The Tao of Gaming

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Counterfeit Monkey

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On a discord, someone asked about “That interactive game where you manipulate words” and someone answered “Oh, it’s ‘Counterfeit Monkey‘ a free-to-play text adventure (like Zork). From the introduction:

Anglophone Atlantis has been an independent nation since an April day in 1822, when a well-aimed shot from their depluralizing cannon reduced the British colonizing fleet to one ship.

— Counterfeit Monkey (by Emily Short)

I don’t love IF (bad memories of the Infocom games) but the newer games are more forgiving. And of course you have the WWW for help (online Invisiclues!). And the game is short enough to be done in a few hours. Counterfeit Monkey has topped some polls for IF games, and the reason it stands out is that it is a frankly brilliant idea. Many RPGs set up a magic system that is a giant box of rules. With the simple idea of linguistic manipulation, CM has built the best magic system I’ve seen. For example, if you have the “p-remover” you can turn a clamp into a clam …. (but can’t do anything to a lamp, because a ‘lam’ is nonsense).

A fireball has one use, but that p-remover opens up a world of imagination. Honestly, it would be impressive in an RPG, but in a programmed computer game (that had to code in all the possible interactions) is just impressive. (And the game keeps adding linguistic tools).

Even with only the barest of interest in IF, this was worth playing. And there are often multiple (multiple) solutions to any puzzle, with only a few things being sort of esoteric “try everything” options. (Often I was clear what I needed to do, but didn’t have the right inventory, so I’d use the invisclue to tell me where I needed to go. I’ve made my peace with easy mode).

Written by taogaming

May 7, 2021 at 6:37 pm

Nidavellir

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I played Nidavellir on BGA last night, and I now feel what all the people who said “Race is too short” felt. The game gets going and then it ends. But as the game is merely OK, I guess that’s more of a point in its favor … this is a blind-bidding set collection game. There are three taverns, and one dwarf to be recruited (per player) at each tavern. You place one of your coins at each tavern, high coin gets first pick (with some tie-breaking rotation I didn’t follow).

Purple and Green Dwarves are identical, you just get a score based on the # you have (vaguely triangular in one case). Blue and Brown Dwarves just score their list points (averaging around 5 or so). Orange Dwarves score 0-2 points times the number of orange dwarves you get. And every time you get one of each dwarf (full set) you can recruit a hero dwarf with special abilities.

The only thing making this not a pure point salad is that if you use your “zero” coin, you can replace your (higher?) unused coin with a value equal to the sum of your unused coins. So usually you punt on one auction to improve your coins (which also are score at the end). Paying careful attention to tiebreakers is likely important.

Or not, since I tied and didn’t really understand the tie breaker rule (or most of the details) during the game. You play three rounds of recruiting (three dwarves per round), get some bonus for “Most of a color”, then do three more rounds and score. It is probably much less offensive online (which handles all the fiddly scoring — the tie was at 203, I think).

Rating Indifferent.

Written by taogaming

April 13, 2021 at 11:15 am

Posted in Reviews

If you’ve been desperately wondering what I think of a few dozen bridge books…

Written by taogaming

February 19, 2021 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Bridge, Reviews

Dyson Sphere Program

So, as I mentioned before, I got Dyson Sphere Program. This is the latest in the (growing) line of Automation games, which I guess was started by Minecraft, but as far as I’m concerned, started with Factorio (which I’ve now been playing for 4 years). How much time have I spent playing DSP in the last few days? That depends on how you keep time.

Because it turns out … my computer doesn’t have a powerful enough graphics card to play it. Which is to say … my laptop has no graphics card. Unlike Factorio (which tries to run at a set speed, and sometimes drops frames if the graphics get complicated), if DSP slows down due to graphics issues, the game slows down. I first noticed this when I said “Huh, I’ve only been playing for 40 minutes according to the game, feels longer.” It was closer to two hours. So I’m either four hours into the game, or fifteen hours, or somewhere in between.

Look — this is a game where you start by chopping down some trees and rocks and eventually build a Dyson Sphere, so you have to scale up. If you already know you love/hate that, nothing will change. However, a few thoughts.

At the four hour mark (etc) I have literally just started my first Dyson Swarm and have unlocked (but not yet started) the third “Science” type (which you need to unlock more advanced technologies).

  • Its pretty. If you have a graphics card, its pretty and runs at a normal speed. I stood for a few seconds watching my EM rail guns launching solar sails over the horizon (100m away) into the setting sun. (There’s a reddit thread for prettiest screenshot, and some of the entries are amazing).
  • The twists (from Factorio’s POV) are threefold:
    • The planets are tiny little things (think “The Little Prince”) so the curvature of the planet matters. You literally cannot put more than twenty or so assemblers in a parallel line before one of the lines has to jog. (I don’t know the exact number). And they aren’t perfectly level either (apart from just water and crevasses).
    • You can build UP. Conveyor belts can stack at levels, some buildings can be stacked, etc.
    • You can (fairly quickly) unlock technology to sail between planets. Factorio has “outposts for resources” but here you can’t lay a conveyor belt back to the main base. You either have to literally hand carry everything back and forth, or build an interstellar logistic system. (If you are running at normal speed, a trip might take a minute or two).
  • It’s an early access games, so the controls leave much to be desired. No mappable hotkeys, confusing tutorials, etc. I almost uninstalled it before even landing on the starting planet, because how to navigate to it was not obvious, and I missed and wasn’t clear how to turn around. Right now this game is a dancing bear, because there so much of it works … sort of.
  • There are many … many recipes and ingredients. There are maybe 100 intermediate components (things that don’t do anything, just a step along the path to the next thing). Factorio felt overwhelming the first few times in this, but this is a level above.
  • You start with robots to build stuff, but its much slower than clicking to place (especially in my case). You have to tech up to make them fast. They really need blueprints though, because controlling everything by hand likely won’t scale well. Copy-Paste!

Anyway, I don’t think this will be a thousand hour experience, because I’m not zen enough, but I don’t consider my money wasted. I have little hope that the devs (a five person team) will make it fast enough that my laptop will suddenly be good enough, but I can while away a few hours here and there.

Written by taogaming

February 6, 2021 at 7:27 pm

Beyond the Sun

My quest to find my next minor addiction — enough to last a month or two of pandemic time — advanced with the arrival of Beyond the Sun. Pre-release buzz had been … well, I don’t know. I don’t follow buzz much. It had reached people who I do talk with, and those people thought this game was “in the sphere” so I ordered a copy and awaited its arrival.

As of now I’ve played two 2p games.

It’s traditional to narrow a game down to an elevator pitch. “<New game> is <Old Game X> + <Old Game Y>.” Good enough for movie pitches, easy to understand. Right now I can’t quite put together a pitch. My first thought was “This is like Caylus but instead of having the houses owner get a bonus when other people use it, you have apartment buildings and you can’t even use an action until you rent an apartment.”

Not helpful. I guess for my elevator pitch other half reminds me of Through the Ages in that you have a resource mat of discs that track how many resources (cubes) you can generate per turn. As you spend discs (either through automation technologies or putting them on systems) you can gather more cubes (or ore) with a single production action. The cubes are actually dice, but they aren’t rolled. You change their face to indicate if they are in supply, a person, or a ship of value 1-4.

So I guess my BTS elevator pitch is “It’s Caylus meets Through the Ages” (because of cube management) or “It’s Caylus meets Eclipse” (because of tech trees and space ships colonizing systems).

BTS (The game, not the K-Pop band) is vaguely worker placement, but you only have one worker. He moves around, but workers block each other, limited action spaces, etc etc. There is also a tech tree, those are the Caylus apartments. The base actions let you get people/ore/ships and move your ships to nearby systems. One action lets you research a new tech, which costs you a person for the rest of the game, and that may:

  • Open up more efficient actions
  • Provide an immediate bonus (people/ships/ore)
  • Let you bend a rule for the rest of the game

Or some combination.

A separate board has a small map of systems (each system is a card). Once a player has ships in a system they claim it (and get a bonus) until another player gets more force. This isn’t war, ships never destroy each other. Just area control.

One of the level 1 technologies also lets you colonize a system assuming you have the minimum number of ships (normally 3-5). Those ships are placed back into your supply, excess ships (from any player) are moved to deep space where they can move to another system. Colonizing a system gives you a bigger claiming bonus and a fair chunk of VPs.

The four “Level 1” techs are the same. A player can research the next level (there are 4) when they have all of they prerequisites (on the directed graph of a board). The player researching an unknown technology chooses the type of the technology (military/economic/commercial/scientific) and gets two possible technology cards of that type, and then selects one that is discovered. A new technology (for Levels II and III) also flips up a random event, with some of the event being the same in each game (unlocking new base action spaces) and some being from a deck.

