Trajan - Board Game Box Shot

Trajan

, | Published: 2011

Set in ancient Rome, Trajan is a development game in which players try to increase their influence and power in various areas of Roman life such as political influence, trading, military dominion and other important parts of Roman culture.

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“The Best Game of 2011That You Probably Did Not See.”

Background
Trajan (rhymes with Cajun) is a game that was designed by Stefan Feld and released in 2011. Stefan Feld is considered by many to be one of the best designers in boardgaming right now. Recent outputs include The Castles of Burgundy (Die Burgen von Burgund), In the Year of the Dragon, Notre Dame, Luna, The Speicherstadt, Macao and Stasbourg. I believe Trajan to be his best so far, but it has not been widely available in the US until recently. It was released at Essen (Spiel) in Germany in October of 2011 but did not find distribution in the US until August of 2012. I have had an imported copy for a while and have really enjoyed it. Let me tell you why.

Gameplay
The theme is probably the weakest part of Trajan so I will simply say that it is a development game set in ancient Rome and you are trying to Roman type things like control the Senate, military conquest, and trading goods.

There is a main board where all of the players compete for victory points by taking various actions and individual player mats where players select those actions and store the tiles they win. Victory is achieved by having the most points after three rounds.

The mechanics of Trajan are where it shines. As you look at the main board you see six distinct areas where you can perform actions:

1. Seaport
You draw goods either face up or blind or ship goods for victory points. Shipped goods also assist in end of game scoring.

2. Forum
The forum is the easiest action to undersand; just pick a tile from what is available. The tiles collected here can help you meet the people’s demands or perform bonus actions.

3. Military
With the military action you are either building up your military camp, capturing tiles (same types that are available in forum), or claiming regions for victory points.

4. Senate
The senate action is the most direct way to score victory points. You get points for simply taking the action and the two with most votes get a special end of game scoring token

5. Construction
The construction action is all about capturing certain building tiles. These tiles will give extra actions or end of game bonus victory points.

6. Trajan
The Trajan action lets you choose a Trajan tile from 6 different piles. The Trajan tile is placed on your individual player mat in the appropriate spot and allows you to perform additional actions and score points when it is later fulfilled. Let’s look at how this works.

One of the best mechanics of the game is how one has to activate an action or fulfill a Trajan tile. To look at this we will turn our attention back to the individual player mats. If you have ever played Mancala, this will sound familiar. On the player mat there are six bowls forming a circle. In each of these bowl s are some action markers (there 12 of them in six different colors). On your turn you pick up all of the action markers from one bowl and begin placing them in the bowls in a clockwise fashion. The last piece you place determines the action you take as each bowl has one of the six above actions associated with it. For example, if you pick up three action markers from Bowl #1 (the seaport action bowl) and placed one in Bowl #2 , one in Bowl #3 and the last one in Bowl #4, you would take the action associated with Bowl #4 (the senate action). This is not a difficult mechanic but at times you realize that you really want to take a certain action and cannot land there on this turn. The Trajan tiles add another degree of challenge to this mechanic. To activate them not only must you land in the correct bowl but you must have the correct color combination in that bowl (hence the six different color action markers). It is actually very fun and challenging but you must plan ahead.

Summary
The game plays surprising fast for its depth at about 30-35 minutes a player and scales beautifully for 2, 3 or 4 players. I would recommend taking 20 minutes to read through the rule book together if all new players or better yet, find someone who has played it before and have them teach you. Set up will take about 10 minutes the first time as there are a lot of pieces (200+).

As you can tell I love the game but let me give you my thoughts on who probably would or would not like the game.

This game is great for:
• Stephan Feld fans. If you like his other games you will probably like this one. Like I said, I feel this is the best game he has made so far.
• Experienced players looking for something more challenging than a standard worker placement game. It has more depth than say a Stone Age or El Grande.
• Players who like to think about strategy and tactics in their gaming.
• Strategy, Avid, and Power Gamers.

This game probably won’t work for:
• New gamers. This should not be a game you should try out on someone who is new to the hobby. This is a game to work up to.
• People who suffer from analysis paralysis (translation: they take long turns analyzing the perfect move or freeze up with tough decisions).
• For players who want to feel like a Roman soldier or senator. This game is not dripping in theme.
• Family and Social Gamers.

