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Subject: What You're Missing: Archipelago rss

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Ben
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Welcome, all, to the latest edition of What You're Missing (and a special St. Patrick's Day edition, at that)! For those who don't know, this is my series of reviews, in which I attempt to draw some attention to games you might have overlooked, or to offer a new perspective on a game that is perhaps misunderstood (and this review is definitely the latter.

As always, this review was previously published at The Opinionated Gamers. You can find my entire catalogue of reviews here.



(Credit: Glad8r)


What You're Missing: Archipelago

This is the story of Archipelago: you begin with little, in an unknown land and with an uncertain future. Slowly your path takes shape. You explore, expand, reproduce. You build . . . something (not an empire, really, but it’s yours). Quash a rebellion, solve a crisis. As others do the same, your paths intersect -- sometimes coexist, sometimes collide. The ends of the earth are established. The direction of history’s march revealed. And then it’s over.

This is the story of Archipelago: Christopher Boelinger, the creative mind behind such thematic games as Earth Reborn and Dungeon Twister, tried his hand at a (mostly) traditional Eurogame. I was intrigued, but highly skeptical; content to ignore the project altogether, that I didn’t may have been the best things to happen to me this year. Boelinger’s Eurogame is lumpy, awkward, subversive, and extraordinary. It comes together in unexpected ways, then comes apart at the seams from time to time. For me, it has been a revelation.

This is the story of Archipelago.


I. Two Men In A Boat

In other corners of the internets, I have spoken in-depth on my appreciation for games that successfully employ theme as a metaphor for sound mechanical gameplay. By that I refer to games that draw upon our understanding of, and our intuitions about, the game’s subject matter in order to make rules more accessible to the players, and to distinguish good choices from bad. (As an example, a game that involves “feeding” one’s “family” may be mechanically indistinguishable from a game that involves “training” one’s “workforce,” yet the former theme connotes a necessity to the action, while the latter seems to imply a cost/benefit choice.)

Archipelago is perhaps the first game I have encountered that turns the theme-as-metaphor notion on its head. Ostensibly, Archipelago is an exploration game. Appropriately, it starts small. Players begin the game with two men, a boat, and a bit of land protruding into the vast and empty sea. Players also begin the game with a card detailing unique game-ending conditions and identifying one item that will be worth points at the end of the game.

Allow me to pause for a moment on that. In Archipelago, nothing is inherently valuable. From their meager beginnings, players can expand into new terrain, develop robust cities, produce numerous resources, and hoard troves of gold. Yet whether any of those items are worth victory points at the end of the game depends entirely on the cards dealt each game, of which any given player has certain knowledge of but one (though depending on how you play, one or two scoring cards may also be dealt face-up for all to see).


(Credit: Bob Rob)

This is brilliant. The early stages of each game (and sometimes the late stages, depending on how your particular session plays out) are largely spent biding your time with potentially purposeless actions while attempting to infer the content of the scoring cards from other players’ (potentially purposeless) behavior. I suspect that, for some of you, this level of uncertainty makes you nauseous. I posit that your discomfort is precisely the point. As players, we open Archipelago with little information, and we proceed to stumble blindly through the game in hopes of discerning some bit of information that may give us hope for success - some guiding star that might lead us out of ignorance.

Archipelago is an exploration game. It is the first and only game where I truly feel like its mechanics function in the service of its theme - not merely by fitting the theme or reflecting the theme, but by generating player mindsets that situate those at the table firmly in the shoes of those star-shaped wooden protagonists over whom we purport to have dominion.

The question I’m most commonly asked when teaching this game is, “What do I do now?”

“Exactly,” I reply.


II. Great Expectations

Boelinger’s Eurogame opens each round with a blind bid for turn order followed by extensive, unfettered negotiations.

Quite literally, that is as far as I made it into the designer’s video demonstration broadcast from Essen (I believe it is around the 1:30 mark, for those counting). It’s enough to make any self-important gaming connoisseur turn up her nose.

