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Subject: [Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me rss

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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Conquest of Paradise
A game for 2-4 players designed by Kevin McPartland


"This game gets my highest rating. I designed it to please me, and have everything in it that I want in a game. I have played it countless times in playtesting and promotion and I still love to play it - of course it gets a 10!"
- designer Kevin McPartland


Introduction

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Roger's Reviews. I've been playing board games since I was a wee lad and wargames for over thirty years.

Conquest of Paradise is a game about exploration and expansion throughout the Polynesian triangle about 2500 years ago. Players explore the ocean to find new island groups, colonize them to enlarge their empire, and sometimes even fight other players. All this in a beautiful package that takes about 90 minutes to play. The game was released in 2007 by GMT Games with a 2009 expansion released in issue #22 of C3i magazine. This review will include the expansion cards.

Components

The game comes in one of most beautiful boxes GMT has ever produced in my opinion. It's distinguished from the other GMT games in my collection by having a linen finish to go with the very sturdy construction that makes the box a work of art in and of itself. Inside the box you'll find a deck of Arts & Culture cards made to the usual high GMT standard, what was at the time a deluxe map made of thick cardboard and the counters for the four tribes that can be part of the game. You also get a player handout for each starting island group, and a set of island tiles.

The map that comes with the game has the location names of the actual island groups on the map, but the tiles are drawn at random, so each game the map will look different than the real world. It's a point of delight if not pride to draw an island group in its actual map location.

The expansion cards came as a do it yourself cutting job on 110lb cardboard stock, and it is highly recommended that you sleeve them. I have done so for my copy. I have also printed out the living rules and updated playbook from the GMT Games website as well as the colour version of the player aids.

Overall, I'm pleased with the quality of the components and the overall look and feel of the game. If I have a gripe, it's that the four player colours are pastel hues that are not as easily distinguishable under the usually less than ideal lighting conditions that I play in. In bright lights it's not a problem, but your average dining room table might not be as good. There are symbols on the back of the counters however, and there are other in-game mechanisms to help show player ownership of tiles. This should help.

The different unit types, as well as the four different player colours and symbols.

Rules & Game Play

One of the first things you'll notice about this game is that the playbook, at 20 pages, is roughly double the size of the actual 12 page rule book, with the latter including two pages of advanced rules and a page of annotated bibliographical sources for the game. As someone who has a strong preference for historically based games, I really appreciate this level of research and detail; it's worthwhile reading and includes a brief history of each card in the Arts & Culture deck.

The game itself is relatively easy, and as is often the case in great games, it's not the complexity of the rules, but the complexity of the decisions that give this game its elan. Players will begin in pre-determined locations on the map. Tonga and Samoa for two players, and Hiva and Raitea being added as the player count gets to four. In the latter two instances, the island tiles will be pulled from the pile and placed on the map, along with some connecting atolls and open ocean to make sure all players are connected in the known world. A key difference from the get go for the third and fourth players is that their home islands only have three village spaces while Tonga and Samoa have four. However, as they are further out in the unknown, they have somewhat greater potential for finding the rich islands.

Each island group begins with two villages (one in the player colour to indicate it is the home island for that player), two warrior bands, and two rumour markers. The rumour markers are there to allow you to hide the true disposition of any units in a hex. Clearly in the early going you'll know where the rumours are, but later as the game progresses all bets are off. Do I have one, two, or three warrior bands? Are you feeling lucky? Are you?

Some of the islands exist on the map already. Got an invasion fleet?

Each player also begins with their supply of warrior bands, war canoes, transport canoes, and colonist markers. The counter limit is fixed, so if you run out of any particular unit type, you cannot make more. You also get three discovery tokens, a counter to represent your explorers, and two local guard units that make an appearance if you're ever attacked.

