Review: Amun-Re

Here's yet another meaty game from Reiner Knizia, this time set in ancient Egypt. Amun-Re is a wonderful 3-5 player strategy game that weighs in somewhere in the middle skewing a little heavy. It plays fine with all sizes, though I prefer a full compliment of 5 for a richer experience. Play lasts about 60-90 minutes depending on the player count. With five players, bidding is more interesting and there is more on the board to watch. Players guide their civilizations through two ages, scoring to become the most successful culture. The setting is 15 ancient provinces surrounding the Nile. Here, players will bid for the land, tend to the land with farmers, build pyramids and worship Amun-Re. The game is riddled with hard decisions to make which push and pull from different needs. Play moves at a brisk pace with little downtime as players work through turns together. This game's really good fun.

Image by Novembernight

Components
The production here seems fine, though personally, I don't care for the artwork. The overall effect of the pieces in play on the board is seems drab. There are situations in games where drab works to an advantage to get colored pieces to pop, but since many of Amun-Re's pieces – which are sparcely positioned on the board – are similar to the board, this is not the case here. A nice touch though is the plastic moulded pyramids and stones which are a huge draw. We have a medium large board with a map divided into the provinces. The Nile runs down the center of the board providing the fertile land along her banks. There is an outer VP track, some keys and a temple area that is used for sacrifices. The board colors are fairly flat with a great wash of cream being the main impression. The iconography and information design works well enough, but for the life of me, I've no idea where that cheese slice icon came from or how this is to mean "power card". Overall, the board's artwork isn't terrible, it just doesn't add anything to the game play, which is a shame for such a good game. The cards are fine, again a bit boring, though at times the symbology is a bit puzzling causing lookups.


What to Expect
- You get some bidding which has a unique flavor to it
- You get asset management as you make hard decisions where to invest the precious little money you have
- There are some economical elements too as you work toward maximizing your investments for future use
- There is a rock-paper-scissors moment during the sacrifice, where you need to pay careful attention to what other players are doing
- Decisions are really tough in this game, as there is a lot of push and pull from opposite, conflicting needs
- In general, you are trying to balance spending money to boost your economic situation against spending money to boost your victory points.
- There is some suprise scoring as information is not perfect here, often times points are hidden behind cards

Game Objective
Highest VP count wins. VPs are gained in a number of ways as follows:
- Building pyramids
- Owning temples in provices and making large sacrifices
- Meeting conditions that you draw from cards
- Having the most money

Here, the board can seen from the side which includes an outer scoring track, 15 provinces gridded off on each side of the Nile and the temple track on the top of the board. Pictured midgame, you can see the pyramids and green farmer tokens in play on some of the provinces.

What's in Front of You
- We have a good sized board. On it, is the large map of Egypt divided in half by the Nile and split into 15 various provinces. Each province has icons representing what it starts with, any income it might get and areas for farmers to work the land. All the provinces are unique with their own types of incomes and special abilities. On the top is an area for use in the sacrifice, which is a four space track.
- Various tokens representing pyramids, stones, player markers, start player and workers.
- A deck of 15 province cards (one for each province)
- A bank (money is in the form of playing cards)
- A larger deck of power cards.
- You will have in front of you cash and any power cards that you have picked up.

A detail of one of the provinces here (Thebes). In this case, we see one pyramid has been built (which costs 3 stones) along side one other stone (to be used for a second pyramid later on). Also in play are three farmers which have been purchased and are placed in the rectangles pictured. The two 'cheese slice' graphics along the top indicates how many power cards the player who owns the province may buy. The two 'cheese slice' graphics in the box next to the province name indicate freebees upon purchase of the province.
Image by garyjames
Game Play
The game is played in a total of 6 rounds each of which has 5 phases. Players alternate play for each of the phases which moves things along quickly. The game is separated into two halfs – Old Kingdom and New Kingdom – in which all the scoring happens at the end of the 3rd and 6th rounds. One unique aspect to the game is that while players will be bidding for and building off of provinces, at the end of the Old Kingdom they give up control of what they've created and start nearly fresh again. A fascinating thematic touch that has some very interesting ramifications.

The round phases are as follows:
1. Place Province Cards: Here, some provinces are randomly selected to go for auction
2. Auction Provinces: Players acquire one province each
3. Actions: Players will spend their money on a variety of things
4. Sacrifice: Players make a sacrifice to Amun-Re
5. Harvest and Income: This is when you'll get all your cash
6. Scoring (Phase 3 and 6 only)

1. Place Province Cards: Province cards are drawn from the province card deck in the amount equalling the player count (3 players, 3 cards) and placed on the corresponding province on the board. These cards act as bidding mats and will be discarded after players have bid. Other than the province name, each card is identical wtih nine squares on it numbered 0, 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, 28, 36. Players will place their bidding token on a square on a card to indicate their bid for that particular province.

