Things I learned from Amber Route

, | Game reviews


The real world amber route is an overland trade route from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean, where Poles, Latvians, and various other eventual unwilling communists carted amber from its source to harbors that fed into a thriving world trade for buyers eager to find dinosaur DNA. I don’t know what else you would do with amber. I guess you could make a necklace or a brooch.

After the jump, beware the Lesovik! The what?

The real world amber route inspired Amber Route for the iOS, a nifty little card game where players draw from a common deck of cards. They take turns spending their runes, gold, and meat to play cards that hopefully move forward their amber caravan and/or hinder the other player’s amber caravan. Alternatively, you can just burn a little amber and a few guards to move forward one space. Along the way, the territories each have distinct effects. Forests, as you probably know from real life, are a great place to get a lot of a meat and a handful of magical runes. Try to skip the monastery if you’re in the lead for gathering magical runes, because the monastery helps the guy with less magic. When you get to the Sacred Spot on the route, everyone’s income resets to one resource per turn. Stupid Sacred Spot. Unless the other guy was in the lead, in which case, I love you, Sacred Spot. If you save up enough runes, gold, or meat, you can invoke a deity card, but I don’t necessarily recommend it. Deities are notoriously fickle. They’re not above dropping their godly hammers on the one what brought them. Whoever’s caravan reaches the destination, sometimes with a requirement, wins. Or whoever loses all his amber loses.

It’s a simple game, and its biggest failing is that the AI has absolutely no idea how to play. As a single-player game, your AI opponent is just flipping over whatever cards he can afford. It might as well be a dice game. You can’t play online, but it works well as a local multiplayer game. The screen flips for each player’s turn, so it’s designed to sit between two people who are across from each other. Although this is a bit weird since you’re supposed to look away when the other player is taking his turn. When it’s your turn, the previous player’s card sits at the top of the screen, so you can see what happened when you were looking away. If the other player played one of those “play another card after this one” cards, he’ll have to tell you about it manually.

My favorite thing about Amber Route is that it’s not the usual orcs and elves. Therefore, I have no idea what’s going on most of the time and I kind of like that from a narrative perspective. I understand a Grumpy Sorcerer, an Imp Hunter, a Robbery, and a Buried Sack, all of which are probably also cards in Magic the Gathering. But so many of the cards are folklore, some of which is entirely provincial. Whoa, it’s Mammon. The Mammon? I think so. Look at all that gold he gives you. Okay, I get that one. But a Vodyanoi? It’s a pig in a suit paddling a fish down the river. It will steal your amber and paddle away. At least a Kauk — yes, a Kauk — will steal someone’s amber and bring it back to you. Or vice versa if the other player plays his Kauk on you. Kupala Night is for dancing around wearing nothing but leaves. It’s best done in the forest. Naturally you want to save your Drowner card for when the other guy is at a lake, but what the heck is a Roamer and why does it have all those eyes? You probably knew to save your lycanthrope for when the other guy reaches the swamp. But did you know that when you get to the mountains, the Mash Hag — the Mash Hag! — will give you extra amber if you feed her a little meat? A Badnjak is an evil sentient tree stump. Mmm, Olive Oil Cake! Ick, Eating Horseflesh. Statements on local cuisine, I suspect.

Who the heck is Lesovik? He’s a reindeer with the head of an old man sporting an awesome wizard beard that will drag on the ground if he lowers his neck. Hold your head high, Lesovik! Perun is a god with a hammer that kills the other player’s guards if you have enough meat to invoke him. But you might instead draw a Grudge and lose all your own runes. Whoever Svetovid is, he’ll kill everyone’s guards and take all their runes. Everyone. All of them. Even you. Why did you use your gold to summon a god? What were you thinking? Amber Route is nothing if not educational.

3 stars