AMYITIS (Ystari Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-120 minutes; $55)
Despite being a relatively new company, Ystari Games has, to its credit, released a remarkable series of very strong games. Ys (Winter 2005 GA REPORT), Caylus (Winter 2006 GA REPORT), Mykerinos (Summer 2006 GA REPORT), Yspahan (Winter 2007 GA REPORT) and Caylus: Magna Carta (Fall 2007 GA REPORT) read like a sort of all-star cast. Their latest release to join this illustrious group is Amyitis, the second entry in the line by Ys designer Cyril Demaegd who journeys back to 590 BC for inspiration.
The premise of the game is that King Nebuchadnezza of Babylon has married the beautiful Amyitis, daughter of the King of Media. But Amyitis longs for the lush gardens of her native land so Nebuchadnezza embarks on a plan to build lush gardens, gardens that will become one of the wonders of the ancient world, the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Players are nobles in the Babylonian court who compete to make the King's plans come true and earn prestige for their efforts, the noble garnering the most prestige winning the game.
Amyitis comes bookshelf boxed with lots of components: 20 Garden tiles, lots of colored wooden cubes, reserve tokens (representing barley, dates, salt, palm and wine), camel tokens, Talents (the coin of the realm), various cards and two boards: a Babylon board and a Mesopotamia board. Working these boards to your best advantage is the key to winning the game.
The Babylon board represents the Hanging Gardens. There is room for 16 tiles with the 4x4 grid simulating a 3-D aspect of four V-shaped levels. Garden tiles are sorted based on their "level" with the level 3 tile (with the value "10") placed on the "uppermost" level, three more level 3 tiles below it, followed by level 2 tiles below them and level 1 tiles on the final, lowest, level. The board also shows three temples and two fields which also play important roles.
The Mesopotamia board is actually a kind of track tracing a city to city route over which players may move the caravan. When a player moves the caravan into a city, they can get some kind of resource to be used in achieving those precious prestige points.
Players begin with all cubes in their chosen color plus 4 Talents, 1 camel and a level 1 "Caravaneer" card. The game consist of rounds with each round comprised of three phases: set up, player actions and end of the round.
Set up requires the shuffling of the Craft cards. These 18 cards consist of Peasants, Priests, Engineers and Merchants. Twelve of these cards (in a four player game, fewer when less players are in the game) are laid out in groups of three. Once done, the player actions phase begins. Players may do one of three possible actions each turn: pass, recruit or move the Caravan.
Should a player pass, he places a cube on the Pass square and will collect 1 Talent each time play comes around to him again. (This can be a good way to raise some - although usually not very much - money as money is very tight.) They may recruit which simply means choosing a card from any of the groups of Craft cards. The first card chosen from a group is free, the second one in that group costs 1 Talent, the final card in the group will cost 2 Talents. Once a card is chosen, that card's abilities are put into effect.
Choosing a Peasant allows a player to place one of his cubes onto one of the spaces in the two fields of resources on the board, receiving the matching resource token from the general supply. (A wine resource can be very valuable as it is "wild" and may stand in for any other resource when used in the game.) Should placement result in a row being filled, the player with the most cubes in the filled row is rewarded by receiving a Gardener card, very useful in planting gardens in the higher tiered rows of Babylon.
Choosing the Priest allows a player to add one of his cubes to the temple of his choice. Each of the three temples has a row of four spaces. Placing a cube shifts the cubes already there a space over until they finally are pushed OUT of the row. Having a majority of your colored cubes in a temple reaps bonuses at the end of the turn.
Choosing an Engineer allow a player to place one of his cubes onto any of the available irrigation areas in the garden and score 2 prestige points. This area is now irrigated and may support the planting of gardens.
Choosing the Merchant gets you a camel from the general supply, a valuable commodity when you want to move the caravan.
