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Polis: Fight for the Hegemony» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Polis: a game deserving a wider audience. rss

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Paolo Ciardulli
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Trento
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May all beings be happy. Whatever beings there may be, whether they are weak or strong, without exception, long, big, medium, short or small, whether visible or invisible, those living near or far, those born or to-be-born, may all beings be happy!
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Polis: Fight for the Hegemony (called just Polis in the rest of this review) is a game for two players designed by Fran Diaz (his first game) and published by Asylum Games (I suppose a small company).

Each player has the role of either Athens or Sparta in the 5th Century B.C.

Image by Ignacio Góngora

I think the game appeared around 2010 as a free Print & Play game, but I am speaking here of the game published in 2012 that I consider to be a 2012 Essen release.

As such it appears in the very good GeekList about Essen 2012 ranked games .


ABOUT THE REASON I AM WRITING THIS REVIEW

The (almost only) game review I wrote was a review of Space Alert and I wrote it years ago. The reason I don’t write reviews is that for me a review must be something that is good, that is useful for other users, of good quality. And there are a lot of this high standard reviews on BGG (thanks to all the wonderful reviewers and people that are on this site). And it takes me time to write since I am not an English native speaker. So possibly just laziness . But I do keep my ratings updated and I try to write useful comments for the games, so hopefully I am contributing to the choices of games.

The reason I wrote the review of Space Alert was that I felt very motivated. The game was so good that I wanted to give back the gift that I have so often received (because of generous people who do dedicate time to writing reviews or informative comments): we can’t buy or even play all the games that appear. And when we select games, the help of others in picking this game instead of that is essential. I see the people on BGG as a huge cooperative team... I look at this game, you look at that and so on… and then we give feedback for what we have tried and so we help each other in making good choices without emptying our wallets. So Space Alert was somehow already on the radar of many, but in my opinion it needed more “push”, it was a superb and innovative game.

Since I wrote that review of Space Alert, many other times I felt the urge to write reviews of other games that were not appreciated enough here on BGG, because the audience was too small. Often this includes games that have a high rating, but a lower rank because the number of voters is too small and the Bayesian average (correctly) used on BGG hides them somehow: the effect is that the well-known games get a higher and higher number of ratings, and the not well known not so many ratings, and continue to be less known.

Often this happens because the game has not such a good distribution, especially a USA distribution, often because published by a small company. Or it is too expensive. Or it is not lucky. And so on...

Well, whatever the reason, there are games that deserve to be at least in the top fifty of BGG and that are not there because they were not exposed to a wider audience, not because of their not adequate merits.

So, I think you have already guessed, this is the reason I am writing this review, because in the case of Polis there would be a big loss for the gaming community not to fully appreciate its value, and I fear this is happening somehow. I feel the urge to write this review as a service to my fellow geekers, because this game will be liked by many more people, if they just try it, I am quite sure.

The reasons this is not happening are the ones I mentioned above. Plus the fact that the game somehow gives a different idea of what it really is, so even people looking at it dismiss it considering it a light wargame, or another Antike clone (more on this soon, if you have the patience to follow me further in this review).

One of the things that inspired me most to write this review is also its entry in the above mentioned GeekList of Essen 2012 Ranked games. I quote it here as it appears today:

Quote:

Added on October 21st

Oct-21: Rank 1663 (90 ratings, average 8.75)(#2 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-22: Rank 1609 (94 ratings, average 8.71)(#3 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-23: Rank 1543 (99 ratings, average 8.69)(#2 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-24: Rank 1449 (107 ratings, average 8.66)(#2 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-25: Rank 1419 (111 ratings, average 8.66)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-26: Rank 1404 (112 ratings, average 8.65)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-27: Rank 1377 (114 ratings, average 8.65)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-28: Rank 1318 (118 ratings, average 8.65)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-29: Rank 1282 (122 ratings, average 8.65)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-30: Rank 1235 (126 ratings, average 8.66)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Oct-31: Rank 1201 (130 ratings, average 8.66)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-01: Rank 1173 (132 ratings, average 8.66)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-02: Rank 1174 (133 ratings, average 8.64)(#4 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-03: Rank 1175 (133 ratings, average 8.64)(#5 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-04: Rank 1174 (133 ratings, average 8.64)(#6 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-05: Rank 1152 (137 ratings, average 8.63)(#6 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-06: Rank 1128 (140 ratings, average 8.62)(#6 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-07: Rank 1124 (141 ratings, average 8.63)(#6 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-08: Rank 1125 (141 ratings, average 8.63)(#7 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-09: Rank 1126 (141 ratings, average 8.63)(#8 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-10: Rank 1126 (142 ratings, average 8.61)(#8 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-11: Rank 1117 (144 ratings, average 8.60)(#8 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-12: Rank 1119 (145 ratings, average 8.61)(#10 on this list - #1 based on average)
Nov-13: Rank 1106 (147 ratings, average 8.61)(#10 on this list - #1 based on average)


There are two things to notice. First look at the average rating. It was 8.75 (8.75!) with 90 rating. It is at the moment I am writing 8.61 (8.61!) with the number of ratings increased significantly (147 ratings). It is the highest rating on the Essen 2012 ranked game GeekList.

There are 29 users that give this game a 10. Other 57 users rate this game 9. So approx. 60% of people are rating this game 9 or 10. The lowest rating that the game has received till now is 6, and only 5 people give it such a not too low rating (3 %).

Notice also that only the low number of ratings is stopping this game from better ranking. But 147 people start being a wide enough base to trust.

Even more than the rating, the first comment in the item of that GeekList says something that eventually gave me the final push (I bought and played Polis). The comment says:

Quote:

Probably Polis is going to be passed soon in the ranks by big publisher's games but for me this could easily be one of the best games from the last few years.

BUY A COPY WHILE IT'S AVAILABLE!


I did follow the advice (thank you bravucon). I played the game. Now I want you to try it. Increasing the reader's appetite for this game is my service to BGG today, because the game deserves a wider audience and because if you like heavy Euro-games this game will very very likely be one game that you will enjoy very very much.


ABOUT AVAILABILITY

The game is easy to acquire in the European market. I bought my copy online in a German shop and it was not expensive, not even considering the delivery costs (I could have paid less, but sadly only later it became available in an Italian online shop). Also the editor of the game is selling it directly.

I have not done an extensive research for the USA market, but I saw that a well-known online shop has it available for pre-order.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER AND ABOUT THE GAME

I want to describe to you some of my background, because if you find that I have tastes similar to yours you can trust this review more and be more confident that our opinions on games will not differ too much.

I used to be a wargamer a lot of years ago and I played a lot of wargames. Then I discovered the Euro-games and it was like finding the promised land . Games that had simple rules, no luck and so many significant choices at every moment. For example I used to play World in Flames (a simulation of the second world war), for hours. The significant decisions were maybe two or three in an hour... compared to the tough and significant decisions a good Euro-game can give me, any minute.

So which kind of games I like?
I somehow like heavier games. Look at my top ten to see the heaviness I mean, it is not the heaviness you can find in a wargame, but it is not the lightness of Ticket to Ride either.

I like at the most games that give a lot of significant choices. In which players can follow different, somehow personalized, paths and use their creativity.

I prefer strategy over tactic. The games in which you can plan your long term actions, that have a story. Games that stress the use of the strategic and intuitive mind instead of games in which you win for the clever tactic moves. Of course a game without tactic would be useless, but tactic must be a tool to deploy the strategy and not the final tool to victory (for my taste, not as a general rule, as all the things I am writing here ).

I prefer no-luck games, or at least games in which the luck factor is not too strong: games in which the losers can’t whine because of the luck, but in which the winner is (at least most of the times) the one who played better.

I like games with maps more than games with cards (but I do like Through the Ages, this is just a direction, not a must).

So, let us forget the reviewer (sorry for my vanity in writing so much about me ) and let us go back to Polis.

What kind of game is Polis?
Actually this is a very important aspect and somehow what I consider a key point in this review. First of all this is another reason this game is not so well known, possibly. And, much more important, it is important for the reader, because even supposing that you are trusting me, that this game is good, there are a lot of good games I would not play because they are not my cup of tea.

For example I am not playing wargames anymore. With some exceptions (notably Maria). But I do not have patience and time to read the complex rules usually full of exceptions that a wargame usually includes. Please notice I am not saying that this is a bad feature, it is a matter of taste, for example the fine details are needed to add realism to the simulation, only I am not searching for this, I am searching for games that have logic and not too complicated rules and that, in spite of this (or because of the elegance of the rules) are difficult to master. And I do not want a game in which conflicts (worse if decided by dice) are the main feature of the game.

So I failed to pay attention to Polis many times because I was not really seeing what kind of game it is. I thought it was a wargame. And I do not want to play a wargame. Then, when I read more about it, and when I saw that it was classified in the domain “Strategy games” here on BGG I slowly started being more interested in it.
But still missing the point. I believed the game was a yet-another civilization game, a clone of the many games that exist and I have played and played... nothing original, I feared.

I think many may have lacked a stronger interest in Polis because of the same feeling I had... I bought the game in spite of my feeling because I was curious for the high rating it was receiving, but still thinking that it was somehow a mix between a Euro-game and a wargame, maybe well done, but not what it is...

So, dear reader, what kind of game is Polis? It is a Euro-game. It is a resource management game, in which battles are very rare. But the menace of battles and the whole structure of the game determines a strong interaction between the opponents... your resource management plans can be ruined by the other player, but the feeling is more similar to the one I have when in a worker placement game someone occupies a space before you, than of someone beating you in a war.

So my guess is that if you like heavy Euro-games (e.g. Ora et Labora, Through the Ages, Imperial, Age of Steam, Agricola) you will like this too.


MATERIAL

The game components are of very good quality.

Image by D. Barrera

A nice mounted map giving the feeling of old Greece. Wooden pieces. Strong enough cards. One mat for player, also being a player aid. Sturdy pieces representing the Polis (the cities) and the Projects (more on this below). Quality of all material above average (and for average I intend the average of a Euro-game published by a good big company).


RULES

This review is possibly already becoming too long and I am afraid that no one will read all of it . Besides when I arrive at this point of many reviews on BGG, I find it is too full of details, almost a handbook of the game. And I jump on, I am interested in the valuation and the opinion of the reviewer much more than in a detailed summary of the rules. But not reading the part dedicated to the rules in a review... sometimes I miss something in the final evaluation part of the review.

So what I try here is a middle way approach, I give you some general outline of the rules, enough to make you understand the peculiarity of the game, but if you want to really look at the rules, you can download them in the file section of the game on BGG.

The map represents 12 territories and 18 Polis.

Each territory has one or two Polis. The polis are represented by tiles that are not on the map.

Near each polis each player has some cubes, that represent the population of the polis. Each polis is unique, both because it belongs to one specific territory and because the amount of population it can have or that can be grown in it is variable.

There are 5 seas. And there are markets that, through special units (the merchants) and bartering with other goods, allow the player to get the most precious resources, that are wheat (needed to feed your population) and silver (that is both a joker resource that can be used instead of others and, even more important, the main resource to conquer polis through “politics”).

The nice aspect of the game is that, at the end of the game, the source of victory points are populations and prestige. Both are also needed during the game, to do other important things. So in using them for actions during the game one is also losing victory points (and one has to balance the going out and being too careful).

The game is played in 4 rounds. On each round players alternate doing actions: each player in his turn carries out two different actions, then it is checked if a battle must be fought, then it is the other player's turn and so on until both players pass.

Each round is characterized by a number, 3 for the first, 4 for the second and 5 for the third and fourth. The number indicates which markets are open and how many units each player can keep in each region (territory or sea). Since a battle is fought at the end of a player’s turn if there are 8 units of both players in the region, in the first round there can’t be any battle (maximum 3 units for players, so 6 units maximum that is less than eight). In the second round it is possible to avoid battles just keeping 3 units in a region; even if the opponent puts his maximum, 4, they are 7 altogether. One can avoid battle in all rounds keeping maximum two units for region. Having the majority of units in a region, one controls that region: this stops or hinders moves, has strong influences on sieges and so on.

There are 12 kind of actions that the player can choose.

The first four are development actions. One pays resources, respectively metal or wood for hoplites (infantry) or galleys (ships). The built units are population that are taken away from the polis and put on the region. In a similar fashion (but only in special polis) merchants can be built. And finally one can start a project, paying the needed resources, that is one of the ways of getting prestige points.

Image by Javier Guillamo

The next four actions are military actions. They cost all one prestige point (there is a rare exception in the rules here, but I really can't give all details). And prestige is very difficult to obtain (one way to get prestige points is by conquering a polis).
The military actions are moving hoplites (land or sea movement), trying to siege a polis under certain conditions (throwing a four-sided dice with different chances to win depending on situation), or collecting (i.e. getting resources from territories in which you own at least one polis, according to the number of hoplites in the territory. Resources are: wheat, metal, oil, wine, wood and metal).

Finally there are the political actions that allow a player to go to the markets (if they have a free route) and through variable market prices getting wheat or silver. Other actions are moving the “proxenos” (a diploma unit of which each player has only one), getting again a proxenos from the other player if it was captured (paying 2 silvers) and last but not least conquer a polis by paying silver (a lot, depending on the polis) where your proxenos is.

