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Archon: Glory and Machination Review

It’s a hot summer evening and I am looking at a big box standing on the table. It’s a game I’ve been wanting to play for months now, since it has won the 4th Greek board game design competition. It’s “Archon: Glory and Machination” by Artipia Games and the magnificent and delicate details on its cover intrigue me and make my heart pound with anticipation to open it. I take it in my hands and realize that it’s quite heavy too. Hm, maybe it contains some cool, high quality components. I can’t wait anymore. I tear the plastic wrap with great expectations and I open the box. Inside there are really many components. Many different kinds of cards, tokens, tiles and cubes as well as conveniently enough many plastic bags to store them in. Observing that the above don’t excuse the weight of the box I search for more cool stuff. And below all these I find a huge 8-fold game board, one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

I unfold it and my heart rejoices. Wow! Not only is this a big gameboard, it’s also astoundingly beautiful. A vast city is depicted on it, with many landmarks: palace, repository, planetarium, academy, treasury on the top, marketplace, royal guard and guild hall at the middle and barracks and builder’s guild with several smaller buildings at the bottom. All buildings are depicted not just by their name but by a full illustration with great detail. It’s a board I can really sit staring for minutes. And I do until my eagerness to play grows wild. I decide to open the English rulebook (there is also a German and french one included) and find out what this game is all about and what the name of this beautiful city is. The game takes place in Cardis, a rich medieval city, also used as a setting in the game “Shadows Over the Empire”. Facts in Archon take place before those in “Shadows Over the Empire” but the two games share no other connection beyond this apart from the similar illustration. They use different mechanics and having played Archon is not a prerequisite in order to play SOtE.

Archon is a game for 2-4 players and requires 1. 5 to 2 hours of your time depending on the number of players and their familiarity with the game. In the game, players take the role of powerful archons, trying to win the King’s favor by supporting the city in various ways: recruiting warriors and placing them as guards at the wall surrounding the city, reconstructing the city, and supporting arts and science. The game is essentially a worker placement, strategy game but with some new characteristics that differentiate it from the rest. It lasts 3 seasons and each season comprises of twelve rounds.

Each player has 5 wooden figures to place in various locations and gain their benefits and starts out with some resources and gold. Available resources in the game are stone, papyrus, silver and iron. Each location in the city has a certain number of action slots on which players can place their wooden figures and use the locations’ actions. The number of available action slots, depends on the particular location and the number of players.

Each player also starts out with 8 courtier and 2 magister cards which he splits into two face down piles of five cards, dividing the cards however he wants. He takes one of these piles

as his starting hand for the rest of the round. The other pile will be used on the next round and after that players will build their two decks again for the next two rounds and so on. But what is the use of these cards? This is the catch of the game and a new, very interesting twist in the genre: the combination of worker placement and deck building. Each time a player wants to place a wooden figure and occupy an action slot of a building, he must also play one card from his hand. When the first action slot of a location has been filled, another player may place a wooden figure on another action slot of the same building, if available, but usually by paying a price: he must play two cards from his hand. In such a case, players may play two Courtier cards or 1 Magister card. The 8 courtier cards represent common people with no special abilities and are included in the starting deck of all players.

Magisters on the other hand are figures of authority that grant additional benefits to players using them apart from being used instead of two Courtiers. Tax collectors, when used at a location, oblige subsequent players that want to place a worker there, to pay one gold coin. Scribes enable players to immediately perform one more action, Clerics enable players to place their figures on an already occupied action slot and Merchants are used in certain locations to gain one more resource or gold coin than the player would usually get. More Magister cards can be purchased from the Guild Hall and they immediately replace any one of the 8 Courtier cards in a player’s deck. In this way, players may gradually build powerful decks with as many Magisters they can and enjoy their benefits.

