- Publisher: Asmodee/Lautapelit.fi
- Designers: Rustan Håkansson, Nina Håkansson, Einar Rosén, Robert Rosén
- Artists: Ossi Hiekkala, Jere Kasanen, Paul Laane, Frida Lögdberg
- Players: 1-5
- Ages: 14+
- Playing Time: 40 min. per player
- Languages: English
- MSRP $99.99
- Reviewed by: Mary Dimercurio Prasad
- Game Played: Review Copy
- Number of Plays: 1 x 3 player, 1 x 2 player
From the humble beginnings of civilization through the historical ages of progress, mankind has lived, fought and built together in nations. Great nations protect and provide for their own, while fighting and competing against both other nations and nature itself.
Nations must provide Food and Stability as the population increases. They must build a productive economy. And all the while they must amaze the world with their great achievements and build up their heritage to become the greatest nation in the history of mankind! (From the rulebook.)
Nations is a civilization building game, much in the same vein as the original Civilization computer game, the subsequent Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game and the ultimate romp Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization board game (among others). Nations is a card-based economic game, with card drafting and hand management aspects (well, board management anyway – your cards are not actually in your hands).
The goal of the game is to accumulate the most victory points (VP). There are four types of resources in Nations: gold, stone, food, and books. Gold is used for buying Progress Cards, stone for building and deploying workers, food to prevent famine and grow population, and books to help gain VP.
The game takes a bit to set up. Each player gets her own player board. It is two sided – the basic side (A-side) is the same for every player (just with different nation names), recommended for players who are new to the game, while the more advanced side (B-side) has specializations specific to each nation. The following is a description of the basic side of the player boards.
The player boards consist of a Population Track, nation name/starting resources section, and 14 card slots (spaces for cards). The Population Track has two sections of 4 workers each. This is where your additional workers are stored until you decide to “buy” them in the Growth phase (described later). One side costs 3 food per worker maintenance (each turn), the other side costs an immediate one-time fee of 3 stability per worker (tracked on the Scoring Board, described further on). The 14 card slots include 1 slot for an Advisor, 5 slots for building and military (these start as hard printed starting cards – Temple, Quarry, Axeman, Farm, and Caravan), 1 Wonder construction slot, 5 Wonder slots, and 2 Colony slots. These represent the maximums in the game. For example, you may only have up to 5 Wonders and 2 Colonies at any time. Older cards may be replaced by newer cards of the same type during the game. The preprinted starting cards provide a place for players to gain basic resources when activated with workers, without having to purchase Progress Cards.
The Progress Board contains three rows of seven cards for a total of 21 Progress Cards available for purchase each round in a five player game (these are scaled down for less players). The first row costs one gold, the second costs two, and the third costs three. Unpurchased cards from the third row move down to the first row in the subsequent round; all others are removed from the game. There are eight types of Progress Cards: Advisors, Battles, Buildings, Colonies, Golden Ages, Military, Wars, and Wonders. Most of these are what you would expect. Advisors, Colonies, and Wonders help their owners in various ways. Buildings and Military cards require workers in order to be useful; workers have costs associated with them depending on where they are deployed. At the end of the game, Buildings and Military may provide VP, depending on the number of workers on each (specified on the cards). Battles and Golden Ages provide some instant benefit (e.g. resources or VP). War cards are described further on.
The last board is the Scoring Board. The outside track denotes how many books each player has. The left track denotes the stability of each nation (may go negative). The right track denotes the military strength of each nation. The top track shows the current round. The next track down shows the difficulty level: at the start of the game, each player chooses a difficulty level, placing his or her markers accordingly on this track. This sets the amount of additional resources each player may take in the maintenance phase (starting at one for the highest level, adding one more per lower difficulty level). Then come the Architects available for the round, a slot for the next event card to be triggered at the end of the round, the player order track, and a slot for the War card.
The full game takes place over four ages with two rounds each (players may opt to play fewer ages for a shorter game). There are three phases each round: maintenance, action, and resolution.
During the maintenance phase, the round marker is moved, the Progress Board is refilled, players choose Growth (one additional population taken from their Population track OR one type of resource in the amount associated with their difficulty level), a new event is drawn, and Architects are refilled.
During the action phase, in turn order, players take turns buying action cards, deploying workers, or hiring Architects (mainly to build Wonders) – one action per turn until everyone passes. There are a limited number of Architects available per round.
The resolution phase consists of production, adjusting player order, war, event resolution, and famine. At the end of each age (i.e. every other round) books are scored.
During production, players count up the number of resources produced or owed and take them or pay them respectively. Player order is adjusted according to player order on the strength track (higher strength goes first), with ties resolved on the stability track otherwise order remains the same as the previous turn.
War happens if, during the round, one player purchased a War card. At the time of purchase, a war marker is placed under the purchaser’s military strength marker. The war marker does not move, even if the purchaser’s strength changes, during the rest of that turn. To resolve the war, any player whose strength is lower than the war marker suffers the consequences denoted on the card. For example, players may have to pay 4 books plus one VP if their makers are lower on the military strength track than the war marker. The VP is always paid but the other consequences (in this case paying 4 books) may be alleviated by their nation’s stability (one less per positive stability level).
Event cards have two sections and a famine indicator. Some events are positive; others are negative. In this game, whenever players are tied for something positive, no one gets the benefit but if players are tied for something negative, everyone gets hit at full value. Life is so unfair! The famine cost is paid in the number of food shown – increasing with each age.
