Age of Renaissance (AOR), one of The Avalon Hill Game Company's latest releases, has been a favorite during club meetings I've attended over the past few months. Its rules are relatively easy to learn, but understanding this game's mechanics and then applying that understanding towards gaming success are two different topics. However, we're sure enjoying trying to master this most excellent game...one that should earn Avalon Hill a good deal of kudos and professional recognition.
AOR is something of a mix of other games. It consists of Epochs and special event cards similar to History of the World. It's a multiplayer game involving trading similar to Civilization, and has elements which players of New World should not find unfamiliar. The combination of tried and true game design principles with a few new wrinkles makes AOR a novel gaming experience. Each of a maximum of six AOR players takes the rôle of one of Europe's primary trading powers, from the Dark Ages, through the Renaissance, and up through the Enlightenment. Unlike History of the World, you're not a different Power each turn, but consistently in the rôle of leader of either Venice, Genoa, Barcelona, Paris, London, or Hamburg throughout the game.
The beautiful mounted color map of AOR depicts a stylized Europe divided into various Provinces and Sea Areas. Off-map Boxes allow action to expand into India, The East Indies, and China, once a player purchases the "Ocean Navigation" ability; and into North and South America with acquisition of the ability to enter into those two Boxes.
Provinces are grouped into major Areas. A nice feature of the game is that when the maximum six Players aren't available, a good contest is still possible. Unlike History of the World, which can get pretty strange and play-unbalanced with less than the maximum number of Players, AOR retains its play-balance by eliminating an Area of the map for each missing contestant. This is done from north to south: i.e. with five Players, Area I (containing Hamburg) is eliminated; with four Players, Area II (containing London) is deleted as well as Area I; with three Players, Area III (containing Paris) is removed as well as Areas I and II. The core playing field of the map revolves around the Mediterranean, and a game with but three Players (Venice, Genoa, and Barcelona) worthily encompasses the full scope and breadth of play.
Each Player starts the game with $40. Like New World, Players first bid for their choice of starting location, using a pre-printed Aid Sheet (a pad of these are provided with the game): high bid gets first pick, with ties resolved by die roll. There are certain advantages to each Power, with some being more desirable than others: Genoa, for example, is rarely a popular first choice, since like Austria-Hungary in Diplomacy, it is surrounded by rapacious neighbors. However, we've observed several games in which Genoa has won, or at least done well. In AOR, each Power has a genuine opportunity to win the game. What's important is not to overbid. You can bid too much for a desirable Power, such as Venice or Hamburg, and then not have enough cash left to optimize its potential during the crucial first turns of the game.
Once Major Powers are assigned, each Player secretly allocates his remaining dollars between Tokens, which can be placed upon the map like armies in traditional board wargames, and/or Cash, which is necessary to buy AOR's Civilization Advances and ultimately win the game. Each Token costs $1, but choosing how many Tokens to purchase triggers a fascinating trade-off decision, since the Player with the most Tokens goes last in that turn's sequence of play. When AOR starts and all but the six home Provinces are vacant, going last can mean those "freebie" Provinces you'd had your eye on could, by your turn, be occupied by an opponent. Going first has competitive advantages if attacking a neighbor's Tokens within a Province...but by going first, you had to have bid the least number of Tokens! Each Player is limited to 36 Tokens and 25 Control markers.
Buffer Provinces defensively support neighboring friendly-occupied Provinces, and can only be occupied by a single Token (arrows graphically show which Provinces can be supported). Each AOR Province or Box has a numeral within it, indicating its Token Population Maximum. When it's your turn to place Tokens on the map, you may do so only in relation to friendly Provinces or a Province you'd occupied with at least one Token from the preceding turn. Players are consequently compelled to expand from an initial "power base". Seafaring ability, particularly as the game progresses, gives competitors greater mobility, vastly increasing the choices where Tokens may be placed. Initially, Players can purchase galleys which transport but a few Tokens along routes compelled to hug coastal waters. Eventually, Powers acquiring "Seaworthy Vessels" can transport larger numbers of Tokens to any coastal Province.
