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Game Preview: Amul, or Balancing Arabs and Mongols on the Silk Road

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by W. Eric Martin

Gen Con 2019 opens in just over three weeks, and I have lots to preview before that time, including the card-drafting, hand-management game Amul from Remo Conzadori, Stefano Negro, and Lautapelit.fi, with Stronghold Games serving as the title’s North American publishing partner.

Amul is for 3-8 players, and the deck scales based on the player count so that you use every single card no matter how many people you have at the table. What’s more, the nature of the cards in the deck change as you add more players to the game, so while in some cases you’re adding more spice and silver cards so that players can create sets of them or pair them with traders to complete orders (sort of), at other times you’re adding a new type of card that wouldn’t make sense with fewer players or a card that plays off of all the cards already in the deck, thereby varying their values with this particular player count.

Gameplay is straightforward. Start with traders in the bazaar equal to the number of players (with these cards being specified by player count), with cards equal to twice the number of players in the palace (ditto), and with each player having a hand of five cards.

On a turn, you receive a new card from the deck, choose one card to add to the market, add 1-3 more cards to the market from the deck based on the player count, draft cards in player order (which sort of rotates), then add a card to your personal collection at the same time as everyone else. Some cards score based on you collecting a set of them, some score based on what your left- and right-hand neighbors collect, some score based on you and your neighbors, while still others score based on how many are in play overall.

End of game tallying a là 7 Wonders at BGG.Spring 2019 (pic by Steph Hodge)

You need to watch what everyone else is drafting so that you can play off of their actions for your own benefit. If lamps have been discarded a few times (as all leftover cards in the market are removed from play at turn’s end), then oil becomes less attractive since you can’t pair with a lamp for additional points. If the spices are being hoarded by others, then avoid collecting a trader since the contract will likely go unfilled. If you see camels being drafted but not played, expect them to trample out at game’s end, lowering the value of all camels played.

In addition to their point values and other symbols, each card shows a table, a hand, or both, which tells you where the card must be to score you points. Over the nine rounds of the game, you’ll play nine cards to the table (all of which better have a table icon), possibly claiming other cards from the palace, bazaar or market, then at game’s end you’ll still have five cards in your hand to score (all of which better have a hand icon). Thus, over the course of the game you’re trying to piece together points in sets and combos, while also balancing your public and private scoring (since any table cards in hand are worthless at game’s end) while also watching what your neighbors do so that you can profit from them, too.

I’ve played Amul five times to date on a pre-production copy from Lautapelit.fi, with three, four, and six players, and it’s been fascinating to see how the gameplay changes with different player counts. One additional wrinkle: After each player has been the first drafter once, the drafting pattern changes, with whoever has the most military symbols drafting first, then the player with the secondmost military symbols, and so on. In a three-player game, the player with early military can (potentially) draft first for the final six rounds of the game — yet that’s not necessarily going to be a winning strategy since you still need to pair and combo cards to get the most out of everything you grab.

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Read more: boardgamegeek.com

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