Raiders of the Lost Acropolis
So for Christmas, I was generously gifted a lovely two player game called Akrotiri. I’m a little hard pressed for two player board games and given that Kait’s really the only one willing to play with me, it’s been a boon to get some new games in my collection to vary our options. Course this has come with the uncomfortable realization that my sister tends to beat me at head-to-head games. She was dominating in the two player Agricola version called All Creatures Big and Small. Then she got Caverna Cave vs Cave which she’s been sneaking out last minute successes each time we open it. Now we’ve got Akrotiri though at least I’ve managed to secure a few victories so far.
However, since those other board games aren’t mine, I haven’t done a review on them. Akrotiri is, so I got to share my thoughts today on what it’s like.
First off, I kind of like it. The game is quite different from the others that I’ve played. It’s not a worker placement, which is the primary source of competition in the 2 player Agricola and Caverna. Those games are primarily about trying to optimise your farm or cave build while potentially taking important actions from your opponent so they’re less optimal. While Akrotiri isn’t particularly aggressive in its mechanics, I do feel there’s a bit more back and forth play with it than the others which lean pretty heavily on being hands off of your opponents actions.
For one, Akrotiri is played in a single space. Players don’t have their own little cave to putter away on. You’re slowly building the map of Akrotiri with each turn, creating an expanding island infested Aegean with strict trade routes that your boats can sail. As such, there’s two ways you can interfere with your opponents movement. One, you can block docks by parking on them in your own turn, denying your enemy access unless they happen to be holding a tile that they can use to open up a new space. Second, you can redirect incomplete trade routes to other islands with your tile placements. You always get to place a tile before you take your little trade vessel around the sea, however, so you’re not going to get locked away unless you really outplay yourself.
But what exactly are we trying to do in Akrotiri. This game does rely on accumulating more points than your opponent and you accomplish this by funding expeditions to unearth lost temples on the tiny islands dotting your tile build sea. But before your little venture in tomb raiding can commence, you need to first find where your temples are buried. This involves drawing map cards which will give you requirements to fulfil for you to place your temple. Each map simply lists the number of element tiles needed in each cardinal direction that must be satisfied with your temple placement. Since each tile has a single element on it, this puts pressure on your tile placement to not just block your opponent but to fulfil your map conditions so you can progress through your expeditions. The game ends once one player has successfully unearthed six temples but depending on the type of map, your temples are worth different amount of points.
It sounds confusing but once you start playing, you find the rules themselves are pretty straightforward. For example, I might have an easy map that requires I have two fire tiles to the right of my temple, one tree south of it and a water tile to the north. I can build my temple on any non-excavated island so long as one of the quadrants of that tile meets these criteria. You can even use that tile’s own element assuming it falls in the right direction. Course, just because the rules are easy doesn’t mean that the game is.
As you place your temples, you are rewarded with extra abilities. Most of these are giving you additional actions during your turn but you also get to draw more goal cards as you progress. These cards are hidden from your opponent and let you score additional points for fulfilling additional requirements for your temple placements. They’re things like building a temple on an island with a tree element or gain a point for each tile used to build that island. If you’re lucky or sly you can really accumulate a lot of points with these bonus goals.
And this is where one of my major complaints with Akrotiri arises. Our games have been entirely determined by these goal cards however its entirely random how you get them. You draw two cards from the deck and pick one to keep and one to discard. So it’s possible your opponent can just draw into a winning card as their final goal and you couldn’t do anything about it. Alternatively, you might just draw nothing but dead goals that means you’re playing at a severe disadvantage in the game. So far we’ve found that the goals of building temples a certain number of portages away from the central island to be really bad because their point value is pretty minor considering that your opponent can fairly easily disrupt these requirements by laying tiles to make them directly connected.
Thus, a lot of the strategy my sister and I have discovered is trying to determine which goals they have and attempting to block them. By the end of the game you will know what they have but this element requires memorizing twelve different scoring goals. Which mostly means we spend a lot of the game looking at the back of the rulebook. I like this element of deducing what your opponent is doing, I’m just less of a fan of so much chance determining who will win.
There is an additional layer of strategy in that you need money to fund these expeditions for the lost temples. Money is accrued through the collection of resources from freshly placed tiles. These resources correspond with the element of the tile. So placing a fire tile requires that you put one fire resource on its quadrant. You also have your choice of another resource to place anywhere else on that tile. And the value of resources increases with each cube removed from the market and scattered across the map. In this way, it’s advantageous to double up on the resource shared with the tile, assuming you can gathered both of them and don’t leave the extra lying around for your opponent to grab.
As you can see, the different tactical considerations increase as the map expands. If you’re placing tiles to stop certain islands from meeting your opponent’s hidden goals, you may be leaving them easy to collect resources to fund their expeditions. If you’re trying to lay tiles to meet the requirements of your maps then you may be leaving your opponent to fully gather in another direction or fulfil their hidden agendas.
Then there’s the question of what kind of temples you pursue. The maps for finding their locations come in three different difficulties: easy, medium and hard. The points increase for each type of map but so does the cost of purchasing them. Hard maps cost nine gold to purchase, cost gold to fund the expedition and have harder requirements to place them. However, they’re also worth seven points in the end. If you manage to place that temple to meet one or more of your agendas, you can get a temple that’s worth more than ten points alone. Unfortunately, the longer it takes for you to place your temples, the more time your opponent has to find theirs. If you’re not fast enough, your opponent can unearth a bunch of smaller temples but close the game out while you have lost points for not excavating your last ones.
It’s a delicate balance of pushing for the higher valued maps while also placing pressure on your opponent to make less ideal decisions to keep up. And, of course, if you can figure out where an opponent is trying to build you can swoop in and claim that island for your own excavation if you happen to have a map that fulfils that requirement. It’s not simply of getting the biggest, most expensive maps.
However, since so much of the game is reliant on map chicanery, my other big complaint with the game is that there’s not a lot to do in the first couple of turns. You don’t even get to place a helpful tile if you’re second player. The game setup requires both players place one tile before the first player takes their turn. So, as second player, you don’t want to place yours so the enemy can gather your resources. Neither Kait nor I have really discovered a good use of that first turn and it’s very easy to basically just pass it without doing anything. So while I like the dynamics of creating the map and the strategy involved, I would have like something more interesting to do at the beginning.
Akrotiri does have an interesting pace, however. The start of the game is a bit slow as you’re low on funds, tiles to meet temple requirements and resources to collect. You’re left looking for any action to take rather than good actions. However, things ramp up very quickly as you start unearthing temples and start getting more and more actions per turn. By the final two temples, you have six actions to take and between portages, resource gathering and excavations, it’s very easy to lose track of how many actions you’ve done or what you were trying to accomplish. It’s not uncommon for your opponent to suddenly excavate two surprise temples in one round and end the game while you’re still plotting how to orient the tile you’ve just picked up!
Overall, I really enjoy Akrotiri. It’s really different from the other two player games that I’ve played. It’s a little on the long side, however. Cave vs Cave feels like a faster experience especially since a lot of our time is spend mentally rotating map tiles and trying to figure out how many actions it takes to navigate a trade route. But outside of the goal cards, it’s a pretty strategy heavy game. The randomization of tile and map draws aren’t too bad since you have some control over them, whether that be through purchasing more maps or spending an action to call for a specific element tile.
Now it’s just a matter of scrapping a few more victories from my sister’s slumming strategy of only unearthing cheap but easy temples to finish the game before I can found my glorious places of worship!