I talked about the luxury of having access to a large gaming group in my last post and the last game night I went to really backed this up. When Andrew did his usual Monday morning roll-call we looked like the walking wounded. Mike was "out for two weeks", probably because his current assignment with C.S.I.S. keeps him hopping, Andrew was acting as the parental heavy lifter in lieu of a sick spouse, Chad was spending quality family time and was otherwise indisposed and Dean was desperately trying to remember what the phrase "work / life balance" means.
This left me, Kris, Jeremy and Matt to forge on. And forge on we did. It was Kris's pick so he invited us down to the cafe for a mystery game. When we arrived he told us that we were going to play Rise of Empires.
Here's publisher Mayfair's synopsis on this Martin Wallace-designed, area-control civ game:
Don't just make history-guide it! Take the reins of a developing civilization, choosing the resources and development paths that will lead to the fastest expansion, as you claim and defend territory on a map forging an empire that eventually encompasses whole continents.
Rise of Empires play is divided into three eras. Choices made early in the era are repeated late, so your decisions must have both short-term and long-term benefits to be successful. This process requires tough decision-making and promotes an atmosphere with nail-biting suspense. Victory points are rewarded for building cities, having an empire, for progress in science, and for trading goods.
Rise of Empires breathes new life into the civilization games genre! Balance gold and food, war and agriculture, territory and technology to forge an empire that is destined to rise above all other nations!
Lookin' to read the full encyclopedia? Then click on the following link to get the rules.
We let Kris go first since, in theory, he knew what he was doing. He kicked things off by procuring a City for four Gold and three Food which gave him two built-in Victory Points every turn. He was also the first to claim a Territory Tile, starting with a Forest and then adding a Plains later on. To bankroll this aggressive campaign he took a Trade Action to earn more cash monies. Next up he went with a Progress Action, developing an "Iron Axe" that helped him wring more Resources out of his previously-secured Forest. Finally he took an Empire Action and established his holdings around the Middle East and the Holy Lands.
Jeremy picked up a City for two Gold which gave him one recurring Victory Point. Next up he used a Territory Action to develop a Plains Tile, which added one Player (I.E. population) Cube and two Food to his supply. He then selected an Empire Action and established a tidy l'il domain centered around the Balkans and Constantinople. Later that Turn he snagged a second City for another sustained Victory Point, but this one cost him two Gold, two Food and a Resource Disc. For his last Action he took an "Iron Weapons" Progress Tile which helped to improve his future military efforts.
I kicked things off by establishing my civilization in Egypt. I probably should have seized a second region but I didn't wanna draw needless attention to myself. Next up I took a "Calendar" Progress Token, hoping to leave more options for myself in the "B" phase of the Turn. I then spent one Food and one Gold to construct a grand City for an ever-renewing Victory Point and then picked up some extra cashola via a Trade Action. Finally I performed two back-to-back Territory Actions, ending up with one Mountain and one Town, which gave me some bonus peeps, a few extra Benjamins and some always-valuable veeps.
Matt had no qualms about getting aggro, swallowing up Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean via two separate Empire Actions. After scoring more Gold via a quick Trade he went on to acquire a "Ships" Progress Token which he used to wring extra assets from his island holdings. Next up he snagged a Mountain with a Territory Action which promised to bump up his Player Cube count.
In the "B"-side of the Era, Kris and Jeremy got into a l'il slappy-fight over Constantinople. Kris also added an "Agriculture" Progress tile to the mix which helped improve his Food production. He also picked up a slew of new Villages, giving him the resources needed to power those new Victory Point-generating Cities.
After inventing his own "Iron Axe", Jeremy went nuts with the civil planning, adding two additional Cities, one which cost two Gold and two Food for two ongoing Veeps plus THE FREAKIN' COLOSSEUM which doled out an insane six Victory Points at the end of every Game Turn for two measly Player Cubes and two Resource Discs. To power all of this expansion he also conquered a Forest and an Island Territory Tile for added Resources, Player Cubes and Food.
