Ancestree – Fiddling with Families for Family Fun
“My family is better than yours!” That’s the premise behind Ancestree, created by Eric Lang and published by Calliope Games. Can you build a dynasty worth commemorating? Or will your lineage be merely mediocre?
In Ancestree, players draft tiles to create the best family tree.
Each player starts with a hand of six ancestor tiles. They choose one to play. All players play their chosen tile simultaneously, connecting it to their family tree. Then each player passes their remaining hand to the person to their left.
Play continues in this fashion until five tiles have been played. The sixth tile is discarded, the round ends, and points are scored. Then every player draws a new hand of six tiles, and play continues, passing hands in the opposite direction. This pattern continues for a third round, returning to passing cards to the left. The game ends after the third round.
There are two types of connections: leaves and hearts. Leaves represent direct descendants, and may be at the top or bottom of a tile. A new tile may be attached above or below an existing tile on the family tree, as long as the leaves match (light with light, dark with dark).
Hearts represent marriages, although sometimes those marriages look a bit bizarre.
There are three ways to score points in Ancestree: dynasties, marriages, and coins.
Coins are straightforward points. Add up all the coins on all the tiles in your family tree at the end of each round, and add them to your scoreboard. This means that each coin you acquire on a round 1 tile is actually worth 3 points by the end of the game.
Dynasties compare your family tree to your nearest neighbors’. For each clan (yellow/eagle, teal/camel, gray/lion, purple/elephant, red/dragon), you compare to the player on your left and right. If you have more connected generations in that clan than your neighbor, you gain a scoring tile. You may gain up to two scoring tiles per clan in each round (one for each neighbor). Unlike the coins, the dynasty scores are worth more in each successive round, so it is more important to gain these in the final round.
Marriages are scored only at the end of the game. As you would expect, it benefits you to have as many as possible. A single marriage is worth only 1 point, but two marriages is worth 3 points, and each additional marriage adds on more points (1, 3, 5, 10, etc. You can see the scale at the bottom of the image below)
After three rounds, players add up all the points on their playmat (plus marriages). Dynasty wins from round 1 are worth 1 point each, 2 in round 2, and 3 in the last round. Ancestree has thoughtfully provided round-point tokens to help keep track. The player with the highest point total has the best family, and wins bragging rights over the other players; at least until the next game.
It’s hard to express what makes Ancestree fun. It’s both surprisingly light and surprisingly engaging. You don’t have to obsessively count points; it’s easy to see where your dynasties are (or aren’t) working. There’s no reading required to understand the tiles or the scoring, and it’s fun just to find ways to connect new tiles to your family tree.
We tried lots of different strategies, and there was no standout choice to guarantee a win. Instead, a winning strategy depends on reading your neighbors. Watch their family tree and lean your strategy in a different direction. Otherwise, they’ll take all the “best” tiles before you can. We had a session where we played a number of back-to-back games, deliberately selling out to a strategy to see if it worked. The games moved so quickly, it didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice!
The only thing we didn’t like about Ancestree was the artwork. The portraits of your “ancestors” are almost all comically ugly. At least the connections and coins are clearly marked. We often made jokes about the portraits, even while we wished they were different.
Overall, Ancestree is a fast-moving, easy game to get into. The player count doesn’t affect the speed, since you are only comparing your tree to your neighbor(s). We could never sit down for just a single play; no matter what group we played it with, we would end one game and immediately start another.
This light game is already on its way to become a frequently selected favorite for our family.
Find Ancestree on Amazon for around $30.
The Family Gamers received a review copy of Ancestree from Calliope Games.