Introducing Antike Duellum
The quest for light civ game: A medium weight civilization game that plays in a couple of hours has long been one of the elusive holy grails of board-gaming. The criteria that many of us look for in such a game include historical flavour and theme, economic and military elements, some kind of civilization technology, a good map and components, strategic choices while avoiding the extremes of being overly complex or overly simple, and a reasonable time-frame in which it can be played. The good news is that there are certainly some great candidates in this genre. For some examples, see the GeekList The ideal medium weight civilization game: a quest for economic, military and technological bliss. When I first began immersing myself more seriously in hobby board-gaming, I was eager to get hold of a civ game like this, and after some careful research, that's how my early collection came to include Antike.
Introducing Antike: Antike, designed by Mac Gerdts and released in the year 2005, was an impressive civilization game with strong euro elements, and certainly ticked off most of the boxes of what most people look for in a lighter medium weight civilization game. I haven't regretted my purchase, and have enjoyed many memorable plays of it since. Antike features the rondel that has become a staple of many of Mac Gerdts' game designs, as well as a lovely map and components. Technological development is an important part of the game, as are the elements of building up your civilization with the help of cities and resources, and military conflict with your legions and galleys. It's true that not everyone appreciated the luckless combat, which does lend itself to a somewhat abstract and clinical flavour. But for a euro, Antike is an impressive game. It's presently out of print, but the current word is that a new edition is on the way, which is in itself a positive attestation of how good it is as a lighter style civilization game.
A two player variant: While Antike excels with more players at the table, the rulebook did include a couple of ways for playing it as a two player game, either by having each player manage two independent nations, or by having each player manage a single nation consisting of twice as many pieces (i.e. two colours). Neither was entirely satisfactory, and so players tried coming up with better solution for a two player game. In 2006 Tim Taylor proposed what later became known as the popular "half-map" variant, which suggested a configuration in which a two-player game be played on just half of the map, following the usual rules. With the input of several other Antike enthusiasts, myself included, some revisions to various costs and victory conditions were suggested. With further polishing and refinement, a more polished version of the half-map variant for two players became available (file). You can find the discussion and results in the thread The Definitive Two Player Antike Variant: Using Half the Map. In 2007 the designer himself contributed to the discussion, and even posted an alternative separate map with some revised costs for arming and technology that could be used for this purpose.
An official version: Evidently Mac Gerdts liked the ideas that people had for the two player game with the half map variant, and so he continued to develop an official version of Antike along these lines that would work with just two players. After a BGG announcement about an expansion kit, at the game fair in Essen 2011 Mr Gerdts demonstrated a prototype of this new two-player version of Antike (see video). At that time it was called Casus Belli, and for 20 euros gamers could purchase a prototype copy that would enable them to play it with the game material from the original Antike. The expansion kit included a limited edition of the board, the necessary 25 event-cards, and the rules. In 2012 the final version of this new two player game was released by publisher PD-Verlag, under the new title Antike Duellum.
The final result: So that brings us to the game that is the subject of this review: Antike Duellum. It is a separate two-player game based on these modified rules from Antike, and doesn't require the components from the original game. In the rulebook, Mac Gerdts acknowledges the input and ideas of many people, including a mention of the forums, so I think it's safe to say that BGGers had a hand in making this game come about, at least in inspiring some of it. But Antike Duellum is not just an expansion, and plays somewhat differently than the original game and adds some new ideas. It comes with a new double sided board giving the possibility of two different scenarios, and a number of rules have been modified from the original multiplayer Antike to make it a more slick and satisfying experience. So let's show you what you get, how it works, and tell you what I think, including how it compares with the original game.
Let's begin with our game-box, which immediately immerses us in the historical flavour of the theme, with its vivid image of an ancient Greek warrior.
This edition of the game is a dual English-German production, and so the text on the back of the box is all in German (including a game overview and component list). Fortunately for English speaking folks like me, there is a reassuring line: "English materials also included".
Here's what we'll get inside the Antike Duellum box:
● 1 double-sided game board
● 74 wooden pieces (24 galleys, 24 legions, 2 markers, 12 disks, 12 temples)
● 46 city tokens & walls (34 cities, 12 walls)
● resource tokens (gold, marble, iron)
● 54 cards (21 personages, 27 events, 6 references)
● 2 special units
● instructions (rulebook, quick intro, almanac)
The main board is double-sided, with one side featuring a scenario for Rome vs Carthage.
Rome vs Carthage
The other side of the map features a scenario for Greece vs Persia.
