Antiquity arrived, finally! It had taken a detour, visiting three Tampere post offices when it should’ve come through just two. That’s why I didn’t get it last week… Well, that’s all behind, now I can enjoy having the game around and that’s all that matters.
First thoughts: oh, it’s huge! Oh, it’s full of counters! Oh, it looks pretty! The box art is very clever and well worth the praise it has received; it’s certainly one of the best ideas I’ve seen. The box was full of loose counters, as many of them had fallen of the sheets; I doubt you can find a literally unpunched copy of Antiquity.
Sorting out the counters took something like 30-45 minutes. The game comes with plenty of ziploc bags (about 15), but I still had to add few more to make everything fit together nicely. It was far from Home Before the Leaves Fall, but Antiquity has definitely the biggest number of counters in my collection.
The counters are simple and elegant and should be fairly easy to tell apart, mostly. Figuring out what was what wasn’t that simple, until I noticed a helpful chart in the player aids. I would’ve appreciated a packing guide in the rules, but I think I have pretty much the optimal packaging system right now (a bag for each player, a bag for each type of good, mostly).
I also took the time to try the game out while Johanna was sleeping. It took me about 90 minutes to “win” (I’m proud I could overcome pollution and famine). Antiquity isn’t really solitaire-capable, like Roads & Boats is, but I tried it anyway to see how it works.
It’s cool. Really, it’s a marvellous piece of game design. It’s somewhat like Roads & Boats, there’s similar stuff going on, but there are also obvious features from Princes of Florence and Puerto Rico. City building looks a lot like Princes of Florence, but actually works more like Puerto Rico; it’s about getting the resources and choosing which buildings offer you the best benefits. Also from Puerto Rico comes the manpower management. The amount of workers is more limited than in Puerto Rico, making the decisions much tougher.
Roads & Boats has a strong logistics element, which doesn’t appear in Antiquity. If you have a Cart Shop (and you will have, several), that’s all the logistics you need. The rest is just about producing the right stuff at the right time. There’s a ton of resource management in general to worry about.
The pollution is brutal. Every hex of land can be used once, usually, before it’s polluted. Only exception is forests: you can hack forests down to grass, farm the grass and then it’s depleted. What’s worse, you must dump three pollution tokens for each city in the landscape near your cities, making the scarce resource of farming land even more scarce.
A garbage dump is a necessary, I think, as soon as you build your second city. Dump reduces the pollution produced by four tokens. Another option is to expand your zone of control (two hexes from your cities and inns) by building new inns and make the pollution someone else’s problem. Then you don’t need a dump, but having one makes the strategy even more evil: if you have a dump, nobody can drop pollution on your zone of control, and if your zone of control extends all the way to their territory… They’re in trouble. Evil.
That’s the sort of thing you worry about in the game. Nearly half of the counters are pollution tokens, it’s that big a deal. The other problem is famine; if you can’t produce enough food you must fill your cities with graves (morbid detail: the grave counters features names of the designers, testers and other people behind the game). That’s trouble, too, unless your production is very effective.
I think playing Antiquity is a pretty good lesson in the significance of environment management and waste reduction. That is how the socities have collapsed in the past and will collapse in the future, as well: there are no more resources to exploit. In comes a death spiral of pollution and famine and then it’s just a downward slope. Jared Diamond’s book Collapse is a good read on this subject.
Antiquity is a fairly complicated game and playing it well takes a lot of practise. The board configuration is highly variable, which increases replayability. On the negative side Antiquity is very hard to play the first time, which can lead to frustration as cities fail miserably. Of course you can play without pollution or famine, but it’s not the same…
There’s also a ton of book-keeping in the form of pushing counters around, which is takes some manual dexterity. People with long sleeves shouldn’t probably be permitted to play the game and a bump on the table is going to be a disaster. There’s lots of stuff computer could do a lot faster, that’s for sure. It certainly isn’t a game for everybody. I’m, however, really looking forward to playing the game for real. I’m already thinking about strategies and different approaches to the game… that’s a very good sign.