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Subject: Roelovich's point-by-point review of 'Indonesia' rss

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Roel V
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In this point-by-point review based on limited experience with the game, I focus on what I think are strengths and weaknesses of this game. I hope you find it helpful to decide whether this is the right game for you or not.

The Positive:
(+) Dynamic player interaction: some players produce goods, some players transport goods. Production and transport firms need each other in order to make money, but can also have different agendas. Mergers between firms also create a fascinating opportunity for player interaction.

(+) The merger mechanic is original and really interesting. It is amazing what a right type of merger can do: it's not only about obtaining the right firm, it revolves around much more. Maybe you need cash to invest in some other sector? Maybe you want to influence which region of Indonesia will get developed further by obtaining a transport firm? Maybe you are willing to sacrifice one of your firms to protect another? Maybe you want an opponent to lose a firm to another opponent? Maybe you want to change the capacity of a transport line? ...The possibilities here are astonishing. The merger phase is a great opportunity to lay a trap for your opponents. Setting that up and ensaring one of your opponents in it feels so rewarding

(+) Indonesia offers a wide scope of possibilities to players: you can approach each game differently. Will you focus on producing expensive goods close to cities? Will you focus on developing transport routes? Will you try to balance between the two? When things don't turn out the way you want, will you start some strategic mergers to get rid of your own firms and acquire others? ...


(+) Indonesia offers an excellent balance between strategic and tactical play. It is important to set out a strategic line for multiple rounds in the future: in which type of research do you have to invest? To which seas will your transport firm expand, allowing for future development of the board there? Which firms are interesting in the long run, which will become less interesting? However, the game rewards players who keep their eyes open for tactical opportunities which constantly arise and invite players to change their strategic line and become even more succesful.

(+) The game grows in an interesting and balanced way. The economy literally grows with rising demand when cities get fully supplied and rising supply as succesful firms will expand and increase production. Later in game more profitable goods (rubber and oil) become available. The places on the board were production facilities and cities become available is in large part controlled by the designers in order to create interesting gameplay situations. This way, even when the game starts out small at first, players are immediately in the middle of the action to build up a growing economy.

(+) Compared to other Splotter titles, I get the impression Indonesia is less punishing to players who make an initial mistake. Overstretching yourself in a fierce bid can be a costly mistake from which it can be hard to recover and when you are not careful, a mean transport company can strangle a production firm with excessive transportation costs, but such excesses are rather rare. In Indonesia players never totally drop out because the game offers many interesting possibilities which are free of charge (starting a new company, doing research, expanding when you sold out, placing a new city (=demand for your products) at the start of each era, ...) and because clever mergers allow players to fall back to their feet. The game certainly rewards clever play, but at the same time I find it not too harsh on players who lag a little behind initially... (that being said, do keep in mind that this is a Splotter game with a less restricted scope than a typical euro game, meaning there are no catch up mechanisms: do not expect a friendly game towards players who fail to set up their stuff correctly).

The Negative:
(-) This is a pretty fiddly game with some unclear map areas (even in the 2nd edition the game would have benefited from a more practical and stylised map), small cardboard tokens on even smaller map areas, ... Generally this game lacks some 'overview'. Also in some merger-bidding rounds, players will probably want a calculator to make the right bids and assess bids made by opponents. There is no way around the fact that this great game will get on your nerves with its fiddliness at some point or another.

(-) Indonesia forces production firms to sell as many goods as possible. This is a great rule that forces players to be careful not to be forced to ship too many goods too far away, inducing impossible shipping fees: it keeps things exciting and is a corner stone mechanic which keeps the whole thing interesting. However, due to this, the operations phase involves some dull calculation to find optimal routes to cities. This is comparable with 18xx games, but in such games you can often use an app with a routing algorithm to do this dirty work for you. In Indonesia it is up to the players to track all routes keeping shipping capacity into account and calculate income and expenses which, especially in the 2nd half of the game becomes a time consuming chore.

(-) The 2nd edition suffers somewhat from production mistakes or poor decisions. For example: the wooden counters are too large and there is the unfortunate choice of symbols (why did they change the clear symbols for the different good types from the first edition?). However, the game is perfectly playable with these components and some improvements certainly have been made (the map is a little more clear with better borders around certain sea areas, the carboard ships allow players to put transport expenses on the used ships which becomes handy in the 2nd half of the game to see which ships have been used already). All in all, this is a minor complaint.