Greece vs Persia
Territories: The map itself is divided into territories, most of which feature a city, and are marked by red or blue borders. Adjacent territories with a red border can be crossed with legions, while adjacent territories with a blue border can be crossed with galleys.
Rondel: At the top left is the rondel that players use to determine the action they will choose on their turn.
Recruitment box: On opposite corners of the board are two recruitment boxes for legions/galleys, one in brown and the other in beige, representing the two player colours.
Know-How track: A technology "know-how" track is at the bottom right.
Scoring track: On the left of the board is a victory point track, with 9 points required to win the game.
To keep track of the actions they are choosing on the rondel, each player gets a game marker in their colour.
The main units that players will recruit and move on the board are legions and galleys. Each player gets 12 of each unit type in their colour, brown or beige. Legions can move across land territories, and are represented by wooden meeples sculpted along the lines of our Greek warrior cover boy.
Galleys can move across water territories, and are represented by attractive wooden boats in each player colour.
There's also two cardboard tiles representing two special units, an Admiral for the beige player and a Commander for the brown player. These have special powers and are only needed for an optional variant.
There are six discs in each player colour. Players will use five of these on the "Know-How" track on the game board, to indicate which technologies they have developed and have access to. The sixth disc is used on the scoring track.
Temples will assist players with the defense and the resource production of their cities, and are indicated with these 12 white temple-shaped wooden pieces.
As the game progresses, players can pay resources to build cities in territories that their units travel to. These are indicated with square cardboard tiles, which are double-sided, so that they can be used for either the brown player or the beige player. Cities will either produce gold, marble, or iron, as is evident from the three different colours on the city tiles: gold, white, blue. Unlike the original Antike, players now have the option of deciding what resource a city they build will produce.
To increase the defense of their cities, players will have opportunity to play walls. These tokens are double-sided, and can be used by either player. They're also a new addition to Antike.
Resources produced by the cities are represented in the game with circular cardboard chips for gold (yellow), marble (white), and iron (blue), and come in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 with Roman numerals.
Coins can be used in the game to substitute for any resource. These are also circular cardboard chips, and the artwork is fantastic!
These 21 cards represent the victory points required to win the game, and are awarded in five different categories: 6x King (own 5 cities), 4x Citizen (own 3 temples), 5x Scholar (develop new technology), 4x General (destroy opponent temple), 2x Navigator (control 7 sea areas).
Event cards are a new addition as well. The deck features 25 unique events, and a player will be draw an event on a turn where he has lost a city or whenever his opponent gains a personage. They give small special benefits as described on the cards, and can be used later in the game. There's also two blank event cards that players can use to make their own events if they wish.
Here's some examples of specific cards:
The instructions for Antike Duellum consist of three items. First of all, there's a rulebook explaining the game, which can be downloaded on BGG here. It consists of 8 pages, is suitably accompanied by illustrations, and does a good job of explaining how the game works in a clear and concise manner.
There's also a full colour reference sheet which gives an overview of the gameplay and various elements of the game - a very handy summary that can be helpful to consult when learning and playing the game.
The game also comes with 6 reference cards which feature English on one side and German on the other. Each player gets a reference card explaining the rondel, another explaining the flow of play, and another explaining the available actions.
Finally, there's a historical booklet which summarizes the history behind the wars depicted in the two game scenarios, the Punic Wars (Rome vs Carthage) and the Persian Wars (Greeks vs Persians). This is a terrific addition that helps us appreciate the historical theme behind the game; I wish more game publishers did this!
In Antike Duellum, two players are going head-to-head by building up their civilizations, trying to be the first player to reach 9 victory points. Victory points are earned by acquiring "personages", which are cards rewarded for controlling cities, controlling sea areas, building temples, developing technologies, and destroying opponent temples. To do all this you'll try to wisely use the available resources of gold, marble and iron to build up your civilization, and recruit and move legions and galleys to expand your territories and attack those of your opponent.
Let's start by giving an overview of the 9 personages, seeing as they represent the objectives that earn you points and win you the game, and you'll be trying to acquire these as the game progresses:
● King: awarded for every 5 cities owned
● Citizen: awarded for every 3 temples built
● Scholar: awarded for each technology you're the first to develop
● General: awarded for each opponent temple destroyed
● Navigator: awarded each 7 sea areas controlled
Players first decide which side of the board they're going to use: either Rome vs Carthage, or Greece vs Persia. The board is set-up with the three starting cities marked on the map for each player (gold, marble, iron) using the city tokens. The event deck is shuffled with 3 cards placed face up, and the personages cards are placed face-up beside the board, as well as a general supply of city tokens, the coins, the gold, marble, and iron resource tokens, the town walls, and the temples.
