A few years ago, I was meeting friends to play board games at Caffeinated Dragon in Wellington, New Zealand, when a game on the shelf caught my eye – I recognised the art on the front – it looked a lot like the Minoan Ship Fresco, a copy of which has hung on the walls in our house as far back as I can remember.
The piece was made up from sections of a single upper-wall fresco from the ‘West House’ at the archaeological site of Akrotiri.
I majored in Classical Studies at university, specialising in Etruscan Art, and I presented the site of Knossos to our field trip group in 2003, so Minoan art is close to my heart. Seeing a game with this artwork meant that I bought it without even looking at how it played.
That turned out to be one of the best game purchasing decisions I have ever made – and I have bought a lot of games! Akrotiri is probably my favourite game. It’s certainly my most-recommended 2-player game.
You can imagine how stoked I was when Sen-Foong Lim, the designer of this very game offered me an hour of his time, nearly 3 years ago now, and gave me some really solid advice for The Valley, which still stands me in good stead now.
I looked up my previous plays of Akrotiri and found the very first comments I made about it on Facebook:
Basically, it’s a two-player game where your aim is to gather resources and excavate temples in the Greek Islands. Each turn “reveals” more of the map (you lay a tile every turn) and then you try to meet “goals” by excavating temples in specific locations. I recommend it – quite complex to learn, but I want to play it again today!
I was stoked to finally get Akrotiri to the table again recently, although I made the same mistake I have made previously again and overpaid for my map cards in the first game, meaning I was far more broke than I should have been. I only realised in the last round, so it was too late to save that game, but I won the rematch – so that’s my warning, make sure you read the map card costs properly!
So, how does it work?
Akrotiri is a game about exploration, so you discover a new tile each turn, gradually building a map of the area. Every time you add a new tile to the map, you also add resources: one that matches the icon on the tile, and one of the colour of your choice on any other land mass on the tile.
Why do the resources matter? Well, as you go, you gather resources from the islands you visit and bring them back to the main island of Thera, where you trade them for coins. This is called a “pick-up-and-deliver” mechanic.
The value of each resource increases the more there are out in the world, so when you trade them in, you want to get the highest possible value. When you choose the second resource to place on your tile, it’s a good idea to check the market board to see which resources you want to increase in value.
As you expand your world, you can start looking at placing your first temple. On your player board, as you build temples, you reveal advantages (increases in actions or additional Goal cards).
Each temple has two requirements: a cost in coins (which is why you collect resources) and a location requirement. It also has a value, which is how much it will be worth at the end of the game.
As I mentioned, when you lay a tile, there is an icon on it. As well as generating resources, the icons also represent geographical elements that guide the placement of your temples. For example, in relation to the quadrant where you want to place your temple, you might need one blue wave to the north, one grey mountain to the west, and one green tree to the south, like in the lefthand map card above, or two green trees to the west, two blue waves to the south, and an orange volcano to the east, as in the second map card above.
The more goals you meet, and the higher-value temples you build, the better your final score. The game ends when the first player builds their last temple.
The bits I love
PUZZLES. I love the puzzly aspect of meeting as many Goals as I can, especially if I can do it with the same temple. I love planning the placement of my tiles to allow me to build the best and highest-value temple, and the balance between racing to bring back as many resources as I can, while not making them easily available to my opponent, and creating the conditions required for my Goals while not making it impossible to get to the tile quadrant I need.
I also really appreciate the little dolphin action markers, which help me keep track of my turn, shown here on the punchboard from the BGG listing because I like punchboards.
What I didn’t like
Nothing, honestly. Any mistakes are my own, like forgetting about the correct cost of map cards. The only thing I would consider an improvement would be the possibility of a 4-player version.
If you are on the fence about adding Akrotiri to your collection, the simple answer is: yes – do it.
It’s not that hard to learn, it can be as heavy or as light as you feel like making it, and it continues to be satisfying every time we play it. It’s pretty, and strategic, and puzzly – all the things I love in a game.
Even Shasha wants to play.