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Theodore Aitken


No. of Players:
2 - 6



With a long day at the SPIEL 09 drawing close to its end, I made a final stroll through the halls to look up some games which I might cover tomorrow. However, I was lucky, and so I actually got a seat for a playtesting round of Ants! For Queen & Colony at the one and only playtesting table of TWISTED WINDS. This newcomer company from England only was able to produce 150 copies of their new ANTagonistic game, and so the three of us sat down with ANTicipation to get the game explained to us by the designer Theodore Aitken. Also present at the booth was Colin Wheeler whom I knew as a used games trader here at the SPIEL with his small company 2ND GAMES GALORE having specialised in some hard to find older titles. However, these days are over for Colin, and so he is now helping his friend Theodore with his new game.

In this game each player takes control of an ant colony, all of which are located at the outer borders of a small park consisting of hex spaces. At the beginning, the Queen is the only playing piece present at each player's anthill, but there is also a decent reserve of food tokens which the Queen can consume to produce new ants. Being a real TyrANT, the Queen needs her trusted subjects for different kinds of operations, and so the small PeasANTs (one food each) are in charge of the food acquisition, whereas the SergeANTs (cost of two food) are responsible for military operations. A maximum of six food can be consumed by the Queen each turn, and in the first few rounds the Queen mainly will focus on producing Peasants which will start to move towards the food reserves available at different spaces on the playing area.

The movement rules are designed quite antlike, with a Peasant normally being allowed to move just one space. However, if an ant makes a move through an unbroken supply chain of Peasants, the ant may end its move at any space adjacent to that supply chain, and so great distances may be bridged by moving ant after ant and extending the chain. Food is collected by Peasants standing next to food tokens, and the player is allowed to move the food disks through an unbroken supply chain directly back to his anthill where the Queen is waiting.

Once there is a sufficient number of ants on the table, food will get scare and so the first Sergeants will appear. These ants may move for two spaces, but once again they also may use an unbroken supply chain for one step of their movement. If a Sergeant runs into Peasant's or Sergeants of another player, a battle will ensure. The result of the fight is determined by rolling dice, but the Peasants actually only are allowed to roll a dice which offers lower results. However, as numbers also matter, Peasants from neighbouring spaces may be brought in to join the defender, and all their results will be added together. Thus, several Peasants stand a higher chance to beat a Sergeant, although the Pesants usually will be lost in this process since for each individual dice result lower than the roll of the Sergeant a Peasant must be removed.

All players aim at getting a Sergeant into other player's anthills, and there a Sergeant will have to face the Queen against which another combat is made with both players using equal dice. If the sergeant wins, the player whose Queen has been beaten drops out of the game, loosing all food reserves to the player of the heroic Sergeant and removing all ants of the perished tribe from the table. Thus, the game cannot avoid players to drop out from a certain stage onwards, and the winner will be the player in control of the last surviving Queen.

Action in the playing area is spiced up by the Park Life cards which are revealed at the beginning of every player's turn. Such cards list different events from the dropping of food remains to small bugs or even a human footstep. The hex(es) where the effects of the Park Life card takes effect is determined by the active player looking at his hand of three randomly drawn Park Space cards. Each of these cards list the coordinates of an individual park hex, and the player may use any of his three cards to activate the effects of the Park Life card there. He will receive a replacement Park Space card afterwards, so that he will have a hand of three cards once again at his next turn.

As indicated, the Park Life cards offer different happenings, and if there are ants of the chosen space(s) these usually will be removed. New food reserves then can be collected the usual way using the Peasants, whereas bugs and worms first need to be killed by a Sergeant before they can be turned into food. Of real danger are human footsteps or a bird, since these events are activated on a space and all surrounding spaces, and thus they can lead to a rather devastating setback.

Although one testing game probably is not enough to judge this for certain, there might be a chance that some Park Life cards actually are too strong if they are revealed at a crucial moment and if a player possesses the right Park Space card to cause some mischief. In addition, the solution of players dropping out of a game always is a bit unsatisfactory, since the last two players in such a game might be on equal terms concerning ants and food, and so a long standoff phase might be feared before the game comes to its end. However, the latter risk is well avoided by the fact that a Sergeant can continue to attack in the same turn as long as he survives, and so I could witness defense lines to be broken quickly if luck sides with the attacker.

The game offers rather fitting comic artwork, and I really enjoyed my final battle of ANTietam for the day. Most importantly, the game is rather fine to play, and since the rule structure operates rather smoothly ANTS turned out to be a rather interesting variANT of classic conflict games. For me, the exotic topic and the cute graphics really rounded up a nice game, and so one of the 150 copies which where available here at the show went home with me.

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany