- Designer: Tim Puls
- Publisher: Lookout Games
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 30 to 240 minutes
OK, so I’m a self professed Lookout fanboy. I should also make my usual disclaimer that I have at one point been a business partner with the head honcho and head artist of Lookout – we worked together designing games once upon a time. (Flizz&Miez FTW!). But, even before I worked with them, the games chosen for the Lookout line just seem to always hit my sweet spot.
I was warned by Hanno that this year’s “big” game was going to be big. Physically, at least as massive as Caverna. Conceptually, over the course of many eras. Timewise, possibly as long as 4 or 5 hours at its fullest. This short description both intrigued me and worried me… I’m not the biggest fan of super-long games. The game is designed by Tim Puls – who according to BGG has not had anything else published in the database – so nothing to go on there either…
I spent most of the summer in the dark, but then I got more info recently. The game is loosely inspired by the Anno PC game series – a few of which I’d actually played in my younger days. These civ-building games are real time strategy games where you try to build up your colony/city/etc through infrastructure improvements, trading/diplomacy and sometimes fighting. How would this translate to a board game?
I was given a chance to look through the not-quite-final rules, and after a good 30 to 45 minutes; I’m ready for this one! Why did it take so long? Well, the rules are a very un-Euro-like 24 pages long – but the font is a reasonable size and there are many illustrations in the rules to help you find your way. I’m guessing that it might have fit into 16 pages, but I’m glad that they took the hit in costs for an extra two sheets to bring the page count to 24. In actuality, there are two rule books included in the box – the second one is a 20 page introductory game that walks you through a sample 2 player game and teaches you the important concepts as you go. Having read this book, I actually feel like I could jump into a demo game with not much problem at all.
So, in the full game – you play through 4 eras – but your group can decide to play any number of eras. You are not even limited to starting with the First – the game allows to start and end in any Era; though you do have to always play them in chronological order. The overall goal is to develop the most successful community. Initially you will be gathering supplies in order to build buildings and make improvements to your area. As your area grows, you will attract more colonists to the area. These colonists want to work, and you’ll have to keep growing your settlement to provide jobs for all the people. Initally your colonists are mostly worried about feeding themselves, so agriculture is a good starting job. But as you get more sophisticated, your farmers become educated citizens and then they will start to be able to trade with other communities, etc.
The game starts with a board made up of many different Place tiles. Each of these tiles represents a different location or job in the town (builder, market, librarian, etc.) The difficulty of the game can be modified by the initial layout of these tiles. Each player also gets their own personal Community board where they will have their farms, store their goods and build their buildings.
Each Era in the game is composed of 5 years. Each year has a Summer and a Winter Round, and players will take 3 turns in each round. Thus, a total of 30 turns will be had per player per Era; with up to 120 turns in the full she-bang of a game.
In each Round, the starting player will draw a Market card and 3 new Place tiles. Then, the start player puts his Steward pawn in one of the Markets on the board and will take three consecutive turns. In each turn, the player will move the Steward pawn and then do the action corresponding to the tile he landed on. You must always move your pawn, you may not stay in the same location and take the same action again. Your movement is initially limited to one space, but the Range of your Steward can increase over the course of the game. Additionally, you can always jump to a Market tile, regardless of your current location. Later in the game, you might even be able to employ more stewards. You will only be able to move one on any given turn, but having more stewards on the board will certainly give you more options as to where any one of them might be able to move on a turn. There is one restriction with Steward movement – except for the Market spaces, any Steward that moved in a round may not end on the same space that you started them at the start of your three turns
Some spaces will allow you to collect resources. You need to have places to store them though. Other Places will let you build buildings by turning in specific resources. If you do so, you will be able to add the corresponding building tile to your community board. In order for that building to work, you have to have a someone to put in the building to work it. There is usually a cost associated with putting someone into a building. The Market spaces have varying actions – always a choice of three – and this is dictated by the Market card that happened to be flipped up at the start of the round. You can collect development cards at some Places and then go to other Places to put those cards into effect. As you move around, you must take the action of the Place that you land on. Unless specified specifically by the Place, you can take the action on your tile as many times as you can pay for it; otherwise you are obviously limited by the number written on the Place tile – this limit extends to your total in the game. i.e. the Builder for Storage Shed tile has a 3X limit on it. This means that on any one turn, you can build a maximum of three storage sheds. It also means that your Community board is limited for the entire game of having no more than three storage sheds on it.