Which brings us to the turn sequence, which is begun by the turn order determination step, followed by and in turn order each of the:
- Turn order and Random event card step (the latter from the expansion)
- Exploration step
- Movement and battle step
- Building step
- Victory point step

The turn order step in this game is quite ingenious, and yet bears potential consequences and advantages as the game progresses. The person in last place decides which player will be the start player and also decides which direction the play will go, clockwise or counterclockwise. In the case of a tie, the tie breaker order is Tonga, Raitea, Hiva, and Samoa. In a clever twist, if two or more players are tied, and there's a random event card to be drawn, then the person with the tie breaker must decide if they want to draw the card, or decide player turn order. The next tied player will then get the option not choosen by the first player.

Turn order is important in this game because each step is discrete and completed by each player in turn order before the next step. For a simple example, if you want to attack another island group, then you want to go first before your opponent has a chance to move troops there to defend it, as you will execute your movement and combat before they get to go!

Having settled on a turn order, next is the drawing of the random event cards. These only come into play once someone, anyone, has hit the 5VP mark on the track, but once this has triggered, every turn thereafter an event card shall be drawn. The events are generally beneficial to the person that draws them because they can select the target for their effects. Effects include being able to add one more village space to an island tile, or possibly to an atoll, to typhoons and hurricanes which can cause a swath of destruction (by eliminating villages), to cards you can keep and play in battle, to sea monsters that hamper movement, to my favourite of the bunch, Maui is Pleased.



My experience of the random event cards is that they allow for whoever is in last place to exert a gentle drag on the leader, enough to allow them a chance to hopefully catch up or improve their position, but not so harmful as to severely hamper progress by any one player. It can happen in relatively rare instances that the person drawing the card has to benefit someone other than themselves, but as the gods will it, so shall it be done. Maui and Pele have a sense of humour!

Once turn order and the random events have been settled, we get into the main phases of the game.

Exploration

The known world begins as a rather small part of the map, but grows every turn as players explore. To explore, you may begin in any hex that you can trace a path to that is both known and free of enemy (or intervening enemy) units and declare it as a start hex. You then pick an as yet unexplored hex, say you're intending to go there and draw a chit from the cup. You'll have one of three results: open ocean, an island tile, or be blown off course. On the back of each chit is also a rope symbol with a number of knots, typically two, but can also be one or three, or none in the special case of the off course markers. You can continue exploring until you get to five knots. At that point you must return, but if you go over five knots, your explorer is lost the next turn. There is a little press your luck during the exploration phase. You can also forego exploring in favour of gaining one build point later. In the early part of the game you'll almost never want to do this, but in the mid to late game stages, this is definitely a consideration!

When you discover an island group, you draw a random tile from the box and you can choose to reveal it, or to keep it secret. You have three discovery markers, so you can keep that many spaces secret from your opponents and if you find a fourth island group, you'll need to decide which of the four to turn face up. And keeping island tiles secret is as strategic as it is tactical. Are you hiding Hawaii or an atoll? Only time, or another player's explorer, will tell.

Knowing who owns each island group is shown by its positioning. The revealing player places it with the same facing as their home island, thus saving the need for special markers. If an island you own is taken over by another player, they simply rotate it so it matches their home island and the game carries on.

Movement and Battle

If there's anything in this game that people find hard to grasp, it's the difference between transit and movement. When you build your island empire, you will want to string them together with face up transport canoes. This is important for three reasons: all contiguously connected island groups form a continuous travel path; they form economic infrastructures; and contribute to your victory point total. More on the latter two below. The contiguous travel path formed by face up transport canoes means that you can shuffle everything that's along that connected path about as you please. You could in fact remove every face down counter you have along your connected group, examine and shuffle them as you like, and then place them as you please back on the board.

Then, and only then, you can move. Moving lets both transport and war canoes move up to two hexes away from their start space, possibly more if you have the right Arts & Culture cards. There is little more satisfying than to reveal the double hulled canoes card as you move your invasion fleet three spaces to what your opponent thought was a safe island.

Battle is entirely determined by the attacker, who keeps rolling a die until one side or the other is decisively defeated. A 1-2-3 is bad for the attacker, and a 4-5-6 bad for the defender. Again, there are Arts & Culture cards, as well as random event cards, that can affect the outcome of a battle.

