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Subject: Culture and Conquest - The PnP version of Age of Empires? rss

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Jess
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Originally I was just going to jot down a few of my thoughts about the game, but since this game doesn’t have any reviews yet I thought I’d expand my comments into a review. After all, every game deserves at least 1 review, right?

Quick overview of the game:
Culture and Conquest is a print and play game with a civilization theme. The files are freely available on the geek. According to the geek, Culture and Conquest plays 1 or more people. I have only played it solo - so this review is entirely on the solitaire game.


Image by Brett Christensen ([mothertruckin])

In the Culture and Conquest you build a Civilization, keeping track of the various aspects of your Civilization via cubes on the player sheet. These aspects include military, agriculture, trade, labor and research. Each turn you go through a number of different phases (such as population, war, building, etc) in a set order. Each phases simulates something happening to (or within) your civilization. Dice are used to affect the outcome of a phase a lot of the time. There’s quite a lot of randomness in the game due to this, but it isn’t entirely luck dependant.

The game reminds me a bit of the Age of Empires computer games I used to play as a teenager (Age of Empires and Age of Empires 2). This is probably a lot to do with building wonders as one of the main goals, but also the advances, going to war, managing your people all contribute to that impression.

My thoughts:

Very quick and easy to make (and cheap)
I came across Culture & Conquest on the PnP in 5 mins geeklist and it definitely fulfils the less than 5 min requirement. No cutting, no sticking labels on dice, nothing. All you have to do is print the files, borrow some cubes from another game to use as tracking markers and find yourself a pencil, eraser and some dice. Most gamers probably have the dice required, but if you don’t you can do what I did and use an online dice roller. This is the one that I used http://www.wizards.com/dnd/dice/dice.htm (conveniently it has all the different dice you need on the one screen)

Clear rules
I was a bit daunted by the number of pages when I printed it out, but it turns out that they’re pretty straightforward. Playing through the game was fine, I think I only had one question remaining unanswered.

Long, slow moving and kind of fiddly
The rules say the game is played over 50 turns which is rather too long for my liking. I timed myself playing 5 turns and it took around 30mins, which would make the full game approx 6 hrs (I played over several days, so I have no idea how long it actually took). And that’s just the solitaire game - if you had other people having turns as well, you could be there for days...surprise

It also feels like you are progressing very slowly (probably because you have 50 turns to fill). I only felt like my civilization was starting to get moving around turn 20. While this may appeal to some people, I prefer shorter games - typically no more than 2-3 hrs. To feel that the game is just getting going at the 2hr mark just isn’t my thing.

As well as this, there’s a lot of accounting to do during the game - every turn you typically have to update the amount of food you have twice, the amount of gold you have 2-4 times and most of the other tracks once. Not to mention the numerous times you roll dice in a turn. Keeping track of everything - even with the player board printout - makes my brain hurt and not in a good way. I found myself thinking that it would be better as a computer game where the computer could keep track of it all for me.

The luck aspect
As already mentioned, there’s quite a lot of randomness in the game. While you do have some decisions to make, I feel like the number of meaningful decisions is fairly low. In some aspects dice rolling makes sense (for example - disasters). But in other places I think it would be a better game if it gave more decisions to the player rather than relying on a dice roll to tell you what happens.

Playing solo
Reading the rules and comparing the solo game to the multiplayer version, I get the feeling that the solitaire game may have been tacked on as an afterthought. In particular, the war phase and the trade phase are mainly (or entirely) designed for the multiplayer game.

However I’m not likely to get the chance to try this game multiplayer (it’s not the sort of game that would appeal to my group), so I’m reviewing just the solo game. Also as a PnP game, I suspect it will probably be viewed a lot by people who will be trying it solo (at least at first) so it’s a shame that the solo game isn’t stronger.

There are a number of things that could be done to improve the war phase in the solo game. I intend to try some of them out and if they work I’ll post my variants to the forum.


Conclusion
I wanted to like this game. I like the concept - the idea of the game - a lot, but in its current form it doesn’t live up to its potential. It’s too long, too fiddly and too random for me.

I have probably derived more enjoyment from thinking about "how could I make this better" than I have from actually playing the game. If you are someone who likes thinking about games and how the rules fit together, you’ll probably find it interesting in that regard too.

Alternatively, if you’re not put off by the thought of an "epic civilization style" game that’s kind of fiddly and has a long playing time, you might also want to give it a try.

But... essentially it comes down to the fact that you can make this game in less than 5 mins for practically nothing (a little black ink and 10 sheets of paper), so you have every reason to give it a try even if you’re not sure if you’ll like it.

---

I’ve had many thoughts on how to improve the various issues I have with Culture and Conquest - ways to improving the solitaire game, ways to give the player more meaningful decisions, and ways to speed up the game/reduce the length of time it takes. I intend to post these thoughts in the variants forum once I’ve had a chance to try them out.


Edited to add link to online dice roller because I forgot to include it... oops
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Brett Christensen
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Some of your thoughts echo mine. With a little development there could be a fun solitaire game in there. People looking for a polished game will be disappointed, but people who like to tinker will find a nice skeleton of a game to flesh out to their liking.
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