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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Familiar drafting mechanisms coupled with some interesting other mechanisms
  • The book tokens and the unique titles they come with
  • Simple gameplay that is welcoming for inexperienced players

Might Not Like

  • Disconnect between box cover artwork and component artwork
  • Awful layout on game board
  • Can be confusing when everyone is getting 3 resources/actions at the same time and placing books simultaneously
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Atheneum Review

atheneum

Words are wonderful things. Without words the world would be contrived of nothing but monotonous drivel. Words give other things meaning. They give things sustenance. They can transform the most innocent of fluffy little bunnies into malignant, meandering monstrosities. Meandering isn’t even a word that fully works in that sentence. But because it was part of a triple alliteration (words starting with the same sound or letters) and it was a fancy word that you don’t see very often (that I used with confident intent), your brain accepted it. But words are so transformative that given the right tone and intention, used with the right technique (and in conjunction with other such words), can build the most amazing worlds and stories. Atheneum is a game with lore steeped in such worlds. It is all about books, and features 160 of them. Each one with an interesting and ambiguous title that leaves you wanting to explore the world within it. But Atheneum itself falls flat of being an interesting world into itself. I will tell you right now that the world building for this game is an abysmal two sentences long. You have an exam tomorrow and you are learning topics with magic in the library. And the security guard has asked you organise the library in exchange. The security guard. Not the librarian, or the care taker, or the school principal, or a teacher, but a security guard. For a library based in a world of magic. Jesus Chr-

Anyway! I am not here to critique world building; I am here to critique the game. Which will take a little longer than a paragraph. And let’s be honest, even if I could critique the game in a simple paragraph, I would still somehow turn it into an essay. Let’s meander the library halls together a while. See, the word makes sense in that sentence.

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” - Ernest Hemingway

During a game of Atheneum you will have one main goal: arrange books. It is in essence, a closed drafting/set collection game wrapped in a tile placement system. And to be fair, the base mechanics work well together. You will all choose a card in your hand to play, keep it face down until everyone has chosen one then reveal at the same time. You will carry out the action on the card and then exchange hands. This is a very familiar mechanism if you have played any other popular drafting game such as Sushi Go or 7 Wonders. The difference here is the card depicts the action you will be performing; it is not itself what you are collecting.

The cards themselves are interesting. As whatever card you choose to play will also benefit the people sitting next to you in some way. The cards are split into 3 sections. The bottom section depicts what action or resources you will get. The top left will show what the opponent on your left will receive and the top right will do the same for the opponent on your right. Of course, this also means that you will get benefits from what card they choose to play. The benefits can be anything from collecting certain colour books, wands, bonus tokens etc. It gives me similar vibes to Oceans with the way in which you can interact with people on each side of you. Albeit more friendly interactions than those in Oceans.

In a two player game you opponent will get both the top left and top right of a card you play. This at first may feel like you are helping them more than yourself. Realistically though, it

just guarantees they (and you) get the same amount of resources that you would get in any other player count game. This leaves the game in a strange limbo where you feel as though the game plays better in a higher player count game. But your brain is telling you it actually makes no difference.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” - Stephen King

As I mentioned earlier, the aim of the game is to arrange books. The cards you play will be the gateway to doing this, giving you access to the different coloured books. After you have gathered all your gained resources from a round of played cards, you then have to place the books in your shelving board.

There are objective cards that will want you to arrange certain colour books in order, and some will have you filling whole sections of your shelving. In order to claim the points for these objectives you need to have an available wand to place on them. They all slide over one space at the end of each turn with a new objective placed at the start of the objective conga line. It is only when the card slides out of play will any wand on it go back into the supply. This is a really interesting mechanic, as it means scoring quicker also means you can be soft locked on scoring more until you can get more wands. This can influence the cards you play, and in turn your overall tactics for the turn.

Also, there are extra bonus points up for grabs at the end of the game for the biggest group of books of your colour. There are actions that allow you to rearrange a certain number of books on your board. You can do this action to rearrange any books, even ones that you have used to meet a scoring card already.

One of the actions available to you is the bag action. This sees you pulling out a random token from the bag. This gives you the chance to build extra shelving storage, add candles to your shelves for extra points, and may even give you a token that is two books together to place. Once you have filled a shelf space for the first time, you will get rid of the spider that was living there. Poor spider. This gives you a small boon from a range of options.

All of these things together mean you will be constantly making decisions on where to place books, and when and how to rearrange them. Rearranging often will be key to scoring the most points.

“Here’s to books, the cheapest vacation you can buy.” - Charlaine Harris

The component quality in Atheneum is a bit of a mixed bag. Let’s start with the positives. Because the positives are genuinely big positives. You would have seen in the pics by now how good some of this game looks. ‘Some of it’ being the optimal phrase. The parts of the game I love the most are the components themselves. The book containers that come with the game are so robust and welcome in a game that has several resource types. The books themselves are truly great. I love that each colour represents a different genre, and I love that each of the titles on the books are suitable for that genre. They are all also (I think) totally unique. Little details like this always make me smile, and definitely go a long way in improving a game’s appeal for me.

The rule book is much bigger than it needs to be. In physical size that is. It is easy to read through and examples often take up full pages. There is usually only one section explained per page, making it easier to digest than a lot of other rule books I have needed to read in the past. The only fault with the book is that I wish a few things would be a little clearer at times.

Now for the negatives. There are some areas that let the game down. Which is unfortunate. The spider tokens in particular feel really cheap compared to the rest of the components. The game board is awful. I mean look at the thing. It is a cluttered mess, and I hate the whole ‘travel around the wands and deck’ whilst scoring points thing. The wands really need to be off the board in a container and the track needs to be cleaner.

The other thing I need to touch on is the artwork and choice of symbols. The artwork in the game in no way shape or form reflects the incredible art work on the front of the box. The artwork on the cards, the board and the shelving boards are just flat and dull and leaves you with a real disconnect with the game. If it wasn’t for the book tokens adding some colour and interest to the game, this would kill the game completely for me. The symbols are mostly easy to understand, but again they are just boring. And I know that sounds like a strange thing to say about symbols. But hey, I am a strange dude.

In some cases, the game will tell you where to put books for scoring (or in some cases for a free book resource). The way they represent this is with a picture of the shelves with a greyed-out area. It is the greyed-out area that you need to place the books. This is counter-intuitive compared to every other walk of life. A greyed-out thing usually indicates what you can’t interact with. This often leads to confusion with new players of the game.

Final Thoughts

Atheneum is an interesting game that is better suited to 3 or 4 players. It uses an interesting mix of mechanisms that leads into some interesting decision making. Especially when you need to consider what you will be giving your opponents too. The game doesn’t outstay its welcome and is an excellent choice to bring new players to the world of gaming.

I really wish the component quality and art work were consistent throughout all parts of the game. I am a sucker for aesthetics and feel like this game just needed that little bit of a kick to truly achieve aesthetic mastery. A consistent quality would have cleared up the disconnect I have from the mechanics and the visuals. I feel like with a more distinct art style and visuals, this drafting game would be just as popular as the greats that everyone knows and loves.

All in all, if you are a fan of drafting games and games that effect the people sat next to you, then Atheneum Mystic Library will tick your boxes.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Familiar drafting mechanisms coupled with some interesting other mechanisms
  • The book tokens and the unique titles they come with
  • Simple gameplay that is welcoming for inexperienced players

Might not like

  • Disconnect between box cover artwork and component artwork
  • Awful layout on game board
  • Can be confusing when everyone is getting 3 resources/actions at the same time and placing books simultaneously

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