When the era of the insect oppressors is over and long forgotten, the First Line Of Kings decide to use the wealth, power and influence to scheme their way into power. In Ambition, you are one such king with ambitions for domination and the shrewder you can be, the more likely you are to succeed.
In truth, the story has very little to do with this new locally produced card game from Action Games and designer Rob Acton. You don’t need to know the story or even care for it to play and enjoy the game, though one thing the brief setting does depict is the best way to play the game. Ambition is a simple game consisting of only 16 cards and a few tokens, yet one with multiple layers of depth and strategy once you become familiar with it.
The game has a fairly low barrier of entry with the rules being simple and easy to understand. Though the cards can be a little difficult to get to know and understand, it normally will only take a few games to get into the swing of things. That first round or two might seem daunting at first as you get lost in trying to understand the intricacies of the cards, but thankfully the rounds don’t take too long. The game becomes more fun as you become familiar with how the different cards work and can also, therefore, better anticipate what strategies your opponent could possibly be looking to play.
In Ambition, each player starts off with two cards in their hand. With each card being completely unique, it adds a sense of mystery to what your opponents could play. How it differs from most common big strategy card games is that firstly, everyone is sharing this one deck of cards, but secondly, that you are forced to constantly recycle through your cards. This is why the second phase of play is so important as it asks for you to pass one of your cards to the left and this goes on until each player has had an opportunity to pass a card around. This passing of the cards is determined by the scarab of power which determines who plays first and is also shuffled to the left at the end of each turn, giving each player the opportunity to begin.
Once each player now has their finalised hand for the round, they determine which card they want to play, but place it face down. Another phase is then initiated where each player the opportunity to block a card for the round, which prevents a player from performing the actions of this card. It is only in this phase that cards are either turned over and actioned or tapped by the players because their card was either blocked or because they refuse to reveal a card in their deck that might be better suited for another round. This might initially sound complex or unnecessary with a single round consisting of so many phases, but does all start to make sense as you become more familiar with its different cards.
The cards in Ambition are all quite varied with few playing alike. Some cards are relatively simple in just giving a player more coins, but others can open up a host of other styles of play like the ability to steal coins from others, prevent a car from being blocked, force a player to swap cards or remove a card from play entirely. The pack that has been released include an expansion in the game called strange allies, which further changes the game by allowing players to create or break alliances or even silence a player for a round entirely. As you can gather, there is certainly a lot of variety in the 6 cards on offer and this is only a brief outline of a few cards. Many cards can be played in more than one way or can grow in ability depending on the situation of the game.
The beauty of Ambition lies in the great balance of its cards. While there were a few cards that myself and my playing group found to be more useful than others, those cards simply became targets for other manoeuvres that would see them constantly blocked or removed from the game entirely. This would then lead to a host of other potential strategies that would see alliances created or broken as players work on finding ways to make certain cards more effective.
One of the clever play design decisions featured in the game though is the round of exchanging cards. While this often means that the same cards end up getting passed around, if players are trying to take risks and be innovative with their strategies, it prevents players from holding on to cards for too long and means that the playing field is constantly changing and getting rebalanced. It was a decision that seemed odd at first, along with the blocking phase, but once you play it several times you understand that the rounds are simply there to create balance and prevent players from trying to hoard a card and play a single strategy.
This is what brings longevity to a card game like Ambition. While many board games can be fun the first few times you play them, they can easily become tedious if there isn’t variety and depth in their gameplay, or there is too much reliance on luck. Ambition mostly avoids this by ensuring no one strategy is dominant and with their being so many different combinations and variations in play with the cards you have in your hand, that you can easily play this game a hundred times and feel its unique.
Another interesting design decision is the social dynamics that have been built into the gameplay. Some people take their card games very seriously and like to be very contemplative and silent in their strategic approach to playing. Ambition works best when you are vocal and play the social game. It’s not just the ability to block players or the need for cards to sometimes get you to say things, but there is a fair amount of bluffing and deceit that can take place in the way you play a game that can also determine the outcome of your game.
This social aspect though also opens up to possibly the game’s biggest weakness. It can be dependent on who you play it with. It’s a game that is easy to get into, but because it works best when you get deep into the strategy, playing it with someone who isn’t accustomed to this style of gaming, may get frustrated and end up not being a good playing partner. Also, while our playtest group thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as a 4 or 5 player group, the game lost some of its charm when we reduced it to 2 or 3 players as it meant less variety in cards and an easier chance for repetitiveness creeping in. the social dynamic is also less interesting and as a result, I would recommend that even though the game does say for 2-5 players that you preferably keep it to 4 or 5, or perhaps dish out a few more cards at the start in a 2 player game to introduce more variety early on.
These are all minor gripes though in a game that is otherwise very well thought out and cleverly put together. Some people may feel a little off put by the simple aesthetics of its design or the less than stellar graphic design and printing, but bearing in mind that this is all privately produced and not done by a big board game company and you can easily look past this. Ambition offers up many hours of fun and variety that can appeal to most social settings and at the small price of R320 from The Big Box, it offers up exceptional value for money.
If you are a fan of card games or looking for a more social distraction from you usual video game habits, then I would strongly recommend giving Ambition a try. It’s simple enough to pick up and yet deep enough to keep you playing for many hours. That it is very affordable, should only add to its appeal.
Last Updated: July 25, 2017