D Clevenger
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We found an archipelago and made landfall. There were several natives that took kindly to us - at least at first. We found that several other Europeans had landed among the islands as well and before long we were running into them on a regular basis. The homeland wanted resources from the island and we gathered them quickly. However, before long the natives were a bit unhappy as we plundered their land. One of the other Europeans turned pirate and began sinking our ships. This made the natives more restless and before long there was open conflict. We beseeched the help of the archbishop and built churches across the island for him to apply his teachings. At first this quieted the natives but the pirate continued to stir them up and we suspected he was in league with them. I write this from inside one of the churches as the natives pillage and burn our settlements. I fear this will be my last journal entry.

The intro above isn't just made up. Its a summary after-action-report from one of my games. And the game was fantastic - like an action movie played out before us.

Archipelago is one of the most unigue games I have seen. So much so that its hard to classify it. Exploration? Check. Worker placement? Check. Competitive? Check. Co-op? Semi. Resource management? Yep. Negotiation? Oh yeah. But as I say in the title, this game probably isn't for everyone for reasons I'll explain.

The rules have been covered elsewhere so I will handle at a high level. Players bid for player order. The high bid gets to set the player order and even after bidding (all amounts bid are lost) the other players can negotiate/bribe the winning bidder in order to get a preferable place in the turn order.

Then, each player in turn order is able to take an action. There are many different actions. However, this is a double worker placement mechanic in a way I can't recall seeing before. Each player starts with three action discs and two meeples on the islands. Several of the actions available require you to first place your action disc on the action and then place one or more of your meeples. For example, there are several different resources you can harvest. If you want iron, then you place your action disc on iron and then must have meeples that are on the same island hexes as iron resources. If you have three meeples near iron, then you get three iron. You can migrate your meeples and ships to other hexes using an action disc. This doesn't "use" the meeples so on your next turn, you could use an emmigrating meeple to harvest a resource on the new hex. You can explore new hexes by drawing a hex from a pile formed at the start of the game and placing it next to hexes already containing your meeples or ships.

You can build buildings that give you special abilities (and don't take
actions to use, just meeples - lots of clarification needed on this but there are several threads where the designer has clarified the rules), you can buy and sell goods to the market (two markets actually) and you can hire new meeples or produce one per game turn through a reproduction action.

Whew - lots to do.

So how do you win? Each player is dealt a hidden card after the game is set up (which is important). The card has two important pieces of info. The first is the game ending condition. So in a four player game there will actually be 4 or 5 different ways the game might end and each player will only be aware of two of them. For example, your card might say the game ends when three different types of resources are exhausted. Another player's card might say the game ends when the total number of player meeples on the board exceeds 32. The first end game condition to occur ends the game.

The cards also show how VP will be scored - again each players' card will have a different method. One card might say that the player(s) with the most iron will score 3 VP while the player(s) with the second most iron will score 2 VP, etc. Another might score for the player(s) who contorl the most temples. One card (the Separatist card) states that the player wins if the number of rebels on the islandever exceeds the total number of player meeples (more on this later). When the game ends, all of the VP cards are revealed and each player can score points from each card. So part of the game is trying to figure out what cards the other players have. There are several cards so you won't get the same cards in every game. The players with the most VP wins.

Additionally there is one card drawn from a separate deck (the Trend cards) that everyone will see and shows a common way to score VP. Usually this card awards more points than the players' individual cards.

In addition to tracking the players' meeple count you also track the number of "rebels" on the islands. These are natives who are unhappy either because they are out of work or because the players have taken too many of their resources. In every game if the number of rebels ever exceeds the number of players' meeples, the game automatically ends. This will mean ALL the players lose UNLESS one player has the Separatist card which I mentioned above that says you win if this condition occurs. As in all "hidden traitor" games this adds a fantastic dynamic if a player is or better yet is suspected of being the traitor.

The rule book is difficult but the tricky parts have been clarified by the designer in these forums so your questions have probably been answered.

For example, one sentence of the rulebook (p. 12) states:

Each player can use on port or market during each of his rounds. To do so, he spends 1f from behind his screen on the action weel on the port zone matching his color. Each controlled port can be used once during the entire actions phase. Therefore, a player controlling 2 ports could use each port once for a total cost of 2f placed on the port area of his color.

Wait what? This paragraph has caused angst for players which could have been prevented (I think) if the last sentence had been written as follows: "Therefore a player controlling 2 ports could use one port during one round for 1f and the other port during a subsequent round for a second florin." As written it appears to be contradictory.

I'll give one more example that was the cause of several threads. In this same section, the first sentence states "An active, non-engaged citizens or ship can build a port, occupy it and operate it." The key here is the word "and". If a meeple builds a port then on a future round it could not do anything else. However, the round that it builds the port it can also use its special ability.

The player aid in the files section has an excellent chart on what actions lock down a meeple so it cannot be used again until the turn resets.

There are parts of the rulebook that could have been written better - at least in the English version - but for the most part if you read every word and sentence completely literally (add nothing, assume nothing) as the designer suggests, then you will get it. But this isn't a game that some players can sit down with cold and learn in a single night. That is reason one this game may not be for everyone.
One person will need to have the rules down really well before a group should try to play for the first time if learning on the fly isn't your thing. And after one play some players still won't "get it".

On to game play.

Players will start the game attempting to acquire those resources or cards that give them VP. However, this isn't a simple matter of a typical worker placement game: collect resources, build building, get another worker, repeat. And you won't be able to accomplish nearly everything in one turn. You will need to think several actions ahead. And this is another point that may not appeal to everyone. Because there is one long phase at the end of the turn called the Evolution Card Purchase.

