Beautiful classical art
Quick to teach and play
Theme meshes well with game mechanics
Ave is a card-based game where players compete to be the first collect seven of the hard-to-get currency (Influence). They’ll do this by manipulating the easy-to-get currency (Denarii), and by playing cards. The cards come in three flavors: one-shots you play on your turn, one-shots you play as a response to other player’s cards, and permanents that stay in play in front of you (Proclamations). There’s a lot of stealing, destroying, and canceling of other players’ cards.
There are a few things that set Ave apart from other games in its genre. Everyone starts with one of eight oversized player cards that gives you a unique power, and they’re generally pretty interesting. Once per turn you can place a card from your hand face-down in front of you, reducing its play cost by a buck when you play it on a future turn. And while you draw a new card for your hand every turn, there is also a pool of three face-up cards in the middle of the table that anyone can play, and that continually refill as they are used. The 32 unique cards each appearing 1-3 times in the 54-card deck mean there’s a fair amount of variance between games.
The straightforward set of rules means that the game will take no time to teach to new players. And to the designer’s credit, given this small rule set to work with, the cards do a great job of both reflecting what their title implies that they should be doing, and of contributing to the overall feel of the game. Ave very much gives players the feel of a high-stakes, cutthroat political environment.
Perhaps the best thing about the game is the use of actual Renaissance art. The cards are beautiful, with edge-to-edge art. Even the card titles and game text make an attempt to be non-intrusive, printed as they are on a light, semi-transparent field.
Unfortunately, that game text we just mentioned, that is trying not to tread on the background art, could stand to be a little bit larger, and/or to have a bit more contrast. As a result, players will spend a lot of time squinting at cards, particularly the three common cards in the middle of the table. Those three common cards are also going to make the decision tree huge for any given player’s turn. Add in the fact that they’ll be changing fairly often, and you take away players’ ability to plan ahead for their turns. And if a card appears in the center that blows up Proclamations, suddenly you have everyone dancing around and trying to find other things to do until that card is gone. All this leads to much slower gameplay than we’d like to see in a game of this type.
Perhaps the most objectionable part of the game is that it has player elimination. If you ever run out of victory point chips, you’re dead. Admittedly, this isn’t like being knocked out of Monopoly, where your friends are going to be playing for hours and hours without you, but neither is it ideal. We’re not sure why the game wasn’t written such that the loss of all victory points didn’t just result in a small penalty (or even a small bonus since, after all, you’re now probably coming in dead last).
The variable player powers, large number of cards in the deck, and the fact that you could customize the deck if you were so inclined, mean that individual games will feel very different.
If you like smashing down (or at least clawing at) the player who is winning, and then going for that sudden burst of points that will carry you to victory, Ave is a fine game. The excellent art and cohesion between rules and theme make Ave a title worthy of your interest.
((A prototype copy was received for the purposes of this review, although that did not affect the outcome of the review. Prototype components are shown and are subject to change before final production.