This week is going to be a little bit different. I’ve been trying to stick with games that are easily available, and for a reasonable price. This week, I’m going to mention three games that have had availability issues for a while. All of them are excellent games, and well worth trying.
Game 1) Colonizing the Empire (or Britannia, or Hispania, or …) – Concordia (2-5 players)
This is a great game that is unfortunately almost always underprinted. There was a recent print run in order to support the expansion being reprinted, but it appears to be out of stock at Amazon. Your local store may have a copy, or you can play this online at BoiteAJeux.net. Every player starts with an identical hand of cards, two colonists in the starting city, some cash, and some resources. Each card in the game also has a god’s name on it, which will be used at end game scoring. The scoring options are:
- Vesta – 1 point for every 10 money you have at the end of the game. Every player gets one of these, and there are no more available for purchase through the game.
- Jupiter – Each house you have in a non-brick city is worth 1 point.
- Saturnus – Each province you have a house in is worth 1 point.
- Mercurius – For each of the 5 different goods you can produce, you earn 2 points.
- Mars – For each colonist you have on the board (you start with 6), you earn 2 points.
- Minerva – There are 5 different cards here, each for a different kind of good. They grant you points for being in the cities that produce the goods, ranging between 3-5 points a city.
The rules for this game are very, very simple. On your turn, you play a card, and do what it says. This can have you produce goods, earn money, move colonists (and build houses), place colonists on the board, trade goods, or buy new cards. Any of the new cards you buy will have a god on them (and the distribution is printed on the board), which will also score you points at the end of the game. So players are given an incentive to focus on specific gods and scoring methods to get the best score at the end of the game. The end game is triggered once a player either places his last house or the last card is purchased. The player who triggered the end game gets a card worth a bonus 7 points, and everyone else gets one final turn. The only randomness in the game is the order in which cards come out (they are sorted into stacks that are in numeric order based on the number of players), and what cities produce what goods (each is assigned a letter so there’s a set of A cities, B cities, etc.).This game is a mid-weight game that has very little direct player interaction, but lots of indirect player interaction.
Game 2) Exploitation in the age of sails – Endeavor (3-5 players)
This game has been out of print for a while, with a reprint on Kickstarter now (my only connection here is as a backer). The game takes place over seven turns with the following phases:
- Build Phase – Players can build a new building
- Growth Phase – Players gain Population Markers (workers)
- Salary Phase – Workers you pay can be used again (which frees up buildings to be used again)
- Action Phase – Players take actions to earn resources, occupy cities, attack other players, draw cards, work towards opening up new area, or pay workers to use them again
Each player has a board which tracks their statuses in four different tracks: the Industry track, which indicates what level of buildings the player can build; the Culture track, which indicates how many workers they gain each turn; the Finance track, which indicates how many payment actions you can take; and the Politics track, which determines how many cards you may hold after passing. The player boards can be audited any time by checking icons on buildings cards, and claimed tokens.
Each region has a network of cities with tokens on them. As you take actions, you can occupy these cities and claim the tokens on them. These will be worth points at the end of the game, as will certain connections between the cities (indicated on the board clearly), and also with their own token you can claim if you control both endpoints. As you ship, you open up new territories and can claim governor cards (which also grant points on the different tracks). As the new territories are opened up, players can then expand into them as well. There are also slavery cards, which can grant large bonuses, but will cause problems if abolition happens in the course of the game.
As the board fills up, eventually players will need to use cannons to remove pieces from cities, so that you can move in. The reprint is coming with a double sided board for different player counts. This will help keep the board tight, and decisions difficult in lower player count games.
At the end of the seven turns, the players add up their scores (from cards, cities, connecting paths, buildings, and your level on the various tracks).
Game 3) Area control while avoiding the king – El Grande
This is an area control game that relies heavily on bluffing and reading the other players. The base game has been out of print for a while, and it is currently available only in a Big Box format (with a lot of unnecessary expansions). One of the interesting aspects of this game is managing your pieces (called Caballeros throughout the rules, they’re blocks or meeples depending on the version of the game). You start with only so many pieces that you have available, and must move them from an inactive supply (called the Province) and an active supply (called the Court).
The base game plays over 9 rounds, during which the following phases happen:
- Reveal Action cards – There are four stacks of cards, and the top card on each stack is revealed. These (as well as the King’s Card) are the available actions for the round.
- Play Power Cards – The starting player plays a power card from their hand faceup in front of them. Then in clockwise order, each player does the same. However, no player can play a card that matches the value of a card that was played before them in the round. The power cards determine turn order, as well as how many pieces you get to move into your useable area.
- Take your turn – Each player takes a turn, which has the following phases:
- Move pieces into the active supply.
- Select an action card – Each action card has a special action, as well as a listing of how many pieces you may move from your active supply to the board.
- End of Round – As Action cards are used, they are placed at the bottom of the deck. The player who played the lowest action card takes the first player marker, and the round marker is moved down 1 space.
- Scoring Round – This happens after the 3rd, 6th, and 9th round of the game. I’ll detail the specifics below for this.
Now, the board is split up into regions, each region has an indicator on it as to how many points can be earned in each region. They can indicate a first, second, and third place for each region. In the case of a tie, tied players get the next lowest position (so if you have two players tied for first place, they both get second place points). There will also be a region on the board that has the king in it. If you control the region with the king (ties are not allowed here), you earn 2 additional points; however, the king’s region is also not allowed to be the target of any action cards or piece assignments. There is one other special region on the board called the Castillo. It’s a small cardboard castle that you may assign pieces to during your turn. The rules state you must clearly announce how many pieces you’re assigning to it, and other players are supposed to keep track (some players prefer to play this as open information, but that’s another column). There is also a special piece that starts on the board for each player referred to as their Grande (it’s a larger piece). The Grande is the home region for each player, and works to provide 2 additional points if a player controls their home region (no ties).
Everyone still with me here? I know the game sounds complicated, with lots of moving parts. It really is an elegant design, and quite simple to follow the rules after a couple of rounds. The key points so far is that you want the most pieces in high scoring regions, with your Grande, and with the king. Now onto the scoring round, this happens through several phases:
- Chose a secret region – Each player has a dial that allows them to select a region secretly. Each player does this, and it will come into play in the third phase here.
- Score the Castillo – This is the first region scored, as the pieces in the Castillo get revealed here
- Move the pieces from the Castillo – Remember that secret region? Now you move all of your pieces you had in the Castillo to the region you selected (unless you chose the region the king is in – that region can’t be targeted by anything)
- Score the Regions – The board has a helpful guide to walk you through each region to make sure you don’t miss any
- Bonuses – Assign the bonus points for the king’s region and the home regions.
At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.
I’ll be out of pocket for a bit at a convention in Southern Ohio. I’m hoping to be able to get a write up of the convention to show you that while it may be just geeks playing these games, there’s a lot of us.