- Designers: Martin Wallace
- Players: 2-4
- Publisher: Kosmos
- Age: 12+
- TIme: 2-3 hours
- Review by: Alan How
- Times played: 5, using my own copy
Martin Wallace has produced many development games involving trading, resources and maps, so it’s perhaps not too surprising that he turned his mind to a game with production chains based on the PC game from some years ago.
How you play
Each player receives their own personal board for the development of different construction industries, as well as a bunch of workers (coloured cubes) that start in their own district. Their board shows some preprinted industries as well as space for new tiles. Each industry tile shows what resources it needs and produces, as well as the colour of the worker required to do so. This is clearly presented on each tile, so you quickly learn the format and easily scan tiles for the required inputs and outputs. The workers come in five different colours representing different skill levels with the higher ones required to work on better tiles. Initially players receive a small number of the three lowest types of worker, but they’re all ready to go.
There’s a shared development board that shows the tiles that can be claimed by players, providing they meet the criteria for acquiring that tile, which will usually be resources produced from existing tiles on their personal boards. The combination of the right workers on a tile produces resources and this is a fundamental concept in the game. Similarly important is that there are only 2 spots for workers to become engaged on a tile and the production is used this turn or lost. There is no storage of spare resources, so you need to produce the goods you want for immediate use.
So the basic principles are to allocate your workers to tiles to produce goods that advance your situation. This can be achieved in a number of ways.
You can create new industries that produce different outputs; you can increase the number of ships available that help with trade and exploration; you can add more locations (called exploring) that provide more places where you can build more industries. Many of these options will require more workers and these can be recruited providing you supply the correct inputs.
As you build better industries these require more skilled workers so you will have to upgrade your workers or add more workers of the right type in order to work on these new industries. Adding workers causes each player to add a population card to your hand of cards as you start with some to begin with. The population cards become personal targets to achieve earning influence (victory) points. But they are a double edged sword: the game end is triggered only when a player plays their last population card and one complete round is played after the current one concludes. So adding more cards is good as you have new ways to increase your game end position, but delays you from controlling when that game end will take place. Rather than add more population cubes you can upgrade the worker cubes by producing the necessary requirements shown on the spaces between the different worker types. Of course this means that you have fewer low grade workers and they may be needed to produce some lower grade raw materials.
I mentioned that you can trade, which is the way you can get the resources you are missing to make an upgrade or add a new tile. The requirements are that someone else produces the necessary goods and you have sufficient trade goods to carry out the trade. These come from having enough trade tokens on your trade ships, so more planning is required to make sure that these are available when needed and you have enough ships.
Eventually you run out of actions to make so you take the reset action called the City Festival which returns all exhausted population cubes and naval tiles to their starting position. This is likely to be out of sync with other players as you have developed along different paths.
When the last round is triggered you have one round to finalise your plans and the points from played population cards, expedition cards and gold provide your score. If you triggered the last round there’s also a bonus of 7 points.
I really like the game as it features developing your position with many facets to consider. Each turn you only take one action, which means that turns are usually pretty quick, but as the game draws you into making planning decisions, you usually are thinking about your next two or three moves ahead.
I really appreciate that you don’t have a stack of resources that have been carried forward each turn. This contrasts with another heavy development game from 5 years ago called The Colonists which used a large number of resource tokens to show what had been produced and carried forward. (Both are good games but have taken different approaches.) It certainly means the gameplay is faster.
I like the breadth of options for each player. This means there is no one sure way to victory or even a guaranteed fastest route for each project you initiate. It also adds significant replayability to the game.
I like the limited number (2) of each new industry tile that can be acquired as this forces the pace, but also means that you can or need to trade your way out of a problem. Of course this means developing your trade side too. So the game interconnects many aspects and this means more puzzles to solve, which is good.
Variety is also added by the mission cards which are global objective cards that vary each game. You also have to decide how to achieve your own goals provided by the population cards. I really enjoyed the impact that these decisions have on your choices.
