Ancient World Multi Game System Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 1 to 4 players
  • Variable game play length

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy to Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • A mix of ancient games for your modern gaming table

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist, George Bernard Shaw, said “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” Which is to say, if we are unable to learn from the past, how can me make a better future? And yet, the past has so much to teach and is worth going back to. Yes, it’s great to live in the moment, but it’s worth glancing back and seeing how far you’ve come. In this collection of ancient games, a modern take is given on timeless lessons that are worth learning and enjoying, but the way the lesson is learned is always changing.

Ancient World Multi Game System, designed by Paul Ali, Arpad Fritsche, Aaron Haag, Markus Hagenauer, Eliot Hochberg, Daniel McKinley, David Stennett, Frank Zazanis and published by Playford Games, is comprised of 80 color square tiles (printed on both sides), one black cloth bag with a draw string, and a 40-page rulebook. The game system comes in three different flavors. The “base” game system comes with what I have already listed. The “Premium” edition comes with more tiles and a larger rule book. The “Deluxe” edition comes with even more tiles and an even larger rule book. Not included with any of the game editions, but necessary to play, is a Checker or Chess board or any square board that shows an 8 x 8 grid with each square in the grid approximately 1.6 x 1.6 inches (or 4 x 4 centimeters).

Example of the tiles in the game – each displays different information used in different way depending on the game in which they are used, which includes color and icons

Note: We were also provided a Chess/Checkers board that is used to play the games on and doubles up as storage. This item is referred to by Playford Games as the “treasure chest”.

This is a What Now?

Ancient World  is a Multi Game System. Or, better put, it’s a bunch of games in one box. How many? Up to 25, my friends. And those are only the ones listed in the rule book. The publisher invites owners and players of the games to create their own, which is pretty easy. The tiles have information on them (numbers, symbols, and arrows) that are used in the games to show direction, strength values, and piece types, but these are also fairly abstract in their general nature. This gives you creative types an opportunity to use what is provide and create your own rules and games around them. The tiles also come in different colors (mostly on their backs) and are easily stacked, giving players even more options.

 

But before we dive too deep into the “what could be”, let’s review what comes in the box and what can be played from the start.

A Box ‘O Games

Note: This review only covers the base Multi Game System, which covers 13 games for one to four players. The game system, if you get the super deluxe version, covers one or more players (well past eight), contains 25 games, alternative game play, and expansions! A complete list of the games, how many players, and in what edition of the system they can be found is detailed in a helpful table.

Each of the games is worthy of a whole review of their own, but since this is not that kind of review (we are reviewing the system, not the individual games), each of the games that comes described with the rule book are summarized here. For a more indepth review of games by Playford Games, take a moment to read our thoughts on ILIOS and Capere, which are included in the Premium and Deluxe editions of the game system.

Journey Stones

A moderately difficult game for two-players. One side plays the Celts and the others the Vikings, wherein the game is taking place at the high seas. Each player has a set of 12 tiles representing warships, raiders, and a special journey stone. Players move their tiles using the arrows to indicate direction. Journey Stone tiles are used to define the distance in which an opponent’s tile can be hit, as well as “stacking” tiles to create “fleets”. Game play continues, with each player maneuvering for position, until seven ships are sunk or both players decide it’s a stalemate.

This is a fun and engaging game, with just enough information given to each player to suggest possible strength of their opponent’s attacks. The real fun comes in thinking through movement and maneuvering ships around each other to ensnare your foe.

Ziggurats

Another moderately difficult game for two to four players. The game is semi-cooperative, where players are building ziggurats by placing foundation blocks on the board or moving blocks on the same level or to a new level. The goal is to create a ziggurat by stacking four tiles (the foundation block, plus three additional blocks). But there is a wonderful catch. The game ends, resulting in no one winning, if a player is unable to move or place a tile on their turn.

This was a very entertaining game. It’s a strange race where players are all moving as quickly as they can to be the first to build their ziggurat, but at the same time, they must make certain that their opponents are still in the race. A number of times, our players lost because they forgot that this was a game about building off of each other, meaning that no one should be left too far behind.

Silk Roads

A moderately difficult game for two to four players, where tiles are placed to create sections of road. Arrows on the tiles indicate how tiles are connected. End of the board, Mountain and Dragon tiles are used as blockers, forcing players to move around them. The goal is to create as long a “chain” of unbroken tiles in the player’s color as possible. The game ends when it’s no longer possible to place a tile. The winner of the game is the player with the longest unbroken chain.

This game was very much enjoyed by our younger players, as it was easy to keep track of what needed to be built and the difficult of the game started easy and ended difficult (due to lack of building spaces as the game progresses). The trick to this game is to not get greedy and have good timing. Placing of tiles to build long chains is an easy task, but your opponents are about the same business, making it necessary to sometimes stop working on your chain and mess with another. A great balance of strategy and tactics.

