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Subject: A variety of first impressions after one play rss

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Tim Seitz
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After hastily mocking up a (semi) playable copy cobbled together from various game components, some paper print outs, and leftover crafting supplies, we managed to be done in time for our weekly Thursday night gaming session, and resolutely set out to tackle Colonial: Europe's Empires Overseas.

One player's playtest components and the playtest board, ready to go

You'll notice I took a few liberties with the graphical design. I prefer color-coded components, so each player's nation board and action cards are coded to the player color. I predict it will make keeping the piles of cards straight a bit easier. The game might look prettier with it being all brown, but I prefer playability over aesthetics.

I misread the component manifest, so instead of 40 player counters, I mistook the 15mm disc side to mean 15x discs. Now, we were using Steam components, so we had 24 discs each, but that was not enough, and in some cases we needed to pull out cubes to make things work.

In addition, the Steam discs are a little thicker and not really meant for stacking. This game is ALL ABOUT stacking! We had some stacks with 6 tokens. I can easily see future games with stacks even higher. I expect the original component discs will be thinner, so that wobbly stacks aren't as big of an issue, but it will still be a bit fiddly because of it.

Update: Discs appear to be the nice chunky standard eurogame discs as found in Steam.

First looks
The map is very busy. Our playtest copy is barely readable due to its low resolution, but that doesn’t excuse some of the obscured strength numbers and native power icons. The map certainly looks very beautiful, it looks just like a map of the colonial world, but many improvements could be made that would make playing a game on it much easier. But by far the biggest gripe was the different symbols for resources.

In the rules, the only factor that is relevant for resources is the outer color band. However, some resources that are the same use different symbols in the middle. And some resources that are different use the same interior symbol. What? And then there is the exception: gold! It’s the same color and symbol, but it’s also different! Everything would have been much smoother if unique resources had unique symbols and color, and the similar resources all had the same appearance. This was a cause of consternation and confusion all game, as players were counting and recounting for monopolies. This is a case where aesthetics completely got in the way of gameplay. In fact, I am going to reprint the map and modify it to eliminate resource confusion for our next play.

We started off with a very thorough rules explanation while some of us ate dinner. We spent probably an hour setting up, eating, and teaching the game.

How it plays
There was very little downtime. Like Shogun, the heavy planning is all done simultaneously and at the start of the turn. As the actions are revealed, there is very little thought required to execute the action, unless your intended action suddenly becomes impossible. So the turns are pretty quick. Apart from rules explaining, we took 2 hours to play with 5 complete newbies from start to finish, one non-game-playing, AP-prone, grandpa included. It's possible that more experienced groups could lengthen the game by frequent rebellions, wars, and revolts, but they would also likely play more quickly. So 2 hours for a full complement of 5-6 is probably spot on timing.

For those who have not read the rules, the bulk of the game is programming 4 of your 6 action cards. Each card has two unique actions on it, and you take one of the two actions on each card. At the end, you will select a 5th action off of your remaining two cards. The choices on the card were often tantalizingly delicious. I wanted to do both, but could only choose one.

The whole stacking business disguises what is a simple area majority mechanic for control of the resources. Mechanically, this could have been done with cubes in a line, but the stacks are an elegant solution that probably makes the board require a little less space, decisively breaks ties, and makes resource control more obvious. The bottom counter is the controlling one. The player with the most counters on a resource controls it, and his counters go to the bottom.

After the first turn

Strategy
Strategically, most of us opened Scientist (seafaring), Explore, Merchant, Trader, or Scientist (seafaring), Explore, Viceroy, Financer

Our tech purchases tended to be seafaring first, logistics second, and economy a distant third. Navy went untouched. But this was largely driven by our first blush at what the strategies would be. There’s nothing to do at the start except to upgrade tech or explore. Once some territories have opened up, you can use Viceroy or Merchant some stuff. Once goods are in the market, you can use Trader. But watch out for that bully high-logistics Viceroy who comes swooping in to steal the goods, and the colony, right out from under you.

Looking back, a strong opening counter to the seafaring start might be Explore West Africa (66% chance), Financer, Scientist (Logistics), Viceroy, Conquer (on last action) – with possibly two monopolies to start with. Alternatively, Explore West Africa (66% chance), Viceroy (to grab slaves) can get you an early monopoly, but you can’t conquer it then.

We did not play with the advanced conquering rules, not for any reason other than, in the heat of battle, we completely forgot about them!

War was never declared, as no one wanted to lose ground to fight over a single prestige when prestige was still on the board for easy grabbing. At the end, the leader had higher diplomacy, so stopping him with a war would have required more long-term planning.

Privateers were deemed useless in this game.

Mid-game stacks

The economy of the game
The game’s economy accelerates very rapidly. What at first is very small income from merchant or trader (2) soon becomes a very large flood as everyone increases their trade power – which can be done through conquering or researching economy tech.

But the most critical thing to keep in mind is the drive for prestige points. Exploring and conquering almost every turn is needed to keep up. Early purchases of the Booming City, which we failed to exploit well enough are another way to capture victory points once your economy is going.

Oh, and did I mention this is a negotiation game? Every time there was a Merchant or a Trader where other players’ goods needed shipping, it was like a Drill Sergeant asking for volunteers: “Pick me! Pick me!” Whose goods do I ship? Where do I drop this unrest token? Whose newly explored territory do I Viceroy into? Whose monopoly do I need to break up? (BTW, I consider that a good thing. YMMV)

So this was an enjoyable game. The game design, development, and graphic design all have some rough edges, but it’s a very promising game from a new designer.

Assessments
Pros:
- Interesting blend of action programming, area majority, and risk-reward management
- Flexible strategy; it doesn't seem like you are locked into any particular path and can recover from early mistakes
- Almost no downtime
- Highly interactive, you can play nice or you can be ruthless
- Plays quickly, despite the epic feel
- Beautiful art

Cons:
- Focus on beautiful art detracts from playability (hard to read cards, confusing colors, obscured territory attributes)
- Some game actions seem completely worthless (e.g., privateering, war)
- Hard to teach to non-gamers – not a game they will be able to pick up right away

Blurry end of the game

Initial impression ratings
- Our gamers tended to like it, giving it a 6, 7, and 8 (mine) rating, but all seemed to think that it would go up once they got a handle on it. (I would mentally adjust those upward by +1 or so to take into account the effect of handmade components.)*
- Our token 10 year old gave it a 5, but mostly because it was too long for her tastes.
- Our non-game-playing, AP-prone grandpa gave it a “Hoover” – but he doesn't like to play games at all, so we never listen to him anyway.

After the game we did a quick impromptu video of everyone else's unedited thoughts.






* A problem which could easily be solved with a review copy!
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Uisge Beatha
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Was the map you used the same size/dimensions as the one in the published edition?
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Tim Seitz
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No, mine was only 50 x 74 cm. That's why I don't take grandpa's complaints about numbers being too small seriously.

Edit: New one is now 81 x 53 cm or so...
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Jesse Dean
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1) It seems that the early game played about as I expected it to, though people seemed more focused on the exploration strategy then the more aggressive logistics strategy.

2) Is that a token on Australia I see?

3) Do you have an idea of how many rounds the game took?
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Tim Seitz
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
1) It seems that the early game played about as I expected it to, though people seemed more focused on the exploration strategy then the more aggressive logistics strategy.

Yes. One player did an early logistics move, but it was still after everyone had 1 or 2 seafaring upgrades. I did a midgame economy upgrade. If I had done another one, I could have moved into the India monopolies.

Quote:
2) Is that a token on Australia I see?

Yes. Grandpa explored Australia with a +3 seafaring. Rolled a 6.

Quote:
3) Do you have an idea of how many rounds the game took?

I honestly forgot to count.

Using what I recall from the token passing, I think the game ended at the end of the 6th round. It should have gone another round. Grandpa did a last chance merchant action using 3 goods for the guy with 9 prestige and a loan. That guy then proceeded to conquer and pay back his loan with the exact right amount.

Most points came from exploring.

The winner had 2 colonies, 1 booming city, and discovered the Americas. The other 6 came from exploring, which most of us did every turn. One player had notable failures on 2 successive exploring rolls.
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Jesse Dean
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Ah, I was hoping for a longer arc than that. Maybe the game will lengthen once players get better at using various tools against each other.
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Tim Seitz
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
Ah, I was hoping for a longer arc than that. Maybe the game will lengthen once players get better at using various tools against each other.

That's entirely possible. No colonies were lost in our game.

I can see meta games develop where opponents all gang up on the guy who gets a booming city to cause it to revolt. That hits them for 2 VPs.

What we found is that monopolies were hard to get, so merchant fleets were important to maintain. Exploring was most often done from the Treasury, which meant all it would take for a revolt would be 3 Rebel actions.

It seemed like the worst thing that could happen is you lost your merchant fleet. It's really hard to ensure you get money that way. Lack of treasury makes everything harder.
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Christophe Pont
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A game is usually around 10 turns. 6 only is astonishing.

Tim, you say

"Exploring was most often done from the Treasury (=Conquistadors, 1 Unrest on Territory), which meant all it would take for a revolt would be 3 Rebel actions."

Let's precise that with 3 more Unrest, total 4, it wouldn't be a revolt, but a Revolution, US style.

A Rebellion, or Revolt, happen when someone plays the Rebel to spark it on said Territory, if it has 1,2 or 3 Unrest markers and no Mission marker.
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Tim Seitz
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Christophe Pont wrote:
A game is usually around 10 turns. 6 only is astonishing.

