Thursday, March 5, 2009

Age of Mythology Review

Since a young age I have been very into games and very into mythology. I credit Dungeons and Dragons for most of this, or perhaps I am genetically programmed to like these things and it was only natural that I would find myself drawn to them. The point of this is that if there were ever something that I should be into, it would be the Age of Mythology (Eagle Game) board game. Monsters and heroes from several different mythological pantheons battling one another? A chance to wrangle up some frost giants and raze a couple of granaries in the name of Loki? Sign me up. It cost a little bit more than I planned on spending, but I figured I would play it thousands of time and more than make my money back on it. Man, was I wrong.

First off, set aside about a weekend to remove the plastic pieces from the plastic frames that they come attached to. It took me and a friend about an hour to punch out the Greeks and the Norsemen, almost as if they were resisting for our own sake. Or perhaps they wanted to save themselves the embarrassment. The pieces themselves are decent enough, but they are sort of flimsy and the details are hard to make out. However, they do have different shaped bases which at least makes it easy to tell what power level they belong in. Each player is also given a cardboard sheet (about the size of a place mat) that keeps track of their army size, resources, and buildings. The buildings and the gold and the other things that are acquired throughout the game are nothing more than punched out cardboard squares with text on them. And there are about a million of them in the box, so have a good time organizing them. There also cards that each player receives, each participant gets a deck that corresponds to their myth (Greek, Norse, and Egyptian) but there isn’t much difference between them. Just the pictures are different. Which is fine, it at least makes all the pantheons equally powered.

At the start of each turn the players make a hand of cards using the basic cards that allow different types of actions (fight, build, harvest, etc..) and cards that have more powerful versions of the same actions but cost more to use. This is where the real strategy of the game comes into play, when determining what actions will be available to you during the turn. I think. It also seems that if you make a bad decision in this part of the game you just screw yourself and are not able to do much. Some of the actions allow you to gather resources, and others let you spend those resources and raise an army or build some new buildings that give different benefits. I was saving up my money for a medusa.

After struggling with the early part of the game my friend and I were eager for some fighting. Based on the prominence of the plastic figures and the emphasis on war in the descriptions of the game, we had assumed that this is where the game would really shine. Which is true, if by shine I meant get bogged down in even more unfun tedious gameplay. The battles are nothing more than a series of opposed rolls, which often result in ties, which results in more opposed rolls. Really, it seems to just keep going. And then the monster that you spent three turns trying to buy is killed and it did nothing for you. Like my medusa. And it even seems that the fighting is unimportant in the grand scheme of the game. I think that you could probably win without having much of an army. In fact, that is what happened in our first game.

After playing it the first time we were not eager to play it again. It sat in the game cabinet for a couple of weeks before we tried it a second time. We understood the rules better the second time around, but unfortunately it was just as unsuccessful. There isn’t anything about it that really gets the players invested, so it winds up as an exercise of going through the rules.

I’ve never played the video game that it is based on, but I assume that the makers of this game tried to emulate some aspects of that. That’s a problem. I understand trying to capitalize on the success of one platform and bringing it to another, but when it comes at the sake of the games playability it just is not worth it. Who knows, maybe the video game is not very fun either.

One other thing about the game that really annoyed me was the art on the box cover. It shows an army of Egyptians going to war against a legion of Greeks. The weird part is that there are two Norsemen mixed in with the Egyptians. What is that about? Was there no better way of conveying that there were three different myths to choose from?

If you have a couple of hours to spend, some friends to hang out with, about fifty bucks to kill, and an interest in mythology I recommend going to the bar and talking about Clash of the Titans. Have one for me. Please.

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