At the end of each age books are scored; each player scores one VP per player behind them on the track.
For the full rules, see the files section for Nations at Board Game Geek.
Overall, I really like the game. It definitely plays faster than Through the Ages and shares many of the same aspects, e.g. the Progress board is analogous to the card track, Advisors to leaders, Wonders to wonders. That being said, I don’t think it will replace TtA as my favorite civilization type game. But it’s still a top contender (second at the moment), as well as one of my favorite releases of the year.
One of the things that I’m on the border about is that you will not see the full set of cards in each game – only a subset. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, there is variability from game to game, but on the other, you can’t plan strategies around certain cards – they may not show up in your particular game.
As far as events go, there are a few that bother me. For example, one states “All: No change in turn order this round.” What?? Why? There aren’t that many rounds in a game – this one can hurt. Another states “All: -2 food or go last.” What happens if two players don’t have food? Both can’t go last – I’m guessing the tiebreakers kick in but it just seems wonky. Here’s another, “All Nations with Antiquity or Medieval Advisor: -4 books.” If no new Advisors come out during the round then you are going to get hit and there is nothing you can do about it. I’ve never been a fan of the random event hitting just some subset of players (ahem, me). It’s one reason we play crayon rail games without events. Although, I will note that most of the events you see ahead of time and can at least plan for them; they typically have Most X or Least Y attributes. I might just remove those few bothersome events, thus fixing the problem (for me, at least).
A few last picky points before going on to the more positive aspects of the game. One is the price point. At nearly $100, it may be too costly for the general board gaming population. It doesn’t contain miniatures or other fancy components; it’s mostly a card game with some boards, chits, and meeples. I’m not sure what’s kicking up the cost. The box is rather oversized too – there’s far too much air space in the box, taking up valuable real estate on my gaming shelves. Also it would have been nice to have some type of tracker for production. Luckily there are a couple available in the files section at BGG.
The game has a nice feel of civilization building. Each round it gets progressively more challenging to maintain balance. Points tend to be tight. Losing a point here and there can really hurt. This makes for some real tension during the game! There are lots of choices during the game too – you shouldn’t get bored, even when it’s not your turn (well, within reason – I still wouldn’t play this with Mr. or Ms. A.P.). The game production is well done: nice boards, cards (although small for shuffling, they take up less space on the boards), chits, and wooden meeples. The artwork fits well with the theme, and the theme works well in the game (i.e. it is not just pasted on). War isn’t too horrible (usually my least favorite part of any game since I’m not a fan of direct conflict) – it just means that managing your resources is even more important. I am a fan of resource management!
Nations is no where near as fiddly as Through the Ages yet still maintains the same feel of civilization building, and in less time. It’s more streamlined. You also can choose to have less pressure in feeding your population by taking workers from the stability side.
Nations makes a great introduction into more complicated civilization games – a sort of gateway game for the genre. The rules are pretty straightforward, not to mention, a fairly quick read. I also love the fact that you can tailor it for different players by varying the difficulty level by player. This means that an expert player can play the game alongside a newbie with a more level playing field. Genius!
There is a solo variant I’m curious to try!
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:
Nathan Beeler: Most things I could say I’ve already said in my review of Nations. Having played a few more times since then, I would agree that only seeing a subset of the total number of cards available can make for some really wonky games. But as a trade-off for unpredictability, I’ll take that mechanism every time. I still love Nations.
Patrick Brennan: A nice streamlining of Through The Ages. While TtA was about the cards but also had a ton of accounting, this is all about the cards. You start with 5 cards, each of which give you various combinations of money, stone, culture, military, and food. Allocate your 5 meeples among these as you please, and that sets out what your economy will produce. Use gold to buy more efficient cards to replace those you have. Reallocate your meeples to the more efficient cards using stone. Make sure you get enough allocated to military, because even though there’s no direct aggression, being first in military gives you first pick of the new cards next turn (awesome advantage) as well as avoid penalties whenever someone pays for a war card. You can also buy cards to give you one-off benefits, cards that you can pay stone to build wonders (for ongoing benefits), and country cards you can take if you have high enough military (for more ongoing benefits).
All of which should sound eerily familiar to TtA fans. Build up your culture production, as most culture each round earns VPs, but there’s plenty of VPs in building higher level stuff as well. Once you’ve spent your gold, racing in turn order to draft the best cards, then it’s just a matter of doing the non-player-interactive stuff, like allocating your meeples. So reviewing the new cards and re-evaluating when your desired cards are taken is where the downtime is. The decision tradeoffs are the inevitable ones of foregoing military and/or culture progression for a better production engine, short term vs long term gains and the like. Other than that, the game’s straightforward and relatively easy to teach. There’s an event to compete for each round, produce stuff based on how you’ve set your meeples up, pay for more meeples, etc. Standard stuff, but done neatly. There’s oodles of cards, and the order in which they come out makes for different strategies and should make for variety from game to game. As long as you play with fast-ish players, and maybe 3 players max, it should feel about the right length (but it has the possibility to drag out otherwise). There’s obviously plenty to explore, which is always attractive.
Larry: (3 plays) This is midway between an “I like it” and an “I love it” rating for me. At this point in time, I’m rounding up, so let’s call it love.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:
- I love it! Mary Prasad, Lorna, Nathan Beeler, Larry, Luke Hedgren, Craig Massey
- I like it: Patrick Brennan, Tom Rosen, Jennifer Geske
- Neutral: Jonathan Franklin, Rick Thornquist
- Not for me…