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590BC. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, marries the magnificent Amyitis, the king of Media's daughter. But the beauty languishes for the lush vegetation of her land. Nebuchadnezzar wants to have splendid hanging gardens built for her. Now, the city is getting ready to take up the tremendous challenge which will leave an indelible mark for the centuries to come.
The players embody noble Babylonians in quest of prestige. All along the game, they strive to raise their status by building gardens and their irrigation network, and by trading and recruiting. At the end of the game, the player with the highest prestige is the winner.
The goal of the game is to build the hanging gardens of Babylon for Queen Amyitis. Players are nobles, looking for fame and prestige, and so they decide to help their sovereign. They will need to recruit the best men available, grab some resources and camels, irrigate the gardens and pray for them in the temples. They've got to carefully manage resources, camels, and -- of course -- money to reach their goal.
While there are several game companies that have a great track record in terms of releasing games I thoroughly enjoy, only one is batting one-thousand: Ystari. I have enjoyed each of their releases, and was pleased to hear that company owner Cyril Demaegd, creator of Ystari’s original release Ys, designed their latest release.
Remaining with their tradition of using difficult-to-pronounce names, the latest game in their line is Amyitis. Just how that name is pronounced has been the subject of much discussion, but the general consensus is that it sounds suspiciously like a medical disease. The truth, however is that Amyitis is said to have been the beautiful wife of Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar. He so wanted to impress her, that he ordered the construction of the famed Hanging Gardens. While referenced several times in various tomes, the existence of the gardens has never been proven. Nonetheless, it does make for an interesting subject for a game.
The game is played on two boards. One depicts the hanging gardens, as well as three temples where players will place priests. The Mesopotamia board shows a track listing the various cities that trade with Babylon. Players will move the caravan around this track and take the action allowed by the city where the caravan comes to rest.
Each turn, craft cards are set out in groups of three, the number of groups being dependent upon the number of players. Players get income if they possess a banker card, and then alternate taking actions until everyone passes. Possible actions include:
The round concludes with all players reducing their resource supply to two or four, depending upon their caravan level, and moving the start player to the left. New rounds are then conducted in the same fashion, with the game ending when there are four or fewer garden tiles remaining on the board. Players then receive bonus points – 5 or 10 points – depending upon the number of plants they contributed to the garden. Most points wins.
The game should play to conclusion in about 1 ½ - 2 hours, but I have been involved in one game that overstayed its welcome by running close to three hours. This was mainly due to a few folks at the table carefully analyzing and weighing each option, and by a constant barrage of table talk and kibitzing. Fortunately, that was an isolated occurrence, and the other games I’ve played moved along at a brisker pace.
Amyitis is a perfect fit for the Ystari line, as it is a deeper game with lots of choices and options. There are numerous ways in which to earn victory points, and choosing whether to pursue one or multiple methods can be tough. The actions of your opponents can directly affect your plans, and it is possible to directly interfere with your opponents. However, one need not worry about military style attacks or being eliminated from the game.
I find finding the right balance between irrigating, purchasing plants and/or Court cards, and vying for control of the resource and temple tracks to be quite challenging. There are numerous small, but continuous battles for control occurring in various arenas of game play that persist throughout the game. While losing one or two of these struggles is not lethal, one must triumph enough times in order to compete for victory. In the games I’ve played, one or two points were all that separated the top few players, and one game even ended in a tie! Every point does count.
If you have been enjoying games in the Ystari line such as Mykerinos, Ys, and Yspahan, then you will find much to like in Amyitis. While not as deep as the company’s star performer Caylus, the game is filled with a multitude of options to pursue, and decisions that will often cause angst and consternation. These are marks of a good game, and Amyitis possesses them in abundance.