11 May 2020
Life is bazaar
Pleasing two-player games that feel as if they have been actually designed for two people are rare and valuable gems. It can often feel like many games are aimed at larger groups (or rather, foursomes, truth be told) and when they are played with less it feels a bit too roomy on the board, too plentiful in resources, and too much like a reminder that it’s really hard to get friends together these days isn’t it?
Thankfully, Sébastien Pauchon, the creator of market-trading hit Jaipur, is here (with two friends, ironically) to give us twosomes something to spend our tabletop time doing. Ankh’or is a similar market game to Jaipur in that you’re making trades with an automatic market, providing speedy, quick play across or around the table.
The lovely, replayable, smart thing here is the use of the price markers. There is a central fold-out board with small holes for price tokens to randomly be slotted into. What this does is randomize the market each game, making every time you play feel different. This might sound minor but it’s a central pleasure of the game. In one game you might need to pay two charcoal for something, whereas in others you may only need one, but with something else – making charcoal a safer bet to pick up from the resources pile.
Picking up from the resource pile is a tough choice in itself. You can only hold three resources in your hand at the end of your turn, and the most expensive item will take three tokens as outlined in the wonderfully readable marketplace.
But what are we buying from the market? Being set in some kind of genericised ancient Egypt, then it’s usually a scarab, some kind of dog statue, a bird statue, a scribe (who gives you a bonus turn) or, er, a desert. Really it doesn’t matter though. They’re all lovely looking and once you have one, you play it in front of you. Add more to it, matching colours and types for points at the end. Interestingly you can stack another tile on top where four tiles meet, meaning the puzzle of points in front of you becomes a little 3D. In that, there’s a matching game that feel reminiscent of smartphone games without the feeling of losing your mind.
The titular ankh tokens are used to take control of the board. This refreshes the market and removes the first item, shuffling everything down and dealing new items in. This means you can ruin your opponent’s plans to buy a certain item with the tokens they’re holding, and move items you want to cheaper slots. As a game of timing and matching, this taking control is a simple mechanism that brings a great depth to the game.
Between two players the game offers a really nice back and forth, and the speed of the games at 30 minutes (although, it can be a lot quicker when you’re in a flow) makes for games with swings that can then be forgotten about in the next board set up. This lightness makes it perfect for a quiet night in, and it will be, with the slightly ‘thinky’ elements of the games’ strategy sometimes reducing chatter.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN EGGETT
PLAY IT? YES
Ankh’or is an almost perfect two-player game, only slightly diminished by the fact that the game can be a little quiet across the table. But then, maybe that’s what makes it great for company you can be quiet in.
Try this if you liked: Jaipur
The wildly popular market trading board game has a new companion on your shelf.
Designer: Frank Crittin, Grégoire Largey, Sébastien Pauchon
Artist: Gaël Lannurien
Time: 30 minutes
What’s in the box?
◗ Price Board
◗ 15 Price markers
◗ 36 Tokens
◗ 12 Bonus tokens
◗ 55 Tiles
This review originally appeared in the February 2020 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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