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Posted on Apr 23, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

3500 YEARS OF HISTORY AT YOUR FINGERTIPS! – GMT’s ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS OF THE INNER SEA  Board  Game  Review

3500 YEARS OF HISTORY AT YOUR FINGERTIPS! – GMT’s ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS OF THE INNER SEA Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea Board Game Review.  Publisher: GMT  Designer:  Christopher Vorder Bruegge and Mark McLaughlin Developed by Fred Schachter  Price $85

Passed Inspection:   Fun, Immersive, Great solo or multiplayer experience, easy to learn, full support on the GMT website

Failed Basic:    the number of pages in the rule book makes the game look more complex than it is

Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea is a dream of a game!  It is a huge sandbox of  a game that allows the players to relive over 3500 years of history of the kingdoms and empires found around the Mediterranean from 3000 BC to 500 AD and, so far, it’s one of my favorite games of late 2019 and early 2020!

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The cover artwork on the game box is stunning!  In fact, the artwork and graphic layout for the map, cards and books is not just functional, it’s beautiful so I must congratulate the artists and designers for the work on the whole package – good work Chechu Nieto, Kurt Miller and Blackwell Hird.  Also I must congratulate Art Director Rodger MacGowan for the entire project.

Once you get past the beautiful box and internal artwork, let’s look at what makes up this game.

The components include:

  • Two 17″ x 22″ mounted map boards
  • 1  24 page Rules booklet
  • 1 60 page Play booklet
  • 1 deck of 110 Fate & Wonder cards
  • 10 Civilization Displays
  • 6 Sequence of Play /Change of Epoch Player Aid Cards
  • 1 double sided Solo Bot Play Aid

The playable societies are the Egyptians, Minoans, Trojans, Phoenicians, Mycenaeans, Mauretanians, Gauls, Carthagians, Celt-Iberians and the Romans.  Each civilization has a specific color of circular disk plus a Civilization Display.  Each display gives the special benefits of controlling that civilization plus space for their treasury, looted monies and ready units.  These special benefits include such things as “If an Egyptian City occupies a Nile River area, transfer an additional disk and gain 1 talent.” for the  Egyptians and “You may place a white disk into Rome and another white disk into each of up to 2 Contested Land areas adjacent to Rome” for the Romans.

White disks signify an ally civilization and black disks signify either “barbarian tribes” who may try and challenge control of your civilization or, as happened to me when I was playing Egypt in the God King of Egypt scenario, warring uncontrollable factions within your civilization during a civil war.  Either way spells bad news for your civilization.

The 24 page Rule Book may look imposing to some but in reality most of its pages contain examples of set up for everything from solo to six player set up.  The rules of the game are actually very simple with variations to play coming from the Play Book which has tons of scenarios and the solo game rules.  Plenty of examples, designers’ notes and clarifications are included in the Rule Book and the Play Book.

There are 6 Player’s Aid Cards included – one for each player in a six player game – and these aids give the sequence of play with page number references to the Rule Book.  On the back of each one is the End of Epoch Table and an explanation of the End of Epoch Phase again with a reference to the Rule Book.  I love it that this game includes a copy of this for each player so you don’t have to photocopy or download more.  This was very thoughtful.

There is also a Solo Rules Aid Card which helps out with the very capable solo bots and makes solo play almost effortless and, my goodness, the solo bots can be very tough on you!  Depending on the difficulty of the scenario you play solo, they can kick your civilization to the curb!

The disks stack to signify the civilization level of an area. One disk represents a camp (an unsettled civilization of nomads without a binding coherent social system or, if at sea, fishing boats).  Two disks represent a settlement culture of villages and towns or if at sea a fleet or raiding parties and their boats.  Three disks represent cities or city states offering order and an established society.  You can temporarily boost the stacks if you know you are going in to conflict and need to reinforce your fleet or society but then the stacks settle back to two maximum at sea or three on land.  Think of the disks as representing a combination of your civilization’s technology, societal level and military might.  If you want to grow your society, you want to have more of them in a region than the other players or the barbarians.  

The two mounted map boards are a thing of beauty and represents the area of the Mare Nostrum (Latin, “Our Sea”) the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea.  The region is divided into areas on both land and sea with the deep sea areas marked off.  Most cultures can’t expand their shipping influence in to the deep sea until a late Epoch allows for sturdier ships.  Each land area is labeled with its name and the symbol of its dominant civilization.  There are two map boards which form the entire gaming area.  When put together the whole game board takes up 44 inches (111.76 cm) of table space!

So what is the turn sequence like?

