Sunday, 28 February 2010

Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation

I'm always easily attracted to more complex card games that are good for 2 players, because of how Michelle and I enjoyed and played very many games of Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper and Race for the Galaxy. We also enjoy Through the Ages, a civilisation themed game. So when I had the opportunity to buy Uruk, a civ themed card game which is only available in German, I went for it.

The Game

Uruk's cards are various types of inventions that your civilisation can develop. You have 5 slots in front of you to play invention cards. If you use up all slots, you can replace an old invention with a new one. Above each invention card, you can also build settlements, a small one being a village, and a big one being a city. By game end, scoring is primarily based on a combination of the value of your invention cards and the type of settlements you have above them.

There are two types of resources you can collect in the game - cards and cubes. I guess this game is quite frank in calling cubes cubes. You use cards to make inventions (e.g. discarding 3 pink cards to make a Level 3 pink invention). You use cubes to build settlements. The inventions are what create variability in the game and differences between players. They give various benefits, mostly related to making inventions or building settlements, e.g. some allow you to collect more cubes, some make inventions cheaper. Some also give bonus points.

Then there are gods and disasters. Some penalise the players, some help the players, and most require some form of bidding among the players to determine who benefits / suffers more. The game uses an omen system. When a god/disaster card is drawn, it is put face up on the table and does not immediately take effect. The card only takes effect when the next god/disaster card is drawn. So the players may have some time to prepare for it.

The timer of the game is the settlement stones placed on the four epoch cards. In each epoch of the game there are different increasing costs for building (or expanding) a settlement. Different numbers of settlement stones on the epoch cards mark the progress of the game. The game enters the end phase when the Epoch IV card runs out of settlement stones.

The Play

In the first game that Michelle and I played, I focused a lot on inventions that allowed me to collect cubes, and I won that game with a landslide victory. In the few subsequent games that I played, the emphasis had been on collecting cubes. You almost have to always use one of your three actions on your turn to collect cubes, so that you don't fall behind in building settlements. If you are slow, the settlement stones get more and more expensive. I'm not sure yet whether the emphasis on cubes is a necessity. I have not played many games yet afterall. But even if it is, I'm not entirely sure it'd be a problem. Maybe I need to try an invention (i.e. card) centred strategy to find out.

The game comes only in German, so I had to download translations from The cards use icons only - no text. So learning the special abilities of the cards take a little some. Some of the special abilities are not straight-forward. Some effort also needed to look up the effects of the god and disaster cards.

I made one big mistake when teaching this game. At game end, every four cubes are worth 1pt, not one cube one point. This severely distorted our games. Collecting cubes was overpowered. Chong Sean, if you are reading this, you actually came last in the game we played, not second. :-)

Game setup. Four epoch cards in the centre, with settlement stones (white discs) stacked on them. Then there are three face-up cards from which the active player can choose. There is already a discard deck at game start, because you have to remove a number of cards depending on the number of players.

Some of my cards at an early stage of the game. They are all focused on collecting cubes. The text is in German. It has no impact to gameplay.

My civilisation at mid game - two villages (single disc stacks) and two cities. And all inventions are cube-collecting inventions. I like the card back. There are arrows in 3 of the corners to tell you which side is up. Being obsessive compulsive about cards being the right side up, this is very soothing for me.

Game end. I still have not replaced my start invention (leftmost pink one, which already has all 3 pink cubes exhausted and is basically of no use now). I have 6 inventions before the second rightmost pink invention allows me to have an extra invention. Then the rightmost red invention also gives me bonus points depending on how many different colours of cards I have in my hand, if I have inventions in all 4 colours.

21 Feb 2010. A three player game with Michelle and Chong Sean. At least in the first three games you'll need to have the rules and the reference sheets (explaining what the cards do) handy.

The Thoughts

Uruk is a medium complexity card game. It is a development and building game. It feels less like a card game to me compared to other card games, because it feels like you are less at the mercy of luck of the draw. There definitely is luck, but you can always plan around the cards you draw. I think I feel this way because there are a few steps you need to take from the time you draw a card until the time you make the invention or build the settlement. You don't get a powerful card and then simply play the card to reap the benefits immediately. Also there are 3 face-up cards to choose from, Ticket to Ride / China-style, which reduces dependency on luck of the draw.

Uruk won't replace Race for the Galaxy as our default card game, but it's a relatively quick and interesting alternative.


Chong Sean said...

1st game is a learning game, i don't mind losing...
but you missed out how you cheat in your 1st game versus michelle that you won with "landslide victory" :p

Hiew Chok Sien said...

yeah... I used the "take cube" abilities of my inventions twice on the same turn...

learning game, learning game...


wankongyew said...

My first thought when seeing the name of this game was the Uruk-hai orcs from Lord of the Rings. I guess it's a completely unrelated game.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

That's what it reminds me of too. I never found out what Uruk (in the card game) meant or where it came from.

I just did a quick wikipedia search and found this:

Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.[1]

Uruk is eponymous of the Uruk period, the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia spanning ca. 4000 to 3100 BC, succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period of Sumer proper. Uruk played a leading role in the early urbanization of Sumer in the mid 4th millennium BC. At its height c 2900 BC, Uruk probably had 50,000–80,000 residents living in 6 km2 of walled area; the largest city in the world at the time.[1] The semi-mythical king Gilgamesh according to the chronology presented in the Sumerian king list ruled Uruk in the 27th century BC. The city lost its prime importance around 2000 BC, in the context of the struggle of Babylonia with Elam, but it remained inhabited throughout the Seleucid and Parthian periods until it was finally abandoned during the Sassanid period shortly before the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia.