Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Gordon & Fraser Lamont


No. of Players:
3 - 4



Some of you might remember my coverage of the SPIEL 09 where UK-based publisher TWISTED WINDS tried to approach the topic of ant-life with their game Ants!, a rather ANTagonistic approach where up to six player's try to eliminate each other's colonies. The game featured nice comic-strip artwork, but it suffered the flaw which all elimination-games since Diplomacy share - player dropout. Now, the Lamont brothers have created a game without player dropout, focusing on managing the everyday activities of an ant-colony instead of engaging in ant-consuming conflicts.

Thus, the players are concentrating on getting food into their anthills, and the gameboard features six different types of prey which can be brought in to feed the ants (bugs, butterflies etc). The players need to bring in as many different types of prey as possible, since the number of different types of prey is multiplied by itself at the end of the game, thus calculating a player's victory points for prey. The second source of victory points at the game's end are Fungus-plantations, and these can be found on some of the tiles from which the players build their anthills. Here the rule is that the level on which the fungus is placed in the anthill determines its value in victory points, e.g. a fungus tile placed on level three will be worth three victory points at the game's end. However, as an additional obstacle, only fungus tiles with a leaf on them will count for victory, and so the players' ants also will face the need to bring in some leaves in addition to the valuable prey tokens.

[IMAGE] At the game start each player possesses a generic level-one anthill which is made up of six hex spaces, and during the course of the game the players can acquire new anthill tiles to expand their anthills. These tiles are two hex spaces wide, and they can be used either for broadening the anthill base of for building on top existing tiles, thus increasing the height (in levels) of the anthill. Some placement rules need to be observed (no direct stacking, no overhanging tiles etc), but much more important is the mechanism for which the anthills are used in the game. So, each hex-space of a player's anthill actually shows an action available to the player, and during his turn a player will use three markers to cover spaces of his anthill, thus choosing his actions for the current turn. As a rule, the triggering of a higher-level space will result in a more powerful action, and so the players actually will try to increase their anthill's height and not only the size of its base. They can build up to level five, but it is the tricky impact of the anthill-building-activities that the players' choice of available actions may vary in the course of the game due to new anthill-tiles covering older tiles with different actions.

New anthill-tiles become available through the "Scouting" action. A display of randomly drawn tiles can be found in rows above the gameboard, and a player who performs scouting may take a number of new tiles corresponding to the level of his scouting actions (i.e. the level of the anthill on which the tile with the scouting action is located). The tiles go into the player's personal stockpile, and from there they may be added to the player's anthill using the "Build" action. Here the level of the action determines how many new tiles a player may add to his anthill, so that a high level building action actually may save quite a lot of time because of the possibility to build a multitude of tiles with just one action.

However, we have not yet talked about the protagonists - the ants! Each player possesses a stockpile of ant-figures, but the ants first have to be hatched before they can be used. The "hatching" action allows a player to place a number of ants on one ore more of the six different hatching areas on the gameboard, and the type of hatching area determines where an ant can be placed on the board. Thus, a grasslands-ant can be placed on a path running through grasslands, whereas a water-ant can be placed on a water path etc. However, to make placements on the board, yet another type of action is used - the "Ants" action. With this action a player can move either ants from the hatching areas onto corresponding paths, or from paths back to a player's stockpile if that ant is not longer needed. The level of the action determines how many of these placements/removals can be made, and it is quite important that all placements/removals need to be made observing a chain-rule. Thus, an anthill can be found at the middle of the gameboard, and ant-routes of all players go out just from this hill. Every new ant placed on the board must be connected back to the hill through an unbroken chain of ants places among the paths on the board, and if an ant is removed the chain need to be observes as well, since no ants may be stranded.

Crowding the board with their ants, the players aim to reach the areas where prey and leaves can be found. If a linkage to such an area is made, the players then can use a "Heave" action to start moving the leave/prey back towards the anthill. With each heave the leave/prey may be moved for one leg of the voyage (i.e. one path with an ant), and if the prey/leave reaches the anthill a player may remove it from the board and place it with his own stockpile. Once again, the level of the heave-action determines its efficiency, since a high-level heave actually may be used to trigger up to five heaves all at once.

A special type of ants are the red soldier ants. These ants may not be used for transport, but instead they may be placed on a path together with one of the player's normal ants. Normal ants of any player can populate the same path, but only one soldier ant can be placed there, and these soldiers now may look for prey/leaves being transported along this route by other players' ants. If a leave/prey should be available there, the soldier ant may be removed to steal it, provided the player has a free ant on the path which can be used to move the stolen loot onwards. In addition, the gameboard also has a chasm which separates a part of the board from the anthill, and here a number of soldier ants actually can be used to bridge the chasm and move prey/leaves over it.

As if this should not be enough, the players' ants also are in danger of being consumed by the cuddly anteaters strolling along the scouting area with new anthill tiles. Whenever the players add new anthill tiles to their collections, one or more of the three anteaters will move towards the first row of tiles, and there comes a time when the anteaters have reached their destination and an anteater-attack is triggered. Now the anteaters will roam the board, eating some prey tokens and - depending on the anteater colour - some ants from the hatching areas, and this may efficiently delay or even spoil the players' efforts to harvest more victory points.

Over the years Gordon and Fraser Lamont have surprised us with quite a few interesting new playing concepts, and here Antics! is no exception. While the topic of ants certainly has been used in the one or other game before, the rules mechanism found by the Lamonts is outstanding and a perfect simulation of the growth of an ant-colony. The whole concept of the ever-growing anthill has been enacted rather cleverly, and apart from the ant-placement on the gameboard the players face a totally new 3D-challenge by managing the construction of their anthill. It is crucial to chose well-matching new anthill tiles during the scouting-action, since otherwise the players might lose a specific type of action due to a new tile covering the old type of action. To prevent a total dead end, the players also may use their "MagnificANT", an ant-tile which may be used for any level-one-action, but it is still much more efficient to create an anthill with a good combination of actions.

The whole business becomes even more difficult due to the Fungus-plantations which can be found on some of the anthill-tiles. While scoring victory points at the game's end (if covered with a leaf), these fungi can be quite unnerving during anthill building. They cannot be used for any type of action, and if they should bring any victory points at all they need to be visible and not overbuilt with additional tiles. A rather difficult challenge.

After some years with lighter games Gordon and Fraser have returned with a real brain teaser in the tradition of Shear Panic. However, in terms of rules and game components Ants! is a much more mature game than the first edition of Shear Panic, despite the little mishap about two rather close ant colours. The only thing which is sadly missing are the cute miniatures which could be found in early FRAGOR-games, but this certainly is more than made up by the rather challenging new game concept, the colourful gameboard and the wooden ant figures!

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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany