Sunday, 9 August 2020

revisiting Robinson Crusoe




I recently brought out Robinson Crusoe for some solo gaming. The previous time I played it had been 6 years ago in 2014! The game comes with 6 scenarios, and I had never completed them. Since it had been quite a while, I decided to start all over again from the first scenario. In this game, you are shipwrecked on a deserted island. You need to first survive, and then complete the objective of the specific scenario you are playing, within the time limit. The first scenario is straight-forward. Within 12 rounds you need to learn to make fire, and you need to stockpile enough wood for a bonfire. You are going to light it up to attract a passing ship, so that you can escape the island.

I played the solo rules, as opposed to playing multiple player characters. It makes a difference. Playing solo means you only need one food per day. As long as you camp on a hex which produces food, you no longer need to worry about starving. With two or more characters, you need more food. On the other hand, if you are to hunt or you get a large amount of food at one go, the food will probably be wasted because anything not eaten within the same day usually spoils.

Playing solo means I get Friday (the native) and Dog to help me. I picked the carpenter character because of his specialised knowledge in making the Snare tool. It is for catching small animals and it provides one food daily.


This is the scenario board. By Round 3 I had stockpiled three pieces of wood (brown cubes). Winning the game requires 15 pieces of wood, and the wood must be stockpiled in batches, at most one batch per round. The third batch requires three pieces of wood, as can be seen in this photo. From Round 4 onward the rainy season will be here and you'll need to roll the rain die. From Round 7 onward you need to roll the beast die and the snow die too. If you don't improve your shelter enough to protect you from the weather, you may end up burning wood to keep warm. This will slow you down in building the bonfire.


These were the two starting bonuses I drew. The Biscuits on the left is good. I have insurance for lack of food for two rounds.


You always land on the island at the leftmost hex, the beach. You then move inland to explore the island. So far I had moved camp twice, and was now camped in a mountain cave at the bottom right. In this photo you can see some black and blue cubes, blocking resource and terrain icons. These were due to event cards which I drew. Some resources became inaccessible. Some previously discovered terrain became unknown. Discovering terrain was important because many tools required having discovered such terrain. Losing the discovery meant losing the ability to make such tools. I would have to explore more to find the required terrain type again, in order to make these tools.

Many times I ignored the events which caused me to lose access to terrains and resources. I had other things to worry about and I had to prioritise. As a result, I lost even more access on other hexes, or some access became permanently lost. Had I spent effort on handling the events, I might have been able to reverse the effects of some of the events. Too bad. Life is about tough choices.


My head was injured twice (green and brown markers), once from a fall, and another time bitten by a snake. Both these injuries threatened to worsen. When they did worsen, if I had not created the Cure (a tool), I would suffer even more. I hurriedly made a Cure and kept it on me. Unfortunately, I never needed that Cure, because something else killed me well before those head injuries came back to bite me. I had been enthusiastically planning for shelter upgrades and wood production, and I neglected taking care of myself. I underestimated how quickly my life points dwindled. I didn't rest or take other actions to restore life points, and I had let the various events take their toll. Then a few unexpected events got me killed before I could do anything to heal myself. Lesson learnt: Don't be a workaholic and take care of your health!

Friday, 31 July 2020

Betrayal Legacy

Betrayal Legacy was published in 2018. It is based on Betrayal at House on the Hill, published in 2004. The original game already has an interesting premise. A group of friends explore a haunted house. The game starts off in a cooperative mode. They explore the house and pick up items they discover. Then something triggers a haunt, and this is when the twist occurs. One player will turn traitor, and the game transforms into a one vs many conflict. The traitor will be given an objective, and the others - the heroes - will be given a different objective. Sometimes it can be as simple as killing the other party, sometimes it can be more complicated. Whichever side achieves its objective first wins. The game comes with many different scenarios, and they are all horror stories and thrillers.

With the legacy mechanism added, in Betrayal Legacy, the group of people exploring the house will be family members and descendants from five different families. The campaign story starts in 1666, and spans 14  games - a prologue game (tutorial) and 13 campaign games. Each time you play, it will be a different year, about 30 years after the previous game. You will play a different family member, perhaps a son, daughter,  nephew or grandson. Or if the previous family member is still alive, you can play him/her again. The finale game will be in 2004, which is the publication year of Betrayal at House on the Hill. Nice touch!

When setting up a game, you lay out only a few tiles - the doorway in front of the front door, the downstairs corridor, one upstairs room, and one basement room. These tiles have doors and paths leading to other rooms and tiles, for you to discover (and add tiles) as you play. The house map grows as you explore it. Each time you play, the house architecture will be different. This may not sound logical, but hey, it's a haunted house. Or think of it as being regularly renovated or rebuilt.

In the photo above, the colours of the character bases represent the families they are from. The game supports 5 players, so you have 5 families.

Green is one of the family colours, so I picked that - my favourite colour. This is the player board. The tracks along the four edges are four attributes of your character - Might, Speed, Knowledge and Sanity. If any of these attributes fall to the skull icon, your character dies. Some equipment and events in the game modify your attributes. Might is used for fighting. It determines how many dice you roll. Speed determines how many steps you may move on your turn. Knowledge and Sanity are used to operate certain equipment. Sometimes the outcomes of events depend on die rolls, and the number of dice you roll is determined by these attributes.

There is one heirloom mechanism which I quite like. If your character picks up an item, you may decide to name it and make it an heirloom of your family. You do this by attaching a sticker with your family emblem. In future games if your family member draws this item, it becomes more powerful because it is an heirloom. If the item is drawn by another player, you can try to persuade him to give it to you so that you can unleash its full potential.

The legacy story is driven by a very thick deck of cards. They tell you what to do, which section of which booklet to read, and how to make permanent changes to the game components depending on the decisions you make. Other than the prologue, the stories for the legacy games can differ. Your decisions, and incidents in each game, will have implications on future games you play. If a character dies, he or she leaves behind a ghost icon (you add a skull sticker to the tile). In future, spooky things tend to happen where many people have died. Sometimes new cards will be added to decks, sometimes some cards will be removed.

So far I have played three games with Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin, and one game with Moon, Charles and Plabon. The game with Moon's group was played using the same set, just to let them experience the game. After they tried it, they immediately decided to buy a copy so that they could launch into their own campaign. The copy I bought was mainly intended to be played with Benz's group.

During play, the period before the haunt can be dull, since you don't know the story yet. You are just exploring the house and picking up as many items as you can. At this stage nobody knows who will be the traitor, so your best course of action is buffing yourself up. If you turn out to be the traitor, then you'd be strong and your odds of winning are better. If you are on the hero team, your improved skills will be useful to the team.

When the haunt is triggered, the traitor needs to go to another room to read a specific section of the traitor's scenario book. The rest of the players, the heroes, stay put to read a specific section of the heroes' scenario book. Both parties will learn what they are supposed to know about the story at that point, including how to win. The passages are usually different, and there is usually information which one party knows but not the other. Such information is only revealed at an opportune moment. I've had some such surprises sprung on me.

One difficulty my group has is the rules reading. I'm the only gamer in the group who has familiarity with boardgames and boardgame mechanisms. The rest are casual players. Usually I am the one teaching games. During play I explain the game rules when there is confusion, and I remind people about rule details. With Betrayal Legacy, I can't do this for my opponent team, because I haven't read their part of the rules. My friends on the opponent team need to read and interpret the rules by themselves, which is a little challenging. We spend quite some time digesting rules when the haunts start, sometimes even needing a dictionary. Be aware of this if your group is not used to reading English rules or game rules in general.

Dice in the game are customised - two faces with 0, two with 1 and two with 2. You roll dice when you fight and when you resolve events. This customised distribution reduces the range of possible outcomes and reduces luck somewhat. In one of our games, we came to one situation where we needed to roll 4 to win, and we only had two dice. That meant we only had one ninth of a chance. To our surprise we rolled two 2's! Everyone cheered. I was so excited I asked everyone stop for me to snap a photo.

The game comes with many different types of markers. There are many different stories and story elements, thus the need for various markers. In this photo you can see an animal marker, and a nest marker.

Spooky music coming from an unfinished room...