Although different Players' Tokens can occupy the same Province, unless a sole player controls it, that Province's trade commodity is useless. When Token placement exceeds a Province's Population Maximum, conflict immediately results and the dice are tossed. AOR is a game where the attacker throws all the dice (so you get to screw up your own attack...what fun!). To make an attack, you need to allocate Tokens equal to the Province's Population Maximum, the number of opposing Tokens (of all players), and the effect of any enemy-supporting Buffer Provinces. This can get expensive, particularly if it takes more than one attack to do the job...that is, if your luck allows it to get done at all!
The combat procedure is simple enough. The attacker's die is black, and the defender's die is white; if the attacker's result is higher than the defender's, the attacker wins, and all opposing tokens are removed from the Province with the attacker's Control marker replacing them. However, if it wasn't higher, there's another way to win the attack. A third (green) die is rolled for each combat, and if its result is higher than the attacking Power's playing sequence order for that turn, the attack succeeds. (For example, if you go first and the green die result is higher than a one, you would win the attack.)
When you control a Province (via a Control marker representing a number of your Power's Tokens equal to the Province's Population Maximum), you get its Trade Commodity. All main European Provinces have a single commodity, e.g. Venice is a "Cloth" Province. The Far East "Offshore Boxes" are dual commodity, and the two New World Boxes of North and South America have three commodities each. When a Power reveals a particular Commodity card, all Players owning shares of that Commodity get paid.
The basic sequence of play for a turn is that after Token/Cash allocations are made, each Player per revealed sequence (the Power who'd bought the least Tokens goes first) takes a card from the deck, keeping it secret until played. Then each Player has the choice of playing his cards, from none to all in his hand, with each card's effect immediately sustained. The next Phase is Purchases, consisting of optional ship upgrade acquisition, buying Civilization Advances, paying for the cards remaining in his hand (this "Stabilization" can get quite expensive with but a few cards; knowing when it's best to reveal a given card is a must to play AOR well), and finally, if able, buying down your Power's Misery Index.
Misery occurs if a Player fails to pay his required Stabilization, through buying a Religion Advance, or via Events resulting through play of certain cards (see this article's Players' Aid Summary). Each "step" of Misery is initially $10 each, but as more are individually accumulated, steps increase in value to, for example, $100 each. When the game ends, in a "Sudden Death" manner similar to Guerilla with all cards in Players' hands forced to be played, each Player totals the value of his cash-in-hand, the worth of all Civilization Advances purchased, and then subtracts his final Misery from that total. Suffice it to say that each competitor must give attention to his people's happiness; for with 1000 Misery Points, you're out of the game due to "Civil Disorder".
The next Phase of a turn has Players deploying their Tokens to occupy and/or control Provinces (resolving conflicts as necessary) in sequence. Players can each buy a card from the deck with their Tokens, although the cost increases $3 for each card so purchased. The Power gaining and holding the most new Provinces for that turn gets a bonus card from the deck, after all Players complete their Token placements.
Players then collect Income based on the number of Provinces controlled; this money is in addition to any gained through play of Commodity Cards. Next, dice are rolled to see if any two commodities are in "Shortage" (each holder gets one increment more money if its card gets played) or "Surplus" (one increment less money) for the next turn. The turn ends with Players revealing how much Cash each has, which can really trigger the sound of "blades sharpening", and performing their Token/Cash allocations for the upcoming turn.
Throughout play (and this can be an effort until you get used to AOR's game system), one must remember that this is a contest of economics, not a wargame. Conflicts are to resolve who controls markets, so when that market's Commodity Card is played, it will be you who can get the most cash.
A Player can fall behind and still have a chance at coming back to finish well (or at least be a "spoiler", which can be fun). You never lose Advances purchased, and will always get some income to buy Tokens, and can hope that the dice and card picks will be favorable.