Each player starts with 3 gold, 3 marble, and 3 iron chips. They also get all the wooden tokens in their colour, placing one round disk on the zero of the scoring track, one legion and one galley in their recruitment box, and their rondel marker in the middle of the rondel. The non-starting player gets a coin as compensation for going second.
Flow of Play
Here's how the reference card describes a turn:
● Moving on the Rondel
Game-play occurs with players taking turns, by moving their octagonal cylinder on the rondel and performing the associated action. You can move your cylinder clockwise up to three spaces on the rondel, and need to pay 1 resource for each additional space you move.
● Taking Actions
After moving, you take the appropriate action, which we'll explain in detail later. Three of these actions relate to producing resources:
● Ferrum (Iron)
● Aurum (Gold)
● Marmor (Marble)
Three of these actions (on the exact opposite side of the rondel) relate to using these resources:
● Militia (Arming) - using Iron for mobilizing units
● Scientia (Know-How) - using Gold for recruiting and know-how
● Templum (Temple) - using Marble for temples and town walls
One action appears twice on the rondel, and lets you move your military units to expand your empire and engage in combat:
● Duellum (Maneuver)
● Founding Cities
After you've completed your action, you can found a new city if you have a unit in a territory that doesn't yet have a city. You take a city token in your colour from the supply matching the resource of your choice (gold, marble, or iron), and the new city will produce that resource for the rest of the game. Founding a city requires paying one resource of each type (gold, marble, and iron), plus one coin for each adjacent city matching the resource type of the city to be built. Note that when paying resources, coins can be used to substitute for any resource, and this applies whenever resource costs have to be paid in the game. If you reach five or ten or even fifteen cities in this way, you're eligible to win a King personage.
● Winning Personages
At the end of your turn, you may be eligible to win a personage, if you meet its requirements, e.g. controlling five cities, building three temples, etc; you take the associated card and move up one on the VP score track. At certain amounts on the VP track (1,2,3,5,7) you're able to get another town wall into your personal supply for use later in the game.
● Event Cards
Whenever someone does get a personage, the other player is compensated by being able to take one of the three face up event cards (which is immediately replenished), and which can be used by that player on their turn at any point in the game. Event cards are also earned whenever you lose a city to your opponent.
So now that we've got an overall sense of how the game works, let's look more closely at the specific actions players can perform, starting with the resource related ones:
● Producing Gold/Marble/Iron (Aurum, Marmor, Ferrum)
The Aurum/Marmor/Ferrum actions let you get resources.
When placing on these three spaces, you collect the resource of that type, the amount being equal to the number of cities corresponding to that type that you own. Cities with a temple generate three resources instead of just one. In addition to these resources, you also get a single coin (which can be used to substitute for any resource when paying for things). For example, so if you owned two iron producing cities and one of these was a temple, the Ferrum action would give you four iron and one coin.
● Temple action (Templum)
Choosing the Templum action lets you spend marble to build temples and town walls:
Temples: Each region can only have one temple, and will increase that city's resource production from 1 to 3, as well as strengthen its defence from 1 to 3. For each three temples you build you're eligible for a Citizen personage, so temples can also help you get points. Building a temple costs six marble, plus one coin for each adjacent temple.
Town walls: If you have town walls available, you can also spend one marble to add a town wall to one of your cities, increasing its defense by 1.
● Know-How action (Scientia)
The Scientia action lets you spend gold to develop new technologies and recruit new units.
You can develop any of the Know-Hows on the science chart by paying the required amount in gold and marking it with one of your circular disks; if you are the first person to develop a specific know-how, you pay the higher cost, and also get a Scholar personage, which increases your score by 1.
The technologies give the following benefits to the players who has them:
● Strata (Streets): Legions can move up to two land regions instead of just one.
● Navigatio (Navigation): Galleys can move up to two sea regions instead of just one.
● Moneta (Currency): When producing gold/marble/iron, you get one extra resource chip.
● Res Publica (Republic): All your cities increase their defensive strength by one.
● Commercium (Trade): You can trade 3 of your resource chips for any 2 resource chips (not coins) from the bank.
At a cost of 1 gold for a legion and 2 gold for a galley, you can place new legions/galleys from your personal supply into your recruitment box.
● Arming action (Militia)
The Militia action lets you move military units from your recruitment box to your own cities.
To arm military units in this way costs 2 iron per unit. You can only place units at your own cities, with a maximum of one new unit added to a city, and up to three new units if your city has a temple. Legions can only be placed on land and galleys in water. Because combat is luckless, whenever you place a unit in a city area that has an opponent's unit of the same type, both are removed 1 for 1, i.e. placing one new legion will remove one of your opponent's legions. Whenever units are removed in this way, they go back to the respective player's recruitment box.
