Akrotiri

The duo of Canadian designers Sen-Foong Lim and Jay Cormier are on a bit of a roll recently. After the critically acclaimed Belfort in 2011, they released Tortuga – a lighter pirate themed dice game. They also had one of the most well received TMG microgames from last year with the awkwardly named but super fun This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 Of Us.

…but it’s their latest effort, Akrotiri, that has me so excited.

What is it?

Akrotiri is a fresh and challenging two-player game from Z-Man that gives little nodes to a few other games – most notably to Tsuro. It also comes in a box that’s about the same size as Tsuro… so you’d be forgiven for believing that this is a short, light filler game. What you get inside the tiny box is a collection of tiles and cards and components that begin taking over your table, slowly consuming it.

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You are a traveller in ancient greece, sailing between islands in the Aegean sea and discovering new ones all the time. Ultimately, your goal is to find lost temples on these islands, and you’ll do this by picking up goods and delivering them back to your home port of Thera, where you’ll sell them for a price – and earn the money you need to speed up your victory.

How does it play?

My comparison to Tsuro is mostly in relation to how the board expands, and how plays move through it.

At the beginning of the game, your ship is dropped onto a central tile with an island called Thera. You will have some “map” cards that illustrate where you might find temples. These simply tell you that perhaps the temple is west of a blue island, and maybe south of two red islands. More elaborate maps (worth more points) require more criteria be fulfilled.

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Then, at the beginning of their turn, players will flip over a single tile and add it to the existing world. The players will be doing this strategically, trying to build a world that matches up the islands with the map cards they hold. They’ll be manipulating it to fit their needs. Then, players can move around and perform actions. Movement is the aspect that’s very Tsuro like, where players will follow a line for a single movement action that connects through tiles and ride it anywhere it goes. They will only expend more movement points if they stop and want to move again, or if they want to jump and island (ie. portage).

Players will be able to use action points to also load up on goods from an island and then sell them back at Thera. You can also visit the Oracle at Thera, which will let you grab a specific world tile for use next turn.

Finally, once you can prove that there’s an unoccupied island that matches the “coordinates” of one of your map cards, you can visit it and use an action to place one of your temples there. This will earn you the points of the map card, and as you place more and more temples from your player board, you’ll uncover bonuses.

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Again, you can only place a temple on an island that doesn’t already have one. So while the world is growing, and more and more coloured markers make it easier to match up to your increasingly elaborate map cards… the number of available islands upon which you can place a temple is shrinking. It’s a balanced ecosystem that provides a good amount of challenge.

Once a player has placed their sixth and final temple, the game ends – and scoring commences.

What’s good about it?

All the components in Akrotiri are lovely. The box is gorgeous, and fits the game perfectly. No wasted space here. The game itself is surprising challenging, and deceptively longer than expected at ~1 hour, though it doesn’t feel slow at any point. While it’s very easy to play, there’s some layering of complexity between the world, the map cards, and your goal cards that want you to achieve certain types of temple placement to earn bonus points.

What’s bad about it?

It’s kind of a shame that this was cut back to a two player game, since I know the designers had hoped to release it as a four player game, and have even suggested buying two copies and merging them (making identifiable marks on the 3rd and 4th player components) to be able to play it that way. On one hand, I understand why they did this. It’s a beautiful two player experience, and mixing in two more players by default would dramatically increase the complexity of the world and the competition within it.

Luck?

There is some output randomness in the luck-of-the-draw with the world tiles – though it’s not critical, and it’s avoidable by spending an action point to grab exactly the type of tile you want for your next turn. There’s also a card draw for maps, though you can opt to draw from an easy, medium, or hard deck… and a draw for goals, though for these you draw two cards and keep one, which somewhat mitigates a bad draw.

Overall, the type of luck built in to the game is overshadowed by the player strategy, and serves to guide the challenges more than anything.

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So?

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed Akrotiri! I particularly like that it’s such a small, portable game, but that it has a good amount of depth and strategy involved. Something else that I find fascinating about the game (though as far as I can tell it has very little bearing on player interaction) is the orientation aspect, which I haven’t mentioned yet. Each players view of the world is upside down from the other… so my north is your south. It would have been nice to see this twist have a bit more impact on the game, but most of the time, Akrotiri feels fairly player solitaire. You’ll be competing for islands, and have the ability to block certain a port with your ship, but that’s about where the interactivity ends. The rest of the game is a race to see who can reach that final temple first, and with the most points.

I’m happy to have this one in my collection, and feel like anyone who’s looking for a good, light, but crunchy two player experience would enjoy it.

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