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So, a little while back, on a bit of a lark, I got a copy of Archipelago. And by "on a lark," I mean, "The guys at Shut Up and Sit Down reviewed it positively and it sounded super cool." And since I'm nothing if not slavishly devoted to reviewers with British accents, I decided to grab it.
The game sounded highly appealing to me. I've always liked the idea of games that push the boundaries of cooperative play, and a competitive co-op sounded like it scratched that itch just perfectly. We were, ostensibly, all working together keeping the natives from rebelling. At the same time, though, only one of us could become the Grand Winner. If we pushed too hard to win, we all lose. If we don't push, though, we can't win.
So. Let's talk a bit about my first impressions of the game.
The components are pretty nice. The hex tiles are all unique (which is super cool) and the art on them is great. In fact, pretty much all the components are fantastic. I love games that come with lots of little wooden bits! Money is a bit disappointing (I hate tiny tokens), but forgivable.
The box as a storage space for components is simultaneously an elegant and inelegant little bit of worksmanship. The boss is nicely structured to hold things, but I found actually using it on the table was a bit of a pain in the ass due to the way the game just eats space up. Unfortunately, it is optimal to use the insert for the evolution cards and tiles to limit the ability to see under them... which is a tad annoying as seeing into the insert while playing can be a bit difficult with low chairs.
Nice concept, but wasn't working out super well for us in practice.
First game we can dismiss as a bit of a wash. As is standard for me, I'd skimmed the rules to get an idea of how things work, then learn by doing. Unfortunately, I made a big mistake with setup (adding 6 cubes to each domestic track instead of 1 to each of the 6 tracks - whoops). This caused the game to end abruptly on turn 2, which left a bit of headscratching.
After a reexamination of the rules (which was proving difficult as the rules are a bit muddy), we quickly set-up to play again. Unfortunately, another player misunderstood the end game condition versus the win game conditions, so he rushed his own end game condition (empty 2 exploration piles) which ended up proving shockingly easy. Thus the game, once again, closed out quite anti-climatically.
Batting 0 and 2 here, Archipelago.
This wasn't to say the game was bad, yet. The mechanics still looked interesting, but we were facing down a noteworthy problem: it seemed very easy for a player to just steamroll the game to the end, which is no fun.
It can work, obviously, but it means you have to be careful with the players you play the game with, lest you have a really unfun experience. A game where an irritated or frustrated player has a lot of control over the game is a dangerous one to play with mixed company.
That said, a week passed and we gave the game another shot. Things went much more swimmingly: we played slowly, consulting the rules frequently, and slowly we started to better understand how the game works. The nature of the markets playing off of each other, using buildings, the power of towns, the importance of trading and interacting with each other... but we were still a bit adrift. None of us seemed to be able to get a real "engine" going. We saw all the pieces, but we weren't quite sure how to put them together into a cohesive plan to win the game.
And then we realized that unrest was sitting right behind our population and that we couldn't do anything to prevent the inevitable revolution that would see us strung up by the natives.
So, where does that leave us right now? I don't honestly know! The general consensus around the table seemed to be that there was definite interest in the game, but it just wasn't quite clicking with any of us.
Archipelago is a very, and I hate to use this term, fiddly game. It appears that it is very easy for the game to go "wrong" in a lot of ways, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. I'm certainly looking forward to getting the game to the table again, but I can very easily see many groups being quite turned off by this game. It seems to take a bit of finesse to actually get the game working, and lacking the knowhow is going to make the game go weird places.
I recently sold the game to a friend. For me it just feels very fiddly and broken. That said, there is a really cool (dare I say great) game buried beneath the fiddliness. It's a 4x game with interesting mechanics, tough choices and a unique hidden victory final scoring I haven't seen before. I absolutely hate the separatist because 99% of the time they win. That said, if you take it out, it feels like cheating. You need the threat of the separatist if nothing else. I've had several games where I was going to win and someone just says, "F it" and throws the game because they don't think they have a chance,
Like I said it's a cool (great) game, but is it a game worth keeping if you own better games? For me the answer was no. I've actually played the game more since I sold then before when I owned it and that's alright by me.
Archipelago is not a game of "engine building". And it's true that in the first turns you really don't know what to do.
If you just follow your personal objective, everybody else will know; and as everybody knows their own goal, they will be pursuing it nonetheless during the game. To win you need to guess the other players' goals and mimic the, so to arrive in second place in their objective card.
I usually try to get the Trend card goal at first, so that I don't reveal too much of mine.
As you can read in What you're missing, the separatist mechanic is a fee you have to pay to the game to go on playing.
It takes some time to "learn" how to play this game, it's quite different from anything I've played till now.
As you can read in What you're missing
, the separatist mechanic is a fee you have to pay to the game to go on playing.
I would content that this is a somewhat disputed topic as discussed in rather a lot of threads.
Surely this is not how the rules describe the mechanic. For this the OPs summary is actually spot on.
A lot of people sure play it like you mention and get a fine and rewarding game out of it. Others play it like the OP stated and get the same, and we all have happy gaming lives.