Surviving in 11th Century Italy
May 19, 2008
Antiquity is brutal. That is simply the most obvious adjective to describe it. Antiquity is unrelenting, vicious, and merciless. It is a game of pollution and graves. It is a game of treading water in a small pool teeming with piranhas. It is a game of survival. And itís a pure joy to play.
The introduction to the rules puts it best:
"These fields no longer yield grain the way they used to," complains the farmer. "And people these days don't like to eat plain bread any more. Why don't we start farming olives, like our neighbors?" The cart-driver nods: "We could, but there is no more land. Ever since those city folks started worshipping San Giorgio I have to travel further and further to new building sites. I'm on my way now to that new inn. I'll change horses there. Then Iíll take this load," he gestures towards the pile of wood in the cart with his head, "to the sea beyond. Gonna start some fisheries there. The seas in the South have all been polluted, and the city folks need their fish. You know how it is." As the cart starts moving again, the farmer nods his head in reply, then takes his sickle to harvest the last bushels of grain, growing between the stumps of what used to be a lush forest."
Antiquity is a game designed by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga, and published by Splotter Spellen, that pits two to four players against each other (and even more so against the game system itself) on a modular board representing Italy in the late Middle Age. To give you a sense of the variability in the board, given the number of tiles and the variety of configurations, there are over 800,000 different possible two-player maps (and significantly more multi-player maps). To give you a sense of the variability of the gameplay, there are five completely different winning conditions that players can choose from during the game, and each one requires an entirely different approach to the game. There are winning conditions that force you to grow your population, or collect many different resources, or build every possible building in your cities, or expand your territory to surround an opponent. As you can probably tell from just these brief descriptions, those are not remotely similar goals, and having the freedom to determine your own path is what makes this game truly special.
The five different victory conditions (and corresponding special abilities) that you can choose between are based on the five different patron saints to which you can dedicate the cathedral that you build. Those are San Nicolo, Santa Barbara, San Christofori, San Giorgio, and Santa Maria. In the twelve games of Antiquity that I have played thus far, the available victory conditions are impressively balanced, with their viability depending significantly on the way in which the map is laid out for the particular game at issue. I have seen four of the five different saints win (all but San Nicolo). However, I would like to take a moment now to calculate the sheer amount of resources needed to satisfy each of the patron saints.
First, San Nicolo requires you to grow your population to 20, which means you must build all 20 houses. Since you get 4 houses for free, this means you only need to build 16 houses. In addition, this patron saintís special ability is to give you one free house every time you build a house, so you only need to pay for 8 houses to win the game. That sounds simple enough, but since the cost of houses gradually increases, you will end up needing to spend 30 resources in total (roughly 20 food and 10 luxuries). This is because the 8 houses will cost 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, and 6. However, since 2 cities provide 85 squares in which to build, and 20 houses only takes up 20 squares, you should be able to complete San Nicoloís requirement without having to build a third city (as long as you donít get stuck with too many graves). In addition, all of the strategies will need to buy at least a few houses in order to grow their population somewhat and be successful, so the extra amount needed to satisfy this winning condition is slightly less than 30. In order to succeed with San Nicolo it is clear that you will need to build the Faculty of Philosophy, so that you can build a house that costs ď3D Food and 3D LuxĒ without collecting three different food and three different luxury goods. While all of the other strategies can easily get by without this building (except Santa Barbara of course, although itís usually built very late with Santa Barbara), it seems to be an essential building for San Nicolo, at least by mid-game. As with any strategy besides San Giorgio, either the Faculty of Alchemy or the Dump would seem to be necessary to combat pollution in some way, while combining both is probably overkill. In my experience, San Nicolo has actually been the least successful of all the patron saints, probably in part (or perhaps in whole) due to the fact that it simply costs more resources to satisfy. Then again, never having a shortage of population to activate your buildings is certainly a nice advantage of this strategy, although maybe not nice enough to overcome the extra resources needed.
Second, Santa Barbara requires you to build all 18 possible buildings in your cities. This is actually easier than it sounds because buildings in Antiquity are surprisingly cheap. The total cost of all 18 buildings is only 21 resources (i.e., 8 wood, 9 stone, 4 luxuries) because every building except three of them (i.e., Faculty of Biology, Faculty of Alchemy, Stables) costs only a single resource. However, Santa Barbara is the only patron saint that will absolutely necessitate building a third city in order to fit all of the buildings. Since each city costs five resources, you have to add an extra five to the number of resources necessary for Santa Barbara, bringing the total to 26 resources (i.e., 9 wood, 10 stone, 6 luxuries, 1 food). On the other hand, many of the buildings that you will build to satisfy Santa Barbara are also needed to succeed with any of the other strategies, such as Cart Shop, Cathedral, Granary, and possibly Harbour and Forced Labour. This is certainly one of the cheaper winning conditions, but is balanced in part by its weaker special ability, which simply allows you to rearrange the buildings in your city, which is completely unnecessary if you plan ahead.
