Meanwhile, at the other table, Rick, Jeremy, James and I played a game of Clippers, a game by Alan Moon. This is apparently a revised version of Santa Fe Rails. But since I’ve never played that game, I don’t know how it differs (besides the obvious in the theme).
The board is a map of the South Pacific with various islands. So it’s mostly blue, with a little bit of green here and there where the islands are. Each island is worth a certain number of points, which is marked on the board. Generally, the islands are worth the least on the eastern side of the map, and the most on the western side.
In addition, each island only has a certain number of ports. So some have only 2 ports, and some have as many as 5 ports. Again, generally, the islands worth the most points have the most ports.
Each player has 12 port markers. To start the game, each player places 7 of his port markers in specific island locations, thus leaving 5 port markers to place during the remainder of the game. These port markers (little round thick cardboard circles about a quarter-inch in diameter and marked with each player’s flag) are bloody small. I can understand why they had to be - if they were much bigger, the board would have to be about 4 feet by 4 feet to allow enough room. But these little things are begging to get lost. So watch your pieces!
There are 6 Clipper lines, although only 5 are active at the beginning of the game. Each one is a different color. Each ship starts on its’ own particular start space in the deep ocean on the eastern side of the map.
Connecting the islands are dashed lines. Some islands have only a single track of lines connecting them. Others have two parallel lines. And some have one-way lines (due to prevailing winds etc.)
The main play of the game is to place color-coded trade-route markers (think roads in Settlers of Catan) on these dashed lines, thus establishing trade routes for the 5 shipping lines. Each ship can only use its own matching color trade routes. And you can only extend existing lines (with an exception to be explained later) - that is, you can’t place a little wooden stick (oops, I meant trade route) just anywhere you please. It has to be placed at the end of the line, so to speak.
The Clipper lines don’t belong to any player. So on your turn, you can extend any Clipper trade route you want to and are able to. The only thing you own are the 12 port markers. And your personal supply of money.
The game ends when the little trade-route markers run out (each line has a different quantity) or when all the lines are blocked and can’t be added to any more.
At that point, you score 1 point for each dollar you have. And then you score points for each port marker you have. Each port marker is worth the printed Island value on the board times the number of DIFFERENT COLORED trade route markers that connect to that island. So if the printed island value is 6, and you have 2 port markers at that island, and there are 3 different Clipper trade routes (colors) connected to the island, you would score 36 points total (18 points for each of your port markers.)
So clearly, you want to maximize the number of different colored connecting trade routes to the islands you have a vested interest in, and minimize them for the other players. Since the Clipper ships have to follow the trade routes printed on the board, when it is your turn, you want to direct the ships to avoid the islands where your opponents are strong, and direct them to where you are strong. But of course, island monopolies are very rare - when you direct a ship to help yourself, you can be fairly certain you will be giving points to another player or 2 as well. And ships can’t turn around. Once they on a trade route, they have to keep going until they reach the next island.
Now, besides the port markers, the other way you score victory points is with money. Each dollar you get is worth 1 point. And how do you get dollars? If you make the FIRST connection to any island, you receive 2 dollars. And the player who makes the 2nd connection to an island WITH A DIFFERENT COLORED trade route receives 1 dollar. Third and later connections earn nothing. And if the 2nd connection is the same color as the 1st connection, it also earns nothing.
Turns are divided into 4 phases. After all 4 phases have been gone through, the next player in line becomes the Start-Player, and starts at Phase 1 again.
In Phase 1, you MUST
A) place a port marker, or
B) buy an Option card, or
Then, you MAY spend $3 and buy a 2nd clipper ship (there’s only a few available).
In Phase 2, you place a trade route segment. If you connect an island and earn money, then you collect the money right away.
Phase 3 is Phase 2 repeated.
Phase 4 is the return of the Option cards, and the next player becomes the Start-Player.
