I had the immense pleasure of playing Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim’s upcoming two player game, Akrotiri (soon to be published by Z-Man Games and Filosofia Edition), at the Gathering of Friends, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Akrotiri is a Bronze Age settlement once found on the island of Thera. At least it was – Akrotiri was destroyed back in 1627 BCE along with the rest of Thera by a catastrophic volcanic eruption. Neat!
Why is this important? Well, according to the designers of Akrotiri, under that thick layer of catastrophe are the mysterious remains of ancient temples. The history of an ancient civilization lies in these holy places, if only we could find them. Lucky for us, volcanic ash is an incredible preservative, and we have been left with maps that will help us in our search.
The goal of the game is a noble one: get the most points. Players earn points by locating temples and satisfying the conditions of their secret goals, which are received before and during the game. It’s all over when one player has built their sixth temple, giving the players linear control of when the game ends. However, not all temples are created equal, as some are much harder to find and reward a player many more points for their trouble, so rushing to build six of the easiest temples isn’t likely to net a quick victory.
Each player starts with a player mat detailing a game turn, including the various actions available to them, as well as a place to store their temples. These temples are placed on the mat so that they cover the rewards (more actions and goal cards) that players will earn for placing temples on the growing landscape of tiles that make up the game board. Players place their boats on the central island of Thera, and each place a tile with two resources to prepare. After grabbing two drachmas (the game’s currency), an easy map and a medium map, you’re ready to start exploring.
A game turn consists of placing a tile on which you place 2 resources, and a number of actions – you start with 3, but you’ll gain additional actions by placing temples on the board. The tile placement allows the players to give shape to the islands surrounding Thera, as well as create the paths that will be used to travel from one island to another. Once you’ve placed a tile, the available actions allow you to: A) Move your boat – you can move as far along the white movement lines as you please, OR portage across an island from one movement line to another. In fact, if you’re not carrying any goods, you can do both for a single action (because your boat is so light). B) Load your boat with the goods available at the current island (you can carry up to three, and multiple goods can be acquired in a single action). C) Excavate – Place a temple on the board (this is the most interesting part, so we’ll come back to it). D) Buy Maps – When you’re docked at Thera, you can spend drachmas to buy more maps, which in turn will allow you to locate more temples. And E) Ask the Oracle for help – normally you’ll just draw a random tile at the end of your turn, but if you’re looking for a particular landscape (and there’s good reason why you would), you can tell the Oracle what you want and keep flipping tiles until you find what you need and take that instead.
There are also free actions that can be performed. If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, you can drop off goods at any island to empty your boat. And if you stop at Thera, you can sell those goods you’ve been carrying to the market for some cold hard drachmas – the market is a simple supply and demand affair that fits the bill quite nicely.
So, what’s so interesting about finding these temples? The maps you start with and can purchase at Thera show a temple surrounded by landscape symbols (the more symbols you see, the harder it is – read: more points). These landscape symbols are the clues that inform you of where that temple can be found. Each tile you lay will have a landscape symbol that gives shape to areas surrounding Thera. Your job is to find a spot on an empty island where the symbols on the map card line up with the symbols you see on the tiles that make up the game board. For instance, if an easy map shows a temple with a volcano to the north, a mountain to the west, and a forest to the east, you need to find an island space where all of this is true. And if it’s not true yet, it’s up to you to place tiles in a way that makes it true. Having trouble finding a forest? Call on the oracle for help. It’s a mind-bending puzzle that is bound to produce a great many ‘Aha!’ moments as you find just the right spot for your next temple.
If that’s all there was to it, it would still be a great game. However, the goal cards give this one some real staying power. You each get one start, and will gain two more as you locate temples. These goal cards ask you to locate temples on islands of differing shapes, sizes, completion, and distance from Thera or each other, and reward you for your trouble with additional points at game end. I’m always a fan of secret goals in games, and these create some often interesting risk vs. reward situations that will keep the game fresh for a long time to come.
It’s a clever take on the pick-up-and-deliver mechanic, as you’ll often have to create the place to which you’re supposed to “deliver”. Because of the puzzle aspect, you can expect that some turns might take longer than others as you and your opponent try to sort out the best place and orientation for a tile, but the game sails along at a good pace. Most of all, there’s nothing out there quite like it. Tobago might be the most immediate comparison, as both games have you trying to pinpoint a location according to a set of clues, but even that’s a stretch. Personally, I can’t wait for it to be released later this year, as I’ll be picking up a copy straight away.