The water drop shaped markers are monsters. Many scenarios involve monsters of some kind, and monsters are typically controlled by the traitor.

So many monsters! We were getting overwhelmed!

The legacy campaign in Betrayal Legacy is best played with the same group of friends. It would be a shared journey, a story which spans four centuries and many generations. This is certainly an experience type game. Nothing spectacular about the game mechanisms. They are pretty straight-forward. And straight-forward is good. On your turn you typically just move some steps, then perform an action, e.g. attacking someone. The game mechanisms being simple means you can focus on and enjoy the story. There are quite many different scenarios, so you will be experiencing many different stories. By the time you play all 14 games in the campaign, it's almost like have played 14 different games. Good deal, yes? After completing the campaign you can still play in a free play mode. There will still be some scenarios you haven't seen. However the game components won't change much after the campaign is over.

When playing Betrayal Legacy, it is best to get into the role-playing mood. It is an immersive experience.

I am still halfway through the campaign. Unfortunately now it's a bit harder to arrange to meet up and play. I wonder when our next game will be.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Pax Transhumanity


The Game

Pax Humanity is designed by Matt Eklund, nephew of Phil Eklund, who is well-known for designing complex and challenging games on specialised and unconventional topics. There are some aspects which will remind you of the Pax series. If you are familiar with the series, you'll know this will be no walk in the park.

The setting is the modern day and near future. Humanity is facing many problems. You are tech entrepreneurs trying to solve these very real problems. You raise funds, employ scientists, research new technologies, and commercialise them. You will find solutions to problems. You will establish companies that bring such solutions to the world. Whoever is most successful in finding the solutions and founding the companies most needed by the world wins.

This is a player board plus player aid designed by a player. It is the size of one full piece of paper. The player board which comes with the game is at the top right corner of this photo - much smaller. Cubes on your player board represent money. Once the game starts, they may be used in other places to represent other elements like scientists and patents.

There is no central game board. You have four sphere boards instead, representing four different technological spheres. A game is set up like this photo above. The cards are different technologies which you will research and eventually commercialise.

Let's take a closer look at a technology card. The two coloured edges represent two tech types related to this tech card. Sometimes the two edges can be of the same colour. In order to commercialise a tech, you need to make it viable. Viability can be achieved by having patents in the two required tech types, or having a think tank already working on this exact combo, or having this combo in humankind's technological progress track.

To the left of the main picture, there will be one or more icons, representing the rewards for commercialising this tech. In this photo above, the reward is founding a green company. Other reward types include solving a world problem and gaining a cube.

Those square tokens at the very top are world problems you get to solve. Each is named and can only be solved once (of course). Cubes on the sphere boards are scientists. When they move along the lines on the sphere boards, they do work, which is either researching a tech, or commercialising a tech. That's all they do all day.

When you need to pay for something, one way is fiddling with the cubes on your player board. Each downward movement of a cube is worth $1. In this photo, you have $3 to spend, if you are willing to go broke. One important action in the game is to raise funds. When you do so, you first move all cubes from the top box down to the middle box. Then you move as many cubes from the bottom box to the middle box. Finally you move all cubes from the middle box to the top box. This is how you "make money", or reset your cubes. Effectively what this means is you should try to avoid too many cubes in the bottom box.

Cubes may be taken from your player board to be used in other places. This strains your money engine because you will have fewer cubes and thus less financial flexibility. Cubes being used elsewhere will later return to your player board, after you are done with them for the other purposes, or sometimes because they are forced away. Managing cubes is important.

The card at the top - the patents card - is very important. It has four coloured stripes. You place a cube here when you gain a patent in a particular colour (i.e. sphere / tech type). Patents can be spent to commercialise a tech. They can also be sold for money when you need money.

Some cards are tucked under the patents card, showing only one of their coloured edges. The game starts with one card tucked. Subsequent cards are tucked whenever a player commercialises a tech. The player tucks the commercialised tech card here, and decides which edge to show. The series of colours displayed represents human progress, and also determines the world trend. E.g. when 2 out of 3 of the latest colours are blue (like in the photo above), then blue (or cloud technology) is the dominant sphere. This is the current world trend. It affects the scoring criteria and thus determines who wins. It also affects some rules. Research work becomes free. Blue patents are worth double. These are specified on the card at the bottom.