I think the aspect I most enjoy is the freedom of choice that you have. Do you follow certain industry paths? Do you go for trade and naval options? I haven’t even picked up all the options in this review, such as exploring which give you more room to add industries. What I have found is that each game provides different challenges for experienced and new players to consider. And the development aspect hits a personal sweet spot in gaming. I like Civilization, the 18XX games but this game finishes far faster than those other games. This is one of the best designed games from Martin Wallace and a game that I am eager to play many more times.
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers
Dale Yu – (played with review copy provided by Thames and Kosmos)
When I first read about this game, I had mixed feelings about it. I was very excited as the recent Kosmos releases have all been in my wheelhouse. However, I will admit that I have had a fair number of negative experiences with Martin Wallace games, and I was interested to see which of these forces would win out. I’m glad to say that the Kosmos development team appears to have done a great job; the board doesn’t require any stickering to fix it, the rules are complete and there aren’t any glaring rules issues which have required a FAQ in order for the game to work.
This port from a computer game is quite interesting, I have played the computer game a few times, and you definitely get the same feel/experience from this board game. You start with just a small workforce and basic industries, and you progress through the many steps to eventually make super refined goods. Like many of these translations though, there is a lot of background work which the players now have to do because there is no computer involved.
In this game, that primarily is first seen in the setup, as the players will have to take the dozens of tiles, sort them, and place them on the appropriate spaces on the board. It’s not hard, but it does take five minutes or more to do. . During the game, players have to constantly watch and keep track of their virtual resources and goods, as well as making sure they use the right number of trade tokens. There is a lot going on in the game, and I often find myself concentrating only on my own personal Island and my plans for my next turn. As a result, I’m not necessarily watching what everyone else is doing that closely.
Therefore, everyone needs to understand the rules, and as we have found, it is easy to forget how many trade-tokens you need to use based on the type of Citizen you need to use. In fact, in my most recent game, we didn’t realize until nearly the end of the game that one of the players was merely using a single trade-token for each trade, regardless of the good acquired. This was not an intentional error, but something that all of the players at the table missed until the end. We also did not really double check that everyone was making the appropriate goods/ingredients for their turns – I mean, our group trusts that everyone is playing correctly and honestly – but if this was say a tournament, there would be a lot of checking and double checking.
The pacing of the game starts out great. I really like the initial puzzle when you get your starting hand of cards and then have to look at the board to figure out how to build your engine to get to the resources you want. Given the way that you can trade with other players, you also have to look at what other people are building because sometimes it is easier to trade with someone for a good rather than build your tech tree and all directions to get all the things you need. And, since there is a limit of only 2 tiles per industry; you will be forced to use trade as it is simply impossible to get all the tiles you need/want. Of course, you will need enough ships to provide enough trade tokens for you to get those goods.
For me, after about the first hour though, the game starts to feel churny. While you are getting more and more advanced Goods, it really feels the same – make the goods you need for the next advancement or card, repeat.. Sure you need different ingredients in order to make the more advanced Goods, but the flow of the game is essentially the same. I would have preferred the game to not be as long; though I can see why the iteration is necessary in order to give you time to develop the most advanced citizens as well as have enough time to manipulate your population to meet your expedition cards. In that sense, the game pace is fine – it’s just longer than what I want to play.
The end game condition of playing all the cards is also a bit weird, and from what I’ve seen, it promotes a longer game. Yes, there is a small bonus for being the first person to play all their cards from their hand (7 points), but thus far, in my games, the player who gets this bonus and triggers the game end has not been the winner. As you score points (as many as 8) for each completed card, and there isn’t a penalty for having extra workers – there’s no reason to not fill your hand with cards and keep trying to complete more and more cards.
Heck, if you are lucky in your card draws, you can often get cards that give you more population cubes (and therefore more cards) or cards that give you three free upgrades – thus allowing you to not have to spend actions to gain or advance your cubes. You also then get the added benefit of possibly going longer between refresh actions as you have a larger pool of cubes to use.
I have enjoyed my plays of this so far, and I can definitely see the appeal that this will have for those who like longer and more complex games. It will also appeal to those who have like civ-building games as it has a similar feel. For me, I loved the first hour or so, but then as the game ground on, it moved down into the “I like it” territory as I felt it went on a bit longer than I would have liked. Again, this may be more my personal preference towards games under two hours as the pacing of the game seems to work fine for what it wants to do. I’d definitely still play it again if asked.
