Sumer: Mesopotamia in Real Time
My last review mentioned video game styling on a board game – how about the reverse: a board game that you play on a video game system?
Sumer is a real-time worker placement game for up to 4 players, played on PC (Steam Early Access) or Nintendo Switch. Because it is technically a video game, players do not have to track points or mediate disputes over who did an action first.
Players choose a color for their Sumerian lord and a game length (2, 4, or 6 rounds). You will be competing to earn the most favor with the Sumerian goddess Inanna.
Inanna begins each round by declaring two “rituals”, each with variable slots for resource types available in the current round.
The round is conducted in smaller increments (“days”). The day starts when all players “awake” from sleep. Jump up and down the levels of the ziggurat to find the best place to assign your two workers. Wheat to offer up to the goddess? Clay to bake in the kiln? Goats, the currency of the game, to prepare for the future? Once you have assigned your workers, get your lord back to his bed to earn bonus goats.
Each “night”, your workers return, bringing with them any goods they have gained. Then the next day comes, and the cycle begins again.
When a ritual is completed, the completing player and the player who contributed the most both get bonus points. Completing the second ritual triggers the end of the round (and all players rush to assign their workers to get helpful resources knowing this is the final day).
Players participate in an auction and building phase before the next round begins. Auctions are tense, with an intuitive racetrack scale for spending your goats. Buy workshops to give yourself a price advantage, upgrade your lord’s speed, “rent” an extra worker, or build statues to increase your favor based on other buildings. Players get a short “day” to pick open spots on the ziggurat to place their newly acquired building(s).
With each round, more and more buildings will crowd the ziggurat with options for your workers. Turn clay into pottery; make beer with pottery and grain. The more complex a resource, the more favor it gives when offered to Inanna, but spots are limited!
Alternately, you can always hedge your bets with the bakery or kiln. These use your resources “for the people”, giving favor to the most generous player(s).
After the final round, favor is tallied. All players “float” towards Inanna in a very visual display, dropping to the ground when their total favor is reached. The player who does not drop (ie. has the highest point total) wins the right to rule Inanna’s people.
Sumer is a unique game. Neither fully a video game nor fully a board game, it meshes the best aspects of both for an engaging experience. Ancient Mesopotamia is an unusual setting for any game, but the team at Studio Wumpus use it to tell a compelling story.
Our children loved Sumer and understood how to play it right away. For anyone who likes euro-style board games, Sumer will be easy to understand. The strategy is sound: tweaking a worker-placement game to use simultaneous, real-time action.
Not only that, we love the changes we can make in the game settings, although they’re pretty typical for a video game: short/medium/long game; AI difficulty; auction speed; minor scoring variations.
Sumer thrives on local multiplayer. You can of course play solo against only the AI, but the game shines when played with your friends and family. Yell as they claim the resources you wanted. Race up to the top of the ziggurat to offer your sacrifice to Inanna first and grab the completion bonus.
Sumer is rated E for Everyone, and we find nothing here that’s inappropriate for our kids (although the goddess worship and beer may be off-putting to some families). Reading skill and fast reflexes are both helpful for play, but not absolutely necessary. We’d recommend it for kids 8 and up.
Studio Wumpus provided The Family Gamers with a preview copy of Sumer on Nintendo Switch for this review.
Number of Players: 1-4
Age Range: 8+ (rated E for Everyone)
Playtime: 15-45 minutes, depending on number of rounds
Available on Steam and Nintendo Switch