Players placing a figure on a building may gain gold coins, resources, trade resources, gain recruit tokens, use these tokens to assign warriors as guards at the city’s gate, gain Magister cards, construct buildings and gain Science and Arts cards. The construction of buildings helps players to take better advantage of the actions slots, their cards and can also grant victory points. For example by building the House of Arts a player gains 3 gold coins at the start of each season and by building the Chapel, the player’s Merchants count also as Tax Collectors. During each round, in player order, players must play a card or two and place a wooden figure on an available action slot, immediately performing the associated action. After using all their cards, players must choose to pass. At the end of each of the three seasons, an Attack phase follows. An Attack card is revealed to determine the strength of the attack and this is compared to the total number of Elite Warriors on the wall of the city. If the number of the warriors is smaller than the strength of the attack, the enemy raids the city and players must lose recruit tokens, resources, gold coins or even victory points. After the attack is resolved, a scoring phase occurs in which players score victory points based on the degree they have fulfilled the king’s wishes for the season. Victory points are granted according to the number of Arts and Science cards players have acquired and according to the number of Elite Warriors placed on the wall. At the end of the game extra victory points can be gained from Building tiles’ abilities.

Now let’s see how the game scores in our usual scoring categories:

Components:

The game contains a variety of components such as cards, cubes, markers, tokens, figures and tiles. In the box are included many plastic zip bags to store them all, although a plastic box with compartments may come handy.

All the tokens and the tiles are made of thick cardboard, with graphics depicting clearly their use. The cards of the game are designed with great detail and they are made of thick, glossy, quality paper. The artwork used is simply stunning, especially in the Courtier and Magister cards. Antonis Papantoniou, also known for his work in “Shadows over the Empire” and “Among the Stars” has once again done exquisite work on the images of the cards, the gameboard and the box cover.

Each player at the start of the game chooses a color and along with it an associated emblem (white-Unicorn, black-Dragon, brown-Lion, grey-Eagle). These symbols are depicted on player’s Elite Warriors and Courtier cards. Moreover each of the 8 Courtier cards has different artwork and there are 3 different images used for each one of the Magister cards. It becomes apparent that a lot of thought and work has been committed to delivering the best possible result for the presentation of the game.

The fact that the colors used for the players’ markers and tokens and those of the resources are exactly the same is a bit puzzling at first but the designers clarified that this choice was made so that color-blind people would clearly differentiate them and that effort led to the choice of using the same colors for both resources and player’s components. This fact led to some controversy among fans of the game but I personally wasn’t disturbed at all by it.

All markers, cubes and figures are made of wood.

The bright star of the game is certainly it’s massive board. It’s size may be a little difficult to manage (it’s 60cm x 80cm) and requires a big gaming table but it’s detailed design of all the locations of the city along with the beautiful colors compensate us among any doubt. It’s obvious that the board could have been designed a bit smaller but that would deprive us the joy of feeling the splendor of the city in all its glory and the immersion that we so eagerly look for. in every game we play. Archon’s gameboard resembles a real medieval city and does that better than any other board of its kind. 9/10

Gameplay:

Since the appearance of Carcassonne there has been a big trend in worker placement games and it seemed like they have somewhat reached their peak when Caylus was published back in 2005, since the genre didn’t seem to have enough potential to evolve any further. Archon is here to prove that worker placement games have still much to offer if combined with other popular mechanics. Deck building games have gained much popularity over the last couple of years and the designers of the game have managed to cleverly combine the two mechanics producing a game that provides advanced challenges for strategy game lovers and more casual gamers alike. Now you don’t just have to decide where to place your precious workers in order to fulfil the game’s goals but also what cards to use in parallel so as to make the best of each card and each location. The result is very refreshing indeed and decisions are really hard to make inside the game.

You can choose from many different strategies for example give emphasis on Magisters or invest on constructing many buildings. The king’s wishes for each season, depicted on the King’s Grant cards will guide you through the game and instruct your priorities. The optimal use of Magister cards will always be the key to success and the ultimate challenge as well as the number of Magisters to use in your deck. However the actual rules of the game remain simple enough to not discourage casual gamers.