Carthaginians heading for Rome
● Maneuver action (Duellum)
The Duellum action lets you move your troops, in order to expand your civilization or to attack your opponent.
Movement: Each of your legions/galleys can be moved one space, although the Strata and Navigatio Know-Hows increase this to two spaces for legions and galleys respectively. As when placing units, whenever two hostile units of the same type are in the same territory, they cancel each other out and go back to the players' recruitment boxes.
Conquest: After movement and mandatory combat, you can attack your opponent's city if you have enough military units in his city region to do so. You need to have at least as many units present as the strength of the city, which is 1 for a normal city and 3 for a city with a temple, plus 1 for a town wall, 1 if they own the Res Publica technology, and 1 for each defending legion/galley in the region. You remove the appropriate number of units, destroy the temple and city wall if applicable, and turn over the city token to show your colour. Note that destroying a temple earns you a General personage, and also entitles your opponent to an event card; you also get to draw an event card for losing a city during a turn.
Comparison with Antike
Folks who own Antike will want to know how the game has changed from the original Antike. Here's a list of the changes:
● New event cards: When your opponent gets a personage or conquers one of your cities, you may choose one of three face-up event cards, which you can use on your turn to give you some small benefit.
● Modified Know-How: There's only a single row of Know-Hows instead of two, including a new technology called Commercium (Trade) that lets you trade resources with the bank at a ratio of 3:2. Know-How costs have also been changed.
● Two-stage arming: Before arming, units must first be placed in a player's recruitment box with the Scientia action (1 gold for a legion, 2 gold for a galley). Defeated units also go back to this recruitment box rather than the general supply. The cost of arming military units has also been increased from one to two iron.
● City resource chosen by founding player: Players now get to choose which of the three resources a newly founded city will produce.
● Simplified city conquests: Defeating a city no longer requires an additional movement action after entering the region.
● Modified use of coins: Players don't get a coin each round, but only when they themselves choose a `produce resource' action.
● Altered building costs: The building cost for a new city now includes an additional coin for each adjacent city of the same type. Temples now cost 6 marble instead of 5, as well as an additional coin for each adjacent temple.
● New town walls: Players can spend 1 marble to build a town wall on a city, to increase its defense by 1.
● New sea regions: Several sea regions on the board which have no city and are marked with a galley symbol. These count as two towards the seven required for a Navigator personage.
Probably the biggest change is the two step process required for recruiting units, and the higher costs associated with this. Having players choose the resource new cities produce also is a big change, as is the addition of the event cards (although their impact isn't very significant). The other changes are more minor, e.g. by giving players other uses for gold and marble, and slightly adjusting the income and expenditure of coins. Overall the changes are fairly straight forward, and if you are already familiar with Antike, then it's very easy to learn Antike Duellum.
A New Edition of Antike
PD-Verlag, the publisher of Antike and Antike Duellum, announced a new edition of Antike, which was originally planned for release at Essen 2013. The new edition will incorporate some rule changes, with some of the changes from Antike Duellum being applied to the multiplayer parent game. The release date was later changed to the first quarter of 2014, so we should expect to hear more news about this soon.
According to one source who corresponded with the publisher, changes to the original Antike will include the following:
● Arming cost will change from one to two iron.
● Conquering a city will not longer require an additional move after entering a city.
● Instead of having city resources only determined by the map, players can use city tokens to select the resource that newly founded cities will produce.
● The Know-How track will be changed
● Some regions on the map won't have cities
Virtually all of these changes are ones that we have already seen in Antike Duellum.
Designer Mac Gerdts explaining Antike Duellum
Antike Duellum also comes with two special units: an Admiral unit for the beige player, and a Commander unit for the brown player. These start in the recruitment box at the start of the game, and cost 3 iron to arm, and can only be deployed at a city with a temple. They move like galleys/legions respectively, but lower the defensive value of a city by one when attacking, and increase the defensive value of a city by one when defending. They are also harder to eliminate, and require all units of a similar type (galleys/legions) to be eliminated first.
An free online implementation of Antike Duellum exists at Yucata:
The implementation is considered to be a good one, and folks who play it speak quite highly of it. Definitely check this out if playing at Yucata interests you, or if you want to get a feel for the game before deciding to buy it.
What do I think?