So this means that for any given game the tech tree will look very different. The initial dealing of the four base technologies (one of each type) lead to a different places. For example, one of the Level I boxes has a direct connection to Level III (which still requires the research a level three action, so it will take a while).

A turn is simple: take an action, produce (either people, ore, or take a trading production, which lets you convert at various ratios) and possibly claim an achievement. There are four achievement cards in each game, and two of them are the same (Colonize four systems, claim your first Level IV technology).

When 4 achievements in total (3 in a 2p game) are claimed, you finish the round and have one more round and score.

After two games, my primary thought is that BtS does a great job hiding what the game is about. You have this main board that’s a complicated tech tree, and one achievement is “Get a Level IV tech” … if you are the first person to do that you get four points for the tech + four for being the first to achieve it.

An average colony gives you four points, uses two discs, and gets you the colonization bonus. Four colonies gets you the colony achievement, so four colonies is 24-ish VP. The average score appears to be around the high forties.

So — you win this game by colonizing systems. That’s fine, but it certainly appears to be the sub-game of the tech-tree, and not vice versa. Nothing wrong with that, but unexpected. In two games we’ve had a single Level IV tech researched, and it was in the final action of a game, so had no impact other than points. The strategy guide mentions colonies as a focus, but spends a few bullet points on “each game will be different based on which technologies show up and their configuration.”

Frankly, the technologies don’t differ much. They are mostly “gain resources” or “convert resources.” The level IVs do have more game changing rules, but are basically just special VP scoring things.

The gameplay differences are because one game may see many military techs and few commercial techs (or some variant) which would change the relative cost of various actions. This is because when a tech has two prerequisites, it may take the color of either prerequisite. So, the player unlocking a new tech square controls which type of tech gets the box, as well as any decisions the random event may have.

So, to summarize: Worker Placement. Limited resources (cubes and ores) that need to be managed. Getting a tech unlocks an action but locks a cube. Most techs just handle how you convert ore to cubes and move around an area control map. Winning the area control map gives VP and provides some help for … cube production

So …. BTS would not be out of place in a setting of medieval merchants. The card titles do give a sci-fi flavor. “Android technologies” makes getting people cubes easier, but after three hours of gameplay I realized that if I called this “the best disguised JASE I’d seen in a while” I’d only be mildly unfair.

That’s not to say its bad. I’ll certainly play again, but I’ll be sure to warn new players about the fact that the game will end while the tech tree is only 70% done(ish) and to focus on the area control points (when in doubt).

If there are great depths to be explored in this game, they are well hidden to me. I’m sure optimizing the various conversions based on the techs (and fighting to control tech-unlocking to be able to influence them) is a fine, subtle game.

But I’m pretty sure I don’t care. It could certainly be that BTS shines with four players. In a worker placement game that would make sense. But it is also clearly a fixed-fun game. Caylus was worker placement and management, but it also had the cool “walking the road” bailiff mechanism. Through the Ages has tech and claiming and production, but there’s no game changing cards here. Nothing in BTS just gives me that “ooh, shiny!” feeling. The elevator pitch is correct, but its not pitching a mega-hit, its pitching a movie that will make back its money, do fine in the box office, but will never win an Oscar or even be a cult classic. I knew after two plays of Caylus (or Eclipse, or TtA) that there was a great game I wanted to explore.

Rating Indifferent-plus for a few more plays, but I suspect that will be falling down to indifferent. There is also an advanced game (that gives more differentiation between players) and an expert game that means that you have a bit more insight into which techs are going to appear.

Production Values — The game looks fine, and the player mats are pre-assembled thick cardboard with notches to hold disks & dice in place against minor jostling. You can see for yourself in the one minute boxing video. (A great idea …. most videos spend a minute on begging for likes/subscriptions/virtual whuffie).

I did have a bit of trouble telling the blue and green apart at a distance (I’m not colorblind) but it was 9pm in a not-greatly lit room. The rules were mostly fine, with one exception on “how to unlock some of the basic action spaces (covered by ‘guild tiles’)” It turns out that the events that show up in each game do that, but it wasn’t clear at all during our first play.

Update — The advanced play mats differentiate the players a bit more than the basic game (here each player gets an A/B condition which — when they fulfill — gives them a benefit, in the base game each player gets a mild difference. An extra ore/ship/etc). My 3rd game with expert rules and advanced mats did not feel noticeably different, just more ‘stuff’.

Written by taogaming

November 7, 2020 at 10:42 am

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Fields of Green

I recently spotted a geek-auction from a friend, which led to the another debate with my constant companion, the Imp of the Perverse.

“Shiny! Bid on some games.”

“You still haven’t played all the games you bought from the last time he had an auction, which was earlier this year.”

“So, I’ve been wanting a copy of Fields of Green since my experience trying Caverna. Earlier than that, even.”

“You mean Fields of Arle. And you haven’t even read the rules for a game from the last auction…”

“Yeah, but it looks great. I’m bidding.” And with that, the Imp of the Perverse apparated away, but not before I caught the look of disgust on his face.

I think he’s giving up on me.

(I did actually know that I wasn’t getting Fields of Arle before bidding, but it got decent reviews and — why not? — it’s not like I have a wide variety of other activities going on these days. My collection has grown a fair amount over this March-that-Never-Ended).

So far I’ve played this twice as a solitaire game, which is …. OK. FoG is a drafting/engine-builder, and in the solo game you basically have three cards, draft one, discard one, and repeat, so it retains some of the feel of the main game (I imagine). It was pleasant enough, the Imp grumbling in the back of my head that it would be better if it were great or terrible, but its OK.

I do like:

  • The spatial element in the cards (square) cards. Most fields must be pretty close to a water tower, and you’ll need a few of them (you can discard a drafted card to get a water tower instead). Some cards give bonuses/penalties for being near other cards.
  • Three types of currency (money, water and food) are enough to present options without the overwhelming “too many notes” aspects of some games. Food and Water also have maximums in storage (via water towers and silos).

But the downside:

  • Since you get only the barest selection of cards (you can choose a distribution of fields/livestock/buildings/prestige buildings, but not the specific ones, and then you draft them) all the spatial element is mostly reactionary — oh, pigs want to be near X? Well, that’s great. You may or may not see pigs this game. Only the water tower stuff is plannable.

So — right now Fields of Green feels like some pretty good ideas, thrown together haphazardly.

Rating Indifferent.

Written by taogaming

October 6, 2020 at 10:01 am

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Lux et Tenebrae

I (finally) got the Res Arcana expansion. It’s good. A few reasons:

  1. It’s mostly a varietal expansion (it adds in new mages, monuments, places of power and artifacts … but you still only have the same number in play). The exception is the (2) new magic items which are added.
  2. One of the new magic items lets you ‘fake’ a dragon/creature/demon so even if you didn’t get any those Places of Power may still generate points, which closes a mild issue with Res.
  3. The other magic item lets you grab (and hold) a scroll to use an ability whenever. So its a rules addition, but a simple and elegant one.
  4. It was designed by Tom. Did you seriously think he was going to overburden the game? Perhaps after expansion 3, but not tonight, Josephine.

So far my plays have been interesting. Lots to explore. I have over 100 plays of Res … I don’t know if I’ll get to 200, but its entirely possible with a new expansion.

Rating Enthusiastic. If you like Res, you’ll like Lux.

Written by taogaming

September 20, 2020 at 11:13 pm

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Versailles 1919

I got to play Versailles 1919 today, as a 2 player game. The topic of negotiating a peace treaty implies a game that doesn’t work well with only two, and any comments based on a single play are suspect. Obviously I wouldn’t have picked this off the shelf today, but when I pre-ordered it there was no lockdown. Caveats out of the way, some thoughts:

  • While the playbook isn’t as bad as some threads would have you think, it could have been much better. The small font issue is also tough on the cards. I literally couldn’t make out some of the strategy cards and need the TaoLing to read what the small word inside a box inside a symbol said. And while setting it up and playing along would be tough (with no card numbers) just reading it to get the rules was fine.
  • There are a few errata. Most glaring (in my mind) is that the player aid card shows that you gain happiness sending military to an uprising (with the “smiling happy face” next to the military symbol). Since you lose happiness for sending military and they have the “frowning unhappy face” symbol, why not use that? There are also typos on cards and rules (like the happiness track upper limit)
  • The real issue with the errata/poor checking is that some of the rules are not stated where they are, and somewhat weirdly worded, which made me wonder if the rule was what was printed, or they dropped a sentence. The good news is that the designers are answering questions quickly (at least mine).
  • The board looks great and fits the theme, although the arrows/numbers to show ordering break the mood, but they are useful. I like the tarot sized cards.

