Thursday, 2nd August, 2012, 05:04 AM #1
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Pre-Release Review of Atlantis Rising by Z-Man Games
Board games will never go out of style, and let’s face it, hardcore gamers have taken board games to places never envisioned by the typical “family board game” manufacturers out there. Name a genre, whether its warfare simulation or resource management and if it fits into a historical, science fiction, fantasy, or horror category, and true board game fans can start running you a list of in-print, out-of-print, and re-released games by manufacturer and relative fun factor – and can even tell you were to get your hands on the game for cheap!
Personally, I’ve been playing board games since high school, and cut my teeth on games like Diplomacy and Blitzkrieg, and my all-time favorite War of the Ring (being a fanatic Tolkien fan), which was once published by a long-gone company called SPI.
But this weekend, I was given the opportunity to try my hand at a quite different style of game – the cooperative board game. This was the first time I have played a board game where all the players band together to defeat the game itself, and it was quite a departure from the usually strongly competitive games that are stacked ceiling high in my closets.
This new experience in cooperative board gaming was made possible by Z-Man Games, and their new release - scheduled for this month - called Atlantis Rising. Designed by Galen Ciscell, Atlantis Rising offers players the chance to determine the fate of the mythical island of the ancient past, saving it by either mystical transport to safety or letting it fall into a watery tomb!
- Author: Galen Ciscell
- Graphics & Illustrations: Karim Chakroun
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Year: 2012
- Media: Board Game
- Price: $59.99 (order from Z-Man Games site here)
Atlantis Rising is a strategy board game depicting the final hours of the fabled island kingdom as it begins to sink beneath the waves. The board game is designed for cooperative play, with the final resolution being that all players win or all share in defeat. Players take on the roles of one of six different Atlantean Councilors, each possessing a unique special power which has advantages in the game. Additionally, the game contains a 37 piece tiled map depicting the lost island of Atlantis, along with more than 100 tokens (colored cubes, glass beads, and little figures) representing resources such as gold, ore, crystals, and “Atlanteum”, mystic energy, as well as Atlantean agents of the Councilors (players). There are three different decks of cards, eighteen tokens, four dice, a starting player standup, and a rulebook with complete information on how the game is played - including variant rules.
The production quality of Atlantis Rising is very good overall, but with some elements of the game which prevent it from a excellent rating. The map tiles and design of the map itself are really cool, and are made of a fairly durable cardstock and attractive artwork depicting the doomed island.
Likewise, the resource cubes and little figures are as good quality as you’d find in any other board game of this type, but nothing particularly noteworthy. I definitely liked the three card decks, particularly the “components” deck, which depicts bizarre high-tech-ish gadgets the Atlanteans are building in order to save the island.
But the Councilor cards for the players were a bit disappointing. They were sturdy enough, but without the gloss finish the other tiles and chits had, and with artwork which was not as polished as the map tiles, cards, or box cover. Also, the inner box contained a very flimsy cardboard component organizer - partially assembled - and in the case of my review copy, was actually torn in one place. The components generally fit into the component organizer, but it has a generic utilitarian feel to it, as opposed to the custom-made molded plastic organizers found in other games.
As mentioned in the overview, Atlantis Rising depicts the last hours of the fabled island as it sinks beneath the waves. Beset by disasters and attacks by the Athenian navy, the Councilors (players) struggle to defend the island, all the while building a powerful mystical-technological device that will transport Atlantis to another dimension and save it from destruction.
The background of the game reminded me a bit of the SciFi Channel’s Stargate Atlantis, but without the pesky Wraiths or the Ancients acting up. [Nerd Alert: I was a huge fan of any show with the word “Stargate” in the title!] Clearly, while not intended to be a derivative of the TV series, the game still has a cool premise based upon Plato’s writings and apocryphal bits of pseudo-history.
The game is designed to be player cooperatively for 2 to 6 players, and I ran my playtest last weekend with my old gaming buddy Brett, his teenage daughter Rachel, and my cohort from my Neuroglyph Games blogsite, Tizzbin the Media Gnome. We set up the game board quickly enough, chose our Councilors, and set up the other components, reviewed the rules, then dived right in.
I’ll preview the endgame and admit that, sadly, we appear to have been ill-equipped to handle the disasters that at once befell us!
The map board is made up like a six pointed star, with 6 land tiles in each section. The Atlanteans have a very orderly island, with each arm of the star producing a different resource – ore from mountains, gold from hills, and crystals from forests. The other three arms of the island contain volcanoes used to smelt ore into Atlanteum, cities used to recruit more agents for the Councilors (you start with 3, and can max out at 6), and visit the vast Atlantean libraries to hunt for lore (Knowledge Cards) to help save the day. The center tile contains a mountain peak which generates mystic energy, which can be harvested and used to gain bonuses to dice rolls, transmute resources, stave of disasters (Misfortune Cards), and even recover sections of the island that have sunk beneath the waves.