A recent issue of Avalon Hill's General magazine (Volume 31, Number 2) has a good AOR article with color illustrations of the Mediterranean sections of the map and a Game Replay of the first few turns of a three Player contest. Rather than take up more newsletter space with further description of this fine game, seek out this issue of the General to flesh out your impression of AOR. I have not included everything in my own overview descriptions - but hopefully they are enough to pique your interest.
What I wish to provide with the remaining article space is a Players' Aid listing all History Cards comprising AOR's deck. Cards are divided into classes. These are:
Incidentally, all diplomacy between players must be at the table, and not conducted in secret. Furthermore, you may never show cards to another player (they may, of course, lie through their teeth as to which cards they have), nor cede Provinces without resolving competition die rolls. Diplomacy between players is more akin to History of the World than Diplomacy. Stabs don't seem as nefarious in AOR, since if all are playing rationally, it's prudent to "gang up on the leader". Just tell him "nothing personal - just business!" Age of Renaissance is a terrific game! Hopefully, you'll have an opportunity to learn and enjoy it as we have.
(It's hoped that this Players' Aid helps you versus the card counter type of AOR opponent.)
Commodity Cards: Epoch I / Epoch II / Epoch III's number of cards in the deck precedes each commodity's description. For example, by Epoch III, three Spice cards could be available within the History Card deck after it's been reshuffled. The $ values following each commodity's description is the "pay-out" on the number of increments held, and the number of increments is how many Provinces and Offshore Boxes possess that commodity.
|Epoch I||Epoch II||Epoch III||Commodity||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9|
"Dual Commodity" Cards: Cloth/Wine and Gold/Ivory
Note how much more valuable some commodities are versus others. As lucrative commodities such as Spice or Silk are located in the Near and/or Far East, Player "land grabs" and fierce competition are not unusual when it's known that unplayed cards for those commodities are either lurking in the deck or face-down in someone's hand for the current Epoch. On the other hand, why bother attacking Ivory Provinces if that commodity's sole card was one of the first revealed during an Epoch? There'd be better targets or uses for your Cash.
Leader Cards: the letter code for a Leader's Civilization Advance Discount cross-references to an excellent, well laid-out summary printed on the back of the rulebook.
|Dionysus Exigus||$20 credit for (N) Written Record|
|Charlemagne||$20 credit for (W) Nationalism|
|Walter the Penniless||$20 credit for (R) Overland East; $30 if played on the same turn that the The Crusades Event Card is played|
|Rashid ad Din||$10 credit for (N) Written Record
$10 credit for (R) Overland East
|Saint Benedict||$10 credit for (N) Written Record
$10 credit for (E) Patronage
|William Caxton||$20 credit for (O) Printed Word|
|Columbus||$30 credit for (U) New World
$30 credit for (T) Ocean Navigation
|Copernicus||$20 credit for (A) The Heavens
$20 credit for (X) Institutional Research
|Erasmus||$20 credit for (O) Printed Word
$20 credit for (Q) Renaissance
|Gutenberg||$30 credit for (O) Printed Word|
|Prince Henry||$20 credit for (T) Ocean Navigation
$20 credit for (X) Institutional Research
|Ibn Majid||$20 credit for (T) Ocean Navigation
$20 credit for (Y) Cosmopolitan
|Marco Polo||$20 credit for (R) Overland East (this credit increases to $40 after the "The Mongols" Event Card has been played)
$20 credit for (Y) Cosmopolitan
|Bartolome de Las Casas||$30 credit for (Y) Cosmopolitan|
|Leonardo de Vinci||$20 credit for (P) Master Art
$20 credit for (B) Human Body
$20 credit for (Q) Renaissance
|Galileo Galilei||$20 credit for (A) The Heavens
$20 credit for (Q) Renaissance
|Sir Isaac Newton||$20 credit for (C) Laws of Matter
$20 credit for (D) Enlightenment
|Henry Oldenberg||$30 credit for (D) Enlightenment|
|Andreas Vesalius||$20 credit for (B) Human Body
$20 credit for (D) Enlightenment
You do not have to play a Leader Card within its Epoch; for example, one could hold onto Charlemagne as a face-down card within one's hand into Epoch III. (Although that's not good AOR gameplay, as accumulated "Stabilization" costs could exceed the Leader's Discount Value.)
