- Designer: Jules Messaud
- Publisher: Gigamic
- Players: 2/4 (that’s what the box says. BGG clarifies this as 2-4)
- Age: 8+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Hachette USA
Akropolis is a game from a designer who is completely unknown to me, Jules Messaud. BGG has 2 games credited to him, both 2022 releases, and I have not played the other. From the short description on the ‘Geek:
The most talented architects in ancient Greece stand ready to achieve this goal. Build housing, temples, markets, gardens and barracks, so you can grow your city and ensure it triumphs over the others. Raise its prestige with harmonious planning that conforms to specific rules, and enhance it by building plazas.
Stone is an essential resource, so make sure you do not neglect it. You’ll need enough quarries so you can build higher up, making your city stretch towards the sky.
- Choose a tile from the construction site
- Arrange it in your city to unlock each district’s full potential
- Build on higher levels, increase the value of your districts and win the game
So, now that you know how to play, let me tell you what I like about the game…
(Just kidding, though the rules are simple, there is slightly more going on)
The game is mostly composed of tiles. Each player gets a starting tile which has 4 hexes together in a triangular-ish shape (actually known as a propeller type 4-polyhex). All of the city tiles are triangular polyhexes made up of three hexes. These city tiles are shuffled and a market of 6 tiles is placed on the table. The remainder of the tiles are made into 11 stacks of equal size, with each stack having n+1 tiles compared to the player count. Stone cubes are dealt out based on starting turn order, and the game begins.
Turns move clockwise around the board; which each individual round going until there is a single tile left in the market. On a turn, the active player first chooses a tile. The tile at the front of the line is free; if the player wants any other tile, he must spend 1 stone for each tile that precedes it in line. (There isn’t a tile or marker to denote the front of the line; so your group will just have to decide what is the front…) Once the tile is chosen, it is added to your city. If it is placed on ground level (called Level 1 in the game), it must be placed so that it borders at least one of your other tiles along at least one edge. If you place it on a higher level, it must be placed so that each of its three hexes has a supporting tile beneath it.
There are three different types of hexes that are found on the city tiles. The quarries have a white background. During the game, if these hexes are covered by other tiles, you’ll gain 1 stone for each one. Plazas are colored medals that have 1 to 3 stars inside of them. They will score endgame points. Finally there are districts in 5 different colors: blue Houses, yellow Markets, red Barracks, purple Temples and green Gardens. They can be placed wherever you like, but at the end of the game, if you are to score points for them, they must meet unique criteria per color AND you must have a plaza matching the color of that district.
When there is only one tile left in the market, the remaining tile is moved to the front of the market line and then the next stack is revealed and placed in line behind this remaining tile. The starting player marker is moved to the left, and this player now takes his turn. The process continues until all the stacks are used (12 rounds total).
Now, you calculate your final score. For each of the colors, see which districts meet the scoring criteria for that color, and then you score points equal to the levels of those districts. This sum is then multiplied by the number of stars you have in plazas of that color in your city. Obviously, if you don’t have any visible plazas in that color, your score for that color will be zero…
The criteria are:
- Blue (houses) – only the houses in your largest contiguous group score
- Yellow (markets) – Markets may not be adjacent to another market in order to score
- Red (barracks) – Must be on the outer edge of your city
- Purple (temples) – must be fully surrounded by other hexes
- Green (gardens) – always score
You also score 1 point for each stone left over. The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most stones left over.
My thoughts on the game
Well after my first few games, I’m tempted to say that this is my current front runner for Spiel des Jahres 2023. Yeah, I know that the most recent award has just been given away, but of the new games, this one feels right for the award and the current jury. Of course, there are about 2,000 games to be released between this one and when the next award is handed out; and there is the usual caveat that it feels like more recently released games get more attention from the jury… but for now, that’s my feeling on the game…
Let me first say that this game is pretty much simultaneous solitaire – there is some mild player interaction in the jockeying/drafting of tiles each round, but otherwise, you’re on your own. Once you get a tile, you play it in your area – there is nothing that you can do to otherwise affect your opponents, and you’re not even competing directly with them for any scoring elements. At the end of the game; you’ll simply score for what’s in your city in front of you. For some, this will be a turn off or possibly a hard stop. I tend to like this sort of game (hence my opening statement here).