Numidia

A moderately difficult game for two to four players that can be played cooperatively or competitively. Like Silk Roads, the goal is to create chains, but in this case, the game refers to them as networks, connecting towns and cities. On the player’s turn, they will place a City tile and move tiles. Game play ends when the last tile has been placed. If playing cooperatively, players combine their scores. If playing competitively, the player with the most points wins.

While Silk Road had fixed paths set once the tiles were placed, Numidia introduces an ever-shifting network of tiles to connect and reconnect to. This created a lot of flexibility, but also a higher level of complexity. Moving tiles is always an option, but I have yet to play the game where the tiles were in constant motion. This kept the game fluid and engaging, making it a lot of fun to play.

Melos

In this game, players are using tiles to push against each other. The goal is to push tiles off the board, collecting their points in the process. However, the pieces the player uses to push the tiles can also be pushed off the board, resulting in the player losing options to take actions. The process of moving tiles is through pushing and resisting, matching the two values to determine who has the higher, resulting in the tiles being moved or not. The game ends when there are no more “Rock” tiles on the game board. The player who has the most “Rock” tiles and has as many of their original tiles still in play wins the game.

Talk about a game of give and take! This can be a fairly intense game of maneuvering and tactical thinking! Strategy is straight forward (“survive”), but how one goes about that is as much action as it’s reaction. Don’t get me wrong, you can and should think ahead, but many of our players remarked that the game felt like Tug-O-War with a healthy mix of Checkers. A fun game for all who played it, with most everyone seeing it as an entertaining filler.

Kush

Speaking of tactical thinking, Kush kicks it up a notch, but provides an easier game. The first step is to take tiles of your color and, in sequential player order, place them on the game board in open spots. Once everyone places their tiles, which is a strategic exercise, players then start to move their tiles on the game board. Tiles can only be moved to an adjacent space (orthogonally and diagonally) if they stack on top of another tile. Players can move single tiles or stacks of tiles, regardless if the top-most tile is their player color or not. The game ends when all players agree that no more tiles or stacks or tiles can be moved. The winner is the player with the most tiles of their player color still showing.

While Melos was seen as a game of mostly reaction, Kush pleased those who were looking for a game of more strategic game play. Which is surprising, because Kush is a bonehead simple game to explain and play. What makes it fun is the two phased approach. Players first place their tiles on the game board, which is a strategic exercise in proper placement and spacing. The second phase is then collapsing all that strategy into a tactical approach to clean up the game board. Great stuff.

Rays

The term “connecting the dots” has been overused and is meant to suggest that an individual starts to begin the understand the whole picture. Rays is a bit like that, starting the players off with an empty board and challenging them with a seemingly easy task. Simply connect one side of the game board to the other using your tiles. Which is easy, until you get an opponent on the same board with the same intent. Now the game is as much a race, as it’s a tactical mental bout of tile placement and strategic forethought to see paths within paths. Players use the rays of the tiles to “point” in the direction the path takes. Players can use their tiles to block their opponent or outmaneuver them. A game of surprisingly intense moments and immediate satisfaction (or frustration if you get blocked). The game ends as soon as all but one player is able to bridge one side of the game board with the other with an unbroken path.

I often call games like Rays “pipe games”, since they remind me a great deal of a very old computer game I played that connected pipes together in an ever-smaller space. The goal was to keep going as long as you could, using space as efficiently as possible. Rays is similar to this, but gives players the ability to take actions with the single purpose to mess up their opponent. While entertaining to do so, it also slows that player down. Now a tile that could be placed to move ahead has been used to trip an opponent up. That is a kind of “forward advancement”, for sure, but this is a game where four players can be going at it at the same time. Makes for some very interesting decision making and fun along a bumpy path to victory.

Latrunculi

This game is all about outlasting your opponent as you slowly crush their army with yours through strategic and tactical movement of your tiles. Each tile represents an army and each player is also given an invisible “General” which is the most powerful piece on the game board. After the game is set, players take turns moving their tiles around the game board to capture opponent tiles by “sandwiching” an opponent’s tile between two or more of their own. “General” tiles are used to capture, but can never be captured. The game ends when one player’s army is taken fully off the board (leaving only the General), and opponent’s General cannot move, or both players agree that no more legal moves can be made, in which case the winner is the player with the most tiles still on the game board.