Build

Building is very simple. You get 1 built point for every village you control. Build points within transport canoe connected island groups can be pooled together. If you have two chains of connected island groups, say 5 points in one and 3 in the other, you have to spend all the points within those connected clusters.

What can you buy? You can improve the agriculture on brown island space. You can build villages on empty green spaces on island groups you control. You can buy colonists to create a village on an uninhabited island. You can buy warrior bands to defend your islands. You can buy transport canoes to create your transport chain and/or move units. You can buy war canoes to invade other islands.

Most importantly, you can buy Arts & Culture cards. These cards are random, and will usually give you 1VP when revealed, but can also have some other effects. It's generally best to keep them face down in order to save them when you need them, especially when the game is near its end and you have a stack of them to really boost your VP total.

Victory Points

Victory points are earned by controlling island groups, including atolls (which are 1/2 a point each), and for built villages. The interesting twist here is that island groups connected by your transport canoe network to your home island, identified by the village of your colour, count toward your VP total, but island groups that are not connected do not! Only their villages do.

This provides an interesting decision, because being in last place gives you the benefit of deciding playing order and/or being able to draw the random event card. The trade off is that you are isolating part of your island infrastructure.

In addition, any revealed Arts & Culture cards also count towards your victory point total.

Optional Rules
The game includes some optional rules. Of those, I always use the malaria rules (affects some of the pre-printed islands on the map), the South Island for New Zealand (island orientation is so important here), and Kumara (sweet potatoes).

Variable start pieces should not be used; the designer says it was "added by one of the game's developers. I think it unbalances the game and has the potential of breaking it. I never use it."

I don't use either the saved resource rule or the variable game end rule, but they're there for those who want them.

Conclusions

I will begin with the most common complaints I have heard about this game. The board is bland. The player pieces are thematically pastel coloured, yes, but difficult to distinguish in less than ideal lighting conditions. True. As a wargamer used to cardboard chits and paper maps, I have plexiglass and good lighting, so these issues are only minor to me.

The other complaints I've heard are that the combat system is too simplistic, that the economic system isn't very meaty, with no real tech tree to speak of, and that the game ends too soon.

Here is where I diverge from the critics.

Conquest of Paradise is one of those games that is tightly integrated with its thematic overlay in such a way that you are never left with any doubt about what, where and when you are playing. If you both read the designer notes and put yourself in the metaphorical canoe of some of those early brave explorers looking for room to expand their tribal islands, all the systems click into place and it makes complete sense.

The combat system, for instance, with the attacker doing all the die rolling, works perfectly well. The conflict here amongst the early Polynesian tribes was not the warfare of the Roman Republic with doctrine, formations, and logistical infrastructure. It was warriors in canoes, skirmishing and raiding.

In game terms then, the simple die roll of fate, with its simple outcome makes perfectly good sense, saves time, and for those who've experienced them, not that different from the average odds based CRT in terms of results. The Arts & Culture cards can help here as well, with some cards multiplying the effect of panic on the attacker, or the cannibalism card which turns one panic into a loss each battle.

This leads quite naturally into the economic system. You get build points for every village you own. Great. Arts and Culture cards fulfill the role of not only providing nearly sure victory points, but also providing tangible benefits to the player owning them. Any player who doesn't start buying a card every turn once they have a steady supply of build points coming is missing out on a huge opportunity. Of the 27 cards in the Arts & Culture deck, 19 are worth 1VP. Of those, 5 are worth 2VP if you happen to control the right island group, and 12 confer some special benefit. 2 of the cards are worth 2VP, and the Moai card is worth 3VP if you control Rapa Nui! The 6 cards worth 0VP all confer a significant persistent benefit, ones that are especially handy when used by surprise!

