Game Review: Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea

Wargaming Classic Cultures

# of players: 2-6
Time: 1-2 hours
Age: 10+
Gamer Type: Moderate to Advanced
Game Type: Advanced to Committed
Complexity: 6

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War games are a field of their own. Very often, you need to be vested in a system before you can hope to be a competitive player. GMT games is one of the leaders in this space. Most of their games work around a series of systems. These systems are often high on the complexity scale (8-10), which can prevent new gamers from trying some very awesome games.

Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea (ACIS) is a game that can act as a gateway for this genre. While far from a traditional gateway game, this game teaches some of the basic elements of the genre to bring in new players. The story of this game is one of the classic historical types of games that GMT is known for. Players take on the role of one of the nation-states around the Mediterranean sea.

Story and Artwork

The game has a series of scenarios that simulate great historical conflicts. This interests and really draws the players into the game. This earns them a 7 out of 10 for the story. This because historical games are not only fun, but they help you understand the past as well.

The artwork for ACIS is most of the “Big Box” style artwork. It does not have the military feel of the other GMT games, but this is not a bad thing. Since this game more focuses on culture and development than pure warfare, this makes sense in the game’s development. Conquest is more through “general” conquest than pure military conquest. This artwork earns a solid score of 6 out of 10 for ACIS.

Game Mechanics and Strategy

The mechanics of the game are interesting. When you first read through the rulebook, you think it looks almost as if this game is a simple 1-for-1 swap game. This would be misleading. The game has an innovative resolution system, where lower-level items are removed then high-level items.

However, there is the interjection of wealth into this paradigm, which can allow for “1” culture spaces to stand up to cities with less money. This added a very interesting element to the game. Additionally, the movement in the game is very intuitive, which makes paying easy. There are also wonders and cards that act as the randomizers in the game, which allow for a slightly more “mainstream” feel. This earns a mechanics score of 6.5 out of 10.

The strategy for this game is not as complex as some of GMT’s other games. A “Zerg rush” is not really a viable option, as the weakest level is 1 and the levels are compounding. Additionally, you need a level 2 area to increase resources, so this approach does not work well. Engine building is also absent in this game, with the limit of the most basic sense. Therefore, players are forced into the offensive or defensive paradigm. Both of these are well adjusted, so this earns the game a solid 6 for strategy.

Novelty and Overall Score

The game is novel in its format, the advancement of the “one-for-one” system to include buyouts is something that I have not seen before. The topic is good, though there are several Mediterranean games on the market. This game earns a 5 for Novelty, because there is enough similarity to make the game playable by many different types of people. It is unique enough that players will not be bored with it.

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Overall, this game is a very solid 30.5 out of 50. I highly recommend this game for people who want to get into wargaming, but find the more advanced war games as daunting. This is a gateway game for players who want to move from European type games to war games. It is advanced, but not too advanced for a new player to pick it up within the first couple of rounds. This is a great game to have on your shelf, both for fun and for learning about the Ancient Mediterranean region.

Christopher W Smithmyer
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