Paul Buttery
Canada
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Since its release last year, Clans of Caledonia has steadily risen the ladder of BGGs ranked list. As of the writing of this review, it currently sits in position 61 on the overall list and 36 on the strategy list. This popularity is of no surprise since Clans made many “Best of 2017” and top ten lists in the past months. So is the praise put on this game the real deal…Let's have a look.

The Box…and what’s inside!

When you first see the box you are struck by how small it is. It is very shallow, similar to Gaia Project and I was worried, that like Gaia, I was going to struggle to fit all the components back in the box and close the lid. I am glad to report that I did not have that problem. It’s a tight fit for sure, but there is a little room to spare (not much).

Components



I’m in Canada and this game was a bit pricier then the average release at around $75. Given how small the box was, I wondered if the production value was going to be there. Well I was quickly relieved to see that the quality of the components was very good. The cardboard pieces/tokens/etc are of high quality. It is a thinner cardboard, but very dense and sturdy. The finish is very good. It has a very satiny (is that a word?..is now) finish and actually, almost feels soft to the touch! Good Stuff! I know that the KS and later in stores, you could buy metal coins, but you know what, the cardboard coins are actually not bad.

The game comes with a large amount of wooden bits. Each player has their own set of clan components from, cows, sheep, bakeries (bread slices), dairies (cheese wedges), distilleries (barrels), workers and other dedicated tokens. All are of great quality. The goods tokens are all very nice. One complaint that I have heard is that there is not enough. Other then wool (@14), there are on 10 of each good. There are cardboard good tiles that can be used for larger amounts, but in our 3 player game, we never ran out of the wooden tokens.

Odds and Sods

The rulebook is well done and does a good job of explaining the rules, with good examples and a good appendix at the end to explain the port bonus, scoring and clan tiles. We did have one problem. We ended up drawing the included Kickstarter tile for one of the clans. Clan McEwen. It describes the ability, but at the end has a URL address to lookup a chart to find out how much money is produced by the ability. Even when we looked up URL, we could not find this chart.
They do mention there can be an issue with the KS add-ins.

Artwork is fantastic! After all it is Klemens Franz and he once again does a great job here. From the player boards, to the minute details on the map boards, it is another fine production.
I also love the fact he is given credit right on the front box cover. Not enough game creators/companies do this IMHO.


What’s it About?

Players assume the roles of historical Scottish clans competing to produce goods, trade and export processed goods like bread, cheese and of course, whiskey.

Taking place in the 19th century, the game is broken down into 5 rounds, with 4 phases each round. Players begin the game by drafting their own clan. Each clan has its own special ability which gives them a unique advantage during gameplay. While setting out the clan tiles as part of setup, starting tiles are also drawn with one being placed next to each clan tile. These tiles have the starting goods/money for each clan. With 9 clan tiles and 9 starting goods tiles, this provides many unique combinations and adds to the overall replayability of the game. Some of these clan abilities are very powerful and I do feel some could sway a definite advantage to some players.

The gameboard itself is also randomly generated, with 4 double sided map modules. I didn’t feel this aspect of setup was as particularly game changing as the various clan abilities. Sure each tile is unique, but I felt that no matter how you placed the tiles it didn’t offer different challenges to the game. Basically, it avoids getting bored playing the same board every time you play, say like Terra Mystica, a game it has been compared too.





To round out the setup, all players have a playerboard and small export box tile to store most of their wooden tokens and export contract. All boards are the same, other then the colour of their tokens and their clan tile.







Off to the side sits a Market Board and an Export Board. The market board acts sort of like a stock market. As goods are bought and sold, the prices change accordingly. Prices drop when sold, as demand becomes less, and, prices rise when goods are bought as demand rises. It is a very simple mechanic, but works really well. The Export Board is the workhorse of the boards.

It has not only a spot for the games export contract tiles, but incorporates the scoring bonus tiles, player turn order track and the overall glory point track. This track is simultaneously used to keep track of the rare imported goods when completing contracts.




How’s it Play?

There a 4 phases each round. The bulk of the game is played out in the Action Phase.

Players take turns taking 1 of 8 possible actions which I’ll summarize quickly:

1. Trade – Send your merchants to the market to buy or sell goods. Depending on the action taken, the price of the good will rise or lower.
2. Obtain Export Contract – Players can buy export contracts. The left side of the tile lists what you need to trade away to receive the items on the right of the tile. These items can consist of rare goods (cotton, sugar cane, hops or tobacco) or small bonuses like a free player board upgrade or building a unit at a reduced cost.
3. Expand – Place/build a unit from your player board onto the map. Units placed must be on the proper terrain type for the unit.
4. Upgrade Shipping – Pay to increase your shipping range. The first spot allows you to build across rivers. Further upgrades allow you to build further across water.
5. Upgrade Technology – Upgrading your workers increases the amount of money you receive per work during the production phase.
6. Hire a merchant – You only start with 2 merchants. Each hire adds one merchant to your pool. More merchants gives you the ability to buy and sell more units at the market.
7. Fulfil an Export Contract – Cash in resources to fulfil an export tile and receive the goods and bonuses on the tile.
8. Pass – Finish your turn for the round. The first to pass moves their player marker to the first spot on the turn track, taking the money for that spot.


