Khora: The rise of an empire debuted this week at the Gen Con tabletop gaming convention and in select retail stores. I’ve got my hands on the game for a few weeks now, and it’s definitely growing in me. For a middleweight European style game, it certainly has its charms, especially as an experience for just two players. But, as a storytelling experience, it’s extremely bland.
In Khora, players embody the first Greek city-states vying for glory. For the uninitiated it could be a confusing experience at first. The game only lasts eight turns, but each turn is divided into seven different phases. You will draft cards, roll dice, perform optional actions (but only if you can depending on the dice roll), and “spend” your population in a way that only a former totalitarian state is capable of. But the game runs smoothly, and this repetition helps to quickly get familiar with its multiple systems.
At the edges of the game, these same systems work to effectively evoke a model of the ancient world. I especially like that your population can never exceed a certain number. Long ago, cities couldn’t really get that big until the technological and political limitations of the time held them back. The same goes for the troop levels in the game. In this way, designers use modern knowledge of historical periods as creative limits, both in their design and as inspiration for player strategies at home. table.
These strategies are, however, quite prescriptive. Each of the city-states inside the box has a fairly transparent optimal strategy. The main way to earn victory points in the game is exploration, represented by a field of tokens on the main game board. It’s a race to catch those chips, which gives the game a feeling of loneliness.
Players spend Drachma to upgrade their city, and Drachma is mostly obtained through Action Tiles. There are only a limited number of types of action tiles, which helps speed up the game. Curved balls come with event cards. They basically act like climate changes, creating global effects that all players have to deal with. Again, this is pretty standard stuff for heavy European style games. But it does sound eye-catching, and the published playtime of 75 minutes seems achievable.
The best part about the game is that it can accommodate as few as two players. Two player games of this type and production value are valuable. It’s like the go-to thing when a lot of people are still stuck at home. Iello’s graphic design is top-notch, with clean, cohesive iconography that helps speed up the game. It even has a good pack-in that gets all the bits where you need them, letting you go. get the game quickly to and from the table.
My only big complaint is that Kora has very little to say about early Greece. There is very little drama either. Yes, we are putting our soldiers in danger and killing soldiers, but what for? A few tokens? The art is well executed, both realistic and painterly at the same time, but it is also painfully vanilla. In a crowded market, there is really nothing to stand out.
If you’re looking for another two player game for your collection, or have a bunch of hungry gamers looking for a few games a night, Khora: The rise of an empire deserves your attention. It is now available in some retail stores.
Khora: The rise of an empire was reviewed with a copy of the retail set provided by Iello. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find more information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.