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SPIEL '18 Preview: Discovery: The Era of Voyage, or Sailing in Circles

W. Eric Martin
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For as much as I feel that I have some idea of what is going on in the Japanese game market, I'm frequently reminded that I know next to nothing, or perhaps more charitably, more than most people yet still not much.

In 2015, for example, the design collective A.I.Lab.遊 released 航海の時代, which was subtitled "Era of Voyage". This game, one of hundreds of new games released at Game Market, was released in a wooden box, and like many Japanese designs it has a short playing time and a small footprint when laid out on the table.

The game could have vanished from the market, enjoyed only by the few hundred people who came across its original edition, but now the design has been picked up for a new edition from Taiwanese publisher EmperorS4, an edition that will be featured at SPIEL '18 and most likely licensed to multiple other publishers in turn, thereby exposing the game to thousands more people than would have ever experienced it otherwise, and while that's a great success story for A.I.Lab.遊, I'm left wondering how many hundreds of other design treasures are sitting out there unknown by much of the larger world.

I can't do anything about those other games right now, though, so let's spend a few minutes talking about Discovery: The Era of Voyage. This design fits a lot in a small package, with players traversing a shared pick-up-and-deliver engine laid out on seven island cards around a central island.




In general, you collect money and resources at various places, then use those items to place investment markers at other places, which further boosts your ability to collect money and resources, with players completing for ownership of the island cards (and the points they'll bring) through a standard area-majority mechanism. You can scoop up points directly at the one cultural island in the game, but mostly you're racing to put those markers in place because as soon as someone runs out, you finish the round, then tally points.

Like many other games, Discovery has no hidden information. Everyone sees which islands can do what, and you need to figure out how to do things more efficiently than others. As you place investment markers on an island, you boost that part of the engine for yourself, but once someone places their third investment marker on an island, no one else can invest there, so you can find yourself cut off from both super-charging your engine and acquiring the points available to the two players who invest the most in it.

Players also get in one another's hair while sailing since you can move only clockwise or counterclockwise around the island, with you setting your course each time you leave the central island. You can pay money to sail past multiple islands and reach something more distant, but money is tight — especially since you have to pay other players whenever you travel to their current docking point. Every coin, every fruit, every spice, and every brick of gold feels precious as you scheme for your plan turns in advance: picking up this, then trading for that, then converting money into these resources, then investing there, and so on.

Discovery includes multiple island cards to provide variety in the engines you'll confront. Is gold rare this game? What do you need to collect VP tokens this time? How much money is needed for investment in that island? No, really, how much? The numbers are super tiny, and I can't make them out — the hazard of packing so much game in such a tiny package is that sometimes you can't see it, but previously I didn't even know it existed, so this is still an upgrade!


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