If you haven’t read the rules, a quick summary. You start with fifteen influence and three military.

On your turn you take a political (mandatory) and military (optional) action in any order. The political actions are:

  1. Place influence on exactly two issues — afterwards you must then have a plurality on both issues. Two of the issues are “on the table” at any time (and could be settled), the other three are looming (and could be moved onto the table).
  2. Reclaim up to six spent influence (and one spent military, as well as possibly undeploying other military)
  3. Settle an issue — The winner exhausts all their influence, but then gets to decide the resolution of the issue (which affects the game state) and gets the points for the issue. The losers get back half of their influence (rounded down), except for the person settling. If they didn’t win, they get all their influence back (for ‘conceding’ the issue). After settling the issue the player who settled also gets to decide which issue goes on the table next, as well as select which issue goes into the waiting area. (Draw two from the deck and take one, or take one of the top three discards at increasing cost).

Whenever an issue is settled there is also a personality who arrives and resolves some game state change. There are two of these in the waiting room and the settling player picks one to let into the room next. (I enjoyed seeing a King Faisal card …. I saw the last surviving 35mm print of Lawrence of Arabia about 30 years ago….)

Settled issues are (usually) in a region on the game state of the board includes unrest. An uprising may cause a previously settled issue to become unsettled and have an auction (of military, then influence) to reclaim it and possibly change the decision. Military units can be sent to affect unrest and being Johnny-on-the-spot during an uprising gives you a bidding bonus. It’s a touch fiddly for the first few times, but not difficult. Each time a settlement happens the final thing that resolves is a random event that may cause an uprising or some minor game state change. I’m not going to go into detail on that (or most of the military options).

As befitting a negotiating games, there are binding deals. Players can exhaust their influence to let others recover influence, and any deal that can be completed in the same turn is binding. So “I’ll settle this issue if you pick the resolution that hurts me least” and then bickering over a few spare points of influence is legit. Future deals are not binding although that may make a fascinating variant.

And so — right away — as a two player game much is lost. The other issue with two players is that the US is a 3rd country controlled by both. But more on that in a moment.

Countries also have happiness …. you’ll get VP at the end for being happier and if your happiness plummets you’ll be forced to decommission your military. (You may voluntarily return the boys home for increased happiness, if you do it due to public pressure, you only get a touch back). If your happiness ever hits zero, you’ll suffer a five VP penalty.

The cube play is — frankly — a touch JASEy. You are buying VPs (each issue is 3-7 VP, plus you control some game state and maybe swing a few more VP). I think this is saved by the “must put cubes on two issues and must be winning afterward.” Coupled with the fact that you must take a political option and that settling an issue gives you some control (and all your cubes back instead of half) means that you might be able to play chicken … pushing up an issue you only care vaguely about, hoping to drive the price up and then settle to move game state.

Zugzwang matters. In a 2p game it matters immensely — the US has some restrictions on its moves and forcing the opponent to make an unfavorable US move (by locking up its cubes) is a big deal. As such, I think I can safely say the 2p game is its own beast and any rating it gets is probably only vaguely related to the 3-4p game. The compulsion to make a move also matters in 3-4 player, but I think that the negotiations (and the fact that you only have 1/3rd or less of the moves) will likely make for a more fluid game. Also, since a 2p game is strictly zero sum, any negotiation must be a mistake by one player, which shades it.

Our single game dragged a bit much, but it was a first play. I think it was maybe 2-2.5H with rules. That’s a touch long for what it is, unless you naturally feel that negotiations games should be long. Versailles 1919 might make a much better play by forum game than a face to face game ….

Rating — Too early to tell.

Other minor points (as I think of them):

  • When you move an issue to the table, you also choose which person to bring in. Which means there are definitely some combinatorics at play in the game. A good sign.

Written by taogaming

September 5, 2020 at 2:13 pm

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There’s no good movie with a “3” at the end of the title.

Maybe not be strictly true, but I mean “Saw 3”, “Tremors 3”, “Iron Man 3”, “Rocky 3” (fun? Sure. Good? No), “Alien 3”  (I happen to think Alien 3 was a noble failure, but a failure nonetheless). Listing it on and on is just inviting tragedy. By the time you get to the third movie in a series, if it didn’t have a title and you are just making it up as you go along, then the temptation is “Well, let’s just do what worked, but more.

That’s how you get a bad movie. Or in the case of games, a JASE.

