Colony (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Ted Alspach, Toryo Hojo, Yoshihisa Nakatsu
  • Publisher: Bézier Games
  • Artists: Ollin Timm, Stephanie Gustafsson, Digital Imaginary Studios
  • Players: 1 – 4
  • Ages: 13 and Up
  • Time: 45-60 Minutes
  • Times Played: 5 (With 2, 3, and 4 Players)

Colony.png

Bézier Games’s latest title, Colony, was demoed at Gen Con and then released at Essen, generating considerable buzz at both conventions. Colony was one of the highlights of Essen for me, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my plays since, so I wanted to do a full review.

In Colony, players construct and upgrade buildings, and those buildings help with future production, resource manipulation, and victory points. There’s a strong element of engine building, and a variable setup, so Colony feels a bit like Dominion meets Catan or Machi Koro. The resources in Colony are dice, but to reduce the luck factor, the game game features dice drafting.

Colony is Ted Alspach’s reimplementation of Age of Craft, a Japanese design by Toryo Hojo and Yoshihisa Nakatsu. Ted did a designer diary for Colony at BGG, and I highly recommend it if you’re into the history of games or how they’re developed.

As described below, setup is variable. There’s a free iOS or Android setup app for download to help in that process.

Gameplay Walkthrough: Dice drafting, resource management, and engine building…

From the Rulebook: “Eighty years after the nanopocalypse, Earth is mostly ruins. It’s up to you to rebuild civilization in this stark new world, using the few scarce resources you can find. Of course, other post-humans have the same idea, so it’s a race to see who can build up their colony first.”

The goal of the game is to be the first to set a predetermined number of victory points (VPs): 15 in a 4-player game, 16 in a 3-player game, and 20 in a 2-player game.

Each player starts with their four player cards, which are outlined below, and three stable (white) dice, which they roll and place in their warehouse. The game distinguishes between stable (white) dice, which can be stored from turn to turn, and unstable (grey) dice, which are only good on your turn.

In a four player game, the fourth player receives a CHIPI, which are chips that can be exchanged to roll an unstable (grey) dice at the start of your turn. CHIPIs can also be obtained by not building on your turn.

Colony is a straightforward game. On a player’s turn, he takes four steps:

  1. Prepare. Take all dice from the warehouse and other cards that happen during this phase.
  2. Scavenge. This is the “dice drafting” part of the game. The player rolls three stable dice, picks one, and passes the remaining two to his opponent on his left. The player on the left them chooses one of them, places it in his warehouse, and gives the opponent to his left the remaining dice. When rolling, players may also turn in CHIPIs to roll additional unstable dice.
  3. Activate. A player may activate any number of his cards. Activation may be done in any order, and cards are turned slightly to show that they have been used. This is the bulk of the game: this is when players exchange dice, build new cards, and upgrade cards. During this phase, players can also discard a card to get stable dice equal to the difference between the player’s score and the leader’s score.
  4. Cleanup. All cards are returned to their unused state, stable dice are stored, and the player tallies his score and moves it to the appropriate place on the score track.

If a player has the target number of victory points at the end of his turn, he wins the game.

As I mentioned above, the bulk of the game is spent activating cards, and that’s where the depth comes from. The cards in Colony are outlined in detail below, but during this phase, players are trying to build a dice engine. Each player begins the game with their player cards, which allow them to store dice, exchange them, build new cards, and upgrade cards. The basic cards — which are available for purchase in every game — provide victory points and allow for getting unstable dice each turn in the future. The other types of cards vary greatly between games, as discussed below. Some of these allow for production or exchange, others allow for attack or defense: it all depends on what you put in the game!

The Cards of Colony

The Player Cards (Each Player Gets These at the Start)

  • Warehouse (0 VP) – Store up to six stable dice. When upgraded, stores nine dice, plus is worth a VP.
  • Construction (0 VP) – On your turn, either build a card by paying the required dice, or receive a CHIPI. When upgraded, build as many buildings as you want, or receive two CHIPIs.
  • Upgrade (0 VP) – Upgrade a card on your turn by flipping it over. When upgraded, it becomes easier to upgrade cards, plus you get a VP.
  • Supply Exchange (0 VP) – Exchange two equal dice for a stable dice showing any number you choose. When upgraded, it the dice you exchange do not need to be equal, plus you get a VP.
PlayerCards.jpg

The Player Cards.  Each player gets a copy of these.

The Basic Cards (These are in Every Game)

  • GMO Farm (1 VP) – One unstable dice placed to 2. When upgraded, you’ll get a stable dice instead, plus an extra VP.
  • Protein Lab (1 VP) – One unstable dice placed to 3. When upgraded, you’ll get a stable dice instead, plus an extra VP.
  • Fabric Replicator (1 VP) – One unstable dice placed to 4. When upgraded, you’ll get a stable dice instead, plus an extra VP.
  • Fiber Mill (1 VP) – One unstable dice placed to 5. When upgraded, you’ll get a stable dice instead, plus an extra VP.
  • Uranium Mine (2 VP) – One unstable dice placed to 6. When upgraded, you’ll get a stable dice instead, plus an extra VP.
  • Fallout Shelter (Variable VP) – Collect multiple Fallout Shelters to earn more and more victory points. One earns 1 point, two earn 3 points, 3 earn 6 points, etc. They are worth even more when upgraded.
basiccards

The Basic Cards.  These are in every game.

