Peter Zalizniak
United States
St Petersburg
FL
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I will begin by saying that Archipelago is a game unlike any other that I have played so far. It toes the line between several types of games while declaring allegiance to none. It is part worker placement/Euro, part civilization builder, part co-op, part deduction, and is undeniably eye candy. The artwork is gorgeous and is dripping with tropical theme.

Speaking of theme, the name of the game speaks volumes. It is set in a fictional Caribbean Archipelago that is ripe for colonization (read: exploitation). Players will, on turn 0 as it’s called, begin the process of building and landing on the titular archipelago using some of the modular tiles. Throughout the course of the game, players will explore, expand, employ local unemployed loafers, set up trade, and all the while cooperate to prevent rebellion among the natives. This is done through the use of action discs which will, for the most part, serve as the workers players will use to place to take the various actions available to them.

As the players explore and expand across the archipelago, they will receive various resources as well as cause other resources to be added to the local trade market. These can be used for trade both in markets as well as amongst each other for various reasons (more on this later). A third use for the resources is to help keep the local people happy. As one would expect, not all inhabitants of the archipelago are loyal servants of the flag. On most turns they will present the players with various demands that will cause them to work together…or else. While this might cause a sort of thematic stretch (they’re mad because they want more rocks?), with a little imagination one can attribute this to the delicacies of a not-so-hostile takeover on an island paradise. If the demands of the local market or the foreign market are not met, civil unrest grows and the population will move closer to mutiny.

The market system and economy that result from this set up is beautiful to behold. The designer has taken so much into account with its implementation and the end product is genius in its simplicity. The more of a resource is available in a market, the less it will cost to buy and the less one can charge for selling it. If a product floods the market, more people will become unemployed and, in extreme cases, people will begin to grow angry for the waste. A similar situation occurs with the number of neutral, unemployed inhabitants. The more jobless people that there are, the cheaper it will be to hire them. If the unemployed ranks swell too much though, more seeds of discontent will be planted amongst the well-tanned populace. It all makes sense, and it all works.

Exploration is a mechanic that has drawn mixed emotions from those I’ve played this with. For those of you who have played Eclipse, the general gist will seem familiar. When one chooses to explore, they choose either the top hex (of which only one side is visible), or a completely unseen hex. Once chosen, the player must connect that hex somehow much that it connects with 2 other hexes and is artistically consistent with those hexes. They must also be able to move one of their citizens on the newly-explored hex. How this plays out in actuality is that exploration is never a sure bet. Times will occur when the player is unable to place their tile and reaps no benefit from the exploration action. This can frustrate some players. In my view, it is a way to simulate the fact that exploration isn’t a sure thing. There is also a pretty good reward for exploring successfully: a wild card chip usable as any resource in the game. I am fine with it; others dislike it.

*Small obligatory side note regarding racial relations in this game. The working population of the archipelago aligned with the players is denoted by a white meeple. The population of dangerous, indigenous rebels is marked by a black meeple. Several of the progress cards are adorned with pictures that aren’t particularly politically correct in their racial choices. I don’t find this to be a distraction or reason to not play this game, but a lot has been made of these particular aspects of the game so I’d feel silly not mentioning them. For my group, it led to an uncomfortable giggle and an eye roll and we kept right on playing. Other more sensitive folks might take more offense though.

Along with the market system, there is a series of cards that are available to the players to purchase during a separate phase of the game. There “improvement” cards run the gamut from more efficient ways to harvest certain resources, to huge elaborate wonders that can be built to secure precious victory points. I choose the term “precious” here for the simple reason that, in this game, victory points are not easy to come by. So far in the 6 or 7 games I have played, having a total of 7 victory points is a very good number. The way the cards are handled is unique as well. Each card has 3 separate numbers on it as well as a skull. During each player’s turn in this phase, they can either purchase and turn a card clockwise, or turn a card(s) clockwise twice. With each turn, cards will either increase or decrease in value. The final side of the card is a skull meaning the card will go away and be immediately replaced from the deck. This leads to a fair amount of strategy in regards to when one should purchase a particular card or try to wait to get it at a better price later.

The deck itself serves another purpose as well. On the back side of each card is the particular crisis that the players will face either immediately or on the next turn. At some points in the game, this can lead to a fair amount of tension since if too many rebels are present then all of the players lose the game. One exception to this is if one of the players has a special victory condition that is triggered by revolution.