But one of the things I enjoy most about Archipelago is the way in which its mechanics subvert traditional expectations. I can't tell you how tired I am of watching players bring their preconceived expectations of how games "ought" to work to the table. This fact, perhaps more than any other, has shaped the selection of games I enjoy. In nearly every teaching game of Tzolk'in, one player mindlessly races after extra workers because "it's a worker placement game.” Likewise, the Action upgrade in Hansa Teutonica is initially viewed as overpowered because "it's an action point allowance game." In both cases, the players come to learn that their instincts are not reliable, which is part of what makes these games so good. To reference a couple of my previous reviews: Il Vecchio succeeds because it thumbs its nose at the absent-minded engine-builders (points are cheap early and expensive late; infrastructure is the opposite). CO2 is great because it teases you with a simple building progression and then takes away the safety net of private ownership.


(Credit: Bob Rob)

Now back to Archipelago: As noted, each round of the game begins with an seemingly unforgivable dose of chaos: a blind bid for turn order where everybody pays but only one player wins. The bid then incites a period of negotiation where players bargain for their position in the turn order.

This initially sounded like one bad mechanic piled on top of another. However, in practice the two ideas have combined seamlessly. How so? The key is that the winning player gets to set turn order for ALL players for the round. Thus players do not bid for turn order. They bid for bargaining position. And, consequently, players who want to go first should probably not bid at all; the safest way to ensure priority is to pay the winning bidder rather than risk your money in the bid itself.

Because blind bidding is inherently risky, bids should be relatively low compared to the actual value of turn order. In the abstract, a winning bidder should then be able negotiate with other players to recoup more value than he or she paid to win the bid. The best way to recoup value, of course, is to give away the best turn order spots. As a consequence, the highest bidder in the turn order auction is often the player with the least interest in turn order jockeying (or the player with the fewest resources), as that player looks to make a profit on a relatively modest bid.

With the caveat that I have almost exclusively played teaching games, the beauty of this system in practice is a spectacle to behold for a jaded gamer like myself. It is full of squishy ambiguities in these situations that are so much more interesting than the designs we’ve come to expect. In some ways, this sequence is a microcosm of the game itself: the mechanics are not the tight, seamless, machinery of german-inspired design. But, more often than not, they work. And when they work, they work in surprising ways. They reacquaint your mind with the notion that games can be about discovery and play, even in the finest workings of something as simple as setting the round's turn order.

And this brings me back to expectations. Archipelago is a love-it-or-hate-it game. Actually, it’s worse than that. To many, it’s seen as a broken game. Yet it would not surprise me that most people who complain about the game are falling victim to their own expectations about how the system should behave. (For example, do you play at a table where the winner of the blind bid immediately places themselves first in turn order?) This is why I find Archipelago so subversive and so engrossing: it made me rethink what I thought I knew about how certain mechanics function. The decision points around wealth redistribution in this game are simply fascinating.

Note: For those worried about spoilers, I should emphasize that I don't tend to deconstruct games in a forward-looking manner. Some people are excellent at thinking through mechanics, determining the correct mathematical relationships, and reasoning out how players ought to behave before even tearing the shrink. My analyses tend to be backwards-looking and based on pattern recognition. I play the games, things happen, I say, "I wonder why those things happened," and I extrapolate general principles from specific instances. All this is a wordy way of saying that, particularly with respect to such a groupthink-susceptible game, I'm not attempting to assert unassailable truths.


III. Things Fall Apart

One of the elements of Archipelago that is the subject of greatest debate among gamers is Archipelego's use of semi-cooperative play in a competitive environment. As is to be expected, attempting to colonize an island archipelago tends to make the local population pretty upset. The game models this by having a rebellion track which compares the level of discontent on the islands against the population of players’ citizens. If the former surpasses the latter…


(Credit: Bob Rob)

That’s a legitimate elipse up there, by the way. That’s not just dramatic effect. You see, most of the time if the rebellion is triggered, all players lose. However, every now and then a player’s starting objective card (we talked about those, remember?) won’t be the points-scoring variety. Rather, it will allow that player, and that player only, to win by inciting rebellion as a separatist.

Randomly throughout the game, players will face crises that require the players’ contribution of personal resources in order to stem the tide of the rebellion. As a consequence of this mechanic, a considerable debate has sprung up around the question of whether and when players should sacrifice for the greater good. There are some who believe self-sacrifice is inconsistent with competitive play, and that any game involving rational gamers is doomed to end in rebellion. At the risk of rekindling that debate, I disagree.