Conculsion:
Similar to later Splotter games, Indonesia scoores with a fascinating player-interaction: players often need each others infrastructure in order to make money, but at the same time the game offers a whole arsenal of opportunities to deal with your opponents. The game is characterized by the wide array of possibilities it offers players to approach this challenge, keeping things interesting: depening on which research paths you follow, you will have a different play experience. This wide scope of opportunities offers a less restricted game experience compared to classic euro-games, allowing players to write their own story each time they play. However, this comes at the cost of some annoying fiddliness not present in more restricted euro-style games and it puts a bigger responsability on individual players in order to build up a balanced economy. Players who fail to assess the correct value of a firm will have a hard time. In the end, that's what this game comes down to: seeing the right opportunities and assessing the value of firms in terms of perspectives and future profits, much like a stock picker would. Playing this game will require you to get over the pretty fiddly, dull and time consuming chore of calculating the optimal shipping routes for products and calculating the income of the the production firm and transportation firms involved. This is a key aspect of the game as it is important to assess the potential profit of a firm but with a bunch of tokens cluttering a not so clear map, this is a brain draining and somewhat wearisome job which will probably scare away many players. This is an aspect I dislike about this game, but there is such a wealth of gameplay elements to discover and play with here that I gladly overcome this issue. Despite its fiddliness, Indonesia probably is my favorite economic game for 3-4 players (with 5, I expect the game to take a little too long).

The verdict:

8,7 / 10

Playing time:
3,5 - 4 hours for a 3-4 player game. A bit of a time investment, but the game should keep everybody involved from start to finish.

Tips, for those going in:
(*) Be rational during merger bids: if you bid, think about the perspective of this firm (How about current and future competition? How about shipping possibilities?) and the future profits you expect the firm to realize. Also note that it is not only about paying the right price, but also at the right time. Being out of money or not having a company slot at the wrong time can be problematic.
(*) Try to be early in turn order and have free slot, especially in the first year of a new era when new possible acquisitions become available. The best firms are always snatched away early in an era.
(*) In the 3rd era no more transport firms come out. players controlling transport firms will decide which young firms will be able to ship and which don't.
(*) Rice producing forms run the highest risk of having their profits hurt by paying shipping fees (selling at only 20 rupees, you actually start working for the shipping company in stead of yourself if you need to deliver cities 2 or more ships away!). However, rice firms are generally positioned in the center of the map, closer to the cities. If you are a big rice producer: make sure cities close to your production fields get developped!
(*) Transport firms only earn 5 rupees per shipment and per ship, but keep in mind that ships are active in the operating phase of each and every production firm, meaning they can potentially generate income all the time. Production firms can only generate income during their own individual operation phase.
(*) Bold assertion to make, but as a rule of thumb you might say Indonesia will consist of about 10 game rounds (called 'years') in a 3-player game, fewer in a 4-player game. This will put a limit on your possibilities to do research and might help assess potential future profits for early production/transport firms.
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One could program an Indonesia shipping app - the point that it's been done for 18xx but hasn't been done for Indonesia is not really a point against Indonesia against 18xx, really, as both games ship in the box with fiddliness that computers could relieve. One just has apps available at the moment. Although I do believe there are some decisions to be made in Indonesia, like where to put the shipping money in some cases, so it can't be completely automated anyway.
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Lucien Copus
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FYI the game goes faster the more players you have. More people taking companies means the clock burns faster, and you have fewer of the extra fiddly "close to end game" turns.

Edit: This was in response to your comments about 5p games.
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Roel V
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Ogrecrusher wrote:
FYI the game goes faster the more players you have. More people taking companies means the clock burns faster, and you have fewer of the extra fiddly "close to end game" turns.

Edit: This was in response to your comments about 5p games.


I would expect game time to rise due to more players getting involved in bids, but you could be right: more players = more company slots to divide the fixed number of companies - selling them out more quickly. I wonder: have you played the game with 5 players? How did that work out? Do individual players keep enough 'impact' on the game as a whole with 5?
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Roelovich wrote:
Ogrecrusher wrote:
FYI the game goes faster the more players you have. More people taking companies means the clock burns faster, and you have fewer of the extra fiddly "close to end game" turns.

Edit: This was in response to your comments about 5p games.


I would expect game time to rise due to more players getting involved in bids, but you could be right: more players = more company slots to divide the fixed number of companies - selling them out more quickly. I wonder: have you played the game with 5 players? How did that work out? Do individual players keep enough 'impact' on the game as a whole with 5?


It ends up feeling faster (less turns) but timewise, there isn't much difference.
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Jythier wrote:
Roelovich wrote:
Ogrecrusher wrote:
FYI the game goes faster the more players you have. More people taking companies means the clock burns faster, and you have fewer of the extra fiddly "close to end game" turns.

Edit: This was in response to your comments about 5p games.


I would expect game time to rise due to more players getting involved in bids, but you could be right: more players = more company slots to divide the fixed number of companies - selling them out more quickly. I wonder: have you played the game with 5 players? How did that work out? Do individual players keep enough 'impact' on the game as a whole with 5?


It ends up feeling faster (less turns) but timewise, there isn't much difference.