The winner of the game is determined by a preset number of victory points, dependent on the number of players. Some folks feel the game doesn't last quite long enough. It seems as if you've just built up your large invasion fleet to storm the beaches of Normandy Samoa and someone gets to that 22vp spot and the game is over. Well, the designer himself has suggested that if that's how you'd like to play the game, adjust the VP needed to win! Want a longer game? Up the VP requirement. Want a shorter one? Reduce it! There's even a user-designed bidding variant that varies the VP requirement for each individual. The designer thinks that's a really neat idea!

In conclusion then ladies and gentlemen, what we really have here is a brilliant civilization building game with many of the core hallmarks of more complicated 4X games, wrapped in an attractive package absolutely soaking in well researched theme, plays in about 90-120 minutes, and plays equally well with 2, 3, or 4 players.

What's not to love about that?


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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Wendell
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
leroy43 wrote:
In conclusion then ladies and gentlemen, what we really have here is a brilliant civilization building game with many of the core hallmarks of more complicated 4X games, wrapped in an attractive package absolutely soaking in well researched theme, plays in about 90-120 minutes, and plays equally well with 2, 3, or 4 players.


Agreed. This is one cool game, I really like it. Nice review!
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
Roger, given your long time praise of this game, I'm surprised that you hadn't reviewed it already.

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Mick Weitz
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
Great review of a great game. This game may have been the most instructive game I have ever played. Going into the game, I knew very, very little about Polynesian history, but reading the play book and playing a few times was both instructive and inspirational in making me seek more information about this unique and fascinating people and period in human history.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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Victor Caminha
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
A superb review. Well done!
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Rick Goudeau
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
Good Review of an enjoyable game.
I've played it several times, found myself praying to the dice, tile and chit gods way too often.

While combat is chancy (to say the least) the opportunity to strike at the one spot to break up an opponents chain or steal a weakly defended island is so sweet. Even sweeter is to threaten to attack and watch the response.
By the way I you didn't mention the rule where only the bravest victorious warriors can settle down and take over a village.

Your review reminds me that I need to get this to the table again.
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Andy Pickard
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
I am going to forward this review to all the gaming buddies that have ignored my suggesting we play it. I love the theme and the the mechanics, and the designer is a really approachable, thoughtful gentleman. I heartily agree that this game deserves more love!
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loris Pagnotta
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
This game is so good that every time I introduce a new group of players, at least one of them buys a copy.
Experienced players also like very much CoP and between one wargame session and another ask me to play It.
Even the historical part is very enjoyable, especially if after playing a card you check its meaning in the historical notes.
Only one drawback, If you fall into an unfortunate evening not even "Vira Cocha" the mighty, can save you.
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Richard Pomeroy
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
Top notch review of an underappreciated game.
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Kevin McPartland
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Re: [Voice of Experience][Roger's Reviews] Conquest of Paradise: Come Sail Away With Me
Thank you for the kind words, everybody! modest I find it remarkable that the game is played- and enjoyed- across the US and Canada, and even all over the world in places like Italy and Brazil. Really remarkable!

Quote:
... especially if after playing a card you check its meaning in the historical notes.

This was always the intention! Thanks.

Kevin
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EXTRA AVOCADO! Sonderegger
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Gah. This went from being completely off my radar to being my next purchase.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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hanibalicious wrote:
Gah. This went from being completely off my radar to being my next purchase.

My work here is done! cool
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Brian Morris
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This game is a true gem.
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Roger Hobden
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Excellent game !

I will buy another copy when it get's reprinted.
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John Rogers
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One of my all-time favorite reviews. I pre-ordered the reprint based on it.

Thanks Roger!
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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John Rogers wrote:
One of my all-time favorite reviews. I pre-ordered the reprint based on it.

Thanks Roger!

You're welcome! One of my favourite games...
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Günter Peter
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KMcPartland wrote:
Thank you for the kind words, everybody! modest I find it remarkable that the game is played- and enjoyed- across the US and Canada, and even all over the world in places like Italy and Brazil. Really remarkable!

Kevin


...and even in little Austria
One of our favorite games and wonderful thematic!
Günter
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