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Subject: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly rss

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Paul B.
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Frostburg
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Overall: Great game mechanics marred by uneven components.

Components: This will be long, because there are major problems here. Components for a game provide the mechanism by which the game is played and the look of the game. Therefore, they need to be evaluated along both dimensions. In my experience, it is uncommon for components to be both attractive and facilitative of game play. I see Caylus as an example of a fairly complex game where very attractive components greatly facilitate game play.

In Indonesia, this is a mixed bag. The map/board is simply lovely. On the wall as a piece of art it would be very nice. But, that is not it’s job, it is a game board. As a game board it has many problems: the muted colors which are all very similar, cases of the use of the same color for neighboring but different provinces (i.e., western end of Java, which matters in game play), use of cursive typeface, very difficult to discern location boundaries, and lack of clarity of extents of some sea zones (i.e. near Bali). Yes, I know some of these things have been clarified by answers to questions on BGG, and elsewhere. I just feel I shouldn’t need to have a computer with internet connection handy when I play a game.

The bits are also a mixed bag. We were all the time asking who owned which company’s areas, who owned which boats, and who had delivered which commodities (not a big deal, actually, but we were asking). The counters indicating location of developed areas for companies and their reverse side to indicate a delivered good appears a well-considered touch. But, they are actually redundant with color and pictogram both indicating the type of commodity. They could have benefited from a different treatment: Let colors match those of the player color tokens (colors only used for the turn order and research tracks), but use pictograms (as they are, they are nice) that indicate the commodities. That way, it would be easy to see on the board who owned what companies, and who had delivered commodities to a city, while the pictograms indicate which commodities have been supplied, and the type of company.

The boats and cities are discordant with an overall earth-toned look to the game. In another game, these components would be considered attractive. Colorful boats and colorful glass blobs are nice. But, they simply don’t match the rest of the game for which there was obviously a careful attempt for a particular look. It is like the designers spent all their time on art for the box, map and counters, but the city and boats were seemingly thrown into the box without a thought as to their contribution to the whole look.

One good bit to note: the player mats were clear and very helpful for keeping track of things.

Game Play: Fortunately, this is where the game is in much better shape. The multithreaded interaction among players, game elements, map positions, etc. are wonderful to immerse within. We found ourselves continually evaluating options. The decision angst was at a nice level. The impact of other’s decisions was important without being overwhelming nor unrecoverable, in general. Turn order matters, but the importance varies from player to player depending on their situation in a given turn compared to others. It is possible for a player to opt out of competing for turn order because their position doesn’t depend on it. I think this is good, because it suggests a player can actively attempt to make turn order less important through choices in play. The turn phases interact well and are ordered in such a way that you can greatly improve your position on a given turn by a well managed early phase decision. For instance, you can call for mergers that end up opening a slot for you, or causing a person to ship something they don’t actually want to ship. We had a player who had opted for last turn order (quite appropriately, given he was set up to ship a completely independent set of goods compared to the rest of the table). A merger forced together his rice and spice and caused him to be shipping the way too much supplied microwave meals. That meant he didn’t ship them at all (because of last place turn order), hence much reduced income.

That is all the stuff of great games.

But, two things kept getting commentary at our table. Firstly, the first bidder in the auctioning of the turn order has no control over the outcome of the auction. That player doesn’t get a second chance or get to elevate the costs for anyone else. The word “broken” was used about this part of the game in our group. I’m not convinced that word is appropriate, but their point is well taken. The self-balancing aspect for the next turn carried little weight.

Secondly, there is no real cost to the protection payment to keep a merged company that is formed from two (or more) companies. (i.e. Player A has two rice companies which are merged.) You simply bid enough (provided you have it) to keep a company and it actually costs you nothing and you have a merged company and a new slot (Woo Hoo!). The only penalty is it is harder to maximize shipping so that you can get free expansion. Some of us thought it would be very interesting if a portion, if not all, the money from winning such an auction were shuttled to the Bank. It would be in keeping with the idea of the turn order bid not being spent, but remove the cash from availability.

The length of the game has received some commentary. In my opinion, it is much too long. We took 5 hours for our first game. We believe that we could get it down to 4 hours, but not much less (4 person). You’ve got to really want to dedicate an afternoon to this game. If it were better put together, that would be fine for me, but it isn’t better put together.

Bottom Line: With all this said, we had a great time playing the game. It somehow manages to work despite the uneven components. Indonesia is a great game with a couple of imperfect mechanics (which are not a huge problem, really), but flawed greatly by some poor component graphics, and an inconsistent look when a particular look was obviously carefully considered. I expect I will play it again and I will ammend this review should that playing warrant it. However, given all said above, we don’t expect to play again until summer, at the earliest.
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Matt Kimball
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Just to add to Paul's component complaints a bit, I thought the glass beads used to represent cities were too large to comfortably sit in some of the city locations without spilling over into neighboring spaces. A city chit would have been less attractive, but more functional.