Allow me to begin here: I play Archipelago competitively. I play exclusively to win, and more often than not I do just that. (Seriously, I’m damn good at Archipelago.) So long as I have a meaningful chance to win, I will not intentionally lose. And I love the rebellion mechanic.

Here’s what I think people are missing: Archipelago is not cooperative. It doesn’t ask for irrational self-sacrifice. It asks only for self-interested play. And the rebellion is a catch-up mechanism, nothing more. It is beautifully executed, extremely granular, and fun to exploit. But it is a catch-up mechanism.

The game's demand for a sacrifice effectively imposes a tax on players to continue playing. Players who believe themselves to be winning have a strong incentive to continue playing, and thus a strong incentive to pay the tax. Players who believe themselves to be losing have little incentive to continue to playing (depending on how bleak one’s prospects seem, perhaps a strong incentive to stop playing). And thus it is up to the self-perceived leaders to subsidize the weaker players. They pay a share of the tax proportional to their odds of victory and the game continues. The trailing players are now better off than they were (relative to the stronger players). Winning Archipelago requires carrying all the other players on your back.

The most common complaint about the mechanic involves players engaging in what is often known as the Kill Dr. Lucky syndrome: Players going earlier in turn order don’t pay their fair share, forcing the last guy in line to make a decisions about whether to waste resources to prevent the game from ending. I don’t see why this poses a problem. If you are losing, and the winning players leave it to you to combat a crisis, you should allow the rebels to win. The game does not ask you throw yourself on the sword in aid of the other players. The threat of a rebel victory needs to be legitimate in order for it to work. However, if you are losing, and the winning players leave the fate of the game in your hands, they are playing against their own self-interest to begin with. Because your proper move is to defect, they are playing irrationally, and irrational players should not be at your table.

Fortunately, in Archipelago it's not actually a game-ending threat each time this is a decision. Most rounds, it is simply a question of whether to expend resources to decrease the likelihood that everyone eventually loses. Early in the game, when few players have a strong sense of where they stand, everyone should happily defect in response to other players’ selfishness (we'll assume they refuse to negotiate). Everyone suffers equally and now you all know that you are willing to drag each other into the muck on future turns. On later turns, as the player goals (and thus player standing) begin to take shape, any player who has a significant interest in the game continuing should no longer attempt to blatantly exploit the trailing players.

What complicates matters is the separatist. In a 4-player game (the best number for this title, in my opinion) there is a significant chance that in trying to force a shared loss I am actually allowing an opponent to win. Likewise, even if I think I'm losing, that data isn't perfectly accurate; ~40% of the possible points are hidden from me. Thus, resolving crises generally produces situationally dependent decisions -- those squishy ambiguities I mentioned above. If I'm not too far behind, and if the kick-in isn't too punishing, and if I'm fairly confident another player is the separatist, then I probably pay the kick-in. If those factors change, my decision might as well. Navigating those ambiguities is the fun of the game. Heck, it is the game (acquiring points simpliciter is neither difficult nor particularly engaging).


IV. How to Lose Friends and Alienate Eurogamers

I can see it in your face every time I mention negotiation. It’s there. That little tick. You try to stifle it, but you know how you feel deep down inside. So let me lay it out for you.

Yes, Archipelago is a negotiation-heavy game. No, that doesn’t mean it is full of alliances and backstabbing and that bash-the-leader nonsense that makes other negotiation games feel so unfulfilling. In fact, negotiation my games is relatively rare, very discrete, and usually meaningful when it happens. (Keep in mind that my group generally eschews table talk. Trash talk, by contrast, is always welcome.)

So just what does negotiation in Archipelago look like? Well, this happens about once a round:

arrrh Perhaps Tom wins the auction for $5. Kurt offers him $2 and a stone to go first. Ben offers $2 to go ahead of Bryan. Tom is a happy man.

arrrh A domestic market crisis occurs. Kurt is first to contribute and offers to sacrifice a cow to help others . . . for a price, of course.

arrrh Bryan offers a pineapple and $2 to have Kurt save several of his citizens. Tom offers Bryan $1 to have Kurt save one of his citizens instead of one of Bryan's.

arrrh Ben offers Kurt a cow and a wood if Kurt allows Ben to harvest stone on a tile where Kurt has a city. Kurt thinks Ben’s a sucker.