During the play of the game, a Clipper trade route may get dead-ended (it reaches an island, but can’t leave it because all the connecting dashed lines are already occupied by other trade routes). Or you may find that another player has moved a ship the wrong direction (from your point of view) - you really, really wanted that ship to go the other way, on THAT route over there!
So, the solution there is to spend $3 in Phase 1 and buy a 2nd ship of the appropriate color. Then in either Phase 2 or Phase 3 of THAT turn (you can’t save them to use later), you can place the new ship at any island that that color Clipper ship has already visited. In other words, you can create a branched-off trade route. This can now allow you to make that color trade route go where YOU want it to go.
The Option cards give you advantages and disadvantages. And let me tell you, they get played a lot.
A 2X card allows you to place 2 trade route segments in both of Phases 2 and 3. And it DOUBLES the money you receive from being 1st or 2nd (with a different color) to an island. It costs $2 to buy that Option. So if you can be the first to connect to an island, you will be earning $4 for each island instead of just $2.
The 3X card allows you to place 3 trade route segments in both of Phases 2 and 3. But you receive NO money for connecting to islands. This Option card is free to take.
The 5X card allows you to place 5 route segments in EITHER Phase 2 OR Phase 3. You place zero segments in the other Phase. You earn normal money from connecting to islands. The card costs $1 to buy.
The Port card costs $4. It allows you to MOVE one of your existing, already-placed port markers to any other vacant port-marker-space on the board.
So knowing when to buy, and which Option to buy, and how best to use it, are very important.
There is a 6th Clipper line that starts from American Samoa. But it can’t start until another Clipper line has arrived there first.
So how was the game? I enjoyed it. It was a little slow, but I think that’s because it was a learning game. The game COULD be played very, very slowly if players sat there and tried to calculate out every possible move and how many points it might make for them and their opponents. Forget that. The game doesn’t have to played at a breakneck pace, but this game could be susceptible to analysis paralysis by some players. Just splash water on them and get the game going.
We found that money was not a factor in deciding whether to buy an option card or not. You ALWAYS had enough money to buy an Option card. It was just a question of which one of the remaining ones were left when it got to be your turn - and which one did you want?
There is a definite flow to the game. At the beginning, there is a mad rush to use the 2X Option cards and claim all the double bonus points you can get. Then everyone settles down to placing routes. In our game, most of the port markers didn’t get played until the 2nd half of the game. You don’t want to commit too early - otherwise the other players will move the ships to avoid your islands. But if you wait too long, you can get hosed in the scoring of certain islands.
So there is a very nice push-pull effect. Do I do this now, or can I hold off one more turn? If I hold off one more turn, will one of the other players hose me by moving the ship in an unfavorable direction? Do I slap myself in the forehead now, or should I wait until next turn to do that? Etc.
In the last part of the game, as the trade route markers start to run out, and all or most of the trade route markers are already placed, that’s when the extra ships get bought. Players in the end game are trying to add new color trade routes to their islands or deny the other players trying to get to their islands.
You must be constantly aware of what the other players are doing (or are apparently doing) - that’s why the game can be a bit cerebral. But as I said, just hurry them along.
Jeremy managed to get 2 port markers in two different 8-point value ports. So at the end of the game, he managed to score 48 points for one island and 32 points for the other island.
I was the master of American Samoa (which is only worth 4). But with 3 port markers there and 4 connected trade routes (thanks to the purchase of an extra ship), it gave me 48 points there as well.
That’s one thing about the game. You really don’t know for sure who’s winning. Yes, yes, you could sit there and calculate out points for everyone. But if you do that every turn, the game will last about 3 weeks.
I think I was the perceived leader for much of the game. Sad to say, perception is often wrong.....
Jeremy - *189*
Dan - 169
James - 150
Rick - 145
Dan - 8
Jeremy - 7
Rick - 7
All agreed that we enjoyed it, and that we look forward to playing it again. Having got that one-learning-game out of our system, I think we’ll play it faster next time.
Just be sure and count your port markers before you put the game away....