5-6 turns but takes the same time.
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Charles Hasegawa
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Your point about no catch up mechanism is pretty important. In the handful of games I've played, the person getting the first rubber company seems to have a decisive advantage and you really have to work to limit that, because once they pull away, there isn't a good way to catch them.
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Steve Carey
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We enjoyed a 5P session last night, and the time factor seemed the same for other player counts.

We generated three '3' cities fairly early on, which was quite interesting.

Not sure about the Rubber advantage as we haven't seen that one yet. Last night's winner ignored shipping concerns and so managed a large Siap Faji concentration (with Expansion 3). I tried to impede his monopoly, but it was too little, too late.

Spice and Shipping mergers generated large profits, while Oil and Rubber actually ended up rather inconsequential.

In any event, great game!
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Bill Eldard
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Great review. I have only played the game once, so I would need several more plays to get comfortable with it. It does appear to be fine game, but not one that I am interested in getting for myself.

Quote:
The Negative:
(-) This is a pretty fiddly game with some unclear map areas (even in the 2nd edition the game would have benefited from a more practical and stylised map), small cardboard tokens on even smaller map areas, ... Generally this game lacks some 'overview'.

This was a particular challenge for my wife and I as new players to the game (4 players, all first time). I find the graphics on the board very user unfriendly, particularly the script font which, combined with similar regional names, requires close examinations to avoid mistakes. I prefer essential game information to be clear and unambiguous.

Quote:
Also in some merger-bidding rounds, players will probably want a calculator to make the right bids and assess bids made by opponents. There is no way around the fact that this great game will get on your nerves with its fiddliness at some point or another.

We didn't find this to be a problem, but perhaps were weren't skilled enough at the bidding in this game to experience that.

Quote:
(-) Indonesia forces production firms to sell as many goods as possible. This is a great rule that forces players to be careful not to be forced to ship too many goods too far away, inducing impossible shipping fees: it keeps things exciting and is a corner stone mechanic which keeps the whole thing interesting. However, due to this, the operations phase involves some dull calculation to find optimal routes to cities. This is comparable with 18xx games, but in such games you can often use an app with a routing algorithm to do this dirty work for you. In Indonesia it is up to the players to track all routes keeping shipping capacity into account and calculate income and expenses which, especially in the 2nd half of the game becomes a time consuming chore.

I didn't find this any more time consuming than similar task in other games.

Quote:
(-) The 2nd edition suffers somewhat from production mistakes or poor decisions. For example: the wooden counters are too large and there is the unfortunate choice of symbols (why did they change the clear symbols for the different good types from the first edition?). However, the game is perfectly playable with these components and some improvements certainly have been made (the map is a little more clear with better borders around certain sea areas, the carboard ships allow players to put transport expenses on the used ships which becomes handy in the 2nd half of the game to see which ships have been used already). All in all, this is a minor complaint.

We found the oversized wooden tokens entirely useless. They're way too big for the board; entire regions can be hidden beneath one.
Also, there needs to be a way to readily identify the ownership of plantations (or whatever they're called). Those are represented by neutral counters with symbols on them, but ownership is represented by the card held by the owning player. We had a lot of "Now, who owns this?" during the game. I recommend placing a colored token (i.e., cube, disk) on the region to denote ownership for instant identification when scanning the board to map out strategy.
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Eldard, brilliant idea regarding plantation ownership!
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Steve Carey wrote:
We enjoyed a 5P session last night, and the time factor seemed the same for other player counts.

We generated three '3' cities fairly early on, which was quite interesting.

Not sure about the Rubber advantage as we haven't seen that one yet. Last night's winner ignored shipping concerns and so managed a large Siap Faji concentration (with Expansion 3). I tried to impede his monopoly, but it was too little, too late.

Spice and Shipping mergers generated large profits, while Oil and Rubber actually ended up rather inconsequential.

In any event, great game! :)


I would say that Siap Faji can be the killer advantage. Winning the auction for the first Siap Faji can win the game.

I disagree about rubber -- though it depends on the number of players. With 3-4 players, rubber (age 2) will likely get big enough to make some decent money. But, I agree about Oil -- coming in age 3, it will likely not get big enough to matter. Especially in a 5-player game, the game tends to go through fewer turns, so Oil is even less likely to make any value.
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Oil is key for the high-expansion player, so long as that player also has enough control over game end to make C last 2 or even 3 rounds. If not, it's rather worthless.
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Lucien Copus
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The Metagame of my friends changed enormously over repeated playthroughs.

Early on Siap Faji was the key, the people who got the first 2 companies of it basically battled for the win.
Then we had a game where one of those managed to get ahead in turn order and had an easy ride to the win.
Then people invested so much in turn order that people became better off ignoring it and just go for rubber.
 
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