(Credit: Bob Rob)

Much less common is something like the following (and usually requires perceptive play):

arrrh Tom offers Ben $3 if Ben sells Tom's fish when Ben uses his port. (Tom doesn't have a port).

arrrh Bryan, who shares some hexes with Kurt, offers Kurt $3 if Kurt explores using the exposed hex (because, otherwise, Ben will take it and place it across the board before Bryan has his turn).

arrrh Bryan tells Tom, "Kill the Pirate. I don't want Ben to get it." And Tom's like, "Oh yeah, Ben...$&@# that guy." Tom kills the pirate.

I'm honestly not sure if I've really seen much more than that. So fear not! Archipelago is not a game to get bogged down in bartering or bickering or that one guy who just won’t accept that no one has wood for his sheep. People make discrete offers. They are taken or refused relatively quickly. The game marches on. You can deal.


V. Zen and the Art of the Pineapple Market

So I’m like five chapters into my review and I haven’t told you anything substantive about how the game plays.


(Credit: Bob Rob)

And I won’t. Archipelago is not a game about doing things. I hate games that are about doing things. (“But you just referenced killing a pirate for crying out loud! Tell us more about the pirate!”)

This is Chuck Klosterman on TV plot:

"[O]nce a show becomes mortally dependent on narrative, its verisimilitude and depth start to erode. Getting from point A to point B becomes the totality of the . . . experience."

Archipelago is depth and verisimilitude. Some games there isn’t a point B.

As a player, the vastness with which Archipelago extends before you is remarkable. Each game can be so dramatically different that entire mechanics may go unused. Progress cards (like that pirate) that are hotly contested in some games may seem entirely pointless in others. One of the great challenges in teaching Archipelago is trying to get new players to understand that superfluous elements in any given session are simply not superfluous to the game as a whole.

And this is why it makes little sense to talk dryly about mechanics here. Most games of Archipelago last only five or six rounds (and two to three hours). Little is accomplished, but subtle shifts in the tiles, the objectives, and the available cards send large ripples through the fabric of the session. The games take on a life of their own and are catalogued in the memory as if episodes of Friends. There was the one with all the boats. There was that one where Tom was a spy. There was Emily’s racist game (also she hoarded metal). The only board games in which I had previously experienced such disparate narrative arcs from session to session are those containing discrete scenarios (for example, Robinson Crusoe or Mansions of Madness). That Boelinger could replicate those experiences while leaving each game wholly within the hands of the players is a testament to his design.

I don't think I would enjoy Archipelago as much if it were about stuff -- if it were all streamlined and elegant. No, it's bulbous and weird unwieldy and it unfolds (like a story) more often than it gets played (like a fiddle). It is almost leisurely because it is so scatterbrained. It is awesome.

So should you play it? How should I know?


Don't be sheeple. (Credit: Bob Rob)

I think, at some level, that the games that most define my gamer identity are those that I can claim as mine and mine alone. I'm the guy who writes "What You're Missing" reviews on BGG. Some important part of my self-perception comes in my recognizing beauty in an underappreciated title. In fact, it depends on it. (By definition, a “What You’re Missing” review only functions so long as the collective "you" are still not appreciating those aspects of the game that I love. I'm the guy who "gets" Archipelago. That's the whole point. If you starting getting Archipelago, too, then I'm just another guy.)

I love Archipelago. I have no idea what that means for you.



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Cole Wehrle
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Over the past few weeks I've been thinking about how to write a review for this game. This was the review that needed to be written. Bravo, Ben.
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Willie Illie
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Such a great review -- thank you! I definitely like your writing style.

In fact, I read this on OG earlier this week and thanks to a certain free 2-day shipping service I spent much of yesterday on a solo playthrough to get the mechanics down, and I'm now obsessed with getting this beautiful and compelling title to the table as soon as possible.
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The Dave
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Chally -

I really appreciate your commentary regarding the negotiation. I've seen quite a few comments suggesting the whole thing is contrived, especially the bidding for turn order part. Your analysis is very clever. Well done!
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Jonathan Harrison
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Section III would have been worth paying to read.