 
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I play blue
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108 of 118 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 5
“What Rome Built in a Day”

What Is It About? – An Overview of the Game
In Trajan, you are working towards making Rome great and get the approval of the people. This is accomplished through construction projects, subjugating lands within the Empire, and meeting the people’s demands. You must also skillfully progress through the Senate in hopes of becoming consul while dealing with the Forum and shipping goods out to your trade partners.

The game plays 2-4 in about ½ hour each player (and even less with experience). The main mechanic is similar to Mancala, an ancient game of “harvesting and sowing” into pits. This is how actions are selected on your turn and some bonuses awarded.

What Do I Get? – The Components in the Box
This game is loaded with cardboard tokens and wooden pieces. Players each get painted wooden cylinders to mark their Mancala pits, wooden meeples and a Leader, along with scoring discs and a wooden arch. Each player gets their own player board to organize all of their components. There is a single time track marker also made of wood that is placed on a track that matches the number of players (the more players, the longer the track).

A central board outlines the actions. It is well organized to keep the game flowing. On this board are placed most of the cardboard tokens (until they are taken by the players). This includes the forum/province tiles, the construction projects, the Trajan tiles and ship tiles. A few other tokens are kept off the board like the demand tokens, season tokens, bonus tiles, and +2 action markers.

A deck of commodities rounds out the components used during the game. A drawstring bag is included to help randomize the bonus tiles (since they are double sided). The rule book is full color and very straight forward.

What Do I Do? – Playing the Game
The main mechanism is the mancala or “action circle” that starts the game with 2 cylinders in each of 6 trays. The 12 cylinders are made up of 6 different colors. On a player’s turn, they must pick up all the cylinders of one tray, announce the number of cylinders, and then “seed” each of the trays in clockwise order one at a time. The last tray to receive a cylinder is the one that is activated this turn. In addition, if the last tray to receive a cube has cylinder colors matching a Trajan tile next to this action, the Trajan tile scores points and is resolved (explained below).

The other players move a time track a number of spaces equal to the number of cylinders picked up. Play then proceeds to the next player who likewise performs an action by reallocating his cylinders and taking an action. If the time marker lands on or crosses the start space, a “quarter season” is up and a new Demand token is revealed. Play continues on. If this is the 4th time that the start space has been reached, no new demand tile is revealed. Instead the end of season occurs. Points are scored (or lost), bonus tiles awarded, and part of the board cleared and reset. A new season takes place, again going 4 rounds. There is a total of 4 seasons (16 “rounds”) and the game is over. Final scoring takes place and the player with the most points win.

Actions
The heart of the game is planning out your redistribution of cylinders to get the right action. Collecting the bonus of a Trajan tile is just that – a Bonus. There are 6 actions.

Seaport Action
While you start the game with 3, this is where you get more commodity cards. When you activate this, you can collect cards or play cards. You have 2 options for collecting cards and 2 options for playing them. At the game start, two cards are placed face up to form 2 discard piles. You may draw 1 of the face up cards. OR draw 2 face down cards, discarding one from your hand (either one you held previously or just drawn). OR you may place cards on the table (but not if you drew cards). You can either place 1 or 2 on the table for potential end game scoring and then drawing as many as you placed (making this a 3rd way to draw cards with this action). OR you can place sets of cards according to the ships to gain immediate points (and also potential end game scoring). For example, one ship allows you to place different pairs of cards with each pair played giving you an additional 5 points. The first person to play to a specific ship gets the full points and then flips the ship over. Any subsequent play gets reduced points (these ships will be reset at the start of each season).
BONUS: Cards you play in front of you may score you 2 or 3 points each if you have the corresponding Bonus Tiles.

Military Action
This option allows you to move meeples from your player board to the military camp, making them legionnaires for the rest of the game. OR it allows you to move your Leader from base camp/province to an adjacent province (collecting a forum tile if available). OR it allows you to “teleport” a legionnaire to the province with your Leader. If you are the first legionnaire there, you get the full VPs of the province. Otherwise, you score the points minus 3 points for each other player’s legionnaire there (to a minimum of zero). Each player is capped at one legionnaire per province.
BONUS: Legionnaires you teleport may score you 1 or 2 points each if you have the corresponding Bonus Tile.