Each Epoch has up to 6 turns.  I say this because depending on the scenario, if you draw an Event Card with the turn number you are on printed on it anywhere, you may have to end the Epoch and start a new sequence of years.  Each turn can be anywhere from 10 years to over 1000 years!  The scope of this game is truly breathtaking and makes the time span of our own lives feels somewhat insignificant.

There are four phases in each turn.  They are:

1) Growth Phase

2) Card Phase

3) Competition Phase

4) Reckoning Phase

During the Growth Phase you can remove and add a certain number of disks to the areas on the map board in order to grow your civilization and challenge other civilizations.  If you only have one disk in a given area and any other civilization has one disk as well, there is no large scale conflict in that area.  It is loosely settled.  But when you have two or more disks in the same area, that is when the civilizations will come in to conflict.

During the Card Phase you play any Fate Cards which are not marked for use during the Competition Phase and you can also play Wonder Cards in order to build a Wonder for your civilization if the scenario allows.

During the Competition Phase you can work to secure your civilization by initiating conflicts against other civilizations.  In furtherance of the conflicts you can play Fate Cards which are marked for play during the Competition Phase and you can also play Fate Cards which negate other civilization’s Fate Cards.  This is the phase where all sides begin to lose disks from areas with competing civilizations.  Cities with treasuries may also be looted owing to battles during this phase.

The Reckoning Phase is where you can establish sea domination and figure out victory points.  Specific conditions may result in the Aeneas Step.  The Epoch may end during this phase and you also draw Fate Cards during this phase.

Wonders are an interesting theme in the game.  There are 7 wonders (The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) – the Great Lighthouse, the Grand Gardens, the Stairway to God, the Great Library, the Mausoleum, the Grand Temple and the Great Pyramid.  Since the time periods and cultures who use them may vary in this game, the Wonders aren’t specifically named so the “Great Library of Alexandria” is just “the Great Library” as it could be in Rome in this game.  Each wonder gives benefits to the culture that can build them.  Conversely, another civilization may sack the city where the Wonder is and destroy it or an earthquake may take it out.  If the Wonder is lost, the owning civilization loses its benefits.

The aforementioned Aeneas Rule is also interesting and provides a way to keep a losing player in the game.  If a civilization has either 5 or fewer victory points than any other competing civilization or if it has five or fewer disks on the board, the losing player make invoke this rule and restart with either a new civilization or regroup their own civilization after its remaining disks descend into barbarism.  Do you remember Aeneas from The Illiad?  He was a Trojan warrior who fled the burning Troy and wandered in the wilderness until meeting other warriors who survived the war and together, according to some Roman historians, he founded the city of Rome and the Roman culture.

The basic rules of the game are modified by scenario specific rules found in the Playbook.  Some of the scenarios include in the Playbook are The Fall of Rome, Greeks and Persians, The God King of Egypt, Alexander the Great, Darius III, Caesar and Pompey, The Second Punic War and Hannibal.  There are also rules for creating your own scenarios and for creating other civilizations!  This is the beauty of Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea – you can do anything with it!  You literally have 3500 years of history to play with using this brilliant sand box that the designers have created.

Now, in this age of Corona Virus, you are probably wondering how well it plays solo!  I can tell you that because unfortunately, in these months of pandemic related social distancing, I have not personally been able to have a multi player game of Ancient Civilizations.  I have talked to people that have had multiplayer games of it and they say it’s fast and fun and a great way to get in arguments with your fellow players about how badly they screwed up your brilliantly strategic plans.

There are full solo bot rules for the game and a double sided players aid to help out as previously mentioned.  The solo rules establish priorities for the game controlled civilizations and like all the rules in the game, the solo scenarios may be overridden by the scenario specific rules.    The solo bots are very accomplished and my civilization has been stomped more than once by them.

How long does the game take to play?  I can’t say for certain about how long it takes to play with 2 to 6 players because of the current world situation but a solo game can last from 1 to 3 hours depending on the number of other civilizations in the scenario.

GMT Game’s support for this title is fantastic!  Many Designers’ Notes, resources and even optional game expansions can be found at:

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-624-ancient-civilizations-of-the-inner-sea.aspx

I just have to say that I love this game.  It is a work of functional art!  It belongs on the shelf and gaming table of every gamer interested in the ancient world.  It also belongs in schools as it is a great teaching aid and will make the ancient world come alive to jaded students.

Armchair General Rating:  98% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

box art
Greeks and Persians solo scenario
Mycenae
God King of Egypt set up
Egyptian pyramid and people
Pirates raid the Gulf of Sidra
the great pyramid
a bad event card
Breath of God Event

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