In addition, many provinces have starting goodies players now place in them. These can be a free power card, cash, some building stones or some farmers. These come with the province when a player wins the bid. Icons on each province indicates which province gets what.

2. Auction Province Cards: The starting player ("the chosen one") will put his bidding token on one of the numbered squares on a province card. This will be his bid. The next player may bid for the same province or a new one. If the same province, the bid must be higher than the previous one. Play continues until each person has made their first bid. If everyone has bid on a different province, they then pay the amount of their bid, remove and set aside the bidding card and take any cash or power cards that came free with the province. Additionally, they place a marker to record their newly acquired property. Now, if two or more players have bid on the same province, play continues around the table skipping anyone with uncontested provinces until reaching a player with a disptuted card. This player must remove his bidding marker and choose again. He may choose a square on a province that has not been selected or outbid another player on any province except the one he previously bid on. He is not allowed to bid here twice in a row. Play continues around until all bids have been resolved. Players may bid on the same province more than once, just not in a row.

Each auction in the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom will be for a new, unowned province. In the five player game all the provinces will be auctioned off. In games with less than five players, certain provinces will not get played on.

3. Actions: Starting with the chosen one, each player will now spend money on power cards, farmers or building stones. (Players receive a set amount at game start.) This is pretty straight forward, where each player chooses to buy or pass on these three items one at a time. The interesting part to this phase is that the more like items you buy, the more expensive it gets as follows. Purchasing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 like items costs 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21.

For example, if a player wishes to buy 2 power cards, 4 farmers and 1 stone, it would cost 3 + 10 + 1 or $14.

This is a pretty dramatic curve as money is tight. So for the most part, players will diversify a bit to cut down costs.

So what are these things?
- Power Cards give extra income, extra stones when purchased, victory points if certain conditions are met, extra farmers and some special powers when bidding. Basically, they play a lot of roles effecting all the phases and you're never sure what you'll get. There is one limit to buying these which is set by the provinces, themselves. Each province has an icon which sets a limit to how many can be bought at once. A player is limited by the provice they own which lets them buy the most. Additionally, at any point in the game, a player can sell a card for $1. So, it's worth it to at least buy one a turn. If you don't like the card and are short on cash, just turn it in on the spot for $1 and continue with purchasing farmers or stones.

- Farmers produce income during phase 5 (harvest). The income is variable based on how much everyone in total offers as a sacrifice in phase 4 (sacrifice). Like the Power Cards, there is a limit to how many one can by. Each provice has a set limit that they can hold from 0-5 farmers. You can only buy what you can fit in your provinces. Once you purchase and place a farmer, it remains in that province for as long as you own it.

- Stones make pyramids and is the main way you will get VPs. For every three stones purchased, players get a pyramid. Stones purchased are placed in provinces. Like farmers, once placed they cannot be moved. Three stones in a province are turned in to the bank to be replaced by a pyramid. There is no limit to how many stones/pyramids can be put in a province.

The interesting thing here is that players need to balance purchases between economic and VP considerations. Farmers = cash, while stones = VPs. Due to tight cash, these decisions can be hard. You'll be comparing to see what others have done. Some will go for lots of income, in which case you might want to join in. On the other hand, hefty points are given for the pyramids, particularly if players can get the most in provinces.

4. Sacrifice. At this point, players make a sort of blind bid. Using their money cards, players will simultaneously pick and reveal an amount to give to Amun-Re. This amount is totaled for that turn's sacrifice. Players return their cash bid to the bank. What's at stake here? Well, two or three things. There is a temple track at the top of the board with four spaces numbered 1-4 respectively. The first is for a total sacrifice of up to $2. The second is for sacrifices of $3-$12, the third $13-$22 and the fourth $23+. A marker is put in the appropriate box based on the total sum of everyone's sacrifice. Now, the highest bidder will get 3 items of their choice (power card, farmers or stones) any way they want it. They could get three of one, or spread it thin. The only limit is that farmers need to have an empty spot in their province(s) to receive the farmer. Additionally, number one bidder is now the "chosen one" for the next turn. This is good as well, as the chosen one always wins ties. The second most bidder gets 2 items of their choice and everyone else that bid a positive bid (more on this in a minute) gets 1 item. Ties for second go to the one closest to the chosen one's left.