There are so many details, that make playing very subtle (for example movement of units is practically not limited by number of regions, but a unit can’t move through a region controlled by the opponent; all units have to move to the same region and other subtle aspects that produce a lot of strategic and tactic dilemmas), but please refer to the rulebook to deepen your understanding of the game if you are interested.


PLAYING THE GAME

I have played a lot of games in my life (more than what you can see here on BGG, since I started playing well before BGG existed), but there are two features that I found playing Polis that I have never met in any other game before, not with this intensity at the very least.

The first feature is: reading the rules and even studying them well, gives no idea of the real game-play and the “feeling” of the game. I have played other games in which the real playing was different from what I had imagined studying the rules, but never, not even near, to what I experienced with Polis. Playing this game is almost breathtaking because it surprises you. Not only in the first moments you are playing. There are levels and levels of depth, that show themselves little by little. And the game is not easy to play well, it needs experience, and a lot of “work”, but in a nice sense, like learning to use a tool. Before starting applying strategy, one has to understand how to play well. It is not the difficulty of the rules, it is the difficulty to play well that is a completely different thing (and that incidentally I consider a very good featureof a great game).

The second feature: the resource management is very hard. Something that is not even possible to imagine until you play the game. If I think of other resource management games that the reader can know.. for example the feeding in Agricola or Le Havre... this is really nothing in comparison. In Polis the first game the player is not even hoping to survive... it is hard hard hard, beyond description. But it is doable. And it is very nice to see the shift from the worrying-that-I-am-losing-for-too-few-resources to the ability to get to the point that there is a way to survive and then more, starting using your skills and discovering further depths of possibilities... but it is not obvious, not easy. But very very satisfying. No other resource management game I have played in my life has given me this sense that I can see that something is doable, but I do not manage to do it, because I need skills that I am acquiring. It is rewarding and beautiful. One of the things that one does in the final bookkeeping phases of a round is to lose half of their perishable resources (wheat, oil and wine): well, the friend I was teaching the game to at this point showed a face of anguish telling me: "Also this, was it not hard enough?".

This games offers a lot of choices. There are so many strategies, so many “roads”. And there is extreme variability. The player can formulate plans and has to if he/she wants to win this game, but flexibility is needed. The opponent reacts to your moves and the two actions per turn imply that one can’t change the world in one turn, so strategy is the way to win, even if there are hard tactic choices, too.

Sometimes the brain burns because there are so many possibilities, so many paths and sometimes it seems that there is no way out and you know there is, but it is hard to find. Really like promised land for someone who likes heavy Euro-games.

The choices are not in the form of puzzles: there is no optimum solution. There are paths that can push the game in different directions, but it is impossible to calculate everything. So hard choices and no calculable paths… WOW, what do I want more? (given my tastes for games that at this point should be clear to the reader ).

There is luck in the game. I had read here on BGG people lamenting this, that the siege is too luck-driven for example. But in my opinion the way battles are fought (through a card system that reminds me of the battle cards of games like We the People or Hannibal), and the siege, and the events that happen at the beginning of every round are not decisive. Simply because one wins this game for superior strategy and not for clever tactic moves and even less for luck. There are ways to avoid random situations in sieges for examples. But even losing a polis or not getting it in a siege is not decisive. I like the game as it is, the small uncertainty that the random features introduce in the game are perfectly integrated, part of it, making it even more replayable and at the same time making impossible to play it as a calculable experience. No robot playing here, this is a game for humans that like to use both hemispheres of their brain, including the intuitive part.

Speaking about replayability: it is very high. And not only because of random events, but because the game tends to create very different situations, not only from game to game, but even in different moments of the same game.

Image by Cristian Cano

It is thematic. Not as much as a wargame would be. But more than the average Euro-game. The graphics, the rules, the events, the way it plays, the projects, everything is putting the player in the atmosphere of ancient Greece, with its conflicts, but also its culture, its economic problems, its philosophers and so on.


FINAL EVALUATION

If you have followed me till here, I think that it is really not hard to guess that I like this game. A lot. I wish for this game a much wider audience. It shines, it deserves to be at the top of the BGG ranking system, its only problem is to get more people to play it.

So if you like gamer’s games, play this game. NOW!
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Marcel Wapstra
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GREAT REVIEW
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matt way
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A lot of us are waiting for it to arrive in the USA. Short of ordering it from Spain there isn't any availability yet here.

Poliorcetes
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James Ross
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Agreed: great review. You should review more often.
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Mark G.
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I have heard a rumor that there may be a publisher considering this for US distribution. I am not at liberty to elaborate, but I hope it does get distribution in the US. I will definitely consider picking it up when and if it does.