● General comments
Civilization game: As far as a light civilization building game goes, Antike Duellum certainly qualifies, because most of the essential ingredients are there. It has a lovely map, and you're moving units around in order to make military conquests or to expand your empire. There's a technology tree which can be used to hasten the progress of your civilization. There's economics to think about, science, military, as well as a theme that fits. It all adds up to a miniature civilization experience compressed into a clever two player game, which is a rare thing. Some might miss the absence of some random elements, which usually play some role in most civ type games; in contrast Antike Duellum is more of a luckless affair where everything is in the hands of the players.
Pure skill: Antike Duellum has almost no luck, with the only random element being the order in which the event cards come up. These only play a very minor role in the game, so effectively the outcome of the game is entirely decided by the players. Combat is decided without any dice, by having one unit cancel out another, so everything is calculable. As such this is a perfect information game, and this gives it almost a chess-like feel, not in terms of the game-play. This isn't a criticism, nor does it mean the game plays anything like chess, but it means that it has the feel of a pure battle between two minds, and is all about which player can outplay the other.
Dry decision-making: Some have found Antike Duellum almost too dry, because of how pure the decision making is, and it is important to consider whether this fits with your personal taste. I wouldn't consider it to be a somewhat abstract game, as some have suggested, because there is a very strong theme, which is very closely linked to everything you are doing in the game, e.g. developing your economy/technology, and recruiting/moving your units. All this prevents it from being the dry exercise of abstraction that some games can be. Nonetheless, Antike Duellum does have a euro engine that is driving it, and it is somewhat dry in that much of the game is about optimization and efficiency. The fact that there are no random elements does arguably come at the cost of some flavour and luck; on the other hand this also ensures one of the game's strengths, i.e. that the outcome really comes down to skillful decisions of players.
Elegant rules: Despite being a civilization themed game, Antike Duellum doesn't come with the heavy-duty rule-set that usually burdens games of this sort. Because the game system underneath the game is effectively a euro, the rules are very straight forward and easy to learn, and you'll find yourself mastering them in no time. The fact that there's genuine layers of decisions to be made within the context of a simple rule-set is a real strength of Antike Duellum. Considering what the game offers in terms of decisions and theme, it's amazing how straightforward the rules really are, and this is a great example of what elegance in game design is really all about.
Tactics: Time-tested classics like chess are lauded for requiring tactics and strategy, and Antike Duellum offers players opportunity to enjoy both as well. There are certainly important tactical decisions to make: if your opponent sets up a military threat or will possibly beat you to a technology you want, how will you respond? Particularly in the end-game, making the right tactical choices can be the difference between winning or losing, and you often need to plan your move very carefully, to have just the right amount of units in place to sack that temple or to sail those seven seas in order to get yourself the last victory point, or to prevent your opponent from doing so.
Strategy: While tactics are important, strategy is also critical, and there are different paths you can take. Will you specialize in technology early on, to get some quick victory points before your opponent? Or will you get units out quickly and expand your empire, thus increasing your economic and military base from the outset? Or will you expand more slowly, and focus on building temples to fortify your cities and increase your resource production? All of these are viable strategies, independently or in combination, and your long range strategic plans will often bear fruit much later in the game. Certainly you can't ignore to avoid military development entirely, because it will often play a key role in getting your final point.
Quick turns: One thing I love about Antike Duellum is how quickly turns usually move. In most cases, each turn is somewhat of a micro-action, as you move on the rondel and perform the associated action, e.g. I get iron; my opponent gets gold; I build a temple; my opponent gets marble, etc. The rondel is an excellent mechanic that works very well in this game. It keeps the game moving at a good clip throughout, and there's very little down-time; usually you can plan your next move on your opponent's move, and the flow of play is smooth and pleasant.
Slower endings: If there is a moment when the game can slow down, it would be the end game. Decisions at this stage of the game can be critical, and you need to be careful not to throw the game by a poor choice. If you fall just short of getting a victory point you were hoping for, your opponent might be able to seize the opportunity to turn the game around. At this stage of the game, military combat is often essential, and getting just the right amount of units in place is critical. As a result, you may find that the final turns take longer, as players sweat about the best way to strike that finishing blow. If I had any complaint about the game, it might be that games can go a little long, but that does depend on who you're playing with. Games can finish in as little as an hour, but with an AP prone person who is agonizing over his choices in the end game, a game might run over two hours, which is really a little longer than it should be for a game of this sort.
Tense endings: Games can often be very close, and this is one of the redeeming qualities of the game; even in instances where the game goes on longer than expected, it is usually the result of having an exciting finish. Particularly in the final stages, the balance of the game can shift, and I've seen games where a player was ahead 8-5 due to technological advances, and then his opponent's military machine scored straight four victory points with three generals and a king to come from behind and win the game 8-9. On that occasion the losing player was just one galley short of getting the win a few turns before the end, so it was a thrilling finish. I love games that can produce such tension, and keep things interesting until the end.