After doggedly re-enforcing my turf I decided to expand into the Mediterranean. I then settled another Mountain range which gave me some young, pristine, unbroken bodies to exploit as well as a new Town and a Field to feed them with. To exploit my new-found Mountain ranges I decided to tap into the "Mining" Progress development to get more Resource Discs. All of this gave me enough incentive to add a new City, which cost me one Gold and a Food for an extra Victory Point.
In addition to beefing up the defense of his home regions, Matt decided to horn in on my turf in Egypt. To facilitate this he picked up an Island Territory Tile for more Food and drones. After using a Roads Progress Tile to optimally re-arrange all of his block-headed minions he made sure to keep every hooligan fed via the "Agriculture" development.
After walking away with the first player token I quickly snapped up a new City which gave me two recurring Victory Points for the initial cost of three Gold and a sustained Food cost of one. I also picked up the "Navigation" Progress Tile which let me overwhelm North and South America with a bunch of ignorant, pushy, destructive assholes. Instead of making enemies with a military offensive I just used an Empire Action to re-enforce my current position. Next up I traded a Resource Token for some badly-needed funds via a Trade Action and then scored four cheap Victory Points by spreading the taint of "Religion" all over my realm like a pompous, self-righteous, know-it-all.
Matt pulled off a few more bold military moves, eventually striking directly into the heart of Central Europe. He then augmented this strategy by settling another Island and then declaring a state of "Diplomacy" with Jeremy to quell any thoughts of retribution. During the "B" side of the Second Era he was quick to recognize the intrinsic value of the "Printing" Progress Tile. This gave him the priceless freedom to ignore additional Gold costs whenever he choose an option further along the Action Display track.
In one fell swoop Kris used an Empire Action to take over the uncontested India. To help populate his expanding realm, he performed two Territory Actions and added two more Fields to his collection. By this time he was running a bit low on funds so he kicked off a timely Trade agreement for three Gold. With four Fields now at his disposal he snatched up the "Steam Pumps" Progress tile, which promised four Resource tokens during the Income Phase. He then snagged one of the best Era Two City Tiles for four Gold and three Food which gave him three Victory Points at the end of every Turn. During the second half of the Second Era he also picked up the "Farming" Progress Token which gave him three bonus Food and St. Paul's Cathedral for four Gold, four Resources and three Player Cubes. This gave him an obscene ten Victory Points over the next three Turns.
Having first dibs on the Progress Tokens, Jeremy quickly snatched up a "Port", which gave him the ability to interchangeably convert Gold, Resource Discs and Player Cubes. Next up he took two Territory Actions in a row, developing new stretches of Forest and Plains. To help aid his future military schemes he then invested in the "Mercenaries" Progress Token and dropped three free Player Cubes into Eastern Europe. A last-minute Trade Action gave him a chance to replenish those exhausted coffers right at the end of the Era.
Matt took the vanguard in Era Three, going right after Kris with an Empire Action. By the time he was done, all of India and China had fallen under his sway. To celebrate, Matt then constructed Big Ben for eight Gold and a sustained cost of three Food but it promised a whopping six Victory points during the last two Turns of the game. After snagging a Victory Point slot on the Trade Track, he then kept his slack-jawed population nicely distracted with the "Shiny Objects" er...the "Football" Progress Token. He ended the first half of the Era by investing in more Island Territories and then employing a Trade Action to replenish all of the cheddar he'd just spent building the UK Parliament.
Desperately low on Resource Tokens, I took the "Steam Pumps" Progress Action and then added another Plains with a follow-up Territory Action. My rivals were quickly snapping up the best Cities and Wonders, but I did manage to build the Tower of London (presumably on the banks of the River Nile!) for six Gold and a sustained two Food in exchange for five Victory Points over the next two Turns. Hoping to keep pace with my rivals I took a high slot on the Trade Track for a healthy little dollop of Victory points. Next up I placed an Action Disc on the Empire Track, which let me liberate the long-held Holy Land from the infidel Kris. Another Empire Action let me drop some re-enforcements down on the board as insurance.