Construction Action
This option allows you to move meeples from your player board to the worker camp, making them workers for the rest of the game. OR it allows you to build a construction tile. If this is your first worker, you can place him anywhere; otherwise you must place the worker orthogonally adjacent to your previously placed worker. You score the points for the tile immediately (between 2-5 VP) and collect it on your board. If this is the first of that specific type to be placed on your board (there are 5 types), you also get to perform an immediate action corresponding to that construction type. The “missing” action is the Construction action so you can’t build to build again in this way.
BONUS: For each set of 3 tiles that are the same, you score 10 points at end game. For a set of 4 matching tiles, you score 20 points. Also, workers who built may score you 1/2 or 1 point each if you have the corresponding Bonus Tile.

Senate Action
The more a player takes this action, the farther along he goes on the senate track. Each step nets him more points (starting at 2 all the way up to 8 points). In addition, at the end of each season, the player farthest along on the track and having the most senate tile points selects one of two available Bonus tokens. The second place player gets the other bonus tile but must flip it to the lower scoring gray side. The track resets at the start of each quarter and two new bonus tiles are drawn.
BONUS: Collecting the yellow side of the Bonus tile awards 2 or 3 points each if you have the corresponding Bonus Tile.

Trajan Action
While you start the game with 3 Trajan tiles, you collect more by taking this action. The wooden arch sits next to one of the 6 actions. When you draw a Trajan tile, you must place it where the Arch currently sits and then advance the Arch to the next open space. In this way, there is a little less control over what you can place and where but with proper planning, you can usually activate the bonus easily. Trajan tiles come in 6 flavors. Some give you all points while the rest give you a mixture of points and certain other bonus (such as moving meeples from your board to either the worker or military camp). One of the more unique ones allows you to gain a “+2” token that in combination with certain Forum tiles can grant you to take the same action up to 3 times in one turn. Some Trajan tiles meet the demand of the people but are not spent (like the corresponding forum tiles). So an early investment in these tiles can be used multiple times.

Forum Action
Placing here allows you to take either one green forum tile or one yellow extra turn tile. The action is simple but there are a variety of tiles. The extra action tiles correspond to the 6 actions on your board. When you take the corresponding action any time during the game, you may spend the extra action token (it is removed from the game) to perform the same action once again. If this particular action has the +2 token under it (from a previously collected Trajan bonus), you can perform this action up to 3 times total. The majority of the tiles correspond to the People’s Demand. You collect these in order to spend them at the end of the season in order to avoid losing points. A handful of tiles are “wild” and help you to complete Construction sets (for end game scoring), match commodity cards for shipping bonuses, or spend an extra action or demand token of your choice. The final set of tiles available in the Forum is the Senate tokens. These must be spent at the end of each season and add to your accumulated Senate Track score to determine the Consul for the next season.
BONUS: Besides using the wild tokens to fill in sets, if you manage to hang on to a People Demand token you can score 6 or 9 points once if you have the corresponding Bonus Tile.

End of Round
As mentioned, once the time marker reaches the start space, a new Demand token is revealed so everyone is aware of what will be needed at the end of the season. The first three rounds of a season each reveal one while the fourth round does not reveal something new but instead calls for the demands to be fulfilled.

End of Season
First, everyone must spend the forum tiles matching the demand token (or show they have the equivalent Trajan tile) and lose points for anything missing. The Consul and 2nd place winners on the Senate track gain their bonus markers and all markers are reset. Then all forum tiles are discarded and refilled. Any provinces that are completely empty (no tokens or meeples) are filled up with new forum tiles as well. And ships on their gray side are reset to the blue side. The season marker advances and the game continues.

End of Game
After the scoring of the 4th season, the game ends. Players score points for all unused items. One point is given for each unused legionnaire still in the camp, for each unused worker still in the camp, for each unplayed commodity card in hand, and for each unresolved Trajan tile on your action circle. Bonus points are scored for sets of 3 or 4 construction tiles. Finally all bonus tiles are scored based on their type. The player with the most points win.

What Do I Think? – Final Thoughts
This game lived up to the hype. Stephen Feld is a very creative designer mixing an eclectic set of themes with an interesting mix of mechanics. Everything is tightly woven together and some nice combos can be forged into one action. Having played several of Feld’s games, I think this is one of his best. There are many paths to victory. You can focus on one area and try to dominate it or you can dabble in many actions and have a healthy score. You can frustrate the plans of others but are never totally blocked from scoring. While the scoring is very fluid and can see one player get to a commanding lead, refocusing your priorities can have you caught up in no time (especially if you focus on the 9 point Trajan tiles).