Here are a few other different world trends. The top grey card is in play if all of the latest three colours on the human progress track are different. It makes any work done in the developing countries sphere column (green) cheaper. If green is dominant (middle card), then recruitment becomes free, and green patents are worth double.

One important element of the game is manipulating the game end condition. You need to control and time the world trend. This will be familiar if you have played other Pax games. You do have to work hard to score points, but more importantly you need to manipulate the end game condition such that what you've achieved are worth points in the first place. It is not just about performing actions that give points. You need to secure the value of your actions. The "safest" scoring method is starting companies, because when you start your fifth company, you win instantly, regardless of the world trend at the time. However getting to five companies is not easy.

Achievements that are potentially worth points do include starting companies. Solving humankind problems may also be worth points. Having monopolies on techs in the human progress track may be worth points. The monopolies are called Future Shock Agents in the game, and I have no idea why. So I'll just call them tech monopolies. Under different game end conditions, different things in different colours (techs) will be worth something, or nothing.

At the start of the game, everyone selects one secret agenda. This is a secret tech colour, and it is revealed only when the game ends. Under some game end conditions, companies and problems in your secret colour are worth points. So usually you want to start companies and solve problems which are in your colour. This also means by observing your opponents, you may be able to guess their secret colours.

Each sphere board has left and right halves. The light bulb half on the left is for research work, and the hand half on the right is for commercialisation work. When you recruit a scientist, you need to place him in the appropriate half or on those central / shared positions, to make sure he can do the work type you need, whether it's research or commercialisation. Each time a scientist does work, he moves one step. When he reaches the bottom, his job is done, and you can use him (he's just a cube) for other purposes. E.g. you can make him a scientist again, or bring him back to your player board to become money.

Our game had progressed further, and we now had more cards in the human progress track, i.e. those cards tucked beneath the patents card and splayed. Cubes on this track means certain players have monopolised certain techs (in-game term is Future Shock Agent). When you want to commercialise a tech, one requirement is its viability. One way to have viability is the tech combo being present on the human progress tech. E.g. a blue-yellow tech is viable, because you have blue adjacent to yellow on the human progress track (see photo above). However, both the blue techs are monopolised by the blue player, which means the blue-yellow viability can only be enjoyed by him, and not by other players. Other players who want to commercialise a blue-yellow tech need to use other methods to gain viability.

One other method for gaining viability is discarding two patents. E.g. if the blue player wants to commercialise a blue-orange tech, he can achieve viability by discarding his blue and orange patents, i.e. those blue cubes on the blue and orange stripes of the patent card on the right.


The discs on the sphere boards are companies founded by players. As more companies are founded on the sphere boards, the cost of getting scientists to work decreases, because this cost is calculated based on the number of empty spaces on the board (no company and no scientist).

The Play

Pax Transhumanity is not an easy game to learn and digest. The topic and the terminology are unusual. The mechanisms too. It feels unfamiliar and alien, almost like I'm a complete boardgame newbie trying to learn a non-mainstream hobby game. However, once you get past that initial learning curve, this is not all that complex a game. The rules are not that heavy, and there aren't many exceptions. It's like getting to know the weird new guy at school. Once you become friends, he's cool and not that hard to understand.

When we started our game, I was quite clueless about what I was supposed to do. I played quite a few rounds rather aimlessly. It took me a while to realise the importance of manipulating the world trend and the game end condition. If you have played other Pax games, this will be familiar. Often it is the game end condition which determines the winner, so manipulating it becomes even more important than just performing actions which may be worth points. You need to balance both of these - manipulating the game end condition and performing actions worth victory points, and you need to time them well.

As you observe your opponents' actions, you will have some idea what their secret colours are. It is not easy to start companies and solve world problems, so most players will try to do these in their secret colours. Doing these in other colours for the sake of confusing competitors is costly and may not be worthwhile.

