Monday, 7 June 2010

Aton

On Sun 6 Jun 2010 Allen came to play Twilight Struggle. He bought the game a long time ago, i.e. when there was no deluxe edition yet, but has never played it, so I offered to teach him to play. This was my 4th game. Allen played USSR (easier especially in the early game) and I played USA. And this happened:

The Soviets were very advanced in the space race, and the Americans had made no progress at all. And this was only the 3rd turn! The Soviets had reached the "play two cards for space race in a turn" space, which allowed them to progress so quickly. Allen succeeded at every roll, and I failed at every roll. Not good. I never caught up.

Later on when I played Bear Trap on Allen, his luck ran out, and he lost many actions because he kept rolling 5's and 6's. I think the game was a little overwhelming for Allen, since there was so much text to read on the cards. He didn't make much use of realignment rolls and coups, which is probably normal in a first game. By mid game the momentum swung to the USA. I also pulled some dirty tricks on him, e.g. tempting him to place influence in India, only to later play the Indo-Pakistani War card to (at a little risk) convert all his influence to mine. Well, this didn't come about because of my familiarity with the game. I only planned this after getting my cards on that particular turn. I won the game in Turn 8 (of 10) by reaching 20VP. I hope I didn't sour the game for Allen. I didn't pull any punches.

For our next game, we played Aton, which Allen brought and taught. And he had sweet revenge by winning all three games.

The Game

Aton is a 2-player-only quite abstract game with an Egyptian theme. There are 4 temples on the board, each with 12 spaces. You place your pieces on these spaces, and also try to remove your opponent's pieces from them. Each temple gives scores differently, with the person having majority in the temple benefiting from the scoring. The game ends when 40pts is reached or exceeded, but there are ways to achieve an instant win too.

Every round, each player draws 4 cards from their respective decks, and secretly decides how to assign the cards to the 4 slots on his side of the board. The players' decks have the same card distribution, so it is only a matter of when you draw which cards. The cards are numbered 1 to 4. When you assign card usage, the numbers on the cards determine (a) whether you score some instant points, (b) turn order, (c) which temple you will take actions in, (d) how many opponent pieces you'll remove, and (e) how many of your own pieces you'll place. Every round you get this mini puzzle to solve. How to make the most out of what you get. You still have long term planning, but sometimes you have to adjust your plans based on what you draw.

The four areas at the centre of the board are the four temples. The blue scarab track running along three sides is the scoring track. The track on the right is the death track, which acts as a countdown timer for the scoring round. The two edges of the board facing the players show four slots for their cards.

The game is mostly driven by the scoring:

  • Cards assigned to Slot 1. Winner scores 2 x difference. This happens every round, and is the only form of scoring outside of the normal scoring round.
  • Temple 1 awards points based on the difference in number of pieces (awarded to the player with majority, of course).
  • Temple 2 awards a flat 5 points.
  • Temple 3 awards points based on the number of pieces of the majority player.
  • Temple 4 awards 3 points for each blue space occupied by the majority player.
  • Some orange spaces award 1 or 2 points.
  • Majority in black spaces get 8 points.
  • Instant win if you fully occupy a temple (12 spaces), no need to wait for scoring round to happen.
  • Instant win if you occupy all green spaces. Ditto above.
  • Instant win if you occupy all yellow spaces. Ditto above.

So you see the core strategy of the game is to choose where to fight, and how to fight most efficiently.

There is an important timing aspect to the game - when scoring is done. There is a death track on the board, which has 8 spaces. Every time you remove an opponent's piece from the board, it goes to the death track. Scoring is done at the end of a round when the death track fills up. In our games it took 2 or 3 scoring rounds for a game to end.

Due to the secret and simultaneous card assignment, the game has double guessing and bluffing. If you want to count cards, it can help. E.g. if your opponent has used many value 4 cards, he'll be low on these until his deck is exhausted and reshuffled.

The Play

I got slaughtered in the first game. I got slaughtered in a different way in the second game. I was defeated in the third game. That means I improved a little eventually.

In all three games we mostly fought over the non-green and non-yellow spaces. Competition over the black spaces was particularly fierce. We didn't spend much on gaining points from the Slot 1 card. Maybe we should explore that more. Allen won the first game with a big margin, reaching 40pt when I wasn't even near 30pts. In the second game he won by filling up Temple 1. I could have stopped him, but I gambled that he would see that, and would not bother to try for victory. I guess one shouldn't gamble when in a risky position. In the third game our scores were closer. He won after the 2nd scoring round at precisely 40pts. He didn't realise it until I reminded him to score for the black spaces.

The games had a lot of tit-for-tat, trying to remove pieces of the other player where they had claimed lucrative spots. There was also some psychological play trying to guess which temple the opponent would visit. The ways the temples score were an important consideration, e.g. in some temples it was good to have as many pieces as possible, whereas in some temples only the majority of 1 was needed.

This was the third game I think. I was red and Allen was blue. The death track on the right was full, which means it was scoring time.

The Thoughts

Aton is a quick game that packs many decisions into such a short play time. It is very abstract. It is also very fluid. You can't defend against attacks. You have to fight back by removing your opponent's pieces from critical locations. I also think of it as an efficiency game - you try to make the most out of your cards. I think the most interesting part of the game is how there are so many ways to fight - the various scoring methods and also the instant victory conditions. It's all about choosing where to fight and where to concede, and sometimes fire breaks out and you are forced to react to your opponent's move.

6 comments:

Afif Ter said...

I am always up for TS :D

blownfreaks said...

Forgot to mention that the game is won by the player who reaches 40 points first. So it is important to focus on the first two temples when the points are close to 40...

After playing TS, I kinda like it but I just dun love it... dunno why...

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Allen,
Hope I didn't spoil the game (TS) for you. My first two games were a long time ago and I don't remember them very well, but I vaguely remember I was a bit blur and didn't enjoy them so much. Only after I revisited it again early this year that I started enjoying it. I had hoped it would be a game that my wife would enjoy playing, to play a similar role as Through the Ages as one of the longer games she'd play with me. Too bad she didn't like it. Well, I guess I can be content enough that she plays TtA.

blownfreaks said...

Well I should thank you for teaching me the game. I hope that I'll enjoy it one day... haha. I tried to explain the game to my wife, she's not interested even to try it... I guess it's not so 'wife-friendly'...

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Yeah, I guess the theme doesn't really appeal to ladies. Or maybe we need to ask Afif how he convinced his wife to play it.

Zach Seidel said...

Hi guys,

I feel like TS is a game that really appeals to history buffs, but it can also have a large appeal toward the Risk and Stratego crowd as well since it's so easy to learn. I bought the deluxe edition a year ago and play it with my 11 year old son all the time.