This is a smarter and more interesting version of Checkers, in my opinion, with a bit of Chess added in. Players must move to survive and capture to win. This means each time a player takes their turn, they must be thinking two or more moves ahead. Sacrificing tiles is the norm if you plan to bait and capture your opponent’s armies. A great mix of strategic and tactical thinking that only gets harder the longer it’s played. The game is all uphill, but well worth the effort.

Inuit

Now this was an interesting game! Best thought of as a sliding puzzle, players take turns collecting “Fish” tiles. This is done by pushing a single tile in any orthogonal direction and moving all tiles in its way one space, as well. “Fish” tiles will fall off the game board, but “Iceberg” and “Island” tiles remain. This means players can only move their tiles to a certain extent and by moving them they start to create new and interesting paths, as well as blockers. Fish can only be captured and removed for points if grouped together, making movement of the game tiles an interesting exercise in seeing the big picture through little moves. The game ends when no more fish are left on the game board.

Great stuff! The sliding of tiles is easy and the game board is constantly shifting. Makes for a visually interesting experience, as well as complicated game to win. Movement is simple, but grouping those fish is anything but. Careful game play is needed or players will inadvertently take fish off the game board. And yet, that is a very useful strategy. If players cannot get to the fish, they might as well make sure their opponents’ cannot either. This proved to be a viable – albeit annoying – strategy, wherein one player would collect a few fish and then spend the rest of the time killing off fish. It worked and it was great to see our players counter that approach with smarter game play.

Seega

A slightly more complicated version of Latrunculi, but it uses a different approach to capturing. Instead of moving tiles like Checker and Chess pieces, players start the game with all their tiles being placed on the game board, one player at a time. From there, it becomes a bloodbath, as the only goal is to capture and remove all the tiles you can. Capturing is still completed by “sandwiching” an opponent’s tile.

This is the three to four player version game of Latrunculi and it works. I normally don’t get too excited about games that slightly change the rules to accommodate more players, but in this case, I am making an exception. Both games, whiles similar in their approach, are played differently enough to make both feel unique. In this game, it’s all about coming out strong and beating down your opponent as quickly as you can, and then you strategize and tactically move to survive. None of this sneaky move and bait crap. Just go in, crush heads as fast as you can, and then hope that someone isn’t about to pounce on you! As the game progresses, the very busy board becomes very empty quickly.

King’s Ransom

A complicated and very engaging Chess derivative, King’s Ransom requires players to really think ahead, bait their opponent, and have a lot of patience. This game was not for everyone and only really intrigued our most senior and elitist of game players. It also proved to be the most complicated game to teach, due to the no less than four steps and four actions a player could take on their turn. Lots of freedom to think strategically and move tactically in this game that gave our players a healthy dose of brain strengthening and fatigue. Not for the faint of heart, King’s Ransom is an exercise is mental stamina and sacrifice for long-term gain. Game play ends when an opponent’s “King” tile is put in checkmate, but both players lose if the game ends in a stalemate.

We have a number of players who enjoy Chess. Turns out only those players liked King’s Ransom. This game is not complicated if you know Chess. If you don’t know Chess, however, this is not a game you should take on. The game makes a few assumptions regarding the player’s past game play experiences and expects the players to know a thing or two about how to move around the Chess board. Not to worry. Everything is spelled out in the game rules. Just don’t expect to get this game to the table unless you have an opponent who is equally matched.

Cheetah

Have you ever played the game Dots and Boxes? The game is simple: connect dots with straight lines until you can close the lines to create a four-sided box. But, of course, it’s not that easy. Players can only connect one pair of dots on their turn. The goal is to create as many boxes as you can, out-beating your opponent. The catch – and there’s always a catch – capturing a box can create a cascading result, wherein one or more boxes can be closed. Which will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

This is similar to the game, Cheetah. Players take turns placing tiles to the game board and “capture” rows and columns of tiles that are adjacent to each other. Open spaces break the chain of tiles that can be captured. If you are the last player to remove a tile from the game board, you are eliminated. Another round is then started. The player who wins the most of the predetermined number of rounds wins the game.

Stella

This is a game that takes the goal of Rays and mixes in tile sliding from Melos and Inuit. The really interesting twist is that players have hidden colors that identify which colored tiles are their. Players can choose to keep their color hidden – or if there is a strategic or tactical advantage – can reveal it to their opponents anytime during the game. Taking turns, players slide tiles around the board, moving rows and columns of adjacent tiles in the process. The game ends when a player creates a path from one side of the game board to the opposite side. At which point they must reveal their color and reveal the path.

What makes this game interesting is that you do not know your opponent’s color right away. Through deduction (and a lot of guessing), you can determine what your opponent’s color is. By doing do, your can make your turns more tactical and strategic, by not only attempting to complete a path, but also attempting to break your opponent’s. This makes the game very interesting, as everyone starts off not knowing much (other than their own goal and color) and gradually learns more. Better yet, tiles, once pushed off the game board, magically reappear on the opposite side where the space was created. Think you know where your opponent is going? Think again! Great stuff and makes for a very challenging interactive and constantly shifting puzzle.

