Aton is one of my favorite two-player games of all time because it keeps you on your toes throughout the entire game. You have to watch what your opponent with the eye of Horus and respond accordingly, while also advancing your own goal(s). Aton has an Egyptian theme - something that peaks my Egyptian-scholar husband's interest - and while it's an abstract strategy game - not normally my favorite type of game - I still love it.
Aton's game board consists of four temple areas, numbered 1 to 4 in the middle, four Cartouches on each side where players play their cards, a scarab score track, and the Kingdom of the Dead along the bottom.
There are four ways to win in Aton - that's why you have to watch your opponent like Horus:
- Fill a temple completely with your stones,
- Cover all of the green spaces on the board with your stones,
- Place your stones on all of the yellow spaces, Or
- Score 40 points.
The game ends immediately when any one of the winning conditions is met.
Game play itself is pretty straightforward. You and your opponent each have a deck with cards numbered 1 to 4. Each turn you’ll both draw four cards and simultaneously assign them to the four Cartouches on your side of the board.
Once you've both assigned your cards, reveal the cards you each played on the first Cartouche. The player with the higher value card scores double the difference between the two cards.
Next reveal the cards on your second Cartouche. This Cartouche will determine who gets to play the rest of their cards first. This can be very important.
For example, if all you need to win the game is to place 2 stones in Temple 3, and you have the cards to do it, you'll want to go first to prevent your opponent from removing one or more of your Temple 3 stones and foiling your plan.
The player with the lowest card on the second Cartouche gets to play first. In the case of a tie, the player with the lowest card on the first Cartouche goes first. If there’s still a tie, play War by revealing the top card of your decks - lowest goes first - until the tie is resolved.
Whoever won the second Cartouche reveals the rest of their cards and executes their turn as follows:
- The card on your second Cartouche determines how many of your opponent’s stones you can remove (its value minus 2). Careful: if you play a 1 here, you have to remove one of your own stones (2 - 1 = -1), except in the first round of the game. Place any removed stones in the Kingdom of the Dead.
- The third Cartouche specifies which temples you can work in (3 means you can work in the first 3 temples).
- The value of the card on the fourth Cartouche determines how many of your own stones you can place among the temples you have access to.
Then the other player reveals the rest of their cards and executes their turn in kind.
So you're probably wondering what the symbols at the top of each temple mean. They're scoring indicators triggered at the end of any round in which the Kingdom of the Dead's eight spaces become full.
For each temple, the player with the majority of stones there scores as follows:
Temple 1 - the difference in the players’ stone count. For example, in the picture on the right: blue has 5 stones in Temple 1 and red has 1, so blue scores 4 points.
- Temple 2 - 5 points. This time red has the majority - 2 stones to blue's 1 - so red scores 5 points for Temple 2.
- Temple 3 - 1 point for each stone the winner has there. If there's a tie, no points are awarded. In this example, there is a tie, so no points are scored.
- Temple 4 is a little weird. The player with the majority of stones in Temple 4, scores 3 points for each of their stones on a blue square in any Temple. In this case, blue has 4 stones in Temple 4, while red only has 2. So blue score 6 points (3 points for the stone on the blue square in Temple 2, plus 3 points for the stone on the blue square in Temple 4).
- Grey Squares - the player with the most of stones on grey spaces, scores 8 points. In this example, blue has 3 stones on grey spaces - 2 in Temple 1 and 1 stone in Temple 4 - while red doesn't have any stones on grey spaces. So blue get the 8 points.
If after scoring, neither player has achieved 40 points, both players remove one of their own stones from each of the four temples, and collect their stones from the Kingdom of the Dead. Play continues, possibly involving more scoring rounds, until one of the four victory conditions is met. If after a scoring round, both players have more than 40 points, the one with the highest score wins.
Let's talk components. Aton's components are quite nice and of good quality. The Egyptian-themed artwork is lovely - it's what drew me to the game to begin with. Even the box interior is lavishly illustrated. The cards seem quite durable. Our copy has seen many, many plays, and the cards still still look good even though we didn't sleeve them. The board is sturdy. The "stones" are wood; their color hasn't faded or worn off at all despite repeated plays. My only complaint is the rules. They seem to suffer from a poor translation and can be a bit confusing. But this review should take care of that!
All and all, Aton is a super fun and beautiful game. I love the constant give and take as you and your opponent vie for the win. And the timing element is awesome. In a critical situation, you may have to sacrifice a stone to make sure you go first either to prevent your opponent from winning or to ensure your own victory. I highly recommend Aton. It is one of my favorite two-player games of all time.
Aton supports two players, ages 8 and up, and plays in about 30 minutes. While it's currently out-of-print, you can still snag a copy at Here Be Books & Games. Or you can rent it from our Rental Game Library!