Anno 1800 (Game Preview by Larry Levy)

  • Designer:  Martin Wallace
  • Publisher:  Kosmos
  • Players:  2-4
  • Ages:  12 and up
  • Time:  2 hours

My most anticipated release from the new Essen crop is Anno 1800, a strategy game based on the very popular Ubisoft PC game.  Kosmos, who has the rights to all the Anno titles, approached master game designer Martin Wallace last year about creating a board game version of Anno 1800 and this is the result.  An English translation of the online rules was just posted and since there’s a good deal of interest in the title, I wanted to summarize them to give people an idea about how the game will be played.  Let’s get to it!

The Backstory

As the nineteenth century dawns, each player represents an island nation with a population that has desires and demands.  In order to satisfy your people, you will have to attract workers of various kinds, build industries on your small island, develop trade with your rivals, and explore remote lands in both the Old World and the New World.  The principal goal is to create production chains that will allow you to produce the high level goods your citizens crave and the nation that does the best job of that will win.

Components and Setup

The heart of the game are the 120 construction tiles which the players can build.  These consist of industries (2 each of 35 different types), docks, and ships.  There’s a central playing board which only serves to display the construction tiles, along with some of the card decks.  Each participant’s player board shows their island, with their starting industries and their building locations.  There’s also five different kinds of population cubes (your workforce), a deck of population cards (your consumers), Old World and New World island tiles, decks of Expedition and Mission cards, gold tiles, and a few other miscellaneous components.  Each player begins with their home island (they’re all the same), 9 population cubes (they’re placed on a space on the island called the district), a hand of 9 population cards randomly dealt to them, and some gold tiles (the later in the turn order they are, the more they start with).  Finally, the deck of 20 Mission cards is shuffled and 5 cards are dealt out which will give the players either additional abilities they can utilize that game or goals that will give them endgame VPs.  These Mission cards mean that every game will play out differently.  (There’s a group of 5 Mission cards which are recommended for first-time players.)

Basic Concepts

The main goal of the game is to build construction tiles.  To build them, you need resources, with each kind of tile requiring a different mix of resources.  To produce a resource, you need an industry tile that produces that resource.  Each tile has two spots for population cubes and specifies the type of population cube that can activate the tile.  The thing is, resources can’t be stored.  So if you want to build a Sausage industry tile, which requires Coal and Pigs, you need to produce both Coal and Pigs that turn and use them to build the new tile—you can’t use leftovers from a previous turn, because it’s use ‘em or lose ‘em.  To produce both resources, you take the appropriate population cube from your district and place it on an industry tile that produces Coal (as long as there’s an open spot for the cube) and a second appropriate cube on an industry that produces little piggies and boom!—you are now able to make succulent sausages.

If you can’t or don’t want to produce a needed resource, you can trade for it.  To do this, you need an opponent who has an industry that can produce the resource and some available trade tiles (you get trade tiles with ships).  The opponent can’t refuse a trade offer.  You exhaust the trade tiles and the resource is now available for you to use.  The trade doesn’t affect the opponent in any way (it doesn’t force him to use up a population cube, for example) and he gets a gold tile for being such a good guy.

What’s gold used for?  Glad you asked.  On your turn, you can spend gold tiles to remove one used population cube from one of your industry tiles and put it back in your district.  Not only does this give you a population cube you can use later on, it also frees up a spot on the industry tile.  Who says gold doesn’t buy anything these days?

Gameplay

Each turn, a player does one action.  There are nine possible actions.  Here’s a brief description of each of them.

Build
Take an available construction tile from the central board and place it on a spot in your island.  Produce, or trade for, all the required resources.  Tiles can be built on empty spots or can be built over existing tiles (in which case, the overbuilt tile is returned to the central board).

We’ve already covered industry tiles.  Docks are used to build ship tiles.  There are two types of ships—trading and exploration ships—which come with, not surprisingly, trade tiles and exploration tiles.

Play Population Cards
Each population card has several resources on it.  In order to play the card, the player must produce/trade for all of the resources.  The cards are worth end-game points.  Each card also has a one-time effect which can be cashed in at any time.  There’s a benefit for being the first player to play all their population cards from their hand.

Increase Working Power
As mentioned, there are five types of population cubes.  In order of their “power”, from lowest to highest, they are Farmers, Workers, Craftsmen, Engineers, and Investors.  The higher powered cubes tend to be needed to produce the more sophisticated resources.  This action allows you to add up to three production cubes to your supply.  Each cube type has its own resource requirement which you must produce/trade for in order to add one cube of that type.

Additionally, you must draw a population card for every cube you add (the number of population cards you have is always equal to the number of cubes in your workforce).  There are two decks of population cards—Farmer/Worker cards and Craftsman/Engineer/Investor cards.  Based on the type of population cube you added, add the top card of the appropriate deck to your hand.

Level Up
Hmm, sounds like there’s some leftover terminology from the PC game.  This allows you to replace a population cube with the next higher powered one, as long as you produce/trade for the resource requirement.  You can upgrade up to three cubes with a single Level Up action.

Change Population Cards
This allows you to place a population card from your hand under its matching deck (either the Farmer/Worker deck or the Craftsman/Engineer/Investor deck) and replace it by drawing the top card of that deck.  Up to 3 population cards can be replaced by using this action.

Unlock the Old World
You can spend exploration tiles to add an Old World island to your display.  This will give you more spaces to build on.  Each Old World island also has its own special ability.

Explore the New World
This allows you to spend exploration tiles to add a New World island to your display.  Each such island has three resources which the player can produce by expending a trade tile.  Many of these resources are special ones which can only be found on New World islands.  The only way to obtain these resources is to produce them from your own islands—you can’t trade for them from other players’ islands the way you can with resources produced by industry tiles.

