Saturday, 30 March 2013


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Asara is designed by the famous designer team Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling (Tikal, Torres, Java, Cavum). It's a medium-weight Eurogame about building towers. The game is played over four stages. At the start of each stage players receive money and cards, and they use these to buy construction parts to build mighty towers. The board has many districts, most of which have tower parts available for sale. Some offer other things like more money, more cards, and the start player privilege. To use a district, you need to play a card onto a vacant spot in it. The first player to use a district can play a card of any colour, and subsequently anyone wishing to use that district must play a card of that colour, or play two cards (two cards played together is treated as a wild card, but it is costly to need to spend two cards for one action). Towers come in five different colours, ranging from brown (cheapest) to white (most expensive). Tower parts of the same colour cost the same.

The board has many districts, and they have between one to seven slot for cards. Most have three or four.

The most important district is the one for building towers. When you buy tower parts, they go behind your personal screen. You need to use the construction district to actually build towers. A tower must have at least one base part and one turret part. It can have any number of body parts. Hmm... that doesn't sound right. Let me check... ah, it's called trunk parts. When taking the construction action, you can extend existing towers by adding trunk parts to it. You can also upgrade towers by replacing plain trunk parts with fancy trunk parts with golden ornaments.

The central district is the construction district, the most important one of all. When two cards are played face-down, they are treated as a wild card played.

At the end of each of the four stages, you score points for each tower and each golden ornament on your towers. At game end, there is a contest for each of the five tower colours. The highest and second highest in each category score points. There is also a contest for the overall highest (and second highest) tower, and a contest for players with the most towers. The game end scoring is significant, and players must work towards that throughout the game. If I remember correctly, in our game more than half of the final scores came from the game end scoring.

My towers. At the end of a stage, these would earn 8pts. 4pts for the four towers, and 4pts for the four golden ornaments, two each on the white and red towers.

The player screen. You keep your purchased-but-unbuilt tower parts, money and cards behind the screen. The insides of the screen contain reference information. The left panel tells you that at the end of every phase, you earn 1pt for the start player marker, every tower, and every golden ornament. The centre panel tells you how you score the end game. The highest and second highest towers in each colour score points. The overall highest and second highest towers score points too. The player with the most towers also score points. The right panel shows the tower part cost for each colour.

The only piece of information that a card is used to represent is the colour.

The Play

We did a 4-player game. That's the max number of players, and probably also the ideal number. Although some have commented that Asara is a worker placement game, I find that it feels more like an area majority game. The game does have a worker placement mechanism, but most districts have about four slots, so even if someone else plays a card in a district before you do, you are not completely blocked out until all slots are filled. The area majority feel comes from deciding which of the five tower colours you want to compete in. You can see the colours of the tower parts that your opponents are buying so you know where they have chosen to fight. You need to decide where and how hard to fight. Do you go for breadth or depth? Quantity or quality? Brown tower parts may be cheap, but brown towers don't give many points at game end, and your opponents can enter the fray easily if they decide to do so. White towers are expensive, but they can score many points at game end. Others will hesitate to compete because not getting first or second place would likely mean a poor return on investment.

The board is too big to fit on the table.

There is also a game of chicken. Being first to play a card into a district is powerful. You decide the card colour that must be used here for the rest of the current stage. This can be particularly important for the construction district. If an opponent plays a card there before you, and you don't have a card of that colour, it becomes much costlier for you to do construction. So there is pressure to be first to play a card in this district. However playing early may mean you are poorly prepared. Ideally you want to buy many tower parts and then build all at one go, conserving cards. There is a nice tension in seeing who will blink first and play that first card.

You can carry over money to the next round, and sometimes it is better to do so than to spend them on areas which may end up not being worthwhile. Asara is an area majority game, and it is all about picking and prioritising where to fight.

Smile, boss! Only the (Carcasean) shop owner Chong Sean is looking at the camera.

The final scores range between 41 and 56.

The Thoughts

Asara is a clean design. It is a medium-weight Eurogame. The theme is thin - I find it hard to imagine inserting trunk parts to an already completed tower, like playing with Lego. The gameplay is quite interactive, because you need to pay attention to what your opponents are building in order to do well. I find it very much an area majority game. You need to decide where to fight and where to concede. You need to balance between quality and quantity when you build your towers. You need to think of how to best utilise your resources to achieve the biggest possible impact. Throughout the game you need to keep in mind the game end scoring.


__ Eric Martin said...

This is easily one of my favourite recent games. Nothing new or earth-shattering but everything just works together so well that it makes a for a very fun and competitive game. I really think this is under-rated. Needs to be played with the advanced rules (which are really quite simple and easy to explain).

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Indeed Asari reminds me of the Eurogames of the late 90's and early 00's. Clean and crisp. Initially I wasn't aware there are advanced rules, since it was someone else who taught the game. I checked the rules and found out that we were already playing with the advanced rules. They didn't feel like optional rules.