Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.
There are a lot of things that can attract someone to a certain board game. Theme, artwork, mechanics, or any combination of those things. Many games boil down to gathering resources and fulfilling orders to score points. Ambar uses a lot of familiar formulas, but each with a bit of a unique spin, on top of a medieval-fantasy theme that is brought to life with wonderful artwork.
Players compete to collect precious amber from dangerous forests and use it to create attractive jewelry for the nearby towns. The gameplay uses a press your luck mechanism along with card play and engine building. Ambar plays 2-4 players in about an hour.
Each player will start with four cards, each one part of the process involved in getting amber jewelry from the depths of the forest to the cities’ shops. The first card represents your ability to find raw amber in the forest. The second is your alchemy skill, allowing you to change that amber into colorful gems. Then your traveler must be able to transport the jewelry safely to the town; where finally the city you visit has a limit on the number of gems you can sell each round.
To begin each turn, players will draw cards from the top of the forest deck. Many of these cards have a light-colored background and provide either a potential upgrade to your amber distribution network or offer an opportunity to sell your amber to a new customer. However, the other cards in the forest deck—with dark backs—represent the dangers of the forest, each taking away from of your protective escorts or needing to be bribed with gems or coins.
You continue to draw cards face up until:
- You choose to stop. At which point you get a number of actions equal to the number of cards you drew.
- Three dark-backed danger cards are revealed. You are limited to a single action.
- You reach seven cards. You earn an additional escort and can take seven actions.
Most of the actions you can take correspond to the four cards in you in front of you. You can discover amber, transform it to jewels, transport it to your city, or sell it to customers. After you have taken all of your actions for the turn, you also have an opportunity to buy a single card (or upgrade your forest card). Finally you can sell any gems still in your city, so long as there is a commerce card revealed.
There are two special cards that are introduced as well. The dragon card is given to a player any time they draw five cards on their turn. If they still have it at the start of their turn, it counts as their first card drawn—starting them with one danger. There is also a demon card that is introduced in the second half of the game that will move around to the player with the most money. These both serve somewhat as a catch up mechanic but also give you some additional items to consider when deciding how many cards or coins you want to acquire each turn.
After the forest deck is completely revealed a second time (more powerful cards are added the second time through) the game ends. The player with the most money is the winner.
There are plenty of board games where press your luck is the main, and often only, element to doing well at the game. Ambar lays on plenty of other things to have to worry about and do. This creates a few moments that are way more interesting than you normally get in a typical press your luck game.
For example, no matter how many actions you are able to take, if you don’t draw one of the cards which represent a sales opportunity you won’t be able to make any money. Worse yet, you can only transport so many gems at a time and your village has a capacity, so you may have to keep drawing hoping just to hit one of those commerce cards.
Players can choose only one upgrade each turn and any available cards that aren’t bought can be purchased by other players. This both allows players to gain specialties to really help develop their own tactics and strategies, but also gives some opportunities to try to prevent your opponents from getting the improvements that will benefit them the most. Ambar can certainly be somewhat directly confrontational but is very group dependent on that front.
Also any commerce cards that aren’t sold to by the active player can be sold to by others. Because of this, it’s vital you are able to sell at least something to one of the trade cards, preventing others from taking advantage of your opportunities.
Although it plays similarly with all player counts, I really most enjoyed playing with just 2 players. This allowed a lot more back and forth and interaction with the dragon card and limiting the opportunities you gave to other players at the table. At the end of the day you are still going to have to rely on the top of the deck very often, but there are lots of decisions to make to mitigate the occasional bad luck.
Ambar is a solid addition to a somewhat crowded field of press your luck games. The engine building aspect gives players someone asymmetric abilities as the game goes on, letting them specialize in their own amber-processing enterprise.
There is plenty of luck in Ambar, but that is par for the course with press your luck being such a strong element. The demon and dragon card do a good job keeping everyone at least with some chance until the very end. Ambar is available on Kickstarter now.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.