The Thoughts

Pax Transhumanity is a gamer's strategy game. Even seasoned gamers will find this challenging to absorb, so don't pull this on new gamers. You'll scar them and drive them away. This game is certainly something different. It is a game about the future of humankind and Earth, and it sees hope. It is a game about manoeuvring and positioning. There are multiple aspects you need to juggle. Player interaction is high. Everyone is watching everyone else, working out one another's intentions and thinking about how best to manipulate the world trend. This is not a game where you steadily progress in building your own peaceful empire. Depending on how well you manipulate the game end condition, your efforts may be worth 6VP, or they may be worth nothing, and 6VP and 0VP can be the difference between winning and coming last.  

Friday, 17 July 2020

The huskies meet


Sunday 12 Jul 2020. Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin came over to play. They are all my ex-colleagues, and because of boardgames, we became good friends too. Huskies were our company mascot when we worked at the same company. We are now working at different places, but we still meet up once in a while to play and chat.

Pandemic is a game with a special place in our hearts. My friends got into boardgames because of Pandemic. When they learnt that I had this game, they were curious to try it. That was how I introduced boardgames to them. Later, when the Pandemic Legacy games were released, this group of friends played with me and we completed both Season 1 and 2 together, over many fun sessions. We are now looking forward to the third in the series, Season 0, the prequel.

This time we met up to play, we wanted to play basic Pandemic again, for old times' sake. My copy is the first edition, probably not as pretty as the later versions, but it has sentimental value to me.

To make our game relevant to current events, during game setup I intentionally picked Shanghai (one of the cities closest to Wuhan) to seed with three disease cubes. Normally the setup is random. Later during our game the red disease was first to get cured. In fact we completely eradicated it - no more red cubes on the board. 

Ruby, Benz, Xiaozhu and Edwin. Ruby drew the Scientist character, which meant she could find a cure using four cards of the same colour instead of five. We all tried to pass cards to her and let her focus on finding cures.

One problem with the first edition of the game is the board is a tad small and the pieces are a tad big. When you need to place more than a few pieces at the some location, they won't fit. I prefer to stack the disease cubes like I'm building skyscrapers. It saves space, and it's a good visual cue to see how bad things are.

The last disease we needed to cure was black. We had neglected it for some time and things were getting out of hand. We were at risk of domino effect outbreaks.

Eventually we did beat the game, but things got pretty hairy at one point. We were down to two black cubes remaining in the general supply. One more black outbreak and we would have lost the game. There were a few card draws which were life-and-death. At the time Benz had collected five black cards and would soon be able to cure the black disease. However before his turn came, Ruby still had to do one more infection round. She had to draw three infection cards. If any of those had been one of the black cities with three black cubes, an outbreak would have been triggered and the game would have ended in a loss. We had been quite lucky throughout the game. Things went smoothly, and we even managed to eradicate two diseases, red and yellow. Yet we still got into a precarious situation. It was nerve-racking.

This is Ticket To Ride: Europe. One of our to-do items for this particular meet-up was to give it a go. Ticket To Ride: Japan is out, and Benz and Ruby intend to get a copy. However it is not a stand-alone game. They would need to buy a copy of either Ticket To Ride, or Ticket To Ride: Europe too. They had tried Ticket To Ride. Now they needed to try Ticket To Ride: Europe as well in order to make a decision.

In the photo above, Xiaozhu played black, and Edwin yellow. When they started claiming routes, they found that they were aiming for nearby cities. They hurriedly claim routes, worried that they might get blocked by each other. Their routes intertwined for quite some distance eventually, like a DNA strand.

Benz applied a card hoarding strategy this time. We joked that he already had half the deck in his hand, and that was probably not far from the truth. The rest of us were close to running out of cards to draw. The draw deck had to be reshuffled frequently. We couldn't find the colours we wanted, because many of them were probably still being held by Benz. It was a relief when he eventually started playing cards and placing trains onto the board. He claimed that long 8-train route between Stockholm and Petrograd which was worth 21VP. He claimed many longer routes and scored the most from routes. At game end, he came in #2, only a few points behind the winner. It seems card hoarding is a viable strategy.

