Longtime readers will know that I’m not…exactly a big economy games guy. I don’t know if it’s my total inability to do math or my complete inability to focus (something that hyper-intricate economy games usually need), but they very rarely click with me. So when the lovely people at Stronghold Games sent me a copy of Amul, one of their most recent titles, I was worried I wouldn’t like it. But, like with most things, you shouldn’t judge a game by its box art, and once I’d gotten a chance to play it I realized that not only did I like it, it also felt like something completely different from any similar game I’ve played.
What’s In The Box?
Since Amul is centered around card drafting, there’s isn’t a whole lot to the game outside of cards. The cards included in the game represent the commodities you can trade, workers you can employ, and even buildings and vehicles…well, camels that you need to make your business thrive. The cards are beautiful on both sides, with the back of each card showing a different design and color of jeweled disc depending on what sort of card it is. The art that makes up the front of the cards is warm and authentic, not cartoonish but still stylized enough to capture the mood of the time. The designers also anchored the game in a specific time and place (11th century Arabia), showing their research in the multicultural and cosmopolitan characters and items used in the game. The final piece of the puzzle is the game board, a funky little triangle that is mainly there to help organize the different card stacks and delineate day and night. But it’s helpful to have a “hub” of sorts so the game has a focus, and it’s something that really helps the game stand out from its competition.
How’s It Play?
When you play Amul, you take on the role of a trader trying to make their way in the thriving ancient city of Amul (in modern day Turkmenistan). Through drafting cards you create combos and earn prestige points, which at the end of the game give you victory. Each round the market fills with new cards before the merchants all offer something up in the market as well. Your choice as a player is thus a little more variable from round to round. You also have the opportunity to drop cards at the end of the round, and many cards are affected by the presence of others. A big part of this game is keeping track of what each merchant is going for, what they’re getting rid of, and how you can foil them along the way. It’s incredibly fast paced and even at a full eight player table doesn’t go past the 45 minutes listed on the box.
What cards you have also change between games, as the makeup of the decks are changed depending on number of players. Amul has essentially been constructed to be extremely replayable, with each game being different from the rest and requiring different strategies. A great example of this are the Tea cards, which are used to trip up players and make strategy harder. If someone has played enough Amul, they might know what cards are coming and when, but adding in the Tea cards messes that up and adds a bit of randomness to keep the game from getting stale and veteran players from either dominating or getting bored. It’s a big problem for card games like this, and it’s nice to see all the ways that the designers worked to avert it.
I think that Amul is a bit of a hidden gem of 2019, and one that I don’t see talked about as much as I think it should be. Part of that can be chalked up to the simpler rules being a turn off for people who like the resource/economic games, or to more casual people being turned off by that theme (similar to why I was). But it’s so fast and fun that it’s almost a party game, though the depth of strategy in the game means that you’ll be able to get Amul off the shelf many, many times without getting tired of it. It’s also a beautiful game with an interesting theme, a theme that it handles quite well. It’s not just something that the designers slapped a ARABIAN theme on to make it special, there’s a good deal of research and historical accuracy baked in. Plus, you gotta love that funky triangle board!
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You can pick up Amul on Amazon or at your FLGS.
Images via Stronghold Games and Kevin Grote