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The best Christmas present I received this year was without a doubt Through The Ages by Vlaada Chvátil. Considering that the rest of the presents constituted underwear, socks, etc. the competition was very low. Okay I confess nobody gave me this epic board game. I had to buy it myself as a countermove to all the boring presents I knew I would get this year, again. So this Christmas, isolated in a cabin deep inside the Swedish woods, I convinced my Ginny pig sister to endure 3 long games of Through The Ages with me. There are three versions of the game: simple, advanced and full game. Here is how it went.

Simple game

Simple might not be the best word to describe it. That said, compared to the other two versions I guess you could call it relatively simple. The simple version is recommended for people who are new to the game. Basically it will introduce you to the game mechanics and give you a feel of what it is all about. I was definitely intrigued after playing the simple version. What struck me the most was the complexity of it.

Advanced game

The advanced game opened up for a whole new range of things including more player-player interactions. I strongly recommend players to at least try this version before giving up on it. You really get the feeling that you are building up a civilization here. This is done by performing all kinds of actions: assigning leaders and governments, building buildings, destroying buildings, playing action cards, building armies, upgrading armies, developing new technologies, colonizing new territories, making alliances, waging war, and on goes the list. While doing all this you have to deal with corruption, famine and keeping your people happy.

Full game

The full game really puts the cherry on the top, especially regarding the scoring of culture points (victory points). Also, wars against other players are introduced. When you have finished the game you have gone through four ages from antiquity to present time. Without a question the full game was most rewarding even though it also took the longest (about 4 hours but this included a lot of down time from my sister. To her defense she is not a hardcore board gamer). In some regards it reminded me of an expanded version of Puerto Rico with some different and extra game mechanics. Because of this I would strongly recommend this game to people who like Puerto Rico and wants some more depth to the game. Surprisingly this game also played pretty well with only two players. However I do look forward to being able to wage war against more than one player.

Verdict

In most of the board games I have played there are a couple of cool game mechanics that keeps the game above the surface. One of the reasons to why I strongly recommend this game is because it introduces not only a few but several different awesome game mechanics. Also I really like the feeling of managing your own civilization. This gives a great depth to it. The downside of the game is the quite difficult rules and potential downtime. In my opinion you often need complex rules in other to get the best experience. This game is so rewarding when you get a hang of it. Concerning the downtime I guess you just need the right crew that knows that thinking about their next moves should be done while it is not their turn.

Ratings

Theme: 9/10

Game mechanics: 10/10

Luck factor: 10/10

Replayability: 9/10

Fun factor: 9/10

Overall: A solid 9.4/10

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After several months of dedication to Lords of Waterdeep and Puerto Rico – two ridiculously fun games by the way – we finally got around to playing Eclipse – New dawn for the galaxy. My incessant babbling about this game to my friends may have put the expectation-bar a bit high so I was very excited to see if it lived up to all the hype.

Before I write any further I should mention that this review could be severely biased by our group’s tendency to love heavy, cutthroat, territory-holding games mixed with euro-style strategy and resource management. Eclipse was able to provide us with all this and more….

Rules

Even though the rulebook is 32 pages long it is not a difficult game to learn. I used about 15 minutes for the introduction and the rest of the rules followed as we played. It seemed as if people caught up on the rules pretty fast and I reckon there will be no problems for our next session.

How the game played

I guess this first session was a textbook example of how NOT to play Eclipse. Being three players we picked the alien species: Planta, Orion Hegemony, and Hydran Progress. At the beginning we played pretty randomly and seemed to had lost focus on the race’s special abilities. Instead of expanding like a true weed, Planta used all his resources on building an armada in fear of a Hegemony attack that never came. Hegemony started out good and was able to establish a large and strong fleet but in the end he never got to use it on his opponents (ironically he won the game with 6 VPs). The Hydrans minded their own business but were not, for some reason, capable of researching enough technologies (most likely due to economic reasons).