Leaders with multiple "talents" provide multiple discounts to their patrons. A Leader's talents may be split, with one talent used to provide a discount towards purchase of the indicated Civilization Advance(s), and another talent used to award a "rebate".
The first Leader played during a turn is placed into a special box printed upon the board, and is exempt from the "Patronage" claims of other Players. So here's another consideration in determining how may Tokens to bid for the upcoming turn!
Event Cards: the following Epoch I Event Cards are reshuffled into the deck for redraws during the next Epoch:
|Alchemist Gold||The Player of your choice pays half of his written Cash (from Token/Cash allocation for that turn) into the Bank. This card is voided by the "Laws of Matter" Advance.|
|Civil War||The Player of your choice has his Capital home Province's Control marker replaced by a single Token. The Victim loses his choice of half of his written Cash or Tokens, and must go last during the upcoming Token Deployment Phase, plus take a one step Misery hit.|
|Crusades||The Player may place a Control marker of his Power in any Province of Area VI (the Near East's Mediterranean coast), even replacing a marker belonging to another Player. The "Crusading" Player also gains one step of Misery. This card becomes an unplayable Misery Burden once the "The Mongols" Event Card is played.|
|Enlightened Ruler||In the turn that it's played, the owning Power cannot be effected by Mysticism, Religious Strife, Civil War, Revolution, Rebellion, or Alchemist Gold Event Cards. However, this card does not void already inflicted Events; it's "defensive" only.|
|Famine||All Players (including the one who plays the card) take a four step Misery hit. This is modified by -1 step for each "Grain" Province controlled. If the "Improved Agriculture" Civilization Advance is held, it is modified by a -1 step.|
|Mysticism||All Players take a four step Misery hit. This is modified by -1 step for each "Science" Civilization Advance held.|
|Papal Decree||All Players are affected by the owning Player's decision to forbid purchase of "Religion", "Science", or "Exploration" Civilization Advances on that turn only. This card is voided by the Religious Strife Event Card played on the same turn. It is permanently voided into an unplayable Misery Burden once the Religious Strife Event Card is played during Epoch III.|
|Pirates/Vikings||The owning Player chooses to reduce coastal Province Control markers to single Tokens. In Epoch I, one coastal Province is affected; in Epoch II, two coastal Provinces are affected; in Epoch III, three coastal Provinces are affected.|
|Rebellion||The owning Player may choose any Province except a Power's Capital or one of the New World Boxes, and reduce its Control marker to a single Token.|
|Revolution||All Players gain one Misery step hit for each "Commerce" Civilization Advance held.|
|War||The owning Player chooses another Player on whom to declare war. Each combatant rolls one die with a +1 DRM for a "Military Advantage" Event Card played this turn and a +1 DRM for holding the "Nationalism" Advance. The Player with the higher modified die roll result is the winner. The winner gets one Misery step; the loser gets two Misery steps. Additionally, the difference in die rolls results in the loser being forced to give that many Provinces, or offshore Boxes, to the winner. The winner immediately places his Control marker(s) upon the forfeited Province(s). If the modified die roll results are tied, both Players get one Misery step and a War resolution automatically takes place next turn!|
The following Epoch I Event Cards are discarded after being played. These could be played during another Epoch if held face-down in a Player's hand.