Archon proves to be equally good with any number of players, where with 3 and 4 players more action slots become available.

The game is language independent as there is no text on cards or tiles, only symbols.

Player interaction is not direct as in almost all worker placement games but you can interfere in your opponents’ plans by placing your figures in key action slots first thus impeding other players progress. Tax collectors can also help you deprive some gold coins from your opponents if cleverly used. 8/10

Learning Curve:

Though Archon features a lot of different components, they add to variety of the game and not to complexity. The first time you play the game, will require about 15-20 minutes of reading the rules and explaining them to the rest of the players. In general the rules are straightforward and after the first game, you won’t have to look up anything in the rulebook which is very illustrative and well-written including examples and full description of all building tiles abilities. Player aid cards are provided in three languages (English, German and French), reminding to the players the different Magister abilities and important issues about building. 7/10

Replayability:

Players will have a number of different strategies to try on during the game e. g. relying more on Magisters or on building tiles or on trading. This fact gives a great boost to replayability as you will need many plays in order to find out what works best and what suits best your gaming style. Replayability is also enhanced by the King’s Grant cards that always change. There is a total of 6 cards and in every game only 3 are used so there are many different combinations that may appear in each game. Bonus material has also been released providing aternative abilities for most buildings. Players are free to choose either the standard abilities, or the new ones or any combination they like, a fact that also boosts replayability. 8/10

Theme:

The theme of the game is wonderfully supported by the beautiful gameboard and all the interactions in the various locations of the city which are meaningful and resemble the way the Archons would really function inside the city. For example it makes sense to give gold in order to support the Arts, papyrus and gold to support Science and silver to assign guards to the city walls. Building tiles also support the theme in their way. By helping rebuild the city and using each building it’s only natural for the Archons to gain a specific benefit for each building e. g. building a Gallery awards you for your investment in Arts. In the same way, winning important figures of authority (Magisters) to your cause by paying with gold or resources can also boost your progress e. g. a Merchant would help you make better deals when acquiring goods. The use of resources is clear and tied to the theme: papyrus will only be used to support Science, silver only for recruiting soldiers and stone and iron to build various buildings. Such a categorization supports the theme as well as simplicity in the game. 9/10

Fun:

Archon may be lacking the extended player interaction that could fuel laughs and tasteful comments, however there is enough fun out there to make you smile and rejoice. Using Tax Collectors to gain money from your opponents or Scribes to take consecutive actions can be a lot of fun. However even carefully thinking about your next figure placement or making a strategic placement where you know opponents would also like to place their figures thus limiting their options or just studying the magnificent board are huge sources of fun for me and make me want to play this game again and again. 7/10

Final Verdict:

Playing Archon: Glory and Machination can’t help me think that it would be nice if every game was so meticulously designed from a presentation and gameplay point of view, with attention to every detail and an obvious desire to please even the most demanding gamers. The game’s components are all a gorgeous sight, meaningful and of high quality and their variety offers a rich gameplay. Archon offers an new twist to worker placement games by blending it cleverly with the deck building mechanic The artwork and the mechanics used are perfectly tied to the theme and it really feels like being an Archon of the city while playing the game. The relative simplicity of rules along with the variety of available strategies and the variability of the King’s wishes in each game guarantees that Archon will find its way to your gaming table often enough. All in all a very balanced game, fun to play and beautiful to look at.

Pros:

  • excellent artwork and components
  • challenging gameplay
  • great replayability
  • accurate application of theme

Cons:

  • the huge gameboard requires a big playing area

Recommended for: strategy game fans, worker placement mechanic fans

According to our scoring system, scoring categories have different weights. Components have 15% weight, Gameplay 35%, Learning curve 5%, Theme 5%, Replayability 25%, Fun 15%. According to this system and the above scoring in each category, overall weighted scoring of the game is:

Overall: 8. 00



Source by Maria Panagou

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