AMUN-RE (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, 60-90 minutes; $34.95)
Ancient Egypt seems to have a strong hold on the imagination of Reiner Knizia. Among Knizia's creations are Tutanchamun (Spring 1997 GA REPORT) and Ra (Summer 1999 GA REPORT). This time, the banks of the Nile serve as the inspiration for his new release: Amun-Re.
Each player begins with a "Master Builder" card (from the Power card deck) with the rest of the cards shuffled to form a draw pile. The 15 province cards are shuffled and placed face down by the board. A player chooses his color and takes the 2 matching player blocks (one of which is used to keep score on the scoring track) and 3 province markers of the same color. The Amun-Re temple (a cardboard cut-out) begins to the left of the Temple track on the board. The oldest player takes the Pharoah and is the starting player.
Amun-Re consists of two phases of play representing the Old and New Kingdoms of Egypt. To begin phase one, cards equal to the number of players are drawn and placed on the corresponding provinces on the board. All province cards have a "value track" which charts the bids for ownership of the province. (Some provinces provide extras for the player controlling them such as gold or free building blocks.) Now a round of bidding begins.
The value track for each province consists of spaces valued at 0, 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28 and 36. The first player takes his remaining block (called a "bidding block") and places it on one of the value spaces of any Province Card in play. The next player may place his stone on any province card as well but if he wishes to compete for a province with a bidding block already on it, he must place it on the NEXT higher value space on that province's value track. This can be a critical decision because of the way values increase: the increments between each step rise making re-bids on provinces sharply more expensive. But this is a situation that the outbid player cannot immediately address because he cannot re-bid on that particular province just yet. The outbid player must place his stone on ANOTHER province (in a higher space on that new province's bidding track if a bid has already been placed there). Bidding continues until only ONE bidding block occupies each province and then, each high bidder pays for the province and takes possession of it.
Now, players take actions. They may buy and use Power Cards, farmers and building blocks. Interestingly, the cost for these items are the same, becoming more expensive, the more you buy. For example, one Power card costs 1 gold but 3 bought at the same time will set you back 6 gold. But there are restrictions. The provinces you control determine how many power cards (or farmers or building blocks) you can buy.
Finally, an "offering to Amun-Re" is done to determine how well the harvest went. Each player secretly bids Gold cards. In addition to positive numbers, each player has a -3 card which may be used. All cards are revealed together and the values totalled. The Amun-Re temple piece is moved along the pyramid track based on the total. (For example, if the total offering comes to 7 Gold. the temple moves to the second space which represents the 3-12 Gold offering range.) Your strategy in bidding has potential rewards.
The player who offered the most gold, receives 3 items of his choice (power cards, building blocks or farmers in any combination) for free! Second highest player may take two with all other players (who did not use their -3 card) receiving one item of their choice. The player(s) playing the -3 card get no items but manage to "steal" 3 gold from the bank.
Now the players get income from two sources: the harvest and bonus payments. For each farmer in a province under his control, a player receives the amount of gold indicated on the track by the temple. The bonus payments come from certain provinces that generate additional income. (Sometimes this extra income is automatic; sometimes it is earned only when the temple marker is on the first or second spaces of its track.) This procedure is done three times to complete the first half of play. At that point, all signs of ownership and farmers are taken off the board with only built pyramids and building stones remaining in place. The game play cycle is now repeated (from bidding for provinces to harvest and income) for three more rounds. At the conclusion of this second cycle, points are calculated once again, for the final time.
Pyramids are the key to big scores. Players receive one Victory Point for each constructed pyramid. Complete "lines" (or sets) of pyramids (that is, one pyramid in each province owned by a player makes one set, 2 pyramids in each province makes 2 sets etc.) reward a player with 3 points per set. The player controlling the province with most pyramids (on each side of the Nile) gets 5 VPs. (If a tie, both players get the 5 VPs.) Temples (found only in the provinces of Damanhur, Edfu and Amarna) earn 1-4 VPs based on the position of the temple on the scoring track. Adding spice to the scoring are some of the Power cards which are potential VP generators. These cards offer goals such as having all of your owned provinces on one side of the Nile or having 9 or more farmers under your control. Each goal met earns an additional 3 VPs. During the final scoring (at the end of phase 2), gold also counts with the player having the most gold getting 6 VPs, second getting 4 VPs and the player with the third highest total getting an additional 2 VPs.
In our sessions, the key to the game has been to build up a supply of farmers to generate income and build pyramids to generate Victory Points. Easier said than done. In our experience, the values of the provinces seem to be very well balanced. Provinces weak in one area (e.g. no Temples) can provide strength in another (such as gold). Bidding for provinces is one of those times when you seek to find the "threshold of pain" for your opponents: bid high enough to insure you get the province you want by making the next bid too "painful" for your opposition. To heighten the "pain", one of the Power cards enable you to force the next bidder to "skip" a space on the value track in making a higher bid. The luck element is present though as drawing the "right" Power cards to mesh with your strategy and needs can be an important consideration.
Amun-Re has all the trademarks of a Knizia design: a variety of decisions to be made, a multiplicity of options each turn, a clever bidding mechanism for provinces and many ways to score. As a result, the game stands as another well-crafted design by a master craftsman. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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