Importing a mindset from other games with cooperative or semi-cooperative emphases, I took, without thinking, the perspective that if you cause the whole game to end, you are the "bigger loser"—the person who couldn't keep going, the person who couldn't make it. The person whose character died first in the battle with the Great Old One.

So: if you purposely cause our colony to self-destruct, then sure, we all lose, but you have a virtual asterisk sitting by your name and score on everyone's mental scoresheet: You were the player who couldn't keep playing, or (worse) the player who wasn't enjoying herself, and so spitefully made the game stop just because she wasn't having fun.

You revolutionized my view of this.

Viewing a failed game as an exact equivalence in moral score (everyone loses, no one loses 'more' or 'less' than anyone else), and thus viewing the ability to cause a loss not as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of strength inversely proportionate to your chance of winning, is a brilliant explanation. I love Archipelago regardless (it's my tenth-highest-rated game, if you don't count Go), but this mindset will save the game for play with my wife, who spent her first game constantly second in turn order, forced to save the colony or else end the game.

Viewing it as a valid move to not 'make everyone lose', but 'make everyone else lose' and thus 'make yourself win exactly as much as everyone else wins' is a total remaking of my worldview about this game.

I know I sound like a dick playing with my wife like that, but I couldn't get my mind around the concept that ...

• Unlike in other games, in which making non-win-ward moves just to end the game won't make others lose (some other player will still win), but instead just gives a metagame interest (get out of this game I can't win) control over your in-game moves,

• In Archipelago, you aren't making yourself lose if you feel you've already been made to lose. You aren't keeping yourself from winning if you feel you've already been kept from winning. Instead, you're keeping everyone else from winning since you feel you've been kept from winning. It's the price you feel free to exact for others' behavior toward you. In thematic terms, you're taking a ship back to your mother country if you feel you can't make it here in the cutthroat islands. You've saved your capital (instead of expending it on behalf of others who are only going to do better than you), and you've put the burden on (and possibly helped sink) those who were trying to squeeze you out of the market.


I guess a consistent way of viewing this is to say that in every competitive game, my goal is to make the ratio of my opponent's score to my own score as low as possible.

In Glory to Rome, I'd be the first to end the game if one player, already ahead, was using his Craftsman clients to regularly complete two buildings a turn and rack up ungodly amounts of influence. It's all a part of making sure the Him:Me ratio is as low as possible.

In Archipelago, I (finally see that I) have a last-resort means for doing this that isn't usually available in other games. blush


I'm going to go apologize to my wife now for totally misunderstanding the in-game meaning of this phase and taking it for metagame meaning instead: mistaking valid in-game spite (I'm going to end this game, no matter how bad that will make your score be) for unfun out-of-game spite (screw this game and the fun we're all having playing it, I'm going to stop trying to do well and just end it instead, no matter how bad that will make my score be, so that we can do something I'm good at instead): the equivalent of trying to get out of a game of The F***ing Game more quickly by refusing to harvest your crops, thus significantly decreasing the time your turns take, though also screwing yourself and your score to hell.

Thank you. I already loved this game, and you still told me what I had been missing. What a mindjob.

I apologize for restating everything you already said: I just really needed to process this and internalize it.
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Jonathan Harrison
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She smiled at me the whole time with her I told you, but I could see then that it wasn't going to take until you finally got it yourself smile. And she said that she would be open for a 3-player game sometime.
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Derek J
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Hear! Hear! i can't say enough what this review does for the "read the rules and now I know the whole game/experience" set.

I can't wait to get this to the table...

Great job!
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Brian Bailey
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Just an awesome review, Ben. Awesome.thumbsup
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Sylvester Stachovicz
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Good review. I envy you your enthusiasm. The game was totally bland for me. I tried to like it but with no success. Too light, too long, too boring, udercooked I'd say. Not gamers game.
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Mathue Faulk
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Vester wrote:
Good review. I envy you your enthusiasm. The game was totally bland for me. I tried to like it but with no success. Too light, too long, too boring, udercooked I'd say. Not gamers game.

