20 July 2018
Discover your roots in this drafting game of long-lost ancestors
A family-friendly tile-drafting game from prolific designer Eric Lang, Ancestree casts you and your opponents as researchers digging through historical archives to piece together your family trees. Over the course of three quick-playing rounds you’ll choose ancestors from random selections of tiles, slotting them into a growing web of parents, siblings and cousins in an effort to prove that your genealogy is more prestigious than your rivals’.
That turns out to be trickier than you might think. Each tile has a set of possible links that allow it to connect with others. Some join together to form parent-child relationships, while others can combine to represent marriages. If you’re not careful, it’s possible to close down possible connections, leaving yourself with family members you’re not able to place and ending up at a serious disadvantage.
Avoiding painting yourself into these kinds of genetic corners is a challenge, but it’s not the only one you’ll face. Each round sees you score points for establishing chains of descendents with a shared heritage - African, Asian, European, Middle-Eastern or South-American. It means you’ll have to keep a close eye on your opponents, avoiding getting into competition over the same kinds of tiles and ruthlessly snatching the ones they need to maximise their scores.
It makes Ancestree a game of two distinct halves – drafting and building – but they fit together seamlessly, and together offer a succession of interesting decisions compressed into a brisk 20-minute playing time. As an added bonus, it also keeps the complexity to a level that won’t scare off non-gamers.
If you’re in the market for this kind of 'draft things and do something with them' game, though, you’re not short of alternatives. There’s 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner Kingdomino, which sees players drafting territory tiles and piecing them together to build thriving kingdoms. Or Azul, which challenges you to draft coloured tiles, then use them to create beautiful mosaics. The criminally underrated Kerala adds a spatial puzzle, with tiles laid down by wandering elephants. And 2015 city-builder Between Two Cities brings a co-operative twist, with players teaming up with neighbours to draft building tiles to add to their steadily growing towns.
Considered solely on its own merits, Ancestree is fun, fast-paced and lightly thoughtful. It also scores points for its liberal view of relationships: it’s the only board game I can think of that’s ever let me build a bisexual, polyamorous triad. But mechanically, it occupies a similar space to a lot of other releases, and it doesn’t do anything radical that sets it clearly ahead of the pack. If you’ve already found a drafting game you love, you probably don’t need this one as well. If you’re looking for one to add to your collection, it’s worth considering, but it’s just one of several options which are at least as enticing.
Ancestree is a fun, fast-playing drafting game, but those aren’t exactly in short supply, and it’s competing for space on your shelf with the likes of Kerala and Kingdomino. If you don’t already own something similar, though, it’s light, quick and easy to teach.
Designer: Eric M. Lang
Artist: Larry Elmore, Adelheid Zimmerma
Time: 20 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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