At the beginning of the game, there will be one common victory condition for all to see. This may award points based on number of markets on certain hexes, number of particular buildings, amount of money, etc. Then each player is dealt a secret objective card that can also award everyone points. Aside from the VP conditions, the cards will also carry their own end-of-game triggers. If any of the players have an end of game condition triggered, they announce the fact and the game comes to an end. This leads to a fair amount of uncertainty regarding how much time one has to accomplish their goals. It also leads to speculation regarding what the other players’ victory conditions might be. Points are awarded on a sliding scale (gold, silver, bronze) such that, if a player has some of what the victory condition is, they will likely earn at least a point. In practice, the game seems to reward a balanced approach and staying aware of what others are doing. If one player is building a ton of boats, you might want to build one or two yourself. The types of victory conditions that are available (for each the short, medium, and long games separately) are depicted on the back of the rulebook and are available for reference.

In case it isn’t clear by this point, I am a huge fan of Archipelago. Its unique, semi-cooperative, tough-to define-gameplay is both fun and full of replay-ability. So much depends on the hexes you explore, what resources are available, which improvement cards are available and, of course, what your victory conditions are. One small gripe that I had with the game initially was that there was a bit of a lack of direct interaction with the other players outside of banding together to avoid rebellion. The recent expansion, War and Peace, patches this up nicely. It has some really interesting, thematic ways to stick it to your neighbors and even provide a bit of zaniness into the game (Colonial lottery was an interesting one). While I can guarantee that this game will not be loved by everyone, it has certainly become a favorite in my household. It is well worth a try if any of you out there are on the fence about it.


***This is my first review of a game on here. Please feel free to leave (constructive) criticism in the comments. I enjoyed doing it and would like to do more!
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Mark O'Reilly
United Kingdom
Chester
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Brilliant review Peter, this has been on my radar since the recent dice tower video and your review has just rubber stamped this heading into the collection
 
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Thomas Robb
United States
Calais
Maine
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Great review !

Our group really enjoys this game. Will be getting the new expansion to add more cards - sounds like fun.

 
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Chad Ackerman
United States
Fairless Hills
Pennsylvania
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I love reading reviews for the game! One of my favorites. It's so unique. Here's a couple thoughts:

Quote:
This is done through the use of action discs which will, for the most part, serve as the workers players will use to place to take the various actions available to them.


I like to think of the action discs as just action discs for selecting your actions, and the "worker placement" part of the game is moving your meeples and ships in response to the action you've selected. This usually involves taking over resource icons and buildings to gather their benefits and potentially denying your opponents of them as well. It seems clearer to me when explained this way, but it doesn't really matter so much. Just a thought.

Quote:
Times will occur when the player is unable to place their tile and reaps no benefit from the exploration action. This can frustrate some players. In my view, it is a way to simulate the fact that exploration isn’t a sure thing. There is also a pretty good reward for exploring successfully: a wild card chip usable as any resource in the game. I am fine with it; others dislike it.


When this happens to one of my opponents I usually try to offer some compensation from my personal stash in the hopes of gaining a temporary ally and keeping him engaged in the game so he doesn't start to see the benefit of joining the rebels. Also, if everyone knows the current tile isn't going to work for everyone it can be a good opportunity to make offers for someone to use their action to take a chance (possibly establishing allies and hopefully revealing a new tile that will end up working for you).
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David Siskin
United States
Playa Del Rey
California
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I also appreciate the fact that there is a small solo play expansion with 27 scenarios to work out and hone you skills!

The second expansion adds more cards, which allows you to customize your deck, and, even more importantly, gives you a nice plastic card holder.
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Clwe
United Kingdom
Essex
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Ooh, I know the answer to the subject title - confront the angry natives, then ram the pineapple in your crown jewels and stick the log up your a***. They'll be too busy laughing to be angry...though you might not be having kids anymore, either.

(oh...nice review, by the way )
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Lane Taylor
United States
Layton
Utah
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My only quibble: You used the word simplicity in association with this game. shake

It's fun, but I don't see it going on my must get list.

I like the overall theme ok.
I like the level of semi-coop/semi-competitive.
I love the artwork and overall design.

I don't like:

Knowing less than half the win conditions. (This is with a 5 player game.)
The fiddliness/busy-ness of the boards, and it takes a huge amount of space for what it is. (This coming from someone who loves Civilization....)

It wasn't too hard to really figure out the basics, but the game itself seems to lend to too much randomness at the end to be able to actually have a strategy and go for a win condition. Maybe in a 3 player game, it would be a bit better because each player would know 3/5 of the win conditions.
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Peter Zalizniak
United States
St Petersburg
FL
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That's fair, my only counter argument would be that you can attempt to figure out what other players' win conditions are based on how they're playing. Some are better at masking their intentions than others. There are also other ways to secure VPs through building wonders, certain character cards, etc. That said, this game sure isn't for everyone!

Thanks for reading. I appreciate it! meeple
 
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