I went to my FLGS. (I wasn’t actually sure it had re-opened). I called first. So I felt like I should be a game. And, given the nature I felt like a hefty game that could work as a solitaire or 2 player game. So I got Caverna. At the time, I thought it was similar to Agricola, but I didn’t realize how much DNA they share. So, is Caverna“Agricola 3: The Dwarfening”

There’s much to like, but like any 3rd movie so much of this title is just a lot more of what worked.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.

But the box is so stuffed and heavy that $100 price tag didn’t seem outrageous. Caverna is chock full of animeeples, vegimeeples, so much cardboard to punch. It doesn’t fit well into the box. There are no random cards, the family growth always appears on turn 4 (which is kind of a big randomness in Agricola, do you set up for it on T4 and then it doesn’t show up until T6 …). The weapon mechanic is interesting and clearly is intended to be a (mild) punishment for have more dwarfs, so there’s that. There are enough buildings to feel overwhelming on the first play, but I suspect it becomes manageable. (We followed the Alan Moon rule of “True Gamers do not play introductory games”)

Now, losing the development and occupation cards means Caverna may wind up feeling samey from game to game, but I’ve definitely played games of Agricola that were over after the initial deal. (I respect that it may be better as draft, but I just haven’t played it that way). So, when I lose Caverna (and losing is what I’ve been doing) I can’t blame the cards. Agricola — by contrast — seemed much more straightforward: grow your family, do all the things. For some reason, Caverna’s slightly more things seems much more daunting. In particular, the slight variability of the harvests, when/how to spend rubies (basically wild cards), the slightly more complex layout rules, they trip me up.

That’s good.

My first problem with Caverna is that I bought it for 1-2 players, and it doesn’t shine with two. The spaces scale with # players, but I felt like there are too many buildings. I think the upper limit of seven is super ambitious (and its a fixed fun game, so …. no), but thee or four seems reasonable.

And solitaire (which I haven’t tried) …. well in that case Agricola’s occupations seems much more interesting.

Now, to be fair. I bought and sold Le Havre (“Agricola 2: Shipping Boogaloo”) because it felt like there was a dominant strategy, which I suspected after two games. If a dominant strategy exists in Caverna, I have no earthly idea what it would be. So, its likely a better game.

So, its a “Good for a  3rd title.” It suffers from the “but I’ve played Agricola.” I knew I was getting some of the game, but I didn’t do my research and didn’t realize just how much of it there was. It was my first time in a game store in six months, I was going to buy something, and its not like Caverna is bad, but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.

RatingIndifferent plus.

Written by taogaming

August 23, 2020 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Agricola, Reviews, Uncategorized

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The Colonists Under the Microscope

An anecdote I remember….

Robert Hooke — the inventor of the microscope — once remarked that even the best man-made tools looked crude and jagged under his microscope, while plants, insects and natural objects were smooth and precise.  I believe I read that anecdote in a book of fiction (The Baroque Cycle, probably), but it has a ring of truth.

A few years ago I played The Colonists. It felt familiar: worker placement, but with a geography and only partial blocking; resource management, action management, more than enough chrome, and special powers; but the overall effect overwhelmed the three or four hours we took to get through two eras.  While not smitten I felt intrigued enough to buy a copy. I tried it once with the TaoLing and then … set it aside. Even if it worked it seemed too long.

Enter the Quarantine.

In March most gaming stopped. Most everything stopped. After a few weeks I dug around the closet, pulled out The Colonists, cleared the work desk from my gaming table, set it up and played a solo Era I to relearn the rules. A bored TaoLing walked by and now after three full (four Era) games, I feel qualified to report what I’ve witnessed.

Strikes against The Colonists are obvious from a glance. Long. Fiddly. Limited Interaction (if you view that as a negative, I don’t). Poorly written rules, although I’ve dealt with much worse.

I’ve struggled through rules and games because I find a delight in seeing a system build up. That’s why I’d bought this. None of those are necessarily downsides to me.

I won’t give detailed rules but here’s a peek into the eyepiece.

A significant part of your score involves promoting farmers to citizens to nobles, then employing them in buildings (also worth points). A single employed noble plus the building he works in may be worth 20-30ish points. A good score for our 2p games seems to be north of four hundred. So having a two noble advantage is significant. And when employed your people generate resources that you use to further build up your city. C

Starting with two farmers at the beginning, I employed them as works to get wood and clay, build more farms to attract more workers, who worked. Then I had to (carefully), let some workers away from useful tasks to go back to their farm, because when you upgrade a farm to a flat (for a citizen) you must have a farmer to convert. That was Era’s I and II. Then in III and IV I employed the nobles (for a variety of reasons), but also had to worry about feeding them.