Overall, Paul's review is spot-on. The game is fun throughout, but too long.
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Travis Bridges
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Pretty much what I have to say about it too. Good job in your description Paul. Basically the game has fascinating mechanics, but doesn't follow through in it's graphic design or playing time.
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Chris Brooks
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BalanceUT wrote:

Secondly, there is no real cost to the protection payment to keep a merged company that is formed from two (or more) companies. (i.e. Player A has two rice companies which are merged.) You simply bid enough (provided you have it) to keep a company and it actually costs you nothing and you have a merged company and a new slot (Woo Hoo!). The only penalty is it is harder to maximize shipping so that you can get free expansion. Some of us thought it would be very interesting if a portion, if not all, the money from winning such an auction were shuttled to the Bank. It would be in keeping with the idea of the turn order bid not being spent, but remove the cash from availability.


It has been a few months since I played this, so forgive me if I'm off in this analysis. Isn't there a risk that the player lose both companies, particularly if he is short of cash relative to the other players? Maybe that was the qualification you gave above ("bid enough") and are only talking about the scenario where it would be safe to do this.

It does seem that some sort of "banking fee" might make sense, perhaps not the entire sum of the purchase.
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Geo
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Matt Kimball wrote:
Just to add to Paul's component complaints a bit, I thought the glass beads used to represent cities were too large to comfortably sit in some of the city locations without spilling over into neighboring spaces.


I replaced them with smaller glass beads and now they are more functional.
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Ben Nevis
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BalanceUT wrote:

As a game board it has many problems: the muted colors which are all very similar, cases of the use of the same color for neighboring but different provinces (i.e., western end of Java, which matters in game play), use of cursive typeface, very difficult to discern location boundaries, and lack of clarity of extents of some sea zones


Many gamers have commented on the graphics of Indonesia. I'm afraid most commenters, that have such a strong opinion about the unplayability of Indonesia due to it's graphics, have played Indonesia only once. OK, the first game can result in some discussion about the boundaries, but a second and third play would make this a non-issue. IMHO it's just the right mix between function and aesthetics.

BalanceUT wrote:

They could have benefited from a different treatment: Let colors match those of the player color tokens (colors only used for the turn order and research tracks), but use pictograms (as they are, they are nice) that indicate the commodities. That way, it would be easy to see on the board who owned what companies, and who had delivered commodities to a city, while the pictograms indicate which commodities have been supplied, and the type of company


A disadvantage of this treatment would be that each time a company's ownership changes all counters have to be switched.

BalanceUT wrote:

Secondly, there is no real cost to the protection payment to keep a merged company that is formed from two (or more) companies. (i.e. Player A has two rice companies which are merged.) You simply bid enough (provided you have it) to keep a company and it actually costs you nothing and you have a merged company and a new slot (Woo Hoo!). The only penalty is it is harder to maximize shipping so that you can get free expansion.


Another disadvantage is that if you do ship all of the goods of the merged company, you can expand only ones, while the separate companies would allow you to expand twice. So all in all, it costs you an advancement on the R&D track, a risk of a take-over and an expansion opportunity to create a merged company and a free slot. I think that is about the right cost.

BalanceUT wrote:
The length of the game has received some commentary. In my opinion, it is much too long. We took 5 hours for our first game. We believe that we could get it down to 4 hours, but not much less (4 person). You’ve got to really want to dedicate an afternoon to this game. If it were better put together, that would be fine for me, but it isn’t better put together.


Obviously playing time also depends on the crowd you are playing with. I've played several 2-3 hour games with my gaming friends that are not suffering from AP.

All in all, I do hope you will give it another chance, and maybe sooner that later, cause otherwise you've forgotten the names of the isles (costing another ten minutes of gametime).
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Andy Daglish
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BalanceUT wrote:
But, two things kept getting commentary at our table. Firstly, the first bidder in the auctioning of the turn order has no control over the outcome of the auction. That player doesn’t get a second chance or get to elevate the costs for anyone else. The word “broken” was used about this part of the game in our group. I’m not convinced that word is appropriate, but their point is well taken. The self-balancing aspect for the next turn carried little weight.


I can't see why your group's point is "well-taken" when, as you seem to acknowledge, turn-order is all-important to the extent that the game would indeed be broken if one player could dominate the process. And why does an apparently necessary "self-balancing" mechanism carry little weight, when it is an element of the game that both works well and has the effect presumably desired by the designer?