Calculated combat: People who don't normally like war games might shy away from Antike Duellum because of the military element of the game. However, the way it is incorporated here is somewhat unusual, because you're not rolling dice to decide who wins battles. There's no hidden information, and you can see in advance exactly what will happen in the event of an attack. This gives the military aspect of the game somewhat of an abstract feel, and despite the theme the capturing of units works more like it does in chess and checkers than it does in a typical war game. That's not intended as a criticism; rather it means that even eurogamers who usually shy away from war games with any military combat won't necessarily dislike it here. Combat is really just a clever mechanism of using resources to create a spacial advantage, and requires calculating and tactical play that is more akin to an area control game than a war game. So there's war, but it's implemented in a way that should appeal to eurogamers rather than Ameritrashers, and it's one thing that makes Antike Duellum very unique.
Events: The catch-up mechanism of the Event cards is particularly good, as a way of helping keep things even. I like these a great deal, and think they are a nice addition to the game. They might be considered unnecessary in a multi-player game where games are often self-balancing due to it being in the interests of the players themselves to gang up on the leader. But in a two player game they ensure that an early lead doesn't necessarily mean that a player who is behind will lose, and so they help avoid a runaway leader problem where the game is effectively decided early on. This is especially important in a zero-luck game, which could otherwise be boring for the winner and loser alike during the final stages. At the same time the events aren't too strong either, which would create new problems, so they are a nice touch that helps ensure added interest and balance.
Beautiful aesthetics: Antike Duellum comes with lovely components that enhance good gameplay. The map is attractive, and also functionally designed. I'm not a huge fan of having Latin instead of English on the rondel and know-how chart, and I don't know if using beige and brown would have been my first choice as player colours, particularly since the beige is quite close in colour to the temples. But nonetheless the game looks very beautiful on the table, and the shaped meeples designating legions and galleys really adds to the theme and visual appeal. The cards look great, and the resource tokens and coins are very attractive. All in all this is a beautiful product, and I'm glad that the production quality matches the quality of the game-play.
Superb two-player game: Many euros tend to feature game-play that is optimal with at least 3 or 4 at the table, but Antike Duellum is a superb example of a fine euro that has real depth and yet is a terrific two player game. This is particular welcome for a game with a civilization flavour; most in this category require more players to produce a good experience. If you have two players and are looking for a solid game that gives you real opportunity for meaningful decisions, definitely consider this!
Antike Duellum vs Polis: One of the obvious candidates that's competing with Antike Duellum in the two-player civ-lite genre is Polis: Fight for the Hegemony, which was published around the same time. I've not played Polis, but from what I've read it's a heavier game, and Antike Duellum is more streamlined and accessible of the two, which for me personally makes it the best choice. Polis is also a longer game, and a steeper learning curve is required in order to play it well. Furthermore, while Antike Duellum is essentially luck-free, Polis has some random elements. You'll find some discussion comparing the two in this thread and this thread.
True to its Antike roots: Below I'll expand more on my thoughts about how Antike Duellum compares with Antike. But for now let me state that this really does capture the Antike experience in a two player game. There are differences, which are unavoidable and necessary because of the changes that are needed to make the game work with just two players. But for a two player game, it really does feel like the things I liked about Antike are all here, and it was very easy to make the transition from the original game to this one. I like the original, and I like this one too, so I am glad to have a polished product that enables me to play Antike when I don't have enough players for the multiplayer game.
● Comparison with Antike
It's similar: Antike Duellum has done a great job of taking the Antike experience and translating it to a two player game. The official rules for playing Antike as a two player game really didn't provide a satisfying experience, because the game was often too open on such a large map, and so it's not surprising that people tried to find a way of playing on a smaller map, e.g. the half map variant. Antike Duellum has taken the "half map" concept and developed this into a fully fledged and independent game, that is generally true to its roots and mechanics. Most of the things that I loved about Antike are present in this two player version of the game, including the civilization building and technology, the building of an economic engine, the interaction and combat, and the movement of units on a beautiful map. The costs of arming and technologies have seen some slight changes, and having been involved in the development of the "half map" variant I know how tricky this can be, but Mac Gerdts seems to have got the balance exactly right. If you could envisage a two player version of Antike, this is certainly it, and Mac Gerdts has done a terrific job in turning Antike into a great two player game.