Yea, this is solely due to us being very generous on allowing merchant and trading. 2 of us played a mock 4-player game where we essentially never allowed a leader to ship or trade goods after the 4th turn. It becomes REALLY hard to get enough treasury at that point, especially if the other players really gang up on pirates. Avoiding loans seems like a wise move if you want to win, but then it's too expensive to do anything!

We still aren't using the advanced conquering rules, but I now see how those become critical to gaining treasuries. Also, rebels are potent options to reduce a player's resource control. If they have no resources, and no one will let them ship, they can only get treasury by conquering (with advanced rules).

Christophe Pont wrote:
Tim, you say

"Exploring was most often done from the Treasury (=Conquistadors, 1 Unrest on Territory), which meant all it would take for a revolt would be 3 Rebel actions."

Let's precise that with 3 more Unrest, total 4, it wouldn't be a revolt, but a Revolution, US style.

A Rebellion, or Revolt, happen when someone plays the Rebel to spark it on said Territory, if it has 1,2 or 3 Unrest markers and no Mission marker.

You know what I meant!

But seriously, the rules could be more precise on that. In some cases you use "revolt", and in some cases you use "rebellion" (such as missions prevent rebellion). And they are the same thing. It's a little confusing.
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Thanks so much for the review, Tim.

As a fan of Indonesia and Struggle of Empires, this has me drooling, and your review didn't help matters! Definitely an Essen pickup.

(I wonder if the weak orders you complained about will be have been fixed by then...)
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Many thanks for this review, Tim!
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out4blood wrote:

- Focus on beautiful art detracts from playability (hard to read cards, confusing colors, obscured territory attributes)


This is until now the only fact that bothers me a little bit.

out4blood wrote:

- Some game actions seem completely worthless (e.g., privateering, war)


We will talk again after the tenth or fifteenth game...

out4blood wrote:

- Hard to teach to non-gamers – not a game they will be able to pick up right away


Doesn't matter (at least for me and my gaming buddies).
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Tim Seitz
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kamchatka wrote:
Thanks so much for the review, Tim.

As a fan of Indonesia and Struggle of Empires, this has me drooling, and your review didn't help matters! Definitely an Essen pickup.

(I wonder if the weak orders you complained about will be have been fixed by then...)

Maybe not so much fixed as we learn how to play better.

BTW, this wasn't intended as a review so much as a detailed play session with first impressions.
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Nice session report. I liked the variety of feedback in the video at the end. Nicely done.
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great session report. I like the video feedback! Great idea!
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Tim Seitz
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Braz wrote:
great session report. I like the video feedback! Great idea!

It was a spur of the moment thing, but I now also think it's a great idea. I might actually learn to use my iPhone video!
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Christophe Pont
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Is this going to be the ultimate "Colonial" critique ?

Come on. Let the gamers talk now.
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Christophe Pont wrote:
Is this going to be the ultimate "Colonial" critique ?

Come on. Let the gamers talk now.

Don't worry, Christophe, these gamers over here have more to say after several more plays!
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Looking forward to seeing your video, Tim.

Privateer seems useful if it builds up over time, but I can't for the life of me figure out why you would ever take Economy, even to get in on the opium/tea trades.

Two potential monopolies, yes, but they're so expensive... you can spend that money on viceroy, fleets and merchant ships, keep some in the treasury, defend yourself better because the money won't have just left your board, and just beat up on other players, which means not only do you get monopolies, but they'll lose them. Am I missing something huge here?
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kamchatka wrote:
Looking forward to seeing your video, Tim.

Privateer seems useful if it builds up over time,

Yes, or if you pile on with someone else's privateers. This is why an adequate Navy remains important.

kamchatka wrote:
but I can't for the life of me figure out why you would ever take Economy, even to get in on the opium/tea trades.

We haven't ever gotten to 6, but 4 is useful since that gives you two extra booming city points that no one else can snatch from you. Taking India and China require it, but it does seem awfully expensive, even ignoring the opportunity cost of not upgrading logistics or seafaring, which both seem more important.

Not only that, but even ONE unrest token in India or China can result in devastating results due to rebellion. I almost think there ought to be the standard 5-dice cap on dice rolled for rebellions, but that seems too weak then. I really don't think I would ever risk investing in India or China. Perhaps they become important in 6-player games.

kamchatka wrote:
Two potential monopolies, yes, but they're so expensive... you can spend that money on viceroy, fleets and merchant ships, keep some in the treasury, defend yourself better because the money won't have just left your board, and just beat up on other players, which means not only do you get monopolies, but they'll lose them. Am I missing something huge here?

No, I don't think you're missing anything. Unless we are BOTH missing something.
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I really liked the video poll at the end, but Tim should not be so shy. He should take a turn with his vote!
 
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topdeckgames wrote:
I really liked the video poll at the end, but Tim should not be so shy. He should take a turn with his vote!

I may not have been fully clothed at the time... who knows?
 
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