I have played this game with 2, 3 and 4 players and it scales incredibly well. The only difference in set up is using one less column of forum tiles per player missing making the Peoples Demand mix a little more narrow and unpredictable. Given the layers of depth (not so much complexity), this game is fairly easy to teach and plays extremely fast. Even with 4 new players, this can be finished in less than 2 hours and you felt like you played a nice heavy game.

It is my new favorite game, worthy of the hype it received while a North American print was in the works, and something I highly recommend.

What Next? – Other Recommendations for this Game
Stephen Feld has many solid designs under his belt. If you like this game, moving to one of the others is the next logical step. Some of his higher ranked games are Notre Dame, In the Year of the Dragon, and Castles of Burgundy. For an interesting action selection and plotting future turns with colored tokens, Macoa is the most reminiscent of Trajan. For the sheer magnitude of options and interrelating things, I found Luna to be the most similar to this game.

If you like the Roman theme, another set collection semi-worker placement that is great, is Tribune from Fantasy Flight Games, designed by Karl-Heinz Schmiel (considered the grandfather of the Euro-game design movement with his award winning Die Macher). It is a fast paced card collecting game with multiple scoring opportunities that reminded me quite a bit of Trajan.

 
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“A Complex and Heavy Masterpiece (with a Roman theme)”

Overview

Trajan is set against a Roman backdrop in which players participate in various aspects of Roman life to acquire victory points. It is a deep and heavy game and presents many unique mechanisms that combine to provide a complex and engaging gaming experience.

Components & Production Quality

Trajan has no dearth of components, which come mainly in the form of cardboard tiles. These cardboard tiles are sturdy and functional, consisting of simple iconic imagery that serves its purpose well, but adds little to the overall thematics of the game. The tiles are primarily squares of two distinct sizes (a larger size used for the Trajan actions and a smaller size used for all of the board-placement activities). Both are well-sized, neither too large nor too small. Two other tile categories deserve particular note: the shipping tiles used for the Seaport action are fashioned in the shape of sailing vessels and are double-sided, presenting two distinct opportunities for players; and the bonus scoring tiles – randomly drawn from a bag throughout the game – which are tablet-shaped and, likewise, double-sided, providing differing degrees of potential.

In addition to the cardboard tiles, Trajan utilizes a quantity of wooden tokens and pieces which form the primary interactive elements for the players. The most prominent of these pieces is the large Arch of Trajan, which provides the most tactile and impressive component of the game, but unfortunately, serves a limited function. Meeples representing the legionnaires and workers at the players’ disposal, and the discs which track scoring and other measures of accomplishment, are standard fare, but suitable implementations for the mechanics of the game. Finally, the octagonal action markers, of which the players receive a set of 12 (2 each of 6 different colors), are uninspiring in and of themselves, but form the focus of the players’ interaction with the game.

The only remaining components of note are the commodity cards used for shipping and scoring actions. With simple art matching that of the aforementioned tiles, they are functional – thematic, even – but lack artistic depth or appeal.

The main game board is large, with ample space to place the many components which occupy it throughout the various stages of the game. The layout and design is pleasing, offering a Romanesque tableau with pastel, subdued coloring. This color palette and artistic presentation help prevent the busy board from seeming overbearing and intimidating, though I feel the neutral tone sacrifices a degree of immersion that might otherwise be obtained. All in all, however, the board is wonderfully laid out and spacious, permitting all of the core areas to be accessed and analyzed with ease.

The individual player boards comprise the last aspect of game play. Like the main game board, the player boards are well designed to accommodate the many tiles and tokens that are necessary for play without being too cramped or busy. The player boards are more spartan than the main board, lacking any immersive imagery other than the iconography already incorporated into the various tiles, but this serves its purpose well enough.

Ultimately, while the components and artwork are suggestive of the Roman theme presented by Trajan, they lend themselves more toward a utilitarian starkness which doesn’t deliver on a deep thematic experience, yet still presents a well-conceived aesthetic that helps makes this heavy game more approachable.