After all players are done their actions for the round, players move to the production phase. Here players receive goods based on units that are deployed on the map. Like in Terra Mystica, as units are placed on the board, the empty slots left indicate what is produced. Workers produce money, Sheep – Wool, Cows – Milk and Fields – 2 Grain. After the basic goods, if players have a dairy, bakery or distillery, they can convert basic goods into more valuable processed goods. Cheese, Bread and Whiskey.

After that is the scoring phase. Each round has a bonus scoring tile. You receive glory points if you fulfilled the requirements for that tile. In the final round of the game there are 2 parts to the scoring, the bonus tile and end game scoring. There are additional bonuses for the players with the most settlements and the players who have completed the most export contracts.

After the fifth and final round, the player with the most glory points wins!





What did I think?

I really liked Clans. The similarities with Terra Mystica are warranted. You definitely see the influence and for some reason I feel the mechanics seem easier to wrap your head around with this theme. It is a very polished game and like most euro style games, there are many paths to victory, which I love. Also, not knowing the full extent of everyone’s points, like in most euros, always provides that little bit of excitement as you tally up the points to determine a winner.

Starting from the beginning, the choosing of your clan can make or break your game. It definitely pushes you in a certain direction, as far as what strategy you’ll likely pursue. Some people may not like that. I have played with three players and everyone seems to follow a different strategy. I kind of gravitated towards sheep and cows. Making wool and milk, converting that to cheese. My Clan was the Clan Buchanan which gave me a second export box. This allowed me to have 2 export contracts at one time. Since I was in Wool and cheese, I focused on contracts that needed those items. It worked well. One other player focused on whiskey production, while the other tried to specialize in all the processed goods.

There can be many actions taken during the round, but surprisingly the game flowed well. There could have been a lot of Analysis Paralysis, but again, things moved along.

The biggest discovery came within the first couple rounds of the game. You will need a steady flow of MONEY! Yes. Money. If it is any indication, you start the game with at least $55. Some starting tiles can give you a bit more. We thought, wow, that’s a lot to start….it isn’t.
A quick look at your player board shows it can cost anywhere from $6 to $18 to build a unit. Then you have to add the cost of the land where you build. One grain field could cost you $24! to build. Two of us caught on quickly and deployed all of our worker units by the third round. The last person to do so ended up finishing last. The market helps out here too. If you can get a small engine running early, you can use the market to your advantage and create another source of income.

The map did get quite full with all of our units, but we never encroached too much into other areas. The game actually rewards building next to other players, again, like Terra Mystica. If you build any unit adjacent to another player, say it is a sheep farm, then you have the option of buying up to 3 units of wool from the market at $2 cheaper for basic goods and $3 cheaper for processed goods.



One thing I have yet to mention are the port bonus tiles. These are tiles that are at each corner of the board and proved a one time bonus action to those that build adjacent to them.
They never really came into play, maybe twice during the whole game and the bonuses they offered were not that game shattering or advantageous.

All in all this is a very good game. It plays very smoothly and there is a lot of variability in the setup, which is a plus for replayability. The overall production quality and artwork, combined with a good rulebook make for a great experience. I recommend this to any serious euro fan, but I feel this game will appeal to any gamer. For a great economic strategy game, give Clans of Caledonia a try!


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Chris Puram
United States
Wilsonville
Oregon
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Golden... As in Oldie! I'm new to the Portland area and looking for gamers to game with and new gaming groups to join! I'm 50+ and like most games but do have a special affinity for dry, cube pushing euros!
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Nice review. Yes, many mechanics lifted straight out of Terra Mystica, but the changes are significant and it doesn't feel much like TM to me. It is also definitely smoother playing, lighter and easier to learn.
 
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Paul Buttery
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goldengamer wrote:
Nice review. Yes, many mechanics lifted straight out of Terra Mystica, but the changes are significant and it doesn't feel much like TM to me. It is also definitely smoother playing, lighter and easier to learn.


Thanks and Absolutely! I was amazed how similar they were, but how easier Clans was to pickup and play. Not sure what that says about Terra Mystica, but I like both games.
 
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Kåre Dyvik
Norway
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I have to correct all north American contributors here: the spirit produced in Scotland is whisky, while the one produced in north America and Ireland is whiskey.
(Tom Vasel even thinks the Scots/Caledonians produce rum! shake)
Apart from that: Good review of a good game!
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Sam Julian
United Kingdom
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nappeto wrote:
I have to correct all north American contributors here: the spirit produced in Scotland is whisky, while the one produced in north America and Ireland is whiskey.
(Tom Vasel even thinks the Scots/Caledonians produce rum! shake)
Apart from that: Good review of a good game!


Also the currency used is pounds using the £ symbol. I'm sure it is on an American keyboard as I have the $ and € on mine to name but a few 😁

(I know you are Canadian so it makes me smile even more)
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Jeff Meunier
United States
Woodstock
Connecticut
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Meblin wrote:
Also the currency used is pounds using the £ symbol.

I was going to ask about that. I thought it would be ridiculous for a game set in Scotland to use dollars, and if the designers made that mistake then what additional mistakes would they make?

Thanks for clarifying that.
 
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