A player may also move the caravan. The Caravaneer card allows a player to advance the caravan one city (space) forward by paying 1 camel. Additional movement costs additional camels. (Some players may obtain higher level Caravaneer cards enabling them to move more spaces.) Different transactions are possible depending on which city space the caravans stops upon. The Babylon space allows a player to sell resources to earn prestige points and place free irrigation. Other spaces allow players to buy a Court card (the type shown on the particular space). These spaces also require the payment of a specific resource (as noted on the space).
Court cards come in several varieties including Bankers (to increase income), Caravaneers (to increase movement) and Palace cards which reward players with prestige points. The catch here is that these cards are in "triangles". That is, there is generally one less than the number of players at the lowest level but as the level and benefits increase, fewer and fewer of these cards are available. Players who embark on a singular strategy (such as maximizing income with the Banker) must remain flexible should they be shut out of the higher level cards by a competitor pursuing the same approach. Players may also buy plants.
Buying plants on the space occupied (paying the specified resources) allows the player to plant in the garden. Planting can only be done on a space that has been irrigated and the quality of the plant must equal the level of the floor. (Level 1 plants only go onto level one spaces, level 2 plants on level 2 and so on.) Gardener cards add 1 to a plant level enabling a level 1 plant, for example, to be used on a level 2 space. Once a space is planted, that tile is removed and kept by the player. In addition, players receive prestige points for irrigation cubes they have placed around that tile, equal to the plant which has just been planted, PROVIDED that there is NO tie. If a tie, NO player scores. (Gray, neutral, cubes indicate any area that are now irrigated due to the newly planted space.) Once all players have finished all actions they wish to do and pass, the final, end of turn phase, begins.
The first thing that happens is that the player to the RIGHT of the first player, takes one of his cubes and places it in the temple of his choice along with one neutral cube for each of the other two temples. Once done, the players with the most cubes receive rewards. In the first temple (Ishtar), the player with the most takes either 1 camel or 1 talent from the supply. The second place player receives whatever the first player did not take. The temple at Marduk awards 2 prestige points for the first player, 1 pp for the second. The final temple (of Tammouz) adds a cube to one of the two fields and takes the corresponding resource token; the second player may exchange one of his resource tokens for another (but not the wild card Wine). Players now adjust their resource supplies depending on their Caravaneer status and discard the rest. (Level 0 and 1 Caravaneers may keep up to 2 resource tokens in reserve; Level 2 may keep up to 4.) Start player is moved to the left and the next round of turns begins.
The game continues until there are four or fewer Garden tiles remaining (3 in a two player game). Now players add to their total of prestige points bonuses of 5 or 10 points (depending on how many tiles they have claimed for planting in the garden) and 1 pp for each resource remaining in their supply. The player with the most prestige points has won the favor of Amyitis and the game!
The nature of Amyitis is such that grandiose schemes for victory will not work. Rather, the game is very tactical in nature. There are prestige points to be had with planting in the gardens, not to mention points earned for irrigation and those big bonuses for garden tiles in the end. But you must be flexible and be prepared to grab prestige points anywhere you can find them. While money is not prestige points, money is important in allowing you to pick up the Craft cards you need when all the free or inexpensive options are exhausted which can make a big difference. There is also a consideration in placing cubes in the two board fields: you don't want to set it up so that someone ELSE gets those useful Wine resources or snags a useful Gardener card if you can avoid it. There are lots of interwoven mechanics here (the powers of the buildings, the irrigation/planting of the gardens etc.) but the mechanics are not exactly equal in "strength". Take the temples, for example. Since going first on a turn is a slight advantage, the ability for the last player to place cubes on temple spaces serves as a sort of "consolation prize" to mitigate the disadvantage. While interesting and useful, the temples seem more like offshoots to the main game engine here rather than integral parts of the whole system and should be used accordingly.
While everything is in the rules including lots of helpful examples, Amyitis is the least intuitive game in the Ystari line. Be forewarned: the game won't click until well into the first play and, more than likely, the second. Which is not to say the game doesn't work. It does. The pieces fit together well and are in tune with the historical theme. Amyitis keeps you challenged from start to finish making it another solid entry in the Ystari line. - - - - - Herb Levy
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