A second objective with the sacrifice is that this determines income to an extent. During the income phase, players will get per farmer they own the amount in the box where the sacrifice landed (either $1-$4). This is a significant jump and can be enormous to those with lots of farmers. On the other hand, some provices will pay a fixed income if and only if, the sacrifice remains in the 1 or 2 box. Thematically, this represents the gods smiling on a harvest or not. In the bad times, (1 or 2 box) some provinces would trade and thus the income. Nonetheless, what this sets up here is a situation where some people are really going to want a good harvest and others are not. Thus individual bids can vary widely accordingly.

Finally, the third objective of the sacrifice comes into play during the scoring phase on rounds 3 and 6. Those players that have a temple icon on there province get per temple VPs again in the amount where the sacrifice landed (either $1-$4). There are three such provinces with temples, two with one temple and one with two temples. This is hugely valuable if they can manage 4 per temple, particularly if the same person owns more than one!

Now, I mentioned that players get at least 1 item if they bid a positive amount. What I haven't yet said is that everyone is given a money card at the beginning of the game that says -3. Players may use this for each sacrifice instead of money. It does not go to the bank at the end of the sacrifice, but stays in one's hand. This is called stealing from the offering and grants the one(s) who played it $3 from the offering plate. They get to keep the cash and it does not count toward the sacrifice. If more than one plays this card everyone steals in turn starting with the closest one to the chosen one's left. This is a great way to bring down the offering if you've got no workers and everyone else does – particularly great if you have a province that pays off during the 1 or 2 sacrifice box. Players that steal from the plate do not get any items as a reward like the others, though.

Here, you can begin to see how watching what the other players are doing in terms of workers, can impact one's decision as what to bid. Lots of fun here!

5. Harvest and Income. As mentioned, players get income in the amount dependent on how many farmers they have and where the sacrifice landed. Also, some provinces will pay off a fixed sum as mentioned when the offering is low. Other provinces will pay a fixed income no matter. This variance really keeps the game alive as it is never really clear at the onset of a turn how the income is going to go.

6. Scoring. After the third and sixth round is a special scoring phase. Players will get VPs according to:

- Pyramid totals. Each pyramid in a player's provice gives 1 VP.
- Pyramid sets. For each pyramid that a player has in common in all his provinces he gets 3 VPs. For instance if he has his three provinces has as follows: 3 pyramids, 2 pyramids and 1 pyramid, he gets 3 VPs for 1 in each of them. If it was 3, 2 and 2, he would get 6 VPs for two pyramids in each.
- Most pyramids. For the player that has the province with the most pyramids on each side of the Nile, they get 5 VPs. This is a very valuable payoff.
- As said, provinces with temples pay off per temple the sacrifice amount.
- Power cards can be turned in if players meet certain conditions. Things like having provinces only next to the Nile or on one side of Egypt or so many farmers total, etc. These generally pay off 3 VPs per card.
- The player with the most money in the 6th round gets VPs as well. In this way, players won't simply dump the remainder of their cash into the last sacrifice. Yet another hard decision to make here.

Old Kingdom and New Kingdom
After the scoring is completed in round 3, the game resets a bit. Players remove their province markers and all farmers are removed from the board. Pyramids and stones remain however. Now play begins with the 4th round as it did in the 1st. The first province cards are drawn and players start to build up a new empire. This is very fascinating as certain provinces will be hugely valuable with a large base of pyramids already established, while others will be less attractive. This makes for some interesting play, higher bids and tougher decisions.

Game End
After the 6th round the final scoring takes place; highest VP wins.

Conclusion
I really like this game. It has a unique feel with the mix of different mechanics: bidding, purchasing decisions and rock scissor paper of the sacrifice phase. The way the gameboard clears off midgame to reveal a new start is very different. There is so much to consider in this game, often with opposing pulls.

Bidding doesn 't always go the way you want it. It's not unusual to get opposing types of provinces – one with lots of farms, rewarding high sacrifices and another with no farms and income dependent on low sacrifices. In this case, should you shoot for a 2 level sacrifice to optimize both. If so, what is everyone else going to bid?

-Players are discouraged from buying like items, which can be difficult as farmers are more valuable early on to produce in more rounds, while pyramids are only valuable for scoring later.

- Intimidation plays a role in this game as piling pyramids on one province can force others into a pyramid war if they want the most pyramid reward as well.

- Perhaps you can sneak up on another player's highest pyramid provice through the sacrifice. If you get the highest sacrifice, you get 3 items, which can be 3 stones (a full pyramid). This can be significant enough to win and since there is no way the other player can purchase stones at that point, you sneak ahead to win. Again, what is enough for the highest bid without throwing money away?

Not only is there a good deal to think about, but between the bidding, buying and simultaneous sacrifice bid, the game has a unique texture of play to it. Really, entertaining!

- Mike