Setup

Setup for a game of Trajan is a somewhat unruly beast, but it is a beast that can be tamed. Trajan tiles must be separated and placed into similar stacks, construction and forum tiles must be randomized and distributed across the board, commodity cards must be shuffled and formed into draw and discard decks, bonus tiles must be randomized within the linen draw bag. On the individual player boards, the octagonal action markers must be placed in two’s on the six available “bowls” of the action circle.

Further complicating the setup process, however, is that certain actions must be performed in a certain order. Action markers must be placed before players may select their starting Trajan tiles. Starting bonus tiles must be drawn before additional bonus tiles are allocated to the Senate action spot on the main game board. The commodity decks must be established before player’s draw their initial allotment of commodities. And before all of that, a randomly selected start player must be determined (by any method the players like).

This is not as onerous as it all seems, and with repetition becomes easier, but is a factor of consideration. I have yet to setup a game without having to fall back to the rulebook to insure something has not been overlooked, but for any suitably complex game that offers the variety which Trajan does, setup will always be a chore.

The Mancala

The mancala… intriguing… intimidating.
The heart and soul of Trajan.
A game within a game.
A puzzle.
Thematic? Not really.
Fun? Absolutely.

The mancala is the core mechanic of Trajan that makes the game more than just a worker placement game. It is the very essence of Trajan and in all likelihood the deciding factor on whether you love Trajan or you hate Trajan.

I will not venture to explain the pure mechanics involved with moving the action markers about, but rather strive to illuminate its impact on the game. The mancala covers two key components of game play, but only one of these is critical to victory.

First and foremost, the mancala determines which of the six core actions you may take on your turn. By manipulating your action markers from one bowl to another, you will end on one that will permit you to perform an action (hopefully the action you want to perform and strategically manipulated your way towards). Manipulating the mancala in this manner is simpler and easier than it would, at first, seem.

The second function of the mancala – and, by far, the trickier – is placement of the vari-colored action markers into specific bowls by which to score Trajan tiles. This is the puzzle the mancala presents. Each Trajan tile requiring two action markers of specific color to be present in the bowl when the action space is triggered. Here one must plan ahead… strategize… even plot. A miscalculation in marker placement utterly ruin your plans… or, perhaps, merely throw them off by several turns.

Though the mancala presents itself an imposing foe, it is far easier to manipulate than one may first think, and a player can generally achieve any desired action with little planning or difficulty. Activating the Trajan tiles with proper action marker placement is more difficult, but less vital to achieving victory. Though the bonus and opportunities presented by the Trajan tiles are nothing to ignore, they are, in general, less influential on final scoring than proper play of the main game board actions.

Gameplay

Trajan is all about the acquisition of victory points, and this is based upon two factors: time and action. The full game is divided into four quarters of a year in Roman life, with each quarter marked by the passing of four rounds, each of which comprises a complete cycle of the time marker. The total number of positions available on the time marker is dependent on the number of players, but the passage of time is not a steady progression, but rather a variable dependent upon the movement of action markers on the players’ mancalas. The more action markers moved, the faster time progresses. This is an ingenious mechanism drawing upon both thought and luck rather than on individual action. Thus, on one turn a given activity may only advance the time marker once, while on another turn, the same action may advance the time marker by 6 or more places.

The actions available to players thematically cover six aspects of Roman life, each offering opportunity to garner victory points. It is among and within these actions that the true beauty and complexity of Trajan comes alive. The actions are well-balanced, and none present a sure path to victory. Though all paths need not be pursued, none may be wantonly ignored, less an opponent achieve unhindered dominance and an easy path to victory. Furthermore, the game interweaves the actions through the various tiles, resulting in more strategic depth: a tile acquired via military action may contribute toward a senatorial victory; an extra action tile won in the forum may permit additional shipping actions. This interplay of free and extra actions is vital to a well-planned strategy.

The actions available to players are Seaport, Forum, Senate, Military, Construction, and Trajan. Due to the cleverness designed into the actions, each is almost a mini-puzzle unto itself, requiring forethought and, in some cases, multiple turns to reap rewards.

The Seaport action provides the players an opportunity to acquire commodity cards, ship commodities for victory points, or put cards into their personal play area for later scoring. This requires a multi-staged approach, as it may take several turns to acquire the variety of commodities necessary for a successful shipping venture, for commodity cards are only acquired one or two at a time. The victory points attained through the Seaport action, however, are not insignificant and well worth the time investiture.