To do this, I spent some of my six actions per year (5 years per era). Each action moved my Stewart one space (until I could upgrade him) around a hex board slowly building up (adding or upgrading 12 hexes per era). So I had to plan my route to get the wood and clay needed to upgrade the houses, tool them into planks and bricks and then go the various sites to build new buildings, including flats and houses, while also managing the timing of the workers so they were available when I needed to remodel.

And by early Era IV I had my first citizen.

The TaoLing got one by playing a card.

And then I realized I’d been playing a hand of Dragon Poker. For eight hours.

After nearly twenty hours, the Colonists repeatedly hits you with these jagged edges. You need to convert Farm to Flat to House. You need to convert Storage Small to Medium to Large. You need to convert Pub to Tavern to Casino. No, wait. You can skip the first two steps on that one. Why? No idea.

You build your colony on a personalized mat (ala Agricola) but your steward walks around a slowly growing landscape. In one game, the wood may be next to the joiner (that turns wood to planks) and Planks will be cheap. The next game, they may be three steps away, and planks will be scarce.

In Era IV, the head official space lets you swap two tiles. “No, no, that Ore Deposit that used to be on the Eastern edge relocated.”

Euros are mostly cube/action management, and thematically somewhat week, but that seriously strained my suspension of disbelief.

After our first game — where I witnessed the TaoLing just play a card to gain what had taken me literally dozens of actions — we discussed it and said “maybe this was just because we had the card drawing space right next to the card playing space.” We deliberately (cooperatively) set up the board making card play as costly as possible.

No matter.

Worse yet, the card deck is highly varied. There’s a deck per era, but some cards are strictly superior to others (in the same dimension). There’s an Era I card (get a free brick). That’s not horrible. That same card (“Free Brick”) is also in the Era IV deck. By this points, getting a brick can often be done freely (at least one/year) by any number of special powers. And even if you have to spend an action getting one, you can often get 2-3 for that action. Another card may give a Citizen. or an improvement worth 5 points.

Every game …. no, every hour revealed another head scratching detail. The more I peered into the microscope, the more blemishes I spotted. Some examples

  • Look at this FAQ! Despite the impressive length, I had about ten questions unanswered.
  • In Era I you can sell wood for 1 point at a market on some turns. Wood at this point is fairly rare, but if that card shows up at the end of Era I and you have wood to spare you could get a few points if you had no better use for your action (meaning the market was in your path and you couldn’t use any of its other actions). In Era IV, one of the market sales lets you sell robes for 1/2 a point. (2:1). You need robes to support nobles, and if you don’t have support them, you can’t employ them. Being a robe short at the end of the game is a sixteen point penalty, and in our three games we’ve never had more than 3-4 saved up. So that’s a pretty insulting offer. In three games I think we saw one sale.
  • But even with sales, never has a players money been the margin of difference. Why not just drop the cash generation system, or at least have some of the special powers give it more oomph.
  • The special powers (“embassies”) do not feel remotely balanced, and some of them bog the game down by introducing “Decide at any time during your turn” mechanisms that do not cleanly mesh with the base game.
  • Apart from the aforementioned “Oh, a card does this”. Many cards that provide a building (or person) do so at a discount and/or provide bonus VPs!
  • Also Agricola has a lot of cards that do weird or fun things. The cards are minor. Here there are only a few cool cards.

I could point out other annoyances, some very nitpicky and some just pet peeves. Why bother?

The sad thing is — if I squint, I see the afterimage of this that works. I wonder what this game would look like with a great developer driving it, stripped of those jagged cutting edges I saw over twenty hours. Streamlined maybe not to two hours, but to four or five. Balanced … maybe not every setup or play. If only, if only, if only…. the card deck balanced, market sales made meaningful (or cut), cleaner embassy powers….

The Colonists could work. And I’m so bored and stir crazy, I’ve spent some time thinking about it….

The TaoLing said “This probably works better with three.” (BGG Disagrees), but even if true this is a fixed fun game that takes 6 hours with only two!

Rating — Indifferent, bordering on avoid.

Quarantine Rating — May try to fix as a side project.

Written by taogaming

April 6, 2020 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Reviews

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