To learn more about Ancient World Multi Game Systemvisit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks really enjoyed the games that came in the collection. There was something for everyone. Even our youngest players enjoyed it, with a little help from older siblings and adults. According to one Child Geek, “I like a lot of the games in the box except the king one (editor’s note: referring to King’s Ransom). My favorites were the games were you slide your tiles around.” Another Child Geek said, “I like how all the games are different, but the pieces are the same. This always made me feel like I already knew the game and it made it easier for me to learn.” When all the votes were in, the Child Geek unanimously agreed that Ancient World Multi Game System was well worth their time and energy.

The Parent Geeks were also impress, both with the quality of the pieces and the variety of the games. According to one Parent Geek, “I was initially concerned that the games would be too abstract and very similar to each other. This proved to be unfounded. Each game is unique and builds slightly off the others in the collections. While there were some similarities, each was a unique game in its own right.” Another Parent Geek said, “This is the kind of game collection you could buy once and play forever. My biggest disappointment is that my group was only given the game system for a few days to explore and enjoy. We all wanted to play with it longer and we look forward to borrowing it often.” All the Parent Geeks voted to approve Ancient World Multi Game System.

The Gamer Geeks were most impressed. According to one Gamer Geek, “Playford does a great job with their abstract games. I’m not a fan of their game pieces, because even for an abstract game, they feel a bit too abstract, but within context of each game and within the game system, it works. This is a great collection of ‘OK’ to ‘pretty good’ games. I liked it.” Another Gamer Geek said, “Good quality, outstanding rule book, and endless play. Some games really tickled my fancy while others were only mildly entertaining. In all respects, I felt that this was a great mix of abstract games that seemed to have something for everyone.” When all the votes were in, the Gamer Geeks agreed that this game system was worth bringing back to their gaming table.

I’m not normally too excited about reviewing a product that is being pitched to me as a “system”. That, to me, is an indicator that what I’ll be getting is a mix of parts that needs to be put together to enjoy. Where the level of enjoyment is equal to the amount of effort put into the players who need to build it. This is not the case here. Everything you get with Ancient World Multi Game System is complete and thought through. I wouldn’t call this so much a “system” as a “collection”. Which it is and what a wonderful collection, too! As mentioned by many of our players, there seems to be a game for everyone, for any occasion, and any group of players. System or not, everything felt organized, well-balanced, and ready to play out of the box.

On a negative note, this collection of games was a huge tease. The rule book we were provided goes into great detail, with easy to read instructions, excellent illustrations, and gobs of information. The problem is, there’s a lot in the game book my groups and I could not enjoy. Expansions were explained but impossible to play due to not having the correct tiles and the same goes for alternative game play (introducing solitaire play for a few games we could try). Where the rule book completely drops the ball is noting what edition of the game is necessary to play it. I received one too many calls from our reviewers asking “where are the rest of the tiles? We are missing the tiles!” This got old, fast. What makes this even worse is that the editions, even the starting one, is not cheap. Just getting your foot through the door is over $100 and the big daddy of them all is almost $300. For those of us who really like abstract games, this isn’t a big deal since we see the money well spent. For everyone else, yikes. That’s some serious money to drop.

And here is where I am torn, folks…

I found this game collection, even if it was incomplete from the instruction book’s perspective, to be a great success. But, again, it was also incomplete. I don’t feel that I have, personally, been able to review the entire system. The games that were available were a mix of good to great and always fun. I can only speculate that more games would mean more fun. But more importantly, having all the tiles and the missing tokens (yes, some games require tokens), would allow the game system to truly come into its own as a treasure trove of not only games, but endless possibilities.

I have spoken before – and waxed poetically – of how important it is for youth to get into board games and make their own. Ancient World Multi Game System is absolutely brilliant for this. A smashing collection of abstract games from single player to multiplayer, competitive to cooperative, with a surprising level of game depth and various speed. It’s all here. Now add in the ability and ease to make your own games and you have something worth a great deal. This is the hidden true value of the game system and one that players can only really appreciate if they have it all.

Is it worth it? Goodness, yes, but I would suggest you first play abstract games for a bit. Especially those from Playford Games. They come in single copies and are good stuff. Individually, the game provides you a solid idea of what Playford is all about. Like the games, go get the system. It’s more of the same goodness with lots of different ideas and approaches to fun. Do give this game system a try when time permits. While it claims to be “ancient”, it always felt fresh and new to us.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

 

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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