So in retrospect it is easy to see that it is essential to have a plan from the beginning and, of course, exploit the race’s special abilities to the fullest. Playing Planta again I would definitely expand outwards and at the same time try to close the boarders to my opponents. Hegemony should gather sufficient VPs through war, either against ancients or more profitably the other races. The Hydrans should primarily focus on technologies in order to gather as many VPs as possible and maybe also wage war with its upgraded ships.

Strategies

From our first session there is definitely room for improvements. Here are some of the tactics I would try to implement in my following games:

  1. At the start of the game decide which approach you want to take, i.e. war, technology, expanding, etc.
  2. Focus and exploit the race’s special abilities.
  3. Expand outwards and build monoliths in protected areas in the last rounds.
  4. Build orbits if you lack a certain resource.
  5. If you do not want war try to close of the boarders fronting your enemies, thereby you force your opponents to research the expensive Wormhole Gener if they really want to get you (if you are lucky they may pick the other opponents instead).

What do we think?

BEST GAME EVER. We all loved it. It had all the aspects we love in a board game: strategy, war, resource management, nice board, clever mechanics, I could go on. Personally I love the game mechanic with the influence discs and population cubes. Also the modular board is ingenious especially the detail with the wormholes. The fact that you can change and upgrade your ships is also a very cool mechanic. All in all this is one of the greatest games I have played and I can certainly recommend it to any serious board gamer that like heavy sci-fi games that are deep on the strategy and love in your face action.

Ratings

Theme: 9/10

Game mechanics: 10/10

Luck factor: 8/10

Replayability: 9/10

Fun factor: 10/10

Overall: A solid 9/10

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If you are a hard core LoW fan you will probably not find the following guidelines usefull. This is strickly for the noobs.

Plot quests. try to complete as many plot quests as possible at the beginning of the game and shift your attention to the regular quests later in the game. There is no reason to hurry with completing regular quests, sometimes it can even be a disadvantage. For example, if youre secret mission is to collect Arcana quests and you receive a plot quest early in the game giving you VPs for each Arcana quest you complete, then this is obviously the first quest you would want to complete in order to gather as many VPs as possible.

Mandatory quests. Save mandatory quests untill the end of the game when everybody wants to complete their last quests! This advice has one exception, namely when you can see that an opponent is ready to complete a plot quest at the beginning of the game. Stalling your opponent could set him back several victory points.

Buildings. Never buy buildings after the 6th round unless there are several VPs on it. Needless to say you will get the most out of your buildings if you buy them earlier in the game. Naturally, this does not apply for Larissa as her mission is to build as many buildings as possible. A good strategy for playing Larissa is to complete plot quests at the beginning of the game and let them dictate what kind of quests you should focus on for the rest of the game.

Quests. Try to combine quests instead of just focusing on the number of VPs you will receive. Look for quests that will give you a reward you can use to complete another quest. This tactic is a good way to recrute adventurers without having to assign agents and will give you more room to operate in.

Intrigue cards. Do not underestimate intrigue cards as they can often have a tremendous impact on the game. Steeling a single adventurer from your opponents or giving them a mandatory quest at the end of the game can often prevent them from completing their last quest which could lead to your victory.

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I am not trying to say that there is only ONE single strategy that works in Shogun, clearly this will depend on circumstances (i.e. position, winters, etc.). However, I do believe that if you follow some guidelines it will significantly increase your chances of winning. Some people will probably disagree on some of the guidelines that I propose below (obviously people that never win in Shogun), but I have certainly found these useful myself throughout the years:

 

  • The victorious Dynamo will often be predominant in 2-3 regions (Building-wise)

–          Trying to achieve dominance in only one region is the recipe of failure. Dominating two regions can be sufficient in some cases, depending on how well positioned your adversaries are. Dominating three regions will almost always guarantee your victory, but will at the same time be much more difficult to protect. Everything above three regions is pure suicide. So the trick is to consider whether having most buildings of all types in two regions would suffice or if you have to dominate a third one. Needless to say you never know how many regions you need to dominate when you pick your provinces at the beginning of the game which makes it hard to strategically deploy your samurais.  Personally I prefer to deploy my samurais in a way that enables me to dominate three regions if necessary, i.e. close to borders.