The Other Types of Cards (You’ll Use Seven Types in Each Game)

  • Production Cards – 3 Different Types – These generally produce unstable resources each turn until they are upgraded, at which time they produce stable resources.
  • Exchange Cards – 7 Different Types – These allow you to exchange one or more resources during your turn, and upgrading generally results in a better exchange rate.
  • Trade Cards – 3 Different Types – These allow you to trade resources between yourself and another player.
  • Attack Cards – 3 Different Types – These cards generally result in a negative effect for an opponent and a positive effect for you.
  • Defense Cards – 4 Different Types – These cards activate automatically when an opponent attacks you, providing various benefits.
  • Paragon Cards – 5 Different Types – These cards tend to be expensive, but they can provide significant victory points.
  • Other Cards – 3 Different Types – These allow different unusual abilities. One card lets you gamble for dice, another lets you activate another card you’ve already used this turn, and the last let’s you store dice that aren’t subject to attack.

My thoughts on the game…

As I said above, Colony feels a bit like Dominion meets Catan or Machi Koro. The game setup is highly variable, as in Dominion, allowing for significant replayability. But the gameplay feels more like the engine building of Catan or Machi Koro, though Colony is much deeper than either of those games.

Building an engine is a must: while this is a race for victory points, the best way to get there is by building an engine. I’ve seen players try to rush for victory points (mostly by building several Fallout Shelters), but I haven’t seen them win: rather, the player that wins is typically the player that best builds a system of getting the dice they need. That partially involves getting more and more dice, but it also involves earning the ability to manipulate the dice that you get. It can be easier to get the low-numbered dice, and if you can convert them into the higher numbered dice (which you’ll need for the Uranium Mines and Fallout Shelters), that’s almost as good as getting the higher numbered ones in the first place.

The use of dice as resources is a clever twist, and so is the dice drafting. Games like this can suffer from an over-abundance of luck, but I haven’t felt that way about Colony. Because you roll three dice, odds are good that you’ll get something you can use, and even if not, you can always convert them into other dice.

The gameplay here is streamlined and approachable. This is easy enough for non-gamers to learn, yet there seems to be enough depth for gamers too. It took me less than five minutes to teach the rules, and I’ve found all of the different elements to be intuitive, thanks in part to functional graphic design. Our plays have been consistently lasting about 45 minutes, which is about the perfect length of time for this game: this hits a sweet spot in my collection. I haven’t ever felt like the game ended too soon, nor has it ever seemed to drag on.

I’ve heard Colony criticized for not being interactive. I don’t understand that criticism. You need to carefully watch what your opponents are doing: if you don’t, you might hand them exactly what you need during the dice draft. Indeed, I lost a game that way! More importantly, the trading and attack/defense cards in the game add greatly to the interactivity. If the game doesn’t feel interactive, that’s probably because the right cards weren’t placed into gameplay.

If I have one criticism of Colony, it is that I do not enjoy the four-player game as much as the three-player game, which I consider the optimal player count. In the four-player game, somebody is left out of each dice draft, which is a minor concern. But more importantly, with four players, the time between turns is a bit too much for my taste, although it is still better than many four-player games. With three players, though, this game really shines.

I said Colony was one of the highlights of Essen for me, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my plays since. The game is simple yet deep, with both the engine building that gamer’s love and the tension that dice are known to provide. I’ve taught three different groups the game, and all three have asked to play again, so I know Colony will be getting significant table time in the coming months. This looks like another hit from Bézier Games.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Y: I really liked the first version of the game, a somewhat obscure Japanese game called Age of Craft. Despite the fact that I had to play it with Dan Blum, it was a lot of fun – balancing the engine building game with some good old fashioned dice luck.

But, the luck thing is really mitigated by the dice manipulation in the cards – and that puzzle-y aspect of the game is what really attracts me to Colony. Unlike other tableau games where you figure out how much money you have and then look at your buying options; here you modify your resources during your turn to give you the things you need to buy the one thing that you want. I also like the fact that the puzzle constantly changes because you are given a pretty good supply of cards in the box to mix and match with each new game.

Depending on who you play with, there might be a bit of a downtime issue with 4 players – but we are a quick group, so that has only be a theoretical issue for us.

(Semi-disclaimer: I am a freelance developer for Bezier Games, and I have worked on three published games from them thus far. However, I had nothing to do with the development or production of Colony in any way.)

Joe Huber (5 plays, including plays of the prototype): First, a disclaimer – I helped Ted by playtesting this, because of my previous experience with Age of Craft, and received a copy of the game as a result. Having said that – as Ted will tell you, I wasn’t fond of some of the things he did to the game; in particular, I was not (and still am not) fond of having players start the game restricted to a single construction action per turn. At the same time, I think there are a number of things Ted has done which improve the game – I think restricted trading puts a nice emphasis on cards which allow it, and help speed the game up some. And more importantly, Colony has fewer rough edges than Age of Craft, making it more accessible. I’m enjoying the game, and looking forward to exploring it further – but for now, keeping and continuing to play Age of Craft as well.

Dan Blum: I liked Age of Craft but I prefer Colony as I think the changes are beneficial overall. While I understand the comparisons to Dominion and Machi Koro I don’t think they are especially apt; to me the obvious comparison is to Tom Lehmann’s Favor of the Pharaoh/To Court the King. In both games players acquire many dice manipulation abilities and there is a puzzle-like aspect to using them to their best advantage each turn. Of course the games are fairly different in other aspects; in Favor of the Pharaoh the dice are rolled gradually and don’t stick around, giving it a push-your-luck aspect absent from Colony, Favor of the Pharaoh has a fixed goal rather than a target number of points, etc. I think they’re both very much worth playing but it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to think of Colony as a somewhat longer, more involved take on some of the same ideas.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris Wray, Erik Arneson
  • I like it. Dale Y, Joe H., Lorna, Dan Blum
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…
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