Ambrosia

If you like abstract games, you'll get a buzz from this bee-themed game from Skellig Games which takes some familiar mechanics and turns them on their head. It's a game for 2–4 players where artist Christian Opperer has created identifiably different species of bees for each player.



The playing board is a circuit made up of sections displaying various flowers, each with their own nectar value. The size of the circuit depends on the number of players: here on Board's Eye View it's shown set up for three but, for a two-player game, the circuit is a small circle and it's a large circle if you're playing with four. Players each have a starting stack of 7 bees (6 'normal' bees plus your choice of one of the 9 available 'special' bees, each of which has its own special power, either in the way it moves or the way it affects scoring). Gameplay feels initially like Mancala, in that you take any number of bees from the top of your stack and move the number of spaces that corresponds to the number of bees you are moving. Unlike Mancala, you don't drop tokens off on the spaces you pass: you just go to the flower space you're moving to, which must be empty, have your own bees already on it or have just a single bee from another player (in which case your stack goes on top).


The sting in the tail in Ambrosia is that you're trying to get your bees into positions where, after your movement, you'd be unable to make any further legal move. This is a novel idea - so much so that it's likely to feel counterintuitive on your first few plays: there aren't many games where you are deliberately trying to get stuck, and the notion does also jar somewhat with the bee theme. The reason you're trying to get yourself into the position where you're stuck is because that is what triggers your scoring: you'll get points for all the flowers on which you have bees. Other players don't score until they are stuck. That means it's possible for a player who gets quickly into the right mindset to race ahead. Especially as whenever you score you place one of your 'normal' bees out as a marker and replace it with one of the bees with a special ability. This upgrade will give you a further advantage over the other players that are lagging behind.



If you're struggling to keep up, however, designer Uwe Bursik feels your pain, which is why Ambrosia incorporates a compensatory catch-up mechanism for the player trailing in last place: royal jelly tokens that can be used for various additional actions. Most usefully, royal jelly can be spent to take an extra turn - hopefully, so you can get stuck in and score.


Once you get your head around the unusual objective, you'll appreciate Ambrosia as a highly strategic game where there's no luck, tho' your ability to block yourself in is inevitably dependent on the moves made by the other players. Don't get too comfortable tho' because the special bees that increasingly replace the 'normal' bees can each affect how you move when they are on top of a stack. If you're still struggling to get to grips with this game, our advice would be to go for the special bees that give you an extra point for scoring or which deny points to opponents' bees on adjacent flowers: they are easier to play than those that can complicate your movement options. Be warned also that the iconography on the special bee tokens is not always obvious: be prepared to have to check the explanations in the rule book.


For those that find that honey-sweet spot and master Ambrosia, there's plenty in the box to keep you coming back for more, including optional event cards that affect everyone and a much more complicated board on the flip side with additional special effects on almost every flower space.


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