Too light and not a gamer's game????!

I can understand most of the other complaints that I've seen on the game, but Archipelago is definitely a gamer's game!

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Rob Doupe
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chally wrote:

Randomly throughout the game, players will face crises that require the players’ contribution of personal resources in order to stem the tide of the rebellion. As a consequence of this mechanic, a considerable debate has sprung up around the question of whether and when players should sacrifice for the greater good. There are some who believe self-sacrifice is inconsistent with competitive play, and that any game involving rational gamers is doomed to end in rebellion. At the risk of rekindling that debate, I disagree.

Allow me to begin here: I play Archipelago competitively. I play exclusively to win, and more often than not I do just that. (Seriously, I’m damn good at Archipelago.) So long as I have a meaningful chance to win, I will not intentionally lose. And I love the rebellion mechanic.

Here’s what I think people are missing: Archipelago is not cooperative. It doesn’t ask for irrational self-sacrifice. It asks only for self-interested play. And the rebellion is a catch-up mechanism, nothing more. It is beautifully executed, extremely granular, and fun to exploit. But it is a catch-up mechanism.

The game's demand for a sacrifice effectively imposes a tax on players to continue playing. Players who believe themselves to be winning have a strong incentive to continue playing, and thus a strong incentive to pay the tax. Players who believe themselves to be losing have little incentive to continue to playing (depending on how bleak one’s prospects seem, perhaps a strong incentive to stop playing). And thus it is up to the self-perceived leaders to subsidize the weaker players. They pay a share of the tax proportional to their odds of victory and the game continues. The trailing players are now better off than they were (relative to the stronger players). Winning Archipelago requires carrying all the other players on your back.



Nothing new there. This is the central design feature of Republic of Rome, and recognized as the element which makes that game such a classic. I suppose it's a new thing in euro games, though.

A friend dropped off his copy of Archipelago for me to look over in preparation for play next week, so we'll see if it carries off the trick as well at RoR does.
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R. Eric Reuss
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I've been looking forward to hearing your thoughts in more detail. Glad to see them go up!
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Lucas Hedgren
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I don't like when people use the "Coming-in-Second-(or-even-Last)-in-a-Finished-Game-Should-Be-Preferable-to-the-Everyone-Loses-Condition" argument to defend semi-co-ops. I am glad that you like the game without this particular brand of hand waving to make the game work. Makes me more likely to give is a shot, now.
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Trynant

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This review is broken, much like Archipelago. I can even pinpoint the exact point where the review breaks!

chally wrote:
If the former surpasses the latter…

That’s a legitimate elipse up there, by the way.


This is clearly not a legitimate ellipse, because you must have a four-dot ellipse when ending a sentence instead of the normal three-dot that does not terminate a sentence. Grammar, man!

Aside from this one, completely broken part of your review; I absolutely loved reading this and seeing some very interesting points on how Archipelago works out. Thanks for writing this, truly.
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Joe V
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To be honest, I was a bit insulted by your section on Eurogamers. It came off as patronizing. I could name plenty of Eurogames that involve negotiation. I played like... two last night. As a comically evident example, Mare Nostrum (styled a "Negotiation Game") is published by... Eurogames Publishing. So... yeah...

EDIT: To clarify, where I took umbrage was not that he... insulted Eurogames or whatever. It was that, for some reason, the reviewer basically talked down to Eurogamers.

It's true, Eurogamers do not like metagaming because we are a class of people who want to win on our merits and want others to do so as well. But we don't eschew negotiation based games altogether or have some horrible stigma against any negotiation in games.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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Nice review Ben - I think I'll be giving this game a miss! laugh
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Olivier D.
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Section III should be bolded, printed, laminated and included in every copy of Archipelago.

Great review!
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Ben
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Thank you all for the terrific comments! I'm really overwhelmed by the positive responses that this review received. It was a lot of fun to write, I guess because I find the game itself so intriguing.


terminus467 wrote:
To be honest, I was a bit insulted by your section on Eurogamers. It came off as patronizing.