Once the starting player has finished his three turns, then the next player goes and takes his three actions. When all players have taken their three actions in the Summer, the Round indicator moves to the Winter space, and players again get three actions in a row. The board can get fairly crowded, and you might want to consider where you end each of your rounds. If another player lands on the Place that you occupy, they must pay you a Resource AND a Food or a Tool before they can take the action at that Place (at least this is the cost in Era 1…). Storage is always a tight thing, and you always have to have enough places to keep your resources, food and tools. If you do not, you will be forced to discard things you can’t hold. Note that players can share Market spaces without penalty though.
As you build more and more buildings, remember that almost all of them require a worker on them to be active. Your two initial workers came on your two starting Farm building tiles. If you need more workers, you’ll have to eventually build more Farms – each new Farm tile comes with a new worker on it, and this worker can immediately be moved into a new building. However, this freedom of movement only occurs when moving from a Farm to a unoccupied building. Otherwise, you generally can’t move a worker from one working building to another except at the end-of-the-year upkeep phase. You can move your workers between buildings just BEFORE you see what buildings generate goods. Once they are moved, they remain that way until the end of the next year.
When all players have taken their three Winter turns, the game moves into the end of year upkeep. First, the start player possibly moves (this comes on some of the actions, primarily those on Market cards). Then the new starting player adds the three Place tiles revealed at the start of the year. They must be placed so that they touch at least two other tiles. Next you must pay sustenance costs for the workers in your buildings. Finally, any buildings that generate stuff (resources, tools, etc) make their stuff. Again, you need to be able to store them. You can only use stuff that is in your Storage area – and you can move things from production buildings to your Storage area at any time. You cannot move them back onto Production buildings once they are in storage though. You can swap stuff between Storage and Warehouse buildings though.
As the game continues on, you’ll get new actions in the new Place tiles. Some will be more of the same, and others will be advanced actions that will give you secondary goods. For instance, you will get Refiner tiles which will take some basic goods (i.e. Wood) and turn them into finished objects (Planks). You will also get the opportunity to upgrade your buildings to more advanced forms. For instance, you can Develop a Farm into an Estate, and the Estate provides you with 3 workers instead of 1. Farms can also be converted to Flats, which is a step forward in converting your farmer to a city dwelling citizen… Your community board can be a crowded place, and it may turn out that you simply need to tear down an existing building to make space for something new.
There are generally only 12 tiles in each Era, which is enough to place new tiles at the end of years 1-4. You do not place tiles at the end of Year 5 – instead you go into a scoring phase. You may have collected some money along they way, and these are stored in your Toolbox. To this total, you add the value of all of your constructed buildings – you can see their value printed right on the building tile. Permanent improvement cards also come with a dollar value. Working Farmers are worth $2 but working Citizens (those working in Factories and other industrial buildings) are worth $6. However, you have to also be able to pay 1 Food per working Citizen; else they will head back to the farms and be worth less to you.
The game could end at this point, and it looks like this would be a 30-45 minute game. However, there are 4 Eras in the full game. Each has its own Place tiles. Additionally, each comes with 28 Market cards (5 used in each) and 35 Improvement cards – so that you will always have varied play, even if you only play the same Era over and over. Furthermore, as you progress through the Eras, a new game element is added to play at the start of the Era. The Era card tells you what is added to the game, it also changes the fee that you have to pay for landing on an occupied space. Starting in Era 2, you add a third Market tile to the map, and this may give you some extra flexibility in movement. In Era 3, you start to introduce Colonies – these give special powerful abilities if you can establish relations with them by building Embassy buildings in your area. There are 9 total colonies in the game, but you will never have more than 5 of them in any full game of Colonists.
As there are different tiles and different abilities at each stage of the game, you may wish to place the game in pieces and save your progress. The rules give you a number of ways to save you place; you can exactly do it by taking a picture of your board, or you can simply note a few important things and then restart the game later at the next Era. If you choose to start in a later Era – i.e. start in Era 3 so that you can play with the Colonies – the game gives you instructions on how to build the setup up to the point where you would have been after playing through the previous Eras (i.e. you will need to have enough tiles on the board, and a representative number of Improvement cards, buildings, workers, etc at that point in the game).
Overall, this looks to be a clever system – it would be rare in my group to be able to play three to four hour game in one sitting – but the system in the rules makes it seem pretty easy to break it up into parts to get the full experience over a number of sessions. This makes me much more positive about the game because there are many different ways to play it. Just reading through the beginner First Era only game already seems like a satisfying experience, and the game appears to offer plenty in flexibility in both length and breadth of experience. Once you know how long it takes your group to play an era, you could even custom tailor the game length to the time you had available to play – and also choose which Era to start in to give you the mechanisms that you wanted to play with.
This was probably a must-get based on the publisher alone, but now that I’ve read through it, it clearly deserves that spot. The biggest question might be how to get this one home in one piece. Like Caverna, this one is going to surely weigh in the many thousands of grams…
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor