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Subject: Scotland, here we come! rss

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Hilko Drude
Germany
Goettingen
Lower Saxony
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Is this a session report or a review?
I was torn between the two. In the end I decided to go for the session review for the following reasons:
- I played only once
- I made a bunch of observations that might be specific for that first play of a game new to all players
- I have never written a session report before. :-)

This article will still contain some aspects of a review, while the session report parts will be in italics. Hope that works.
I got "Albion" fresh from the publisher – I guess it officially came out sometime earlier this week, as I got another Amigo package just a few days earlier, and apparently it hadn't been ready then. That was an exciting feeling, so I tried my best and got a group of four together for the next day (Friday). Here's how it played.
Punching and setting up the game takes a while, as there is a lot of material. The pieces and the board look good, so the first visual impression was rather positive. Reading and explaining the rules takes a while, but not as long as could have been expected (I had read the rules the day before). The bulk of the rules isn't tough to explain (and I had a good audience), but there are some finer points that don't stick until you actually play.

Players start settling in England on the Southeastern coast. They put a settler ashore, plus two production buildings, a castle and a fortification. Settlers can build different buildings, but each time they do that, they return to the coast and have to start their movements from there. Also, the further north the venture, the more hostile Picts wait for them.
As the starting player, I ventured into the first unexplored land and expanded my castle there. The advantage of that is an additional movement point, plus the next player building there has to pay me some tribute. Others did similar things in neighboring areas, but some went for the production buildings (which can only be built in specific areas) first.
As I wanted to send out my settler again, I noticed that it was too dangerous. There was one hostile Pict in the area, and each time someone builds, there is a danger of another one appearing. Thus I decided to upgrade my fortification first, a move which was copied by everyone else in that turn.
It seems difficult to believe (after one play, mind you), that there is an alternative to that. So I don't like it; it seems that this should belong to the original setup.
With everyone ready to just go with the flow without too much thinking, we had different strategies: "A" tried to focus on improving her production buildings, I started increasing my movement points, the others went for a middle path. At first, I was really happy with my movement speed, but soon I started to worry about my lack of resources and new settlers, which made it difficult to build new buildings. In several of the regions in which I built first, I fell behind soon. But I did manage to hold the first outpost in the far North, and held on to it until the end of the game.
As the game goes on, there is a steady increase of Pict attacks, which can be rather easily countered if the players improve their fortifications at the shore (which we all did). There are some instances in which military units have to be used, but as the game goes on, the attacks become fewer (they only happen when new Pict chips are flipped over, so when they all are open, nothing happens in that respect anymore). The attacks did nothing much to destroy any property (there were a few exceptions, but not many), and their main effect is to force the players to build more fortifications. This is a major drawback of the game in my opinion: The surprise factor in the attacks is far too small. An attack can happen when someone else builds in an area where you didn't expect it (in fact, the first time it happened, the "guilty" player didn't even trigger it on purpose), but once you get used to the mechanisms, much effort goes into minimizing that danger. So the actual military aspect is very small compared to the building part.
One fun mechanism is that legionnaires can carry Picts whose allegiance is still unknown to other regions, thus upsetting the balance there. The problem is that once the players have enough spare legionnaires to use this weapon a bit more efficiently, there are hardly any unknown Picts on the board anymore. Too bad! This element should have been strengthened.
Once the danger of Pict attacks is overcome, the game drags on a bit. The luck factor is eliminated completely by then, and everyone is optimizing his/her final moves. This part of the game was the least fun, but as everyone was still hoping for a win, there is a certain excitement.
In the end, "A" who looked like a sure winner due to her immense resources turned out to be furthest away from victory. This, however, was because she hadn't been too clear about the victory conditions and had built too many useless buildings (in fact, she had only one building chip left besides the two settlements she didn't finish, as opposed to everyone else's eight to ten buildings).
I managed to upgrade the last of my three settlements to level 4 (which is the victory/game end condition). "M", who was sitting behind me in player order, lacked only one resource to also finish. In case of a tie, she would have lost to me, because a curious tiebreaker would have come in
. When several players finish in the same turn, the player whose settlements are in more dangerous land wins (i.e. in whose regions there are more hostile Picts). So the players who run high risks have some advantage in case of a tie. "A" had no chance to finish that round, but certainly would have if she had built somewhat differently. "R", who was the last player, indeed managed to get his third settlement upgraded in the same turn and beat me (13 hostile Picts to 12). So it was a very close call. Generally I like games where the winner is not known long before the end, but it was really hard to figure out what the winning strategy was. I liked being able to move fast early on, but later others were much faster than me and that didn't bother me too much. I definitely had a lack of resources, which gave me a hard time until I caught up with the others.

As I looked at the board after finishing, I felt that it was just way too full of pieces. It is hard to keep an overview over everything, and I noticed that during much of the game I had had no clue about who was in front and who was behind and why. I had been the only one trying to bring Picts to other regions. This move seemed too abstract for some of the others, as I had noticed at least two occasions when someone else's legionnaire could have carried a Pict and caused serious trouble for other players in the target region, yet the legionnaires traveled alone. Maybe that was because it was our first game, maybe those players weren't as confrontational as I sometimes get (in games), but all in all I felt that this Pict attack aspect of the game was a bit marginal, just triggering expanding the fortifications. With one exception, the only damage Picts did was to players who were first in a region and had their freshly built buildings destroyed immediately. I did like the general attack mechanisms, without dice, some influence of the players, a certain luck factor (minimized in our game, as in the beginning we flipped over many, many friendly Picts so we knew that most of the remaining ones would be hostile).

The playing time was about 1 hour 45 minutes. Considering this was the first play for all, and that Amigo states the playing time at 75 minutes, that was what I had expected.

All in all, Albion isn't a bad game. For me, it is a bit overloaded. I will probably not keep it long, as it doesn't fill any gap in my collection and is not sufficiently inventive to really fascinate me. "R" really liked it (which he stated before it was clear that he had won), "M" and "A" found it alright, but not spectacular (just like I did).

Strong points:
- I liked having to start my movement anew after each building. This really made the race to the far north unpredictable.
- The fighting mechanism is convincing and interesting enough
- Close finish
Weak points:
- Too many pieces
- The danger from the Picts is too theoretical, as they hardly ever really bother anyone
- The game drags on once the Picts are overcome, with practically no more interaction
- Not sure if the winning was decided by long-term planning or a bit of luck in the final rounds
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Nicolai Broen Thorning
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Thank you.

I have been looking at this since it was posted... not sure if your session/ review pushes me one way or the other... but very much appreciated either way.
 
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