Jeremy used an Empire Action to boot Matt out of Central Europe and then conquer the vast steppes of Russia. He then used this same Action later on to avenge his loss against Kris in Turkey by sneaking into his opponent's back door (?) via the Middle East. As if that wasn't enough win for one Turn, he also used a City Action to snag Westminster freakin' Abbey for seven Gold and four sustained Food in exchange for two more hits of six Victory Points. Next came the procurement of the "Fertilizer" Progress Token which gave a nice boost to his Food production. He then took a Trade Action to score some major dinero and then used the spoils to bankroll a charming l'il palazzo for four Gold and two perpetual Food for four Victory Points over the next two Turns.
Kris spent an Action Token to claim one of the high-tier Victory Point rewards along the Trade Track. Next up he took a Territory Action to add yet another Field to his booming "Steam Pump" enterprise. Then, via an Empire Action, he drove Jeremy out of Turkey and then barricaded himself up within the oil-rich boundaries of Saudi Arabia. Noting the vastly-increased appetites of his exploding population, the "Fertilizer" Progress Token came next, bestowing a timely windfall of three free Food. Kris then purchased a humble little two-up, two-down split-level for two Gold and one Food which offered three enduring Victory Points. Finally, he set himself up for the second half of the Era by picking a Trade Action to replenish his Gold reserves.
Matt may have had some initial success with his aggressive military strategy but his lack of balance started to hurt him. He kicked off the second half of the final Era right by scoring one of the top tier Victory Point Trade results and then taking a Town Territory. After raising some bread via another Trade Action and then jumping all over the "Chemicals" Progress chit (giving him four Resource Discs), he used his "Printing" development to get the jump on one of the most advanced Wonders of the game: Sputnik. In spite of the steep cost of two Gold, seven (!) Resources and two sacrificial Cubes, the sixteen Victory Points that came along with inventing this thing gave his current score a massive shot in the arm. Matt finished up with a widespread Empire action: challenging Jeremy in Central Europe and the Balkans and then gettin' all up in my grill in Egypt.
In contrast to Matt, my early investment in Cities served me pretty well. I started off with an Empire Action to evict Jeremy out of the Balkan states. Even after a Trade Action gave me a bunch of Gold I still didn't have enough Resources to buy that valuable City I wanted, so I took a Territory Action to snag yet another Plains with the intention to "Steam Pump"-ing it into oblivion. Unfortunately Jeremy got to the City I wanted first and I had to settle for a dump which gave me only two crappy Victory Points for two Food. I then dropped the "Ideology" Progress token which gave one last-minute Victory Point for each of six different Regions I occupied.
Jeremy used his first Global Action to kick Kris out of Turkey with three Player Cubes. He also got the jump on everyone, snatching up the amazing Windmill Wonder for one Gold, six Resource Discs and two Player Cubes. In the end this would net him a redonkulous fourteen Veeps! To make this acquisition even more valuable, Jeremy then added the "Electricity" Progress Tile to double the Victory Points on any one of his Cities! Three guesses as to which one he ended up picking. Next up he scored a high slot on the Trade Track and then took another City Action, picking up another development which cost four Food for three Victory points. He then capped off this fine turn with an eleventh-hour Global Action to establish a second-place presence in both the Middle East versus Kris and South America against me.
Alarmed by Jeremy's surge, Kris tried to fight back with the options still available to him. Anticipating an expensive turn, he kicked things off with a timely Trade Action. Irked that both Matt and Jeremy had already snatched up the most valuable Wonders, Kris was forced to pay three Player Cubes and four Resources to Smash the Atom for twelve Victory Points. Next up he used a Global Action to swarm the Middle East with four Player Cubes, achieve dominance versus Matt in India, bolster his hold over Saudi Arabia and then lock in a second place presence in the Holy Land against me. He then opiated the masses by busting out the "Television" Progress Token, scoring five Victory Points during the final tally. A Trade Action allowed him to ring the Victory Point dinner bell one last time while the "Hail Mary" acquisition of a Town Tile helped mitigate his massive end-game expenses.
