So, I play a lot of board games, of course, but I also spend probably more time that can be considered healthy with a PS3 or 360 controller in my hand. And you know what? I’ve noticed that there’s a curious difference between the two – where in the vast majority of the games on my screen I am destroying stuff, the opposite is true when it comes to the tabletop. There I prefer to build and create stuff, starting with little and improving my lot. Whether it’s the wonderful Suburbia or Trains, Alhambra or Manhattan, I do enjoy a game where you get to make things. Asara, the 2010 game from the previous Spiel des Jahres winning dream team of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, is another splendid example of a great title where creation is king.
Over the space of four rounds, each representing a year in game time, you and your opponents become builders who are looking to cement their place in society by constructing the biggest, best and beautiful-est towers in the city of Asara – no mean feat considering that this is “The City of A Thousand Towers”. As the game progresses, you’ll be getting your hands on more and more tower pieces and putting them together in order to score points. Score the highest and – as you’d expect – you win.
So, how do you get these towers made? Well, each player has a hand of cards that they’ll get to use on their turn, where one card will be placed on an action space. These are dotted around the board and will let you take those much needed tower sections, grab money and – probably most vital – actually build those monuments to your greatness. The twist (for this is a Kramer and Kiesling design, so there’s always something to deal with) is that whatever card is first placed in a section has to be followed up by cards of the same colour, meaning that its entirely possible to screw over other players in no time at all should they have a particularly shoddy set of cards at their disposal.
Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that you’re boned for the entire round; in fact, you’ll be able to play most (if not all) cards, but you’ll have to really prioritise when considering early plays. Do you run the risk of potentially being locked out of a much needed action because you need to grab something equally as important? As with many games by the team of K&K, a lot of the pleasure comes from working out what other people will need and go for first. Doublethink abounds in Asara, and it’s an analytical dream – or an Analysis Paralysis nightmare, depending on which side of the fence you prefer…
Once players are out of cards, the end comes to a close and it’s time for scoring. Depending on the number of towers you’ve created (and how ornately you’ve managed to make them look), you’ll pull in points for everything you’ve made at the end of each round. There are also additional bonuses handed out for players who have the largest towers of each colour as well as the most towers overall at the end of the game.
And that, in a nutshell, is that. With only four rounds to contend with, Asara really is a game where less is more. Only a limited amount of actions are available to you, so using them in the most optimal fashion is paramount. While it’s far from the most difficult game in the world to learn (the instruction booklet is super straightforward), the decisions that you make require a lot of thought if you’re going to leave behind the biggest legacy. As a caveat, I probably wouldn’t go back to it again and again, especially with a more experienced gaming group, but as a way to introduce newbies that isn’t one of the holy trinity of Gateway Games I’d say that Asara is pretty much ideal.
It’s also – once everything is done and dusted – a very lovely looking game. Ravensburger’s production quality continues at the high level you’d expect from one of the biggest companies out there, their reputation for decent games with lovely bits remaining intact. Another plus: As it’s been around for a couple of years, you should be able to pick it up for a very good price. The Kramer and Kiesling partnership has come up with another winner, particularly if you’re looking for something accessible and approachable.
Asara was designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, and was originally released rough Ravensburger back in 2010. Nominated for the 2011 Spiel des Jahres, this two to four player game can normally be played in around an hour. Copies should set you back around £25 to £30.