 

  • Abandon provinces that are not adjacent to enemy territory and protect your fronts

–          This strategy will necessitate that you keep you peasants satisfied, primarily by giving them enough food. So before you conquer a dozen of provinces make sure you will have enough rice for the winter. A revolt can have disastrous consequences if you only have one samurai protecting a province.

 

  • Deploy your samurais in corners and close to borders and keep enemies as far away as possible

–          When choosing your starting-provinces you should try to minimize the number of provinces positioned adjacent to enemies. This can be achieved by keeping close to corners.  Also try to place your samurais close to the borders; this will give you the opportunity to dominate three regions if necessary.

 

  • Have your strategy planned out from the beginning

–          You only have six rounds to achieve victory so it is of utmost importance that you have a plan figured out from the start.

 

  • Always try to secure a couple of provinces that are unreachable to your opponents

–          These provinces should be used for buildings, especially the expensive fortresses. I have often been unable to build anything in fear of losing the provinces.

 

  • Always choose your provinces wisely

–          When picking province cards you should try to get: 1-2 provinces that provide you with 6-7 gold, 1-2 provinces providing you with 4-5 rice, and 4-5 provinces with 2-3 building spaces. Of course this is not a rigid rule. For example, there is no point in picking a province that is surrounded by three other enemies. However, possessing the mentioned provinces will let you build what you want and at the same time supply you with enough rice for the winter. These provinces should preferably be situated far away from enemy land.

 

  • Keep low profile in the first year

–          This strategy does not apply if you can get a strong head start (8-10 point) in the first year. If this is not the case, however, one strategy that I often use is to divert player’s attention by not getting too many points in the first year and at the same time do the groundwork that will enable me to claim victory in the second year.

 

  • Play it safe

–          Taking chances in Shogun are rarely rewarded. If attacking an opponent be sure that you have the upper hand.

良いゲーム

Author SwedishViking

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“Oh it’s my turn already? Okay let me think….ah no, that wouldn’t work, perhaps if I…..no that wouldn’t work either….hmmm….”

I am not a man of patience and easily get agitated by players that act as if their turn came as a complete surprise to them, every time. It is okay once or twice, but each round – Come on!  You all known these slow players – there are always at least one in every crew. Our crew is no exception. Since CoN is a game with quite a lot of downtime compared to other games I feared this would ruin the experience for me. After our first session, which lasted 4 rounds and 3 hours, people was pretty disappointed about spending most of the time waiting for their turn. However, after having played CoN for several months now, the downtime seems to play a minor role. This is why:

  • Obviously people play faster once they’ve learned the rules and have played the game a couple of times (even though I at one point suggested that we should use an egg-timer to speed things up. This was, to my disappointment, rejected)
  • All experienced gamers know that strategic planning should take place while waiting for one’s turn. Of course the other players can mess things up, but then you should have thought of a plan B (the really experienced gamer would also have a plan C or even a plan D). After getting a hang of the rules it becomes much easier focusing on the strategy.
  •  Even though you may not be able to anticipate your opponents move on your right hand, you can always start planning your battles against your left hand enemy as soon as he has deployed new troops. Then you only have to focus on your actions against one enemy when it’s your turn.
  • In a 4p game you team up with an ally and therefore your victory will depend on his success as well. Naturally you would be interested in participating in his moves and battles and give him the best advice you can. When playing CoN the first couple of times you are pretty much consumed by your own actions. When you get more experienced it becomes easier to take part in your ally’s actions as well.

There are also a lot of cool game mechanics that make up for the downtime and I can’t see how it could be avoided in a wargame like this. Therefore my advice would be to give this game a chance despite the initial downtime since this will be minimized with time.

Author SwedishViking

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