The Forum action is the most straight-forward of all. Simply select a tile of one’s choice from those available in the Forum area of the game board. There are not limitations or restrictions in place… no “mini-game” to contend with. One need only consider the benefits offered by the available tiles and choose according to strategy and opportunity.

The Senate action, too, is relatively straight-forward. Take the action, move forward on the Senate track, gain immediate victory points, and, if you have the most votes at the end of the round, gain a bonus tile. Rinse and repeat. The senatorial race is only complicated by the fact that additional votes beyond those earned by one’s position on the Senate track may be acquired via the Forum and/or Military actions.

The Military action permits players to conquer the barbarian lands north of the Italian peninsula, gaining spoils of war and victory points along the way. A successful military career in Trajan requires focus and commitment, however, as it will take many turns to recruit one’s legionnaires, maneuver one’s leader, and consolidate one’s forces for scoring. A less focused military strategy will garner quick rewards here and there, but true military dominance requires discipline.

The Construction action permits players to obtain tiles from the Construction area of the game board. The first of each type of construction tile acquired (of which there are five different types) gains the player a bonus action. Each acquired tile also grants an immediate victory point reward. Beyond that, the Construction action is about set collection. Sets of 3 or 4 tiles garner significant end-game victory points. The “puzzle” offered by the Construction action is that, as with the Military action, one must recruit workers, and after the first worker is placed, subsequent workers must be placed in adjacent spots. This requires thought as to where best to place and expand one’s workforce to obtain the tiles desired.

Finally, the Trajan action… the Trajan action serves only to permit players to select additional Trajan tiles from those available on the main game board and place them around the mancala (following strict placement rules). While the Trajan action itself presents no puzzle, the Trajan tiles and mancala form the over-arching puzzle that infuses the entire game.

Final Thoughts

Trajan is an incredible game that offers deep strategic choices and an engrossing gaming experience. The interactions presented by the mancala combine with the interplay of the various actions to present a unique, complex, and heavy adventure in the Roman age. Trajan is not for the faint of heart, and I would have loved a more immersive, thematic experience, but I find nothing inherent to the game that is not commendable.

 
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I play yellow
Tinkerer
Gamer - Level 4
8
49 of 82 gamers found this helpful
“'Feldian' Point Salad with extra math for those who want it.”

Let me preface this by saying I really like this game. There is so much going on that it crippled the two ‘mathy’ gamers in my group. My friends that like to think out every move for that optimal choice, not only for this turn but the next, had a really tough go at this one. I watched one of thier heads explode.

The basic premise is we are all trying to expand our power base in 110AD Rome. Players use their boards to manipulate the main board. There are 6 sections of the main board each with unique rules. Player pick up all of the colored pieces in one bowl and distribute them, one per bowl, starting

The rules of the game may seem daunting, but really aren’t that complex. Feld takes the Mancala mechanic and throws it into this heavy Euro. Proper manipulaion of the colored bits in the bowls yield you bonuses, but if you concentrate just on this portion you will miss out on a lot of the action elsewhere.

The game is fairly abstract, but has enough of a rice-paper thin theme that is good enough for my play group.

 
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BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester
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8
46 of 96 gamers found this helpful
“As expected from Feld!”

Well, since I’m a fan of Feld’s games, this review could look like bias toward it favors. But, nevertheless, it’s a great game. If you already played Castles of Burgundy and liked it then there’s a good chance that you like this one better. It’s heavier and meatier than Castles of Burgundy and presents no luck of the dice.
I must admit though, it has more steep learning curve but in the same way, very high replay value. At first you won’t know what hit you, what you’re suppose to go for and how to win this game. But with more and more play, you will get well know enough with the strategy and tactic of your own in given circumstances.
There are many ways that you can choose, but the key point is to focus on several aspects not all of them. Try to focus on 2 or 3 aspects while meeting the people’s demand and you’ll be fine.
There is another unique mechanic in the game, which lies on player’s boards. The ‘mancala’ system that really is the core of your actions. This one really put you on the task of planning and managing your actions based on the action markers placed on your board. It’s a double edge sword, which though it’s brilliant, but in the same time it really pan out the AP prone syndrome for each player.

 

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