Quote:
Secondly, there is no real cost to the protection payment to keep a merged company that is formed from two (or more) companies. (i.e. Player A has two rice companies which are merged.) You simply bid enough (provided you have it) to keep a company and it actually costs you nothing and you have a merged company and a new slot (Woo Hoo!). The only penalty is it is harder to maximize shipping so that you can get free expansion. Some of us thought it would be very interesting if a portion, if not all, the money from winning such an auction were shuttled to the Bank. It would be in keeping with the idea of the turn order bid not being spent, but remove the cash from availability.


but as, another poster has mentioned, if you can't bid enough, you may be in trouble. Is present wealth worth more than future income? The "only trouble of shipping" is a complex and difficult question involving numerous factors: do you pay, or do you merge at the cost of a lack of development elsewhere, and so on. I'd say paying the various costs of being able to merge only to merge your own stuff should be compensated by an open slot!

An early merger may be a get-rich-quick scheme. A rapidly expanding company in another player's baliwick can be sold for a high price if he decides to remove the cuckoo from his nest via merger, and if you have the necesssary cash on hand. Or you may end up paying him, and then paying is ships to transport the fruits of your newly-merged firm.

I am not sure free expansion is quite so free. As i understand the game, companies are forced to expand and forced to ship, which means they are forced to pay as much as shipowners can charge. This sum is maximised by those moving first, as shipowners will fill up cities close to the player in question with their own produce, so he has to use a lot of their ships to reach a distant city. Several times in our game transport costs absorbed all the income generated from another player's produce company. Then, even if you have to bid first for turn order, you are encouraged to bid a silly sum to prolong this situation.

I like the way the game allows players to develop monopoly positions either locally or generally, as decided and modified by turn order and shipping route availability...and everything else.

This game will take a few plays to understand. The map appears unclear but it doesn't matter in play: what does matter is location of ships in sea zones and juxtapositon of coasts, and that is clear enough.
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John McCoy
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I have to agree with the reviewer that the components for the game, while generally attractive, make it more difficult to play than it should be. Which is distressing when you consider that the components are one of the reasons that the game is rather expensive.

The cursive script used for province names is hard to read, a real problem when you consider that many provinces have very similar names. The sea zones around Bali and eastern Java are confusingly drawn up, so much so that at least four different people have posted here about it. Some neighboring provinces are done in similar colors making them easy to confuse. Six shipping companies: three colors. What's up with that? There's no mechanism to tell which set of markers out on the board belong to which players, which can be a problem when two companies are close together. The city markers don't fit on the board very well, and that's before you start piling up delivered goods next to them.
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John Haley
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Has anyone else experienced a lack of city growth in their games? I've played 4 times now - once with 3 players and the other times with 4 - and I have yet to see a red city appear on the board. I can't recall ever having more than 2/3 yellow cities appear in the course of a game. Early in the game there never seems to be enough shipping to allow much city growth, and by the time shipping capacity starts to pick up in the midgame, there is usually too little production of at least one commodity to spur growth. Is this a deliberate design feature or are games an aberration?

In general, I'm a fan of the game. There's a lot going on, and it certainly takes several plays to get a good feel for the correct strategies; I definitely think it rewards repeated play and likely has a good deal of mileage in it. It does have the drawback of length due to AP. My most recent game, with 4 experienced players, still took 3.5 hours. I feel this is just part of the nature of the game. While there are not many decisions to make each turn, any one of them can be critical, and their ultimate outcome is often highly dependent on the actions of other players. Thus, each decision requires some careful thought, which is going to slow down the game. There is also a fairly high chance that an early mistake will take a player (especially a less experienced player) out of the game, which adds to the analysis time.
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Mikko Saari
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Quote:
Has anyone else experienced a lack of city growth in their games?


My experience: two games with five players had fairly little city growth, there was always someone who didn't think growing the cities was a good thing to happen. When we played with four, we had one red and two or three yellows, with a possible second red (it was missing one chit to make it to red on the last turn).
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As mentioned in the review, a player can attempt to merge two companies he owns, buy them from himself (at no cost) and thereby open a slot. However, players can get slots for free, as well. I don't think the merging process described is unbalanced, nor is it a design error. It is a temptation to do something that is free and easy but not necessarily inevitably most profitable.
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Martins Livens
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BalanceUT wrote:
We had a player who had opted for last turn order (quite appropriately, given he was set up to ship a completely independent set of goods compared to the rest of the table). A merger forced together his rice and spice and caused him to be shipping the way too much supplied microwave meals. That meant he didn’t ship them at all (because of last place turn order), hence much reduced income.


I like strategic examples, but this one shows beginner mistake.
Above mentioned player should have sold his companies to merger announcer at once.
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