Updated: Nov 7
WBG Score: 8.5/10
Player Count: 2-4
Published by: IELLO
Designed by: Rémi Mathieu
This is a review copy. See our review policy here
Ancient Knowledge is from first time designer Rémi Mathieu. It blows me away when new designers are able to create such deep and rich game experiences. Or maybe there were just a load of failures that never made it to BGG!? Either way, Rémi Mathieu has created a thing of absolute beauty with Ancient Knowledge. The game, I think, looks stunning. But how does it play? Let's get it to the table and find out.
How To Set Up Ancient Knowledge
Each player takes a board and places it in front of them, leaving space either side and above for more cards to be placed. Shuffle the main deck of cards and deal each player ten cards, from this they will choose a starting hand of six cards, and discard the other four. For someone's first game it is advised to give them a starting deck of six cards, shown by the symbol on the bottom right of some of the cards. Next, lay out the three technology tracks on the board, placing three cards from the level one deck onto the first two tracks, and three cards from the level two deck onto the third. Finally place the tablet tokens into a central area, decide who will be the first player and give them the first player token, and you are now ready to play.
How To Play Ancient Knowledge
Players will take it in turns to carry out two actions until the end game trigger occurs. This is when one player has 14 or more cards in their 'past.' I will explain that in a bit. Play continues until all players have had the same amount of turns, which could mean no more turns, depending on which player triggered this, and then final scoring occurs. Players are looking to play Monument play cards into their play area to score points, and trigger various card combos to increase their turn efficiencies.
On each players turn they can carry out two actions, this can be any combination of five options. Two are very simple and just involve getting cards. You can either take one card from the top of the pile, or if you have cards in your 'past' you can rotate them 90 degrees to draw two new cards. Another option is to take one of the nine face up cards on the tech tracks adding it to the right of your board. The cards from the first two tracks help with your in game powers and abilities, whilst cards from the bottom track help with end game points. Another option allows players to discard a card to remove negative points in the shape of knowledge tokens, more on that later. The final two options are to play Monument cards to the top of your player board or to play an Artefact onto your board. Playing Monuments is the main part of the game and how you will gain most of your powers and points. This is a tableau building engine builder, although your tableau keeps changing and your engine has movable parts. This is the genius of the game!
When you play an Artefact card, simply lay it down into one of the five spaces on your player board. You can never have more than five of these cards in play at once, and you can only remove them if a card has specific instruction to do so. Otherwise, they remain in play and offer in game powers at various stages of the game.
The main action is to play the Monument cards. Each Monument card has one of three different symbols. Either the blue Stone Henge, the red Pantheon, or the green Chichén Itzá symbol. (Yes, I googled that!) They also have a number in a circle, showing which location above your board they must be placed. You can discard a card from your hand to place them into a different location if you chose. For each card you discard you can move one column. Unless it has a padlock symbol on, in which case it has to go to its specific location.
Each card will show a number next to a Knowledge symbol. Sometimes this will be zero, in which case you don't need to worry, but otherwise, you must place the shown number of Knowledge tokens onto the card as you place it. If these are not removed by a certain point, they will score you minus points at the end of the game.
Once a player has carried out their two actions, play moves to the Timeline phase. This is when all cards with the Timeline symbol are activated. Cards such as the ones shown below will now allow players certain powers such as to change their hand of cards or remove Knowledge tokens.
Play then moves to the final Decline phase, in which all Monument cards in the active rows move left one column. Any card in the number one spot will move into the players 'past' which means they are now stored vertically to the left of the player board. This is where cards can later be rotated 90 degrees to excavate and draw two cards. Some cards have a specific power that is activated before they are put into the past, look out for cards such as the below with the Decline symbol, and carry out the required actions before you move them down. Any remaining Knowledge tokens on cards that are put into the players past are moved onto the space for them on the players board. They will count as negative points during final scoring. Play will then move to the next player.