Third, San Christofori requires you to collect many different resources. Specifically, you must collect three of every different food resource (i.e., Grain, Olives, Sheep, Fish) and three of every different luxury resource (i.e., Wine, Pearls, Dye, Gold). The cost of this is obviously the easiest to calculate since you merely need to multiply three by eight, and get a total of 24 resources to satisfy San Christofori. In addition, itís worth noting that this patron saint definitely doesnít require building a third city, in contrast to Santa Barbara. In fact, your second city with San Christofori may not even be that full (except perhaps with graves if you donít get your food production going fast enough to avoid famine). The special ability associated with San Christofori is certainly one of the most powerful in that it allows you to have free unlimited storage of resources. This is significant because not only does it save you the early wood cost of building a Storage building, but it also saves you both the room in your city for placing such a building, and the cost of using a man to activate the Storage building. Free storage may not be something that you absolutely need if you can be perfectly efficient and time all of your harvesting to match your resource needs, but that is certainly an extremely challenging feat (much more so than simply planning out your buildings to overcome any need for the special ability provided by Santa Barbara).
The remaining two patron saints do not actually have resource costs that are calculable. San Giorgio requires you to expand your territory to surround an opponent, and Santa Maria requires you to satisfy any two other winning conditions (but at least provides you with every special ability to help you on your daunting quest). As you can tell, the cost for San Giorgio depends entirely on what your opponents are doing and how the map is laid out. In the end though San Giorgio will certainly cost fewer resources than any of the other strategies because it will require approximately six or seven inns, each of which costs one food. On the other hand, San Giorgio will require speed, spatial awareness, tactical placement of inns, and flexibility to adapt. San Giorgio may be the cheapest patron saint to satisfy, but the most vulnerable to being frustrated by an opponentís decisions. As for Santa Maria, I have only seen the requirements for that demanding patron saint satisfied once in twelve games. You definitely have to take advantage of getting all four special abilities make this saint feasible. You also need to decide early which two victory conditions youíre going to try to satisfy. It would seem as if you would want to only pick on the resource intensive conditions (i.e., Christofori, Nicolo, Barbara) and pair any of those three with Giorgio. Otherwise youíll need to collect a ton of resources to build all the buildings and all the houses, or do one of those things and save 24 resources to satisfy Christofori. The free storage, free houses, and free fish that come with Santa Maria certainly do give you a jump on the competition, but that wonít mean anything if you arenít able to capitalize on that edge to get a sizeable resource production lead on your opponents.
In the end, I donít have specific strategy advice on which patron saint to pursue, except to say that it depends. Thatís possibly not the most satisfying answer, although it is the answer that will allow you to keep returning to the game for countless repeated plays. I think your patron saint will have to be dictated by the map and your opponents. Long stretches of water may be conducive to pursuing San Giorgio with an early Harbour. Large amounts of stone may be conducive to pursuing Santa Barbara since none of the other patron saints require much stone at all. Then again, a popular strategy has emerged in my recent games of Antiquity, in which players tend to build an early cathedral dedicated to San Christofori in order to get the free unlimited storage, but they never set out to complete that patron saintís goal. Rather, they aim towards completing Santa Barbaraís victory condition, and use the Faculty of Theology to raze their cathedral and rebuild it on the last turn. This has recently proven to be a remarkably successful strategy, although hopefully still beatable, at least by a fast and aggressive San Giorgio approach. Iíll have to keep playing to try all of the patron saints out more to see for sure.
Turning now from the end goal of the game to the opening turn of the game, Iíd like to think a bit about how many ways you can use your first six wood and four people that you begin the game with. There are obviously an enormous number of opening turns, including many different approaches you can take in the first City phase and the first Field phase, but I think the first question is how many cart shops to build, which will dictate how many men you can send into the field to gather resources on the first turn. I will break down the possible first turn openings by the number of cart shops built.
I hope that this article has inspired you to try or revisit Antiquity or at least has given you a sense for the game even if it doesnít sound like your cup of tea. I admit that itís definitely not a game for everyone, just as some of my other favorites like Age of Steam are not for everyone, but itís a gem of a game for those who enjoy a challenge. I look forward to exploring it much more in the years to come.