds of the way through, the Gods with the two lowest Devotion points merge, and from then on play as one God. Victory or defeat is then shared. All figures and monuments of the lesser God are removed from the board.
The second is that at a certain point, three spaces from the end, if a God or Gods have not reached a threshold of Devotion points, they are ELIMINATED! In our 4-player game two Gods merged and then one was eliminated a short while later, leaving the end game a 2-player game and a wide-open board!
There is a final twist: If a God gets to the end/top of the Devotion track it wins instantly. This is one of two end game conditions: the other being reaching the end of the event track without someone reaching the top of the Devotion track. And given that the last event is a Resolve Conflict event, each game should build to this crescendo. In our game in the final turn we had 7 regions in which to battle. Some had no monuments but there was still that single Devotion point for battle victory or domination (where only one God has a presence)
I mentioned how simple rules have huge consequences and here is probably the quintessential example: the Adjacency rule. The rivers (and water tiles) separate the board into 3 Regions and spaces on either side of the rivers are not adjacent. A player needs their God or figures to be adjacent to monuments to get certain benefits and one summons figures onto the board adjacent to other figures of theirs or adjacent to monuments. The Guardian, Apep, can be summoned onto a water tile and is considered adjacent to all the regions that tile borders. In one location in our game, it bordered and counted for a unit in 3 regions! That sounds great until you realize that in Conflict Resolution if it is killed in the first region of the conflict sequence it will not be available in the other regions. That happened, and left us with a region in which we had no presence and where we were counting on a Domination Devotion point.
You can’t write about this game without mentioning the minis. These minis are the best I have ever encountered in a mass-produced retail board game. The pieces are amazing and so over the top! The tallest God is over 5 inches (13cm) tall.
There is too much to describe, and say, about the asymmetric God, Guardian and Ankh powers so I leave that to you to discover for yourselves. I will say that you need to pay close attention to the other God’s Ankh powers, especially Level 3 powers. The game was won by A God using the Magnanimous power – where LOSING a battle with 2 or more units meant getting 2 Devotion points!
In conclusion, having thought about the game and having written this first impression, I am even more in awe of this design than I was at the conclusion of the game. For this type of game, I think this is Eric Lang at the height of his powers. If I have any reservation, it is only that the array of God powers, Guardian abilities and Ankh powers may result in every game being somewhat
I can’t wait to play again.