Renegade Games has really been on a roll lately. Last year they released Honshu, Covert, and Clank!, excellent games all different from each other, and this year they have already published several more fine games (including Flatline, which Nicole just wrote about last month). In the next month or so they will release two excellent card games: The Fox in the Forest, which we will be previewing soon as part of our “Trick Taking Week” special, and Atlas: Enchanted Lands, which I’ll be previewing here.
Atlas was designed by J. Alex Kevern, best known thus far for last year’s World’s Fair 1893, which received lots of great reviews. With Atlas, Kevern has gone small, creating a short, focused game which is almost an abstract in card form which reminds me more than anything else, in a weird way I’ll explain below, of the old classic Acquire by Sid Sackson.
Two to four players divvy up cards from a deck of four suits and seven or eight ranks (depending on player count). The art on the cards (and box) is attractive and serves the theme well. Players also start with a certain number of two-sided chips. On your turn you must play a card and you may place one or more chips on that card (a la Carcassone). The cards get played into the center so that by game’s end they will form a matrix with each suit forming a column sorted by rank. When you place chips you’re predicting whether they will eventually score as part of a run of face-up consecutive cards of the same suit (the same Time) or as part of a face-up quartet (sometimes trio) of the same rank (the same Place).
As soon as a card is played which completes a Time or Place, all relevant cards are flipped, any chips on the cards which made the right prediction are left on the card (to score at the end of the game) and any incorrectly-predicted chips are removed from the game (#sadtrombone). At game’s end you score one point for every chip of your still on the cards and one point very every separate stack of chips.
Simple, elegant, and sooooo tricky (but not trick-taking). As in Acquire, you’re filling in a grid bit by bit and betting on how well-positioned your holdings will be. You have to time things just right in terms of when and where you play your cards and place your chips. Because you can’t place chips on cards which complete Times and Places, you want to encourage (or force) other players to complete them on their turn (because any turn you don’t place a chip is a wasted turn, score-wise). You also have to walk a fine line between placing chips and committing yourself too early, and waiting so long that too many cards have flipped and you’ve run out of chances to score.
The theme, frankly, is pasted on and could well have been set in a medieval French court as in an enchanted forest. But that’s true for many card and abstract games, and in a case like this easily forgiven because of the quality of the gameplay. I have only played with four, but I am told it plays equally well with two or three and I am looking forward to trying it out with those player-counts.
Atlas immediately goes high on my list of great “gateway games”, with half a point knocked off for bland theme. It gives you great game value for your buck in a portable and attractive package. Atlas comes out September 20. Thanks to Renegade Games for letting us have an advance copy.