Age of Renaissance
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We begin in the 8th century A.D. deep in the heart of the Dark Ages. All but the last vestiges of the Roman state, masters of the known world, have been swept away by pillaging barbarians whose tide has ebbed leaving nothing of substance. Against this somber background, this long awaited sequel to Civilization begins where its predecessor ended. Three to six players vie to re-establish their civilizations via trade while advancing in Science, Religion, Commerce, Communications, Exploration and Civics.
While gains are measured in economic terms rather than territorial conquest, the proceedings are nothing, if not warlike. Against the backdrop of war, plague, famine, and religious strrife such personalities as Newton, Galileo, Gutenberg, Erasmus, Copernicus, Charlemagne, Polo, Da Vinci, and Columbus appear to guide mankind to the threshold of a new beginning with startling discoveries in their respective fields.
For victory is not won at the point of a sword, but in the acquisition and application of 26 Advances ranging from Carvan to Industry. Each Advance grants its owner a potentially game-winning advantage, while the order in which these Advances are acquired, despite the fearsome calamities of the Middle Ages, will determine the speed with which you can discover the New World, inaugurate the Enlightenment, and usher in the Renaissance.
The game is quicker than its lineage would suggest and is playable in an evening in any of the three different versions catered to one's available playing time.
My friends and I have played this game enough to know the finer points of the game. We have also had to make slight modifications to the game to make it more "lasting".
Civil war is probably one of the worst cards to have played on you. And can put a player from first into permanent LAST place if played correctly on the second turn.
A good example is Genoa/Venice on the second turn. The typical position is such that both countries have say 5 provinces under their control at the end of turn 1. Under close review, there are 10 new countries available for those two countries to claim freely. BUT bidding high enough armies to control all 10 countries Guarantees that you will move Last (or later) in the expansion phase so that likely half of the free provinces will be taken by your opponent. The likely outcome is all provinces have similar expansion and end up with 10 provinces at the end of turn 2.
If, say I am Venice, and I have the civil war card, I can knowingly buy a large number of armies; and in the phase just before expansion I play civil war on by neighbor, Genoa. He is then forced to move last and lose half his armies (or) money (usually always better to lose armies). Result: Venice 14 provinces and Genoa 6 other Countries 10. Venice is usually not far enough ahead of the other countries that they cannot catch up, BUT Genoa is FAR enough behind that he can never catch up, due to the multiplier effect of early leads/losses in the game. This usually leads to "tilting" strategies by Genoa that are designed to annoy/ force the other players to end the game, rather than to have to play out the rest of the game in last place. We have reduced the effects of civil war to 3/4 of the effects shown on the card (victims choice)
We also have made a far more interesting version of the game when we have 5 players instead of 6. We remove the country France from the active player list BUT its provinces are still available to be captured/controlled. We have added two other balancing features in the game. Hamburg gets the technology "overland east" for free, and Genoa gets "Heavens" for free on the second turn.
As with any excellent, rule-dense strategy game, this game requires a bit of patience and a whole lot of free time. I'd equate AoR to riding a bike - you might fall down a time or two, but with persistance you can enjoy the thrill of riding this game to it's fullest.
AoR is a game that can inspire a gambit of emotions in it's players - they will enjoy thrill of success, the pain of defeat, as well as tasting sweet, sweet irony. It's best as a 4 or 5 player game - 6 can be too chaotic and unbalanced, and 3 are, as Goldilocks would say, too few.
The game can best be described through it's 3 Epochs - the first involves establishing home territories and engaging in basic exploration, the second involves true learning and advancement (hence the Renaissance), and the third is where people get really nasty and try to gain monopolies of the available resources.
Cards are played to illustrate historical events and show the birth of historical leaders - some can be a bit unbalanced - but withholding a few (Crusades, Civil War) until after the first round or two can easily allow everyone in the game to at least get on their feet. Should all the good cards fall into one player's hands, there is a chance they will enjoy an embarrassment of riches. Likewise, should one player be a repeat victim, he may end up finding himself in the role of a spectator rather than a contender.
That aside, AoR is an awesome game that - when played by a group of engaging players whom are all equally invested - can give a great payoff. I am actively seeking my own copy and enjoy playing a couple rounds with a group of my coworkers during our lunch break...that's how much we love this game.
Unlike what some other reviews have indicated, this game can be played in segments. This usually allows for some great diplomatic discussion between game turns! I highly encourage anyone who enjoys games like War! or Civilization to give this game a try - it is WELL worth the time and money.
I love Avalon Hill's games because of the balance and complexity they design into them, and AOR is definitely one of the best. (I hope Hasbro will continue that tradition, but I'm not holding my breath.) With that, I wouldn't start a new gamer on this game, but anybody who's gamed before will love the torture of trying to balance the need to buy advancements with the need to expand.
I think this game is a better version (2.0) of Civilization. You don't get commodity cards for each city you own as in Civ, but rather particular provinces produce certain commodities, e.g. provinces in the far east produce 'spice' or 'silk' etc. For me, this is more interesting, since you need to take over a province economically to acquire that commodity. And as in Civ, when you have more of one commodity, the amount of money you get goes up exponentially.
Others have explained the general game well, so I won't rehash that. In all honesty, there is too much to talk about to do the game justice. To give you an idea of how many facets there are to the game, it typically takes me 45 minutes to an hour to explain the rules to a new player. But it is well worth it.
The commodity log is abysmal. Shame on AH for not testing that more. We don't even use it. Search on the web for documents someone has created which have a small square for each province so you can just take the square when you take over the province. Lose one, give it to whoever took it over. Need to know how many wine provinces you have, count them up in front of you--very easy. In fact, I've heard the next edition of AOR--the European version, I think--incorporates that method into the new design and removes the commodity log.
One bad part of the game is the constant starting point. It always seems you know what Genoa, Barcelona and Venice will do in the first three turns of the game. But as we play more, it becomes fun to try to experiment with different strategies, and I think there may be revelations in future just when you've think you've hit a wall in strategy. That's happened to me in Axis & Allies as well. The whole dynamics of a game can change if someone just does something a little different. Do the same thing... you get stagnation.
All in all, excellent game which our group just loves to play.