Every year since 2004, the Lamont Brothers have been coming out with an animal themed game at Spiel – Leapfrog (frogs), Shear Panic (sheep), Hameln (rats), Antler Island (deer), Snow Tails (sled dogs), and Savannah Tails (ostriches). So, this year they’re back…with ants!
Antics is the 2010 offering from Scottish designers Gordon and Fraser Lamont, who are publishing the game through their company, Fragor Games. Art is by Judith Lamont. The game is for 3-4 players, takes 60 minutes to play, and is for ages 10 and up. The concept is that you are in control of an ant colony, and are trying to collect prey and leaves to sustain your ants. This is at least the fourth ant game I know of (Ants!, Atta Ants, and The Colony are the others – I don’t count Hive since it’s about other insects in addition to ants). I had no idea this genre provided so many possibilities. Let’s see what the Lamonts are doing with the theme.
One thing I’ve noticed in my limited experience with Lamont games is their sense of humor in writing the rules. This rulebook has that on display, especially with the disclaimer that warns you of all the ant-related puns you’ll be coming across (they are unrepent-ant). I’ll probably repeat a few here or there.
The game comes with a board, a bag, ants, action markers, prey, leaves, anthill tiles, anteaters, magnificants, a pedant, player aids, and the rulebook. Each player gets a base, a starting ant-hill tile (lighter than the others), 12 ants, 3 action markers, one magnificant, and a player aid. There are only three player aids, so, in a four-player game, the three worst players get those, while the fourth can complain about how mean Scottish game designers are (yes, there’s that famous Lamont sense of humor).
The board goes in the middle of the table, and all anthill tiles (except the starters) go in the bag. Five of each type of leaf go on the board, as well as 2-3 of each type of prey. Each player places one ant on the large anthill in the center of the board. You’ll then form the scout fields, which go in the numbered areas on the upper side of the board (1-6). Three anteaters go in field 6. You’ll then draw fifteen ant tiles, placing them in the lowest numbered fields available as you draw them. However, if any of those tiles have fungus on them, you’ll place those in the highest numbered fields that are available.
The first player gets one action, and the second gets two. From then on, every player will get three actions per turn. Actions are selected by placing one of your markers on your anthill base on the action you want to take. There are several different actions. The first one is to scout. To do this, you’ll take take tiles from the scout fields. As you build your anthill, you’ll be making it wider and taller. As it goes taller, you’ll be able to take more tiles with a scout action. A scout action on level one gets you one tile from field 1. On level two, you’ll get one from field 1 and one from field 2. And so on. You must take all tiles you can, but you can’t keep more than three when your turn is over.
Your next option is to build. You can build as many tiles as the level of the action, and you must build that many. Tiles can be placed adjacent to your current anthill, or on top of two tiles (no gaps to the group, and you can’t build on top of one single tile). You can’t build on spaces that already have an action marker on them, and you can’t place on top of prey tokens.
At the bottom of the board are six hatching areas. You can take an action to hatch up to as many ants as the level of your action. The first two must go in the same area, but the rest can go anywhere.
Next, you can move ants. Ants go onto trails leading from the main anthill. However, ants in the hatching area can only go on trails that go through the area where they were hatched, and they must be linked to other ants of their color. Trails can be shared with other players. The exception is soldier ants, which come from the red hatching area. These can be used to protect food on the trail, to build a bridge over the chasm (you need three, all played at once), or to steal food from other players. If you decide that you don’t want to use an ant, you can pick it up and return it to your supply.
Another option is to carry food (heave!). Pick up food and move it to the next ant on the trail. You get as many heaves as the level of the action. When the food makes it back to the large anthill, you take it into your supply.
You could also place a marker on your magnificant, which allows you to take any action at level one. Fungus spaces on the tiles yield no actions, but can give you points if you put a leaf on it.
After you’ve taken all of your actions, you’ll be putting any prey you’ve collected into your anthill. It will be covering one action space that you will not be able to use for the rest of the game…plus, you can’t build on it. Leaves are saved until the end. You’ll collect your action markers and discard down to three unbuilt tiles. Fill in empty spaces in the scout fields by pushing the row towards field one, then draw tiles to fill in the empty spaces. If an anteater reaches field one, the anteaters attack. The first two anteaters will eat one prey from the board (only prey that hasn’t been picked up yet). It will eat prey that matches its color. The third anteater will eat ants (with three players) or ants and prey (with four players). It goes into the hatching area and eats all ants in the area that matches its color. If there are no ants, it moves to the right until it finds some ants. After the anteater attacks, flip it over and put it back in field six.
The game ends when there are not enough tiles to fill the scout fields, or if there is only one type of prey left on the board. Players each have one more turn, and then it’s time to score. Each prey you carried back is worth the same number of points as the number of prey you brought back. If you got 3 prey, you got 9 points. You can put leaves on fungus to score points based on the level (a leaf on a level four fungus is worth 4 points). A green leaf that you place is worth 2 bonus points. The player with the most points wins and is declared the Ant Queen, with ties being broken by height of the anthill/size of the highest levels.
I’ve played two games by the Lamont brothers. Shear Panic is a very interesting abstract game with cool components, and I enjoy it, thought I’ve only played once. Snow Tails is all about sled dog racing, and despite its popularity among a lot of gamers, I’m not really a fan. However, this one looks like I might enjoy it more. I really like worker placement games, which is what this is, and the leveling up aspect that gives you more things you can do with one action appeals to me. The rules feel like a mess, but I was able to understand them eventually. There seem to be a bunch of little rules that can easily be missed, so it will probably take some studying to get things right. I am looking forward to giving this game a go, so hopefully someone will pick it up.
Spiel 2010 is underway, so I ant-icipate (see what I did there?) seeing more comments about the game on BGG soon. Funagain lists the game at $77, which seems way too expensive for what it is. Maybe it’s just that the game is in such a limited edition.
Ten posts down! Lots of buzz going around, with more to come. I expect that I’ll start hearing about games that were off my radar as I watch the live stream BGG is doing (for example, Cubiko is a pretty fantastically produced dexterity tic-tac-toe game, coming out with a nice wooden stackable edition, while FLAGGO! seems to be getting lots of buzz for all the wrong reasons). Thanks for reading, and insert clever tagline here.