It's different: Despite all the similarities, there are some differences from the original Antike, most of which had to be implemented in order to make the two player game work, and here's what I think of the most important differences:
● The smaller map: Playing on a smaller map obviously means you're have more geographical constraints, although for a two player game that's exactly what you want. There's also less assymetry; with the original game you can play as one of numerous starting civilizations on different locations on the board, whereas in Antike Duellum there's two sides to the board and each side begins with the same starting configuration from game to game. Even so, that already gives you four different starting possibilities, which helps replayability.
● The event cards: The addition of event cards is a nice touch as a small catch-up mechanism; it offers small benefits so it's not overpowered, and yet without it the two player game could become boring in cases whenever someone developed a lead. I like them!
● The two-stage arming: The recruitment mechanism means that there is an extra step in bringing units to the board. But the combat itself has been simplified in that you don't need a second action to attack after entering enemy territory. Overall these changes seem to work really well. Perhaps we'll even see some of these new elements in a revised version of Antike some day.
● The city walls: Given the new uses for gold in recruiting units and greater need for iron in deploying units, I think the city walls are a good addition by giving you an additional use for marble, and this gives a nice option without being game-changing.
● The non-fixed city resources: I also like the fact that unlike the original game, you can decide what resource a city that you build will produce; this gives greater flexibility by putting another decision in the hands of the players, and also helps ensure greater replayability by making games develop in a different fashion each time.
● The interaction: I do miss the larger interaction that you get in original Antike, where there are multiple players at the table and often shifting alliances and at times even negotiation. Antike Duellum lacks all of that and is much more of a head-to-head experience where almost everything is calculable. While personally I enjoy the multiplayer game slightly more because of the bigger scope, the reality is that if I only have two players, then Antike Duellum is certainly the game I'd want to play.
Carthago Nova's temple
What do others think?
The critics were definitely in the minority, but when scrutinizing their comments, the more frequently mentioned complaints were one of the following:
1. Some critics said Antike Duellum felt rather repetitive to them, and questioned its replayability.
2. Others wished for some randomness in the combat rather than having the outcome decided by perfect information. If you prefer Ameritrash games, then Antike Duellum is probably not for you, because you'll find it too dry, abstract, and pure.
3. The experience of some was that the game's resolution could drag with evenly matched players, making it take longer than it should (over 2 hours), especially with AP prone players.
Generally speaking, though, most comments about the game reflect high praise, especially as a two player game:
"A beautiful, elegant two-player struggle. Not to be missed." - John B.
"A fascinating 2 player game that is almost entirely luck free. Many paths to victory and each decision must be weighed carefully in terms costs versus benefits." - Darren Kerr
"A nice, quick playing 2 player only strategy game. A touch of light wargaming, a sprinkle of light civ building but really it's an area control type affair." - Phillip McCaughey
"Excellent two player game. Worthy as a 10 for a two player game." - Thad Hobson
"This is an absolutely brilliant two player strategy game! No two games are the same and there are several paths to victory." - Don Smith
"Really fine 2-player euro of conflicting ancient empires. The civ-building and wargame themes come through loud and clear." - Carthoris Pyramidos
"This is becoming my all-time favorite 2-player game - perhaps my all-time favorite game, period. Intense action, and a delightful guns/butter decision-making feel." - Tim Bowman
"THIS IS THE GAME! this is the best 2 players game ever. Forget chess, go. Forget Gipf project and hive. Forget card games, forget everything else. THIS is the best 2 players experience you can have." - Johannes Wentu
Enthusiasts laud it for things like the components, the theme, the rondel, the tension, the elegance, the varied strategies, and how it combines civ-building with war-game themes:
"Tense and fast, enough strategies to explore." - Sander Kouwenhoven
"It LOOKS like a warish game, but it's not. Its a euro. And a good one. It is gleaning points, through area control and resource management, and a wee bit of confrontation." - C. Rexford
"Excellent, tight, game. Worthy successor to Antike." - Ychor
"Quality components, great theme, good game mechanics, and tough choices on the rondel. What's not to like?" - James Hunt
"Played 70 games in Yucata and still feel excited in every game. A well balanced strategy game." - Power Wong
"Highly enjoyable 2-player wargame. The rondel-mechanism to determine actions works very well, and keeps pace in the game. The battle mechanics (1 for 1 army deletion) are simple, but keep the game very tractable/strategic." - Mark Van Achter
"This 2 player game has it all: city building/civilization expanding, resource generation and management, tech/knowledge upgrades, recruitment and placement of militia to defend and/or conquer. A 90 minute battle where two opposing players must interact if they want to succeed in being the first to 9 points." - David B