After everyone takes their actions (three at first that expand to 4 and then 5 throughout the game), during the Evolution Card Purchase phase every player will have an opportunity to buy an Evolution Card. Evolution Cards come in three types - action enhancers (e.g., harvest twice as much of a resource), persons (e.g., the pirate who lets you destroy oppontents' ships and steal their resources but increases the rebels), and wonders that give VP and special abilities.

The cards add a lot of character to the game and will really define your strategy if played correctly. Some let you migrate farther (typically your meeples can only move one hex when you take the migrate action) others give you bonus florins when bidding on turn order.

But there is something else to deal with as well. Every time a card must be replaced (either because it is purchased or discarded), there is a chance of an island crisis. Sometimes there will be numerous crisis per turn and each can take a couple of minutes to resolve. Most of these crisis require the players to either discard resources or else the number of rebels on the island will increase. This is where the co-op part of the game comes in the strongest as players try and decide how many resources they are willing to give up in order to keep the rebels from rising.

Some will love this part of the game and some may hate the delay it causes between worker placement phases.

There is a lot going on in this game. A unique story will unfold in every game. The tension builds like crazy as the rebel count rises. If a card comes up (like the Archbishop) that allows for reduction to the rebels, there will be cheering (there was in one of my games). In the games I have played, the Separatist card has been in play half the time and once you figure out who has it, the race is on to try and keep them from winning.

Now for some ideas to help teach this game to newbies (and I haven't used these a lot but I think they make sense).

1. Use the short game objective cards. There are short, medium and long game cards. USE THE SHORT GAME FOR YOUR FIRST GAME OR TWO.

2. For your first game remove the Separatist card. If someone gets this, they can end the game really quick against newbies. If you're feeling saucy, take it out but don't tell the other players you have.

3. Explain that the players need to focus on 3 things and only 3 things in the following order:
A. Get the goods on the common VP card that everyone can see (the Trend card).
B. Get the goods/items on your VP card.
C. Don't let the rebels win. This means increase your meeple count early and explore early.

After a couple of games are under your belt then you can get into figuring out what other players are trying to do (which is sometimes easy, sometimes isn't).

For those who take the time to get into this game, I think it will be a long time favorite with games that feel more like a Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe novel. But others will not like the chaos, the openness or the downtime between action phases that interrupt your plans.

For me this game is an easy 9 right now and probably settles in at an 8 or 9. I can't get enough of it. Time will tell.
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brandon neadles
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Nice review. I think the whole rule debacle, which seems to be preventing people from buying the game, is really overblown. It's not that hard to figure out what the rules mean and the examples you gave are easy to resolve on the forums here.

People need to play this game. It is very fun. I currently have it as a 10.
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Ade Lewis
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Thanks for the review, its a great write up!

I am on the fence looking down at the green grass of Archipelago and how fresh and lush everyones saying it is.

I'm torn between this and Clash of Cultures.

Do I take the plunge? I'm still unsure at this time.

I'd like it but would I like it.... the judges are still out.
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D Clevenger
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Necker wrote:
Thanks for the review, its a great write up!

I am on the fence looking down at the green grass of Archipelago and how fresh and lush everyones saying it is.

I'm torn between this and Clash of Cultures.

Do I take the plunge? I'm still unsure at this time.

I'd like it but would I like it.... the judges are still out.


I have played several games of Clash of Cultures and it and Arch are VERY different games. Clash has all the familiar civ game elements but has a different feel from Civilization. Clash has a serious combat component. If someone goes heavy military everyone close to them better do so as well. I like Clash a lot but not as well as Arch.
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M. S.
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Good review. Thanks for that.

I have to admit, that although I thought that the game in general is good, I`m more than happy to found out that the game is more than that: It´s awesome. There are a lot of oportunities in this game: variation of rules at the end, different roles incl. a traitor, different development of markets that lead to different behaviours during game play, different winning conditions etc. etc.
Wow, it`s just a great game: Easily a 10 for me.
 
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Matthias Krähenbühl
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Great and very fair review.

Its one of the games you have to learn how to master it. People how don't like playing a game 2-3 times to realy get a hang out of it, may not like it.
I did only one session but I'm looking forward to try it again.
 
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Matthew Tadyshak
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Necker wrote:
Thanks for the review, its a great write up!

I am on the fence looking down at the green grass of Archipelago and how fresh and lush everyones saying it is.

I'm torn between this and Clash of Cultures.

Do I take the plunge? I'm still unsure at this time.

I'd like it but would I like it.... the judges are still out.
If you like a idea of dice rolling and lots of combat, go for Clash. If you like negotiation, pick Archipelago.


Nice write up, gives me a good idea of how to explain this game as I haven't played it yet.
 
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Tim Kelly
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NBAfan wrote:


Nice write up, gives me a good idea of how to explain this game as I haven't played it yet.

My explanation this Thursday will be something like "Attack Mathew, and everything else will sort itself out."

TK
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Yours Truly,
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There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.
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NBAfan wrote:
If you like negotiation, pick Archipelago.


Hmm, I'm not a fan of negotiation games. Everything I had read up to this point made me think I would really enjoy Archipelago, but this is the first red flag that I might not like it. Unless it's like Dominant Species in its negotiation, e.g. you can choose to not do any at all and still have a rip-roaring time, if your gaming group isn't into introducing negotiating into everything.
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D Clevenger
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JohnnyDollar wrote:
NBAfan wrote:
If you like negotiation, pick Archipelago.


Hmm, I'm not a fan of negotiation games. Everything I had read up to this point made me think I would really enjoy Archipelago, but this is the first red flag that I might not like it. Unless it's like Dominant Species in its negotiation, e.g. you can choose to not do any at all and still have a rip-roaring time, if your gaming group isn't into introducing negotiating into everything.


Negotiation isn't necessary at all. I bet you will find yourself doing some (sometimes begging more than negotiating) but certainly can have a full game without any.
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