I'm sorry it came across that way, Joe. This section was mostly self-referential. I'm a Eurogamer through-and-through (excapt for largely disliking Feld, which I have been told hurts my street cred). From my profile:

* As a general rule, I dislike dice (but not luck) and trading/negotiation. A game would have to be extremely well designed to have me enjoy it when these play a central role.


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Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
Michigan
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Nice review Ben. I'm finding myself really drawn to this game, as well as others that breakaway from more prescribed, pre-baked paths and just dump a bunch of sand into a big box and tell the players to play in it until someone win’s – yet how you win was never addressed

It seems to be a game that really takes the narrative to heart, and as important as playing to win is to ensuring that the game works, I’m guessing the most memorable part of the experience is the journey and going through the unique narrative of each game – rather than who won.

I totally agree with your assertion that too many games are preoccupied with “what” players are doing, at the expense of grappling with “why” something matters.
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Fabrice Dubois
France
La Garenne Colombes
Hauts de Seine
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Awesome review Ben. I definitely enjoy your style and the way you are focusing our attention on a particular mechanism to illustrate the goal design of a game.

As a CO₂ fan, i read your review of Mr LACERTA's game. I can see the similarities of these 2 designs (competitive play in a common crysis management, paying attention to other players actions and goals, helping other players to stay in the game to help to fight against leaders, catch up mechanism...) but with 2 radically different implementations.

I will give this game at least a try.
 
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Dan Regs
United States
Pennsylvania
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This is exceptionally well written. An Atypical review for an Atypical game. Here's thumbs and a tip.

I've been on the fence about this game for months, and I think I can finally pick this up. Having not played I'm still worried it won't work for me and my group, but this experience looks too good and too unique to let pass by.

Cheers!
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Scott Bedell
United States
Jacksonville
Florida
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Let me summarize this excellent review:

It is designed by a Frenchman, and therefore is inherently unique - albeit messy. The outcome is always unpredictable, and in peril.

If it were designed by German, it would be a streamlined, efficiency exercise - where the best player will win.

(this is meant lightheartedly, but with a dose of truth)
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Chris Boelinger
France
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I'm simply amazed !
I could never have done better than Ben if I wanted to really describe what Archipelago was designed to be. A semi historical scenario generator, semi cooperative and "bendable" by the players.... And so much more...

Although I don't know Ben at all, at least I don't think so, don't think we've ever met either, I can tell that for each feeling or strategy or theory he had to explain he just found the right words for the each of his vision to describe. I can tell that he went quite deep in the game, although there are still so many things that could be said, strategically discussed, advices that could be given, and so on .. I'm still and always discovering new stuff each game I play or demo (Just coming back from a three day gaming fair in the south of France where I've seen, demoed and played many Archipelago games).

So thanks Ben for this wonderful description of your vision of the game, which I can really say, up to now, is the one I can relate the most to

It was a real pleasure reading it for me also, I can confirm most of the posts before me

If I could add to your excellent analyze of the game and why and how to win in Archipelago, I think I would add this that I was expecting for you reach at some point in your demonstrations...

In Archipelago you need to win discreetely and not outrageously. You need to finally tune your victory, not being too obvious, not smash down your opponent under your feet with a huge gap of difference, let the others think they are still well in the game. At least This is what I think and discovered after quite some games.

To all explorers and future settlers, enjoy !
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Mattias Fall
Sweden
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One of the best pieces I´ve read on the Geek. Though I still don´t think I would enjoy that amount of negotiation laugh
 
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Jon Ben
Canada
Vancouver
British Columbia
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Of course I've been up all night! Not because of caffeine, it was insomnia. I couldn't stop thinking about coffee.
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I am very impressed by this review. Thank you Ben for taking the time to write such a stellar piece! This is up there with Sphere's 'Dirty Dozen' review of Claustrophobia. Ironically the two review styles couldn't be any different. Sphere presents a play-by-play, including internal monologue, of an entire game of Claustrophobia. Here you manage to almost completely avoid the details of game play.

I find your taste in games is significantly different from my own, but your top rated games are mostly ones that I also rate highly. I'm going to give Archipelago a chance based on this fact, and your endorsement. I probably wouldn't have given this negotiation-rich offering a second thought if not for this review.

I will hold you personally responsible if I hate the game
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