|Stirrups (Military Advantage Card)||The owning Player gets a +1 Token bonus for all attacks and defenses (e.g. if the owning Player's Province is attacked by another Player lacking a "Military Advantage", an attack which would normally take four Tokens will cost the attacker five Tokens). The owning Player wins all tied competition die roll results, and receives a +1 DRM if this card is being played in conjunction with a War card resolution.|
|Armor (Military Advantage Card)||The effect of Armor is the same as that of Stirrups.|
The next two Epoch II Special Event History Cards are reshuffled into the deck for potential second playing during Epoch III:
|Religious Strife||All Players receive a +1 Misery Step for each "Religion" Civilization Advance held. If played during Epoch II, it voids a Papal Decree card played in the same turn. If played during Epoch III, this card turns the Papal Decree card into an unplayable Misery Burden.|
|Black Death||The owning Player chooses a single Roman numeral-identified Area of the map (e.g. Area IV, containing most of modern day Spain and Portugal, save the two Moorish Provinces of Seville and Grenada) and for all Players in the Area,
The Black Death Event Card is the AOR equivalent of the neutron bomb, and its effect can be devastating - particularly if the Players victimized did not purchase a load of Tokens that turn to repopulate lost Commodity Provinces and regain their control.
The Following Epoch II Event Cards are discarded after being played. These could be played during Epoch III if held face-down in a Player's hand.
|Long Bow (Military Advantage Card)||The effect of Long Bow is the same as that of Armor and Stirrups. Once this card is played, it voids the benefits of a previously played Armor/Stirrups that turn, or turns any Player-held face-down in-hand Armor/Stirrups card into an unplayable Misery Burden for the duration of the game (therefore making it a good idea to get the Epoch I Military Advantage Cards into play before getting too far into Epoch II.)|
|Gunpowder (Military Advantage Card)||The effect of Gunpowder is the same as that of Long Bow.|
|Mongol Armies||The owning Player gets $10 from the Bank. The Marco Polo credits are doubled for the duration of the game (assuming that that Leader Card has not yet been played) and the The Crusades Event Card immediately becomes an unplayable Misery Burden.|
Epoch III adds no additional Special Event Cards into play (just the six new Leaders). However, all ten Epoch I and both recyclable Epoch II Special Event Cards can go back into a reshuffled Epoch III History Card deck. Combine them with all available Commodity Cards, and the Epoch III deck becomes a suitably large "finale" for an exciting game finish.
Any Special Event Card, which when revealed has no effect on any Players (e.g. all Players own the "Laws of Matter" Science Advance, which voids "Alchemy"), becomes an unplayable Misery Burden.
In AOR, "unplayable Misery Burden" means that a Player cannot play or discard the "Burden" card, and is compelled to pay its Stabilization costs each Purchase Phase (or suffer the Misery consequences) until the game ends, or the Player discards the useless cards via the "Master Art" Communications or "Wind/Watermill" Commerce Civilization Advances.
Playing cards in combination can yield interesting results. For example, play Mysticism with Enlightened Ruler, and watch your opponents squirm as they're compelled to take as many as four Misery Step hits while you take none. Playing Famine while holding four "Grain" Provinces causes a similar blow. How about revealing Papal Decree to forbid Exploration Civilization Advances when all but you are set to use the Columbus Leader?
Here's one final aside concerning a tactic we've seen too little used during AOR play at the Club, at least in my opinion: use of the "Wind/Watermill" Advance's special ability. If you own this Advance and win a commercial conflict to seize control of another Player's Province, you can invest additional Tokens equal to the Province's Population Maximum to be able to roll one die. If that die roll is less than or equal to that Province's Population Maximum, you can force the Player whom was just defeated to accept any face-down card in your hand of your choice. In return, before that Player receives your card, you get to randomly pick one face-down card out of his hand! This tactic is not only good for getting rid of unplayable Misery Burden cards, but can really screw up opponents' plans by taking cards that they really wanted to use for themselves...or perhaps against you! Nasty, isn't it?