MATT - 112
ME - 124
KRIS - 144
JEREMY - 162
- Fine components all around. The board itself looks aged and vaguely neoclassical. Some might bitch that it's a swamp of earth tones but at least it looks tasteful and the art quality definately is heads and shoulders above Nations. Yes, the map is heavily abstracted but at least you don't hafta spread it out over two ping-pong tables. Also bonus points for accommodating the Turn Order Track and the Action display right into the design of the board. The Display board is functional, clear and compact. The Progress, Territory, City and Empire Tiles are all well-made and the iconography is crystal clear. This makes calculating your expenditures and rewards at the end of any given turn super-easy.
- Yay for Player Aids that actually aid players! The rules themselves are extremely straightforward and we rarely found ourselves rooting through the manual to puzzle something out. As a result, the game's pace never felt draggy or protracted.
- Of course, the original conceit here is the Action Display which plays out from right to left and then reverses order for the second half of the turn. Participants who've been studying the Player Aid and have a good plan in mind can really take advantage of this mechanic.
- The player in last place gets to go first next turn, which helps to keep everyone in the game right up to the very end.
- The three Eras and the developments that go with it really give the game some thematic flair. Yes, the Colosseum could end up in China but Rise of Empires is a civ game first and an historic game second. A very, very distant second.
- The economic engine at the heart of this game is very elegant. Sure you can go nuts settling Forests and Mountains and building vast Cities and Wonders, but you gotta make sure that your plebes don't go hungry and the coffers remained topped up! Mercifully you can cut funding on older developments at the end of a turn in lieu of more efficient stuff.
- Combat via the Empire Tiles is also abstracted, but perfectly suitable for a game like this. Kudos to Martin Wallace for designing a civ game with little to no luck.
- It's fun to experiment with tactics. You can go nuts with military moves but this could end up being costly, especially if you make a lot of enemies. You can invest in a lot of Progress Tokens but you can't neglect your City development. Snapping up Territories and Wonders is all well and good, just make sure that you have the cash flow to pay for it. Between agonizing over specific Actions and setting up your strategic priorities for the next Era, there are plenty of interesting decisions to make.
- The Player Cubes and the Resource Discs are super-bland. Plastic figures and l'il ore nuggets or oil blobs would have been a lot more thematic and intuitive. One more components-related gripe: Tiles from previous Turns have no home and have a tendency to sprawl all over hell and creation.
- Even after a single play I know that Cities and Wonders are the key to victory. Matt tried a Food / Player Cube / Global strategy but found out (all too late) that the Victory Points the rest of us were earning every turn from Cities and Wonders were piling up quick. He rallied quite well at the end of the game but the damage was already done. Needless to say, if I ever play Rise of Empires again, I'll do whatever I can to snag the best Cities and Wonders as quickly as possible.
- The game was very simple, almost too simple. You're not guiding a specific, historically- accurate civilization so I had very little emotional connection to my horde of l'il wooden Cubes. As a result, the experience felt kinda hollow to me. A general barometer of how much I liked a game is how quickly I write up the corresponding blog entry and let me tall ya, I dragged my ass on this one, folks. But, I must confess, the more I wrote about Rise of Empires the more I liked it.
If you want a quick and easy civilization-building game that only takes two-to-three hours to play and won't leave you bickering over rule semantics, Rise of Empires fits the bill.
It won't blow you away or dazzle you with innovation but it does what it says on the tin and gives you a perfectly enjoyable night of gaming.
Rise of Empires scores four pips outta six with a major tilt up towards Sputnik "booping" and "beeping" overhead!
Wanna distract your own horde of serfs with "Football", "Religion" and "Television" while engaging in an aggressive war over oil...er, Resource Discs? Then click on the photo below to learn more about Rise of Empires and help sustain this blog reach a new Era of success!