James Nathan (1 play): As one of my weekly groups would guess if asked what I’d think of this game, “It was fine.” While the game didn’t feel like it had much on an arc to it, the turns took longer as the game went on. My second turn and my twentieth turn were both, essentially, move this cube down, hand in this trade token, and either add this building or complete this card. Yet, the twentieth time took more processing -both on my turn, and, more importantly, on other players’ turns; but it was sort of unfulfilling, as it felt the same as turn two at a sort of fundamental level. (Moreover, I’m not sure the variable setup is enough to make my eleventh turn of a third or fourth game different from the fifth turn of my first game. Strategically, it’s quite a calm, even landscape.)
I’ll also echo what Dale said about rules enforcement. We’re not playing in a tournament, and if there’s some accidental cheating, it doesn’t especially concern me, but I also can’t shake the concern that we’re each playing a slightly different game.
I’ll dissent from Dale’s view that the game doesn’t require stickering or a FAQ. The included player aid is missing an important line that would establish activating missions cards as a free action rather than a full turn action and also seems to imply that with a build action you can build an industry _and_ ship(s), when it should be _or_. See above, re: are we playing the same game?
Interestingly, or not, the game did a good job of obscuring who could possibly be winning. In the intractable debate of open vs. hidden victory points in games, by virtue of how isolated each players’ actions are, the victory points are very well hidden here. At the end of my game, the stack of cards I’d completed was…1 inch thick? That’s a lot of cards! There’s no practical casual way of having a sense of who is leading.
Dan (1 online play): This game feels like a job, and not a job with actual projects to complete, which some more involved games can feel like, but one with a stream of seemingly-random demands constantly arriving on your desk. The puzzle aspect of figuring out how to efficiently meet those demands was interesting for a while, but the game went on long after it stopped being interesting and started being repetitive. Without an arc of some sort – which as James Nathan notes, this game does not have – anything gets dull after a while.
That being said I sort of feel as if I owe it an in-person play, but that’s kind of silly and I may well decide not to bother.
Mario Pawlowski (1 play): I’m in the Dale & Dan camp here. Beginning of the game is fine as there aren’t many tiles in the players’ displays. In later rounds it becomes more and more confusing since you constantly have to look what’s left on the central display and which player produces which goods etc. in combination with a tile size that doesn’t support sitting on different ends on the table. I agree with Dan (and my wife) that the game feels more like work especially in later rounds. If you don’t have anybody at the table who wants to end the game fast it outstays its welcome quite a bit. Dale also mentioned the luck of the draw which can be pretty unbearable as some cards are simply better than others. This shouldn’t happen in a game of this length especially since there’s no way to compensate the luck of the draw. I still enjoyed my one play somehow, but I feel no desire to play it again. So I guess I’m at the lower edge of ‘Neutral’ here.
Simon Neale: I’m afraid that I find this game overlong and tiresome. There is only so much of chaining “this to do that, to then do this, which then enables me to do that” I can take before I become bored with the whole process. I realise that some players really enjoy spending hours creating the ultimate chain of actions, it’s just I am not one of them. Splendor provides this experience but in a superbly streamlined form.
Larry (1 online play): This is kind of a provisional rating, as I only have the one online play, but I really enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t enough to truly show me all the game can do. It did seem as if there was a potential trap of all players trying to grab as many cards as possible and prolonging the game, when it’s obviously in at least one player’s interest to end things sooner than that. So I suspect that, with experience, the games will be shorter, but that’s really all speculation. Unlike Dale, I love Wallace’s economic games, but don’t have a very good track record with Kosmos, so I was very pleased with how much I liked my first play. I’m anxiously waiting for my English language version to show up on my doorstep; it’s been delayed for many months by the shortages which are plaguing the gaming industry. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait much longer and will be able to really give the game the plays it deserves.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Alan How, Larry
- I like it. Dale Y
- Neutral. James Nathan, John P, Lorna, Dan (but may drop to “not for me”), Mario
- Not for me. Simon Neale