This is the second game (Steam, Apr 2016) by a small indie developer, BrainGoodGames. (http://www.braingoodgames.com). They had a great hit with Militia (on Steam Dec 2015),
and just released a new game (Skyboats, Steam Aug 2016). I'm a bit behind the Steam
release schedule; I only got around to picking up A&A this month. In the past two weeks,
I've put 46 hours into A&A, and can strongly recommend it.
For the record, I would recommend Militia as well. Although they're both turn-based
strategy (TBS) games, they each have a different vibe. Militia feels like the kind of
game an RTS player would like, whereas A&A feels more like a base-/city-builder. If you
preferred Dawn of War 2 to Dawn of War 1, then Militia's probably your game. But for fans
of Caesar, Pharaoh, Stronghold--games in which dealing with your city's growth and
development is the critical task, and dealing with armed invaders is only a passing
concern--A&A is definitely for you.
Building on the square-grid based, minimalistic art style of Militia, Axes and Acres is a
solid turn-based game with randomly generated villages and objectives during each round
of play. When a new round begins, three sets of sub-objectives are rolled, representing
three distinct phases of play. I believe the developers (BGG) refer to these as early,
mid, and late game phases. With the update near the end of August, victory points
required for the completion of each phase have been rebalanced to ensure equal strategic
difficulty during each phase. Complete all three phases, and you move up in difficulty.
Fail twice at a difficulty level, and you drop down to the previous level.
Militia felt more like a game of chess or checkers: the board is the same size each time,
and each piece moves and attacks in well-defined ways. A&A expands on this model in
several ways. Each 'Peasant' in your village is represented by a d6. You begin each round
with six peasants; reproducing to grow your population is a critical strategic point. While each Peasant die has the same faces (two Work, two Build, one Gather, one Reproduce which I like to call 'Heal'), the dice are rolled at the beginning of each of your turns, so your strategy in in part dictated by the faces that you roll each turn. Placing a die onto the board requires Food, one of three resources you must manage during each round. Do you spend this turn focusing on food gathering? Building? Gathering other resources? Your strategic decisions are made based on the number of VPs you need, how many turns you have left in each phase, and unexpected opportunities or hindrances provided by which faces your dice roll each turn.
Managing your resources in A&A actually feels a lot like Star Ruler 2--there exist a multitude of ways to transform one into another. At the beginning of a round, you start with five 'Motivation' cards. Building the higher-tier buildings in your village can provide you the opportunity to gain more cards. So it turns out that you have two additional resources: 'Moves' and 'Cards'. Six resources total: three literal (food, wood, stone), and three strategic (dice/people, moves, and cards). Like a card-building game, you want to keep your card stack strategically lean, because you must spend all of the cards in your stack before the stack reshuffles. Many cards give you two opportunities to use them, to use dice, and to interact with your board and other resources. But if you need to kill rampaging barbarians, having a glut of build cards won't help you!
At those advanced buildings, you have opportunities to train your peasants (and other dice) to become more advanced positions: woodsman (two gather faces, one wild), priest (three crusade faces, one wild), mason (three build faces, one wild, one stone), actor (always rolls wild, can be deployed as work, gather, heal, build, or crusade), and noble (two VP faces). Some phase objectives award you VPs for having two advanced peasants. Or perhaps your strategy requires more build faces than you've been rolling. In the later difficulty levels, the number of VPs required to finish the third phase become so high that you may just want to build a castle and convert your peasants to nobility, and brute force your way to victory.
Being used to playing 4X and Grand Strat games, the simplicity of A&A's interface put me off initially, but I warmed to it. I also thought that I'd eventually tire of the gameplay loop--it's a game of raw mechanics, not much story, not much customization, only a handful of buildings. I likened it to Star Ruler 2 earlier; I'd say that the two games have a lot in common: tightly intertwined mechanics, adoption of new strategic elements when the current situation demands it. I have found the mechanics compelling enough to keep me playing all month--my intrinsic motivation has become enthralled with the experience A&A provides!
Axes and Acres could just as easily be a solo board/dice game--BGG should probably consider kickstarting a hardcopy version. :) The use of the computer medium is less important for A&A than it was for Militia. However, the user interface, while simplistic, is not explicitly designed for mobile/touch devices. It could probably make use of keybindings, but it does give you hover-over information, and uses both left- and right-click commands.
I give A&A a solid recommendation to fans of strategy mechanics, minimalistic interfaces, and/or somewhat casual strategy themed games! I'm looking forward to reviewing BGG's newest game!