"This just moved into the 10-spot for creating unbelievable tension throughout the entire game." - Tim Seitz
"The rules are simple and intuitive, but the gameplay is tense and engaging. The game seems very well balanced and offers strategical and tactical choices galore. It compares to chess in that it offers deep gameplay with abundant decisions based on what your opponent is doing. With a well integrated theme, clever gameplay, accessibility and great components." - Tony Kotler
"Excellent game - elegant - great clean graphics - Best game of 2012 so far." - Tom Hilgert
"This is now my number one game. Well done Mr. Gerdts." - Larry Doherty
Comparison with Antike
Of those who had played the original Antike, there were some who preferred the stronger interaction resulting from Antike's multiplayer experience, over against the more direct two player confrontation of Antike Duellum. But for the most part comments about the two player experience are very positive, with favourable comparisons being made to the multiplayer version of the game:
"A solid 2-player game, and it has made a lot of good changes from the original Antike." - Ninja P
"The cards and rule changes make it better and more interesting than Antike." - Corey Butler
"The game is fast and strategic exactly what you would expect from 2-player Antike. ... this game is mandatory for Antike fans. For those that didn't like the multi-player war-like interactions of Antike this game might give you a chance to enjoy at 2 what you couldn't quite love before." - Jon Ben
"I like Antike so this was always going to appeal to me. The changes are just enough to successfully provide a positive 2 player experience. Really captures the feel of Antike and makes it playable with 2." - Gordon Robinson
"Good 2 player variant of the full game." - Dolphinandrew
"Even BETTER than Antike; no sudden unexpected end leap." - Gordon Stewart
"I love Antike and I love this, though I dislike the random element that's been added with the bonus tiles." - Filip Cam
"As good as Antike, which is good enough. Perhaps slightly better, through the use of event cards." - Dimitris Vasiadis
So is Antike Duellum for you? Antike Duellum is a superbly designed game that builds on a well-crafted design, taking a popular and proven game system and successfully turning it into a rewarding two player experience. It's not for everyone, because it does require players to optimize their decision-making and be efficient with their resources and choices, a playing style that is typical of many a euro. But Antike Duellum offers a great deal that the average euro does not: a civilization type experience, with interaction and combat that is meaningful and significant without ever being random. As such, it's a euro that belongs in a class of its own, because it offers a theme and game-play like very few other euros have, and aesthetics to match.
All in all, Antike Duellum has all the qualities of an outstanding two player game: beautiful components, an elegant game design where simple rules meet with real strategic and tactical choices, careful and deep decision-making, smooth game-play, and a tense game experience. Antike Duellum is a fine and rare example of what a euro can become when some new and out of the ordinary elements are injected into it. While the attractions it offers won't tick all the boxes of appeal for everyone's taste, anyone looking for a solid two player game should definitely consider it.
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- Last edited Thu May 15, 2014 2:26 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:50 am
I, personally, find this game to be a slog. Overlong and repetitive...my hopes were high after playing and loving Navegador. But A.D. does nothing for me!
Nothing will come of nothing.
Superb as ever. Makes me wish you reviewed my favourites: I bet is see more people wanting to play them!
US Armed Forces - Pacific
A.D. is a great game that I have played a lot online and in person. Can't wait for the new release of Antike to come out!
- Last edited Wed Mar 19, 2014 10:33 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Mar 18, 2014 12:55 pm
A fantastic analysis and review of a tremendous game. This is why I don't bother. Ender sets the standard way too high !!
Up Front fan | In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this | Combat Commander series fan | The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me! | Fields of Fire fan
Slywester Janik, awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Polish Cross of Valour), August 1944
Great. Now you've gone and made me buy a copy at lunch. I'm telling my wife it's your fault.
Thufferin Thuccotash!! It'th Cold out Here!
If I was a game, being here...in an Ender's review...would be my 'oscar'.
Antike Duellum certainly deserves this honor.
This is what I play.
Vegatable Alien is perlexed by slab of meat.
Excellent review. This is one of the few two-player civ games my wife will play with me, which makes it a double win for me!
Well done Ender. I still love it. Every game is different.
This is a terrific game (and was a present from my daughter, last Christmas). Needs to hit the table more often.
Nasal Demon wrote:
A.D. is a great game that I have played a lot online and in person. Can't wait for the new release of Antike to come out!
The new edition has now been released and has its own entry in the BGG database:
Unfortunately I don't own it and haven't had opportunity to play it. But it certainly sounds as if the Antike Duellum inspired changes are all improvements, and help make the original game even better.
Maybe it needs a good review to help promote it more!
Wow. Thank you so much for this .. article!
Fantastic reading. I will definitely check this game and your other reviews.