When one player has seven or more cards in their past, the middle Tech track is flipped from a one to a two side, and players now have access to more level two tech cards. This allows players to plan for the final scoring in a more efficient way, whilst acting as a reminder to all players about the stage of the game they are in. When someone reaches seven cards in their past, typically you will be two thirds through the game. Give or take.
Whenever a player has 14 or more cards in their past, the end game triggers. All players continue until they have all had the same number of turns, then final scoring begins. Player will score points for all Monument cards in their past based on the cards score, as well as for any additional scoring some cards offer. They will also score for the level two tech cards, and an additional one point for any card still in their active Monument row. They will then subtract any Knowledge tokens on their board and total their final score.
Is It Fun? Ancient Knowledge Board Game Review
Ancient Knowledge is an incredibly slick and well oiled machine. There are so many cards. Soooooo many. 144 in fact. But you will fly through them, even in lower player counts. Through the course of every game I have played I have always found a way to manipulate my hand to get what I wanted. Sometimes it takes some time. But you have a bit of time in this game. And you can always build for later scoring opportunities even when you don't have everything you need right now. Or if you don't quite know what you will get! The ways you can combo the cards together to do this is incredibly satisfying. They are flexible, numerous, but powerful.
The only negative I would say is that knowing the deck and how the cards work together is a big advantage. It would be hard to play this evenly with players who have a mixed experience of the game. However, when teaching this, I have gone through 20-30 cards briefly during the teach to try and accelerate each players understanding of the deck and this does help new players to catch up. Teaching the game is a breeze. It takes a few minutes. So, I think it is worth spending time on the deck for new players to over come this new player disadvantage.
It feels like there is so much control in this game. There are so many options available to you in terms of what strategy you employ. Will you go big on the tech cards, or work to get your Artefacts down early to increase your powers as you play? Perhaps you will focus on building Monuments early to control the pace and length of the game? The cards themselves have multiple options too. Either cards that score high but have bigger things that need to be done that are harder to fulfil in order to score. Or cards with lower scoring opportunities, but can be scored quickly and easily.
There are a few cards in the deck that directly attack another player, which works fine in a two player game, but in higher player counts it feels off. You will typically attack the leading player, but that is not always apparent. So, it feels unfairly targeted and spiteful at times. These cards can be easily burned in the game for other uses, or simply removed before you start. Although it is not easy to find them. However, I would say this game is perfect at two players anyway. The game can be a little slow with three or four. Especially if it's with players new to the game and still learning the deck. If you plan to play with the same three or four all the time, then fine. Players can make their choices quicker when they know the deck. But the downtime between turns can be long with newer players, as people check their cards out.
As discussed, there are a lot of ways to cycle the deck and get new cards. You need to read each one when you get it to understand if it will work for you or not. This can be frustrating to watch and wait for. Especially if you have planned out your turn and know you can get it over in seconds. Some turns do fly by, whereas others have combos and knock effects, and can run for a lot longer. Especially if you have a lot of Timeline powers. This is fine with two players, but can drag a little with more players.
The card art is stunning and the theme is interesting, but in truth, as I play, I do not really consider the card art or theme at all. In this respect, the game reminds me a little of Tapestry. Another combo-tastic civilisation style game, that has amazing art, but feels more mechanic led than thematical as you play. But I do not care about this for either game as it is just so much fun to play. Finding a group of cards that work well together and score well for me is incredibly satisfying. Starting each game and staring at that big deck of cards feels exciting. I am anxious to find out which cards I will get my hands on, and enjoy the process of trying to find a group of cards that will push me to victory.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys games where cards allow them to do clever things. I think you need to think hard about the player count you will play this at. 2-4 is all fine, but not so much for the higher player counts if you are playing with new people all the time. It has the perfect mid-weight crunch I love in games. An hour or so, depending on player count, but a meaty and satisfying experience. With minimal rules and simple set up. This game delivers a lot with mainly just cards. Well worth checking out.