Game Buzz: Alba Longa

Next up – another game coming during Spiel ’11:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Alba Longa is a game for 2-5 players that is being published by Quined Games and HUCH! & Friends in Europe, and Tasty Minstrel in the US.  It was designed by Graeme Jahns, is for players aged 12 and up, and takes around 90 minutes to play.  The theme is fairly Euroish: you’re a king, and you must be the first to build 10 monuments and have a population of at least 16 to win.  Originally, the game was called “The Great Pyramid”, but it got retitled and rethemed because that wasn’t quite obscure enough for a Euro game (that’s a joke).  I read through Graeme Jahns’ designer diary on BGG, and he talked about his desire to design a Euro with dice dating back to 2007 when it was much less common than it is now.

Components - image by BGG user francobollus

This game comes with a central board and five city boards representing Alba Longa, Reate, Roma, Velitrae, and Veii.  There are 50 wooden monuments (10 in each color).  There are 18 discs (one for the population track, one for the housing track, and one for the worship track in each color; also a black season track marker, a black dice cost track marker, and a brown Mark of Piety).  Other markers include 100 wooden peasants, 40 wheat tokens, and 55 coins.  You’ve got cards: 20 city cards (four per city); 25 hero cards (five sets numbered 0-4); 10 weather cards (3 dry, 4 moderate, 3 wet); 9 blessing cards (4 3-wheat cards, 3 2-silver cards, and 2 1-monument); and one King of Kings card.  You also get four eight-sided dice, each representing a different profession – black for soldiers, brown for priests, grey for merchants, and white for quarry workers.  These dice are not your standard d8s – they are octagonal cylinders numbered 1-4, with each number occurring twice.

City Board - image by BGG user francobollus

Players (kings) begin the game with a city board, eight peasants (placed on the first eight spaces of the city board’s housing track), five silver coins (value 1 each), 10 monuments, and 2 discs.  One disc goes on 8 of the population track, while the other goes next to the worship track (the third disc in each color is only used in a variant).  Each player also starts with a set of 5 hero cards and 4 city cards.  The youngest player gives the King of Kings card to any player at the table (possibly even to himself).

This game takes a series of years to play.  During each year, there are three phases: growing season, harvest season, and year end.

The growing season has five stages:

Begin Season – Mark the season on the season track and place the black disc on 0 of the dice cost track.  Each king then can choose to sell one or more peasants into slavery, returning them to the general supply.  Selling one peasant gets you one silver, selling three gets you two silver (deep discount).

Assign Peasants – On the housing track, some of the spaces (12, 16, and 20) are free assignment spaces.  You can assign those peasants first, into the barracks, quarry, on the merchant track, or on the worship track.  After this, the King of Kings holds court by paying the current dice cost and rolling the four dice.  You then choose one of the dice and assign the number of peasants shown to the appropriate place according to the color of the die.  After that, all other kings (in order) can pay one silver to take one of the remaining dice, or pass.  Once everyone has done this, the player to the left of the King of Kings advances the dice cost and holds court.  All money is placed in a market stall space, and you can choose one.  You can decline to hold court, but then you can’t hold court or purchase dice on another player’s turn for the remainder of the season.

Resolve Tasks – After every king has placed all of their peasants or passed on the opportunity to hold court, you resolve tasks.

  • Soldiers are resolved first: each king who has assigned soldiers chooses a city to attack, revealing simultaneously.  You’ll then choose a hero to lead your attack or defense.  The value (0-4) adds with your soldiers to determine your strength.  Successful attacks result in sabotage, which affects peasants in other places.  Used heroes (except 0) are discarded until you only have one hero left, and then you refill your hand.
  • Merchants are resolved next.  Spaces in the bazaar are numbered 1-6, and peasants fill them up in order.  You get one silver for each merchant on 1, 3, and 6 (so, up to three silver).  After the market stall with the most money goes to the bank, the king with the most merchants takes the largest amount left.  Then, the king with the second most merchants takes the largest amount left, and so on.  Leftover coins go to the bank.
  • To the quarry!  For every two quarry workers, you get a monument.  Quarry workers don’t roll over, so odd numbers are lost.
  • Finally, priests.  You’ll take a blue disc and place it in the last occupied space of the worship track.  In the harvest season, you’ll be continuing from this point.

Return Peasants – Take all of your peasants back and put them on the housing track.

Assign King of Kings – The current King of Kings chooses a new King of Kings.  They can’t choose themselves.

The harvest season follows those same five stages with slight differences.  For example, you can assign peasants to become farmers.  Farmers and Blessings of the Gods are added to the resolve tasks stage.  Farmers are resolved after priests, giving you wheat according to the current weather.  You can upgrade your harvest by spending worship points.  Blessing from the Gods also cost worship points, but give you either three wheat, two silver, or a monument.  Unused worship does roll over into the next year.

Year end has two stages:

Population Upkeep – Here, you must feed your people.  Each peasant needs one wheat.  If you can’t feed your peasants, you lose the ones that you can’t feed.  After that, you can choose to grow your population by spending wheat – 1 wheat gets one peasant, 3 wheat gets 2, 6 wheat gets 3, and so on.  You’ll then advance your population track if you grew or shrunk.

Check Victory Conditions – If anyone has 10 constructed monuments and 16 population, they win.  Ties are broken by population, wheat and coins.  If the weather deck is exhausted before someone wins, everyone loses.

So that’s the game.  It’s fairly standard Euro fare – ancient theme, not a whole lot of randomness, wooden bits, and an economic/agricultural feel.  The worker placement in this game is driven by what seems to be a fairly unique dice drafting system.  However, with only 1-4 on each die, chance is mitigated somewhat – 1-8 might have been too random.  There seems to be lots to think about in terms of deciding what to do, but you ultimately have the decision about whether or not to take the die.

Will I like the game?  I honestly don’t know.  This is really a game I’d have to play, or at least read some more about before forming a real opinion.  I tend to like worker placement games, but I find myself moving away from the bland Euro style games.  This one’s a bit different with some confrontation and sabotage which might be fun, but the overall theme does nothing for me.  I guess I’m most interested in how the dice drafting works, but even that seems to be fairly limited.  I don’t know – it’s a wait and see.  I won’t be rushing to preorder, but who knows – I might like it.  Thanks for reading!

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