I've been waiting several weeks to get in my first session of "Conquest of Paradise." My friend Brian graciously agreed to assist. As it was to be a two-player game, I expected a low-conflict empire-build, and that was exactly what happened until the last couple turns.
I took Samoa and Brian took Tonga. We caught a setup error early on: Forgot to add the second village to our Home Island Groups, then wondered why the VP track started at '3' instead of '2'. So far as we know, we made no other rules goofs. As we were even-stephen in VP's for most of the game, we assumed that we were both "tied for last." Based on the list in section 1.Turn Order, we reasoned that Tonga decided which of us went first.
As this was a learning game, we took it slow and referred to the rules even when we thought we were doing things right. The leisurely pace and the break for raspberry pie put the total experience at three and a half very enjoyable hours.
Now to the details:
Tonga explored aggressively in the early turns, making up for several 'Lost' explorers by quickly finding rich islands (Hawaiki, Hiva, Tahiti.) Samoa found smaller island groups, but the addition of Hawaii kept the victory point spread close or dead even.
Samoa was the first to buy a card, gaining a VP for jade carving. After Tonga realized the importance of the Arts cards he began to allot build points for them. He quickly achieved the Moai, gaining 2 VP's a turn.
As the game entered the middle phase, Samoa attacked and took Kiribati (failing on the first attack) but did not plan well enough to add it immediately to his canoe chain. The same poor planning cost Samoa on the other end of his empire. With his better transport canoe management and more commodious island groups, Tonga was able to reap VP's into the upper teens and low twenties while Samoa struggled to hold around 18.
In the end, Samoa resorted to conflict. He sent a war canoe and war party into the open sea between Tonga and Hawaiki, chasing away the lone transport canoe and breaking the chain to Tonga. That cut Tonga down by 6+ VP's, but Samoa could not capitalize: he only had one island with space remaining for a village. Tonga counter-attacked with a pair of war canoes, each bearing war parties, but the Samoan tattoo card sent them scurrying home.
Next turn, Tonga sent a force of four war canoes, three war parties and a transport canoe to the contested open ocean hex. With much better die rolls, he ignored the Samoan body art and sent them packing for home. With his canoe chain rebuilt, and 17 villages in play, Tonga was definitely cruising toward victory.
Now the Samoan could count, and realized that with out a huge hit, Tonga had the game won. With Tonga's main fighting force still at sea, he launched a desperate attack on Tonga itself. With a solitary war party and a pair of local warriors, three Tongans faced twice their number in war canoes and warriors. And won. Samoa rolled three 1's straight, and then twos and threes. The assault was a debacle, and when the final VP count was made, Tonga triumphed 29 to 25.
In the final analysis, Tonga won because he never ceased colonizing new islands and building villages, always kept his canoe chains intact, and bought enough Arts cards to pad his lead. In the luck department, he had a definite edge in buildable island groups, and won a battle he probably shouldn't have.
Tonga erred in his handling of canoe chains and perhaps being a tad too conservative in the exploration department. In the luck department, the Samoan island groups were generally smaller, and the battle for Tonga was a festival of low die rolls.
What I liked most about this game is that it did what had I hoped (and what I bought it for,) which was give me an inkling of what the people it portrays faced in exploring and exploiting the vast Pacific. I have always been fascinated by the Polynesians and the audacity it took to take tiny canoes across the world's largest ocean, and this game captures that aspect of history very well. Kevin McPartland and GMT have created a fine product, a cardstock time machine, in a way. I am certainly looking forward to my next adventure in Paradise, and hope to play more games by Kevin. I hear he's looking at the Vikings...
Oliver Hazard Perry leader counter from Amateurs, To Arms! by Clash of Arms Games.
Warrior Band counter for Conquest of Paradise by GMT Games.
Thanks for the great session report, Andy! Glad to hear you enjoyed the game.
Based on the list in section 1.Turn Order, we reasoned that Tonga decided which of us went first.
Yes, this is correct. That rule is worded to work for 2-, 3-, or 4-player games, so the wording sounds a bit odd for a 2-player game. But you've got it right.
In the end, Samoa resorted to conflict.
The 2-player version of the game is more like a wargame- no diplomacy (well, almost none) and no way to gang up on the leader. It's just face-to-face competition.
...perhaps being a tad too conservative in the exploration department.
It's difficult to find the right balance for this. Taking no risk is clearly not the best option, but how much risk? The specific situation sometimes makes a difference- there are some situations where I will always choose to Explore, even with 4 knots against me. In other situations, I won't Explore with just 3 knots showing.
I hear he's looking at the Vikings...
That's the rumor. But don't hold your breath- it takes an awfully long time to go from "looking at" to "playing the game"!