Had Mark over yesterday for gaming.

This time, at long last, we did a playtest game of Archon. It’s designed by Richard Berg, and is scheduled to be included as a separate game in The Glory That Was Greece, Volume III of the Ancient World series.

The general idea is a simple card-driven game of the rise of the Greek city-states, and their colonization of much of the Mediterranean Basin. Each player starts with control of two city states, and tries to gain control of other ones and/or colonize and control Ionia, the Dardanelles/Bosphorous, Crete, the Nile delta, southern Italy and Sicily (the Greeks also reached much of the Black Sea coast and France, but these are deliberately left out of the game). Somewhat like Berg’s recent Blackbeard, the game consists of a single run-through of the deck, which certainly keeps the length down.

Mark and I had read the rules many moons ago, but had forgotten pretty much all of it by this point, so it was the blind leading the blind. Still, it wasn’t too bad, and the game actually went about the predicted amount of time (4 1/2 hours for the first play—it should drop to 3).

We started with fairly basic choices for city-states. I took Attica for the resources, population and navy (and supplemented it with Argolis for it’s navy), while Mark took Laconia (for the home defense, it took a bit to realize that wasn’t going to be starting armies) and Boeotia.

This was technically the start of a resource imbalance that wouldn’t show up for a bit. Shuffling didn’t go so well, so a lot of card pairs were still clumped together. I expect that’ll sort itself out next time. We got drought for the first couple turns of the game, which seriously cut short our available resources. In fact, a couple of cards that demanded naval maintenance wiped out my treasury, and then the navy. So much for that advantage.

However, once the long drought was over, I quickly started getting resources faster than I could spend them. It’s not that there was nothing to spend them on, just that spending them takes actions, which are very precious. Much of the middle game was spent trying to figure out how to actually be able to take a neutral city state (purposefully made difficult). We each managed one (Corinth for me, and Phokis for Mark).

The main driving force in the game is population. It grows steadily, if randomly, through the game, and having too much can be as much of a problem as too little. The die rolls really favored me, with Argolis gaining population faster than anywhere else. Of course, this ‘forced my hand’ somewhat, as I needed to found colonies and maintain a standing army to take up all the spare people.

We only really understood some bits in the rules about controlling colonies for VPs very late, and the end of the game was a scramble to establish control of what we had established. Overall, Mark did somewhat better than I. I abused the fact that I went last to get more than he did, but he was a bit better organized and burned some of my colonies, whereas I never did return the favor. With an extra turn, he would have done much better.

By strict VPs, it was a blowout: 91 to 49 in my favor. Much of that was the middle part of the game where I was consistently drawing 13 to 17 RPs a turn (RPs left over at the end become VPs). I horded them at first, and then realized I couldn’t spend them fast enough anyway…. Without the RPs, it was much closer, 17 to 16 in my favor, and again that was mostly because I went last.

Anyway, we think it shows some real promise, and we hope to try a multiplayer session of it soon!