Each turn, Councilors deploy their agents to seek out resources and mystic energy, recruit new agents, or visit the library for Knowledge Cards. Agents also need to be deployed to defend against the Athenian navy to prevent them from assisting in sinking the island. Resources are used to buy one of the ten parts (Component Cards) needed to build a trans-dimensional gate to send Atlantis to a safe haven. The parts needed to build the gate device are dealt out randomly at the start of the game, but have powers of their own that can be used to assist the Atlanteans in their struggle to survive once they are built with resources.
As the game progresses, disasters occur and the Athenians wage a constant attack, and the island’s land tiles sink into the sea, starting with the outermost of the 6 tiles and move inward toward the center. This sinking is not uniform, however, as Misfortune cards randomly target certain tiles, and successful Athenian navy attacks force the Councilors to decide which sections of the island to allow to sink.
Obviously, sunken sections of the island are useless, and reduce the options for resource gathering, gaining Knowledge Cards, and recruiting more agents.
But while the game has a sound premise, and a straightforward play style not unlike other games on the market, it is in actuality one of the toughest board games I have ever played!
Each turn, after each player has deployed his or her agents, they must each must pull and play a Misfortune card, which usually sink one tile in a map section, which amounts to four tiles a turn for our playtest! And there are a few Misfortune cards that can actually sink multiple tiles. And then following a resource gathering phase, the Athenians attack, sinking one tile for each point their attack roll exceeds the number of Atlantean defenders the Councilors deployed. The attack roll is a single d6, but with a bonus that increases each turn after the first – +1,+2, +3, +5, +8, and finally +12. So literally, after six turns, the Athenians have the potential to sink 18 tiles if no agents are assigned to defense against them!
Given the dire circumstances, each of the Councilors (the players) had different views on how best to save the island, and frustration mounted with each passing turn. Tizzbin insisted on fighting to keep as much of the three resource tiles open, while Rachel made very compelling arguments for saving the libraries, which both myself and Brett generally agreed. Each round of destruction caused more debate amongst the Councilors, and our agents spent more and more time defending against the Athenians than actually harvesting resources to build components.
In the end, the game lasted 8 turns, and we managed to build 4 of the 10 components before the waters swallowed the island, drowning us all. Tizzbin insisted upon taking an image of the drowning Atlanteans, as well as several pics where he was flipping various components of the game the middle finger. I’ve opted to omit the latter pics for obvious reasons.
Initial reactions to the players’ defeat were a mixture of shock and awe, and the overall feeling that the game was downright unwinnable. We even pored over the rules one last time to see if we had missed anything that might have helped us, and were rather flummoxed to find a final section in the rulebook with ways to deal out the ten trans-dimensional gate parts to make the game even more difficult to win!
Overall Score: 3.9 out of 5.0
Had I gone with my initial reaction after the playtest of Atlantis Rising, I probably would have given the game an undeservedly harsh review. But thankfully, I had a couple days to mull over the playtest, and I realized that in the wake of the crushing defeat when Atlantis sank, we as players had all badly overreacted to losing.
For starters, I have no choice but to admit that we Counselors were terrible at cooperating together, and our decisions were forged more in desperation than logic. We squabbled, we hedged each other out of resource gathering spaces, and we played the game like a typical board game – competitively. The result was a loss, both of Atlantis and our respective dignities, and it didn’t have to be that way if we’d simply worked together better. And then there is the nature of the game itself - Atlantis Rising is a puzzle as much as it is a game, and a tough puzzle at that. It’s a puzzle with a considerable number of working parts – Knowledge cards, Counselor powers, and gate component powers - and familiarity with those parts cannot be mastered in the first one to two hour game.
And if it could, would it really be worth buying the game that you can win at every time?
So overall, Atlantis Rising is one of those “simple to learn, difficult to master” games that is both challenging and fun to play. It’s got a good replayability factor, and the designer even made sure to create 4 levels of difficulty to increase the challenge as players become better at being Atlanteans. Although I’d have liked to see a little better quality in some components and the organizer, the game is comparably priced to others of its class. So it’s definitely worth taking a look at if you’re tired of battling your friends across cardboard vistas, and want to experience the novelty of joining forces with them against the mechanics of a challenging puzzle-game instead!
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Editor’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the board game from which the review was written.
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 3.75
- - Design: 3.5 (Cool board/tile map; decent components and cards; weak component organizer)
- - Illustrations: 4.0 (Solid illustrations overall but would have liked to see better on Counselor cards)
- Content: 4.25
- - Crunch: 4.5 (Well written rulebook; tough and challenging game with scalable difficulty)
- - Fluff: 4.0 (Fun premise; cool references to Plato; imaginative powers and concepts)
- Value: 3.5 (Comparably priced with other board games of this type)
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