Review – Ankh: Gods of Egypt and Tomb of Wonders Expansion
|Artist||Nicolas Fructus, Thierry Masson, Adrian Smith|
Expectations for Eric Lang’s Ankh: Gods of Egypt are high. Eric Lang’s other games in this series, Blood Rage and Rising Sun, are both in Board Game Geek’s Top 100, and Ankh promises the same excellent gameplay with a more streamlined approach.
Egyptian gods vie for the people’s affection in Ankh as they slowly convert to monotheism. Will these gods be forgotten amongst the pantheon of area-control games, or will they etch their names in stone amongst the greats of the genre?
A Note to the Christian: Is playing a board game about pagan gods fighting over who gets to be the one true god bad? I don’t think so. Just because you don’t believe in or endorse something doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the story surrounding it. I don’t believe in Star Wars or Avengers, but I do enjoy the stories. Of course, opinions will defer. What’s important to keep in mind is 1 Corinthians 10:31, in which, as children of God, we are called to do all things to glorify him.
In Ankh, each player assumes the role of an Egyptian god. Each god has at least 1 special power and will usually start the game with at least 1 warrior and 1 monument (depending on the scenario). The goal of the game is to have the most devotion, or to have all your opponents’ gods be forgotten in the sands of time.
On a player’s turn, they will choose 2 actions to perform: move, summon figure, gain followers, or ankh power. Devotion is primarily gained through monument control and fighting battles, so players will use their turns to prepare for monument taking/building and fighting battles.
The game progresses through events, which get triggered on the action-selection board. Once a player chooses an action, that action token is moved one space to the right. Should the token be moved to the end, that will allow the player to trigger the next event (almost always for that player’s benefit). There’s a lot of scumbagging opportunity here because players can pigeon-hole opponents into taking actions they don’t want to take in order to keep you from triggering an event.
Throughout the game, players will unlock ankh powers. All gods have access to the same 12 ankh powers, but only 2 from each tier may be chosen by each god. Players will also recruit guardians to fight for them, similar to Blood Rage. Some ankh powers work better with certain gods, and some guardians are more fun than others, but these mechanics are still fun.
The battles in Ankh are where the scoring takes place. Each player has a hand of the same 7 battle cards. Before each battle, players secretly choose a card to play for that battle and everyone reveals what they chose simultaneously. This is great fun because these cards can add strength, allow you to build a monument, or give you devotion bonuses for winning (or losing!) the battle.
Eventually, there will come a time (about 2/3rds through the game) when the 2 gods in last place must merge, lest they be forgotten by the population. This gameplay mechanic is fun because, after the merge, the 2 players share control of a slightly overpowered god in last place. The downside of it is that, for the most part, the lower god loses all its hard-fought progress. However, better to lose some progress and still have a shot at winning than lose no progress and be stuck in last. The merged god mechanic is a great way to keep players at the bottom of the totem pole engaged in the gameplay, and it works very well.
This game is not designed for 2 players; it’s much better with 3, 4, and 5. However, it is still an enjoyable 2 player experience, especially with all the scenarios in the included scenario booklet. The booklet includes scenarios for all player counts. Some offer big game-changing mechanics like the double-merge, where 4 of the 5 players end up merging into 2 gods. This was a favorite among my group because these games always ended up being close.
Ankh’s components are great. The minis are excellent. CMON has the creation and storage of minis down to a science, and the oversized god minis help give Ankh a table presence like few other games. The game board is good, the scoring sheets are not cardboard but still quality, and the cardboard tokens are good for what they are.
The art is also excellent and gets the Egyptian theme across. I was happy to see that the female figures in Ankh are appropriately clothed. Though their clothing is not puritanical, it doesn’t seem exploitative or inappropriate, which can often be an issue in this genre.
Tomb of Wonders Review
Tomb of Wonders is an expansion for Ankh that includes an additional 13 level 1-3 guardians, a huge alpha guardian, 2 gods, dozens of 3D monuments, and loads of plastic tokens.
Ankh’s table presence is good by itself. Tomb of Wonders elevates it onto a different plain with the 3D monuments, plastic followers, cardboard score sheets, and miscellaneous plastic replacements. As far as components go, the 3D monuments are the stars of the show. They look fantastic on the board, and they hold players’ control tokens in such a cool and intuitive way, it’s almost like video game waypoints.
The guardians in Tomb of Wonders offer more powers and more replay value. Petsuchos, the alpha guardian that can be added to any game as a catch-up mechanism for the player with the least devotion, is an impressive miniature and has been a constant when we play with new players. However, many of the level 3 guardians feel underwhelming. There’s about 3 of them that grant bonus points for monuments, which can be fine, but they’re not as exciting as some of the other guardians in this expansion, like the ones that force the winner of a battle to take followers instead of much-coveted devotion, or the Pharaoh mummy who immediately resets a god’s battle cards.
The gods in Tomb of Wonders are fun and different enough from the base game gods to be worth it. Amek, the crocodile god, gets to add water spaces to the board and can occupy water spaces, thus participating in multiple battles. Ptah, the creator god, gains followers every time other gods build monuments, and he also has access to special follower tokens that count as 2 instead of 1.
In the end, Tomb of Wonders adds more content to the game of Ankh, but not necessarily new features. The only new gameplay mechanics are in the gods and guardians, but especially with the additional guardians, the replayability and nuance of Ankh increases. Tomb of Wonders is not necessary, but we will continue using it now that we have it, especially the plastic monuments.
I’ve never played Blood Rage or Rising Sun, so I’m not going to say which of the 3 is best, but from what I’ve read and heard about them, Ankh is more streamlined, and we were able to teach Ankh to players who’ve primarily played games like Catan, Disney Villainous, and Everdell without problems. Something Ankh does better than a lot of other area-control games is making even newcomers competitors. Games like Scythe and Root are wonderful, but new players will rarely win their first game.
Ankh is an excellent game in and of itself. Add in the aesthetic and gameplay upgrade of Tomb of Wonders, and you have something really special. Eric Lang did an admirable job of including streamlined mechanics in the game, like giving every god access to all 12 ankh powers, having players pick 2 of the 4 actions to perform on their turns, and simplifying battle resolutions. The strategic element is also there because every god has a unique power that changes how each game is played, and the battle cards give lots of room for bluffing and creativity. As an added bonus, the merging god mechanic is fun, fresh, and, more importantly, it works! If Ankh sounds interesting to you, I’d encourage you to check it out.
The Bottom Line
Ankh is an excellent, streamlined area-control game with a fun theme and great minis.