Take Expedition Cards
Spend 2 exploration tiles to take 3 expedition cards.  These cards can be worth points at the end of the game.  If you can place a specific type of population cube from your workforce onto the card, you receive VPs.  Naturally, each cube can only be placed onto one card.

Celebrate City Festival
This is a fancy way of saying “pass”.  This action allows you to reset your display.  Remove all cubes off of your industry tiles and place them back in your district.  You also replenish your ships with the trade tiles and exploration tiles they begin with.  Therefore, on your next turn, you will be at your highest capability.  Note that players will be using this action at different times over the course of the game, so there’s no phase where everybody resets—it’s up to you when you want to do so.

Ending the Game

Those are the nine types of actions you can take.  The game continues, with players taking their turns in clockwise order, until one player plays the last population card from their hand.  This triggers the end of the game.  Finish the round, so that every player has the same number of turns, and then play one more round.  Everyone then tallies their points.  Points are awarded for each population card played, as well as for each New World island.  You get bonus VPs for population cubes you can play on your expedition cards.  The player who triggered the end of the game gets a chunk of VPs.  Finally, check the five Mission cards that were dealt out at the beginning of the game.  Some of these will award VPs to players who meet their conditions.  The player with the highest score wins!

Notes on the Design

Stephen Hurn was one of the playtesters of Anno 1800 and has been sharing his impressions of the game on the Geek.  Here are some things I’ve gleaned from his posts.

Expect your first game to be somewhat overwhelming.  There are a ton of buildings and some of the demands of your populace can seem to be impossible to meet.  But eventually, of course, strategies begin to clarify and he reports that the game actually becomes quite fast-paced and exciting by the end.  He says the game’s weight is comparable to that of Brass or A Feast for Odin.

Like most Eurogames, the player interaction is indirect.  There is no attacking in the game, but the number of construction tiles of each type is limited, so there can be a race to build the ones you want before other players build them.  Yes, you can always get what they produce by trading, but this enriches them (with gold) and might force you to invest in ships more than you wanted to.  And besides, the number of ships is limited as well.  So it’s important to pay attention to what your opponents are doing and what they’re liable to do in future turns.

The game plays quite differently at different player counts.  There are two of each industry tile and there are no adjustments based on the number of players.  So in a 2-player game, industries are always available to be built if you want to.  It’s the least interactive and least stressful version of the game.  It’s also the recommended way of learning the game.

With 4 players, things are very cutthroat and industry shortages are common.  Ships are very important.  It’s not recommended for new players, because it’s more challenging to get things done, but might wind up being the favored number for experienced players.

The 3-player game falls between those two extremes.  Stephen feels this is the game’s sweet spot, as there’s considerably more interaction than in the 2-player game, but it’s not as punishing as the 4-player version.

The German version of Anno 1800 is already available for sale.  The English version will probably not be released until early 2021.  I can’t wait!

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5 Responses to Anno 1800 (Game Preview by Larry Levy)

  1. Jacob Lee says:

    Nice, Larry. I’ve spent the past two days scouring for info on this game (mostly turning up the video game info). I wrote directly to the publisher and they told me Q1 2021 for N. American release. I can wait, but I also cannot wait!

    • huzonfirst says:

      Yup, same here, Jacob. Of course, I’m still in lockdown, so waiting is considerably easier than it normally is!

      • Jacob Lee says:

        I’m not in lockdown, but I am quite restricted in who I can game with. I limited my social bubble to only a couple of relatives and a couple of friends. Schedules permitting a few of us to get together then we have to overcome our different tastes in games. But I will admit that heavy games like this are what I enjoy learning and playing through on my own. That can be fun for a while. Thanks for adding in your personal opinion on Anno.

  2. A nickel for your opinion?

    • huzonfirst says:

      Once again, I’m overpaid! :-) All I have to go on are the online rules and the excellent overviews that Stephen Hurn has provided (Kosmos should send him a nice check, for all the positive interest he’s generated in the game). But based on those, here goes. (BTW, I knew nothing about the PC game before this title was announced.) It isn’t really the Wallace economic opus I was truly hoping for, but it does sound very interesting. Quite streamlined (it should be pretty easy to teach), with all the complexity contained in the interaction of the industries. It looks like an efficiency game, but the ultimate challenge may be to balance building up your infrastructure (workers and ships), which will increase efficiency, with the need to grab critical industries before they disappear. And, of course, all of that needs to be paid for and that requires industries or trade tiles as well, so it might feel like, as the old Air Force joke goes, building the plane while you’re flying it. Getting a handle on the relationship between all those industries will take a few games, but Stephen keeps comparing Anno to A Feast for Odin and that felt like a monster at first, but with a few games under your belt, was much easier to grok. I have no problem investing the time to figure this game out if it turns out to be as interesting as I hope it will be.

      The tension of having the number of each industry be limited makes me feel that the 2-player game will be less interesting than the other numbers. Probably a fine way to learn it and I can see maybe playing it with my daughter that way, as we can each do our own thing, but this might well require 3 to really shine. Of course, there’s nothing stopping us from coming up with house rules that remove some of those industries from the 2-player game and seeing how that plays.

      The game reminds me a little of an early Matthias Cramer title called Helvetia which also used virtual production. I liked that game, although this is probably heavier. It’s an interesting system and certainly saves on bookkeeping!

      My real problem is going to be, when I can crawl out of lockdown and have someone to play this with? Maybe, if we’re very lucky, by the time this game ships, we’ll be on our way to some normalcy and I can do what I love best, which is check out new games!

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