The game moves lightning fast – there are only 12 turns in the game, and in most of them, you only draw a single tile from the market and place it. Usually I just look for the best fit for my own area and take the tile; though if there are two equal choices, I might look to see what my LHO is doing to see if I can at least take the tiles that he wants more… In general, tiles with Plazas seem to be more valuable; even if you’re not going for that particular color; keeping the scoring multipliers out of the hands of your opponents seems like a good thing.
There are some interesting dynamics at play while building your city. You need to spread out a bit first to build upwards; and each time you build up – you cover up previously placed tiles – and thus you won’t score for anything that is covered! It’s important to remember this as you start the game, as honestly sometimes it’s not worth sweating too much over an early play if it is in an area that you think you will build over later. Building up does also make the areas more valuable (as the base value of each little hex is equal to its height). In nearly every game, you’ll come upon a situation where you want to build up, but you can’t afford to cover up the hexes in that location – leaving you with a tough decision to make.
I have read some concerns about a first player disadvantage – caused by the scarcity of stones allotted to the first player – but we haven’t seen that be much of an issue in our games thus far. Yes, it does seem that the first player doesn’t have much choice in the first round as he starts with only one stone (and if he uses it, then he’ll be stone-broke for a while and must always take the free tile). The other players don’t have as much of an issue as they have more stones to start with; but also are limited in their possible costs in drafting as the line will be shorter by the time they get to pick. Anyways, I don’t think it’s an issue, but maybe something to watch as we continue playing. I have read some people trying to give all players an extra stone at the start of the game to ensure that the first player has a bit more choice. When you only get 12 rounds in the game – choosing 15-16 tiles – you really would like to have options for all of those turns!
We didn’t realize it in our first game, but the player aid cards actually tell you the prevalence of the different types of hexes per player count. This is super useful information to know – especially for the scoring plazas remaining available. Of course, you’ll also need to rely upon your memory as all the players will eventually be building upwards, and you’ll have to just remember what was on the covered up tiles that you can no longer see!
The basic rules can be taught in about 2-3 minutes, and I would think most games will take no more than 30 minutes. There are some advanced rules that give some alternative scoring options, but they don’t add much to the overall game length. The graphic design is simple and functional. My only gripe is with the iconography on the box. We actually let the game sit for an extra week or two because we mistakenly interpreted the player count as 2 or 4 based on the ‘2/4’ shown on the box. So, a few nights when we had only 3 players; we simply chose other things to play. As it turns out, the game is most definitely playable by 2, 3 or 4 players – and thus far, my favorite player count is 3!
The optional advanced scoring rules push the game slightly out of the family arena, but it may make the game a bit more appealing to “gamers”. I like either version and would happily play either. The advanced scoring leads to much higher scores and gives you a few more things to think about when placing your tiles.
This one is definitely worth trying, and it has that appeal in our group where someone often asks to play it again right after we finish. Like I said, though it’s early, this would be a game I could easily see on the SdJ lists next year.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Dan B. (1 play): Tile placement games with stacking are a small sub-genre that has been growing a bit in recent years, with games such as NMBR 9, Miyabi, Llamaland, and now this. I think it’s a pretty good game of this type, if not amazing. I don’t mind multi-player solitaire games but in such a game I have a slight preference for x-and-y play styles as in NMBR 9 (which is flip-and-place). As Dale notes, the interaction in Akropolis is limited, although there is scope for hate-drafting. That being said this is simple and fast and therefore I am happy to play it.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Steph H
- I like it. John P, Dan B.
- Not for me…