Edit: typo, sorry
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S. R.
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Man, this review is absolutely fantastic!
Thank you for that!
And I hope that many people will read it.
I really hope that someday it will receive a wider audience!

In addition to what the post before this one says - I really hope that the German publishers who were asked to take a deeper look at it will get on the horse! I have no idea if someone considers picking it up, but I sure hope that all the poking and prodding will get them to...
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Antonio Catalán
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MidLifeDelta wrote:
I have heard a rumor that there may be a publisher considering this for US distribution. I am not a liberty to elaborate, but I hope it does get distribution in the US. I will definitely consider picking it up when and if it does.


Not know the details, but there are "rumors" that the game will come to USA soon
I´m the producer of the game . Thanks Paolo for the coment for the production
http://gamesandco.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/y-polis-se-fabric...
is the first (not the last ) game of Asylum Games
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This is a great review Paolo. Thanks. And of course thanks and good luck to Antonio. Cannot wait to get this one played!
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Excellent review. Thank you.
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Antonio Catalán
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abravenewgeek wrote:
This is a great review Paolo. Thanks. And of course thanks and good luck to Antonio. Cannot wait to get this one played!


Thanks, but the luck must be for the editor, the designer, and de grafic designer... i´m only "a piece of the mecanism"
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Cristian Cano
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oceano wrote:


Even more than the rating, the first comment in the item of that GeekList says something that eventually gave me the final push (I bought and played Polis). The comment says:

Quote:

Probably Polis is going to be passed soon in the ranks by big publisher's games but for me this could easily be one of the best games from the last few years.

BUY A COPY WHILE IT'S AVAILABLE!


I did follow the advice (thank you bravucon) [...]


You're welcome, now you know that I'm not a liar.

Congratulations for your review, you have been able to explain exactly the same feelings that Polis transmits to me. This game shines in all directions... you deserved some of my geekgold!

PS: And thank you for using one of my pictures for your review (specially that one with my daugther's Gloworm in the sofa's armrest).
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Waiting for my copy to arrive...
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Joshua Miller
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Thank you for the outstanding review. The context you give about your tastes and background is very helpful.
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oceano wrote:
So if you like gamer’s games, play this game. NOW!

Will do so next Friday meeple
Thanks for the review - I'm really looking forward to play it!
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Paolo Ciardulli
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Thanks to all for the kind words and for the GeekGold.
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Great review. Just stumbled through a learning game tonight solitaire, and I got chills - great game. It puts players in real dilemmas - your spending your victory points (prestige and population) to get more of same. The trade and political pawn rules are very well thought out. And just when do you pass.... argh!

This game is very good.
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A great review for a great game!

My girlfriend an me have played a couple of games yet, and it was a fantastic experience.
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You convinced me to buy/preorder this game at "It is a Euro-game. It is a resource management game, in which battles are very rare."

I am off to order/preorder the game I will be back to finish reading your excellent review!

Thanks for your hard work!
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Matt Olson
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Fantastic review. The ethos at the beginning really contextualised and enhanced my understanding of why you like the game - it is something that a lot of reviews skip.
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Chris B
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Great review! Thanks, this game is on my radar now!
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Sylvain Lafond
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Beloeil
Quebec
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Indeed. Same for me.

Thanks for the review. Well done.
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John McD
Scotland
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it's a great review, thank you.

At the start you tease you'll compare with Antike Duellum, but never do. I'd love your opinion on the two.
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Paolo Ciardulli
Italy
Trento
TN
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May all beings be happy. Whatever beings there may be, whether they are weak or strong, without exception, long, big, medium, short or small, whether visible or invisible, those living near or far, those born or to-be-born, may all beings be happy!
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BlackSpy wrote:
it's a great review, thank you.

At the start you tease you'll compare with Antike Duellum, but never do. I'd love your opinion on the two.


I mentioned Antike, not Antike Duellum (which I would like to try some day, but that I have not played yet).

So I could compare it with Antike, if you wish What I tried to point out with the review is that Polis is not an Antike clone, it is a completely different game sharing very little with Antike and with any other game I have played. It is an original game, and I don't think that any word of comparison with others would add much, I think the only way to really appreciate Polis is to try it
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John McD
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oceano wrote:
I think the only way to really appreciate Polis is to try it :)


I've ordered it, so I hope to!
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Moe45673
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Toronto
Ontario
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You're the reason I own this game. Now I just need to upgrade the wife from Castles of Burgundy to this!
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