Ruby (red) nervously started claiming routes soon after Edwin and Xiaozhu started doing so, because the routes she needed were near where they were going too. During final scoring, we discovered that she had misread the map, and she failed to complete her long-distance ticket. Instead of scoring 20VP, she lost 20VP. That's a 40VP difference! Needless to say, she came in last. The two cities she mixed up were Pamplona and Palermo, one in Spain, the other in Italy.

One unique aspect of the Europe map is the train stations. I described these are life-savers. If a route you desperately need to claim is taken by someone else, you can place a station to borrow that route for the sake of completing tickets. The Europe map is slightly more forgiving because of this. In our game, some used all three stations, but some did not touch any. Unused stations are worth 4VP each.

Benz was blue, and his routes were all along the edges of the map. He focused on longer and higher valued routes.

The longest route bonus was won by Edwin (yellow). He had no breaks and no forks at all!

During final scoring, we passed our tickets to the players on our right to audit and add up.

The Reiner Knizia classic Ra was a game we agreed we must play this session. We had a lot of fun with it the last time we met up. My friends said they only got to know the real me after having played Ra with me. They said I sounded like a used car salesman when I analysed each play for them, how this set of tiles was good, how that set was great, why you should invoke Ra now, why you should keep drawing another tile. Well, I was just trying to help and I wanted to explain the intricacies so that they could play better. I was not trying to manipulate anyone into doing anything beneficial to me *cough* mostly.

The last time we played, everyone feared having no culture, because of the 5VP penalty. This time everyone paid much attention to collecting pharaohs. If you can grab the lead in the early game, and then maintain that lead, you will earn 15VP in total throughout the game. That is significant. We also wanted to avoid the 2VP penalty for having the fewest pharaohs. During our game, sometimes we tried to force others to have the fewest, and sometimes we simply manoeuvred the situation such that there were more opponents getting penalised together with us. It seems I tend to be the guy doing the latter. I guess I can't blame them for not trusting me.

This was a horrible set of tiles. Of the four tiles (lower row), three were disasters (black borders). You have more to lose than to gain. No one wanted to invoke Ra, until eventually the Ra track (upper row) filled up, and the epoch ended.

Unfortunately Ra is out of print now. I had thought it was still in print. I had also thought Priests of Ra would be almost the same game, just with some double sided tiles, but I later realised it has a different scoring system.

The Pandemic Gang


I lost this game, but I did manage to collect all eight monument types, which was nice. Ruby suggested that these custom player boards should have been printed in black and white, so that it is easier to see at one glance which tiles you have collected (which would be coloured), and which tiles you don't have yet (which would be black and white). Makes sense to me!

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Endeavor: Age of Sails

The Game

Endeavor was first published in 2009. I quite liked it and bought a copy. The new version, Endeavor: Age of Sails, was published in 2018. Allen has a copy, and it comes with quite a number of expansions. In this new version, the game has been tweaked, but it is 95% the same as the first version. Allen, Han and I tried the new version, using one of the expansions - Exploits.

Endeavor: Age of Sails is based on the age of exploration and colonisation, when European nations explored and conquered the world. You play one such European nation, and you compete with other nations in discovering and colonising new lands, developing your economy and technology, and building your globe-spanning empire.

This is your player board. In the top half you see four tracks representing four aspects of your nation. Throughout the game, you will be constantly advancing in these four tracks, increasing the abilities of your nation. In the middle, you see eight slots for buildings. You start with one building, and in each of the 7 rounds in the game, you'll construct a new one. Which kind of building you get to construct depends on your Industry level, which is one of the four aspects of your nation.

Most actions you get to perform in the game are dependent on your buildings. Most buildings have one slot for a disc. When you place a disc there, you get to perform the action as specified by the building. Some actions let you place a disc onto the main game board, earning you some benefit. The second and third aspects of your nation are related to managing your discs. Your Culture level determines how many new discs you get every round. Your Wealth level determines how many buildings you get to reset every round. When a building has a disc on it, it can no longer be used. You need to do a reset, taking the disc back into hand, before the building can be used again.

The fourth aspect of your nation is Influence. It gives you slots for Asset cards. The slots are in the bottom row of your player board. Asset cards have various icons which boost the four aspects of your nation. Some of them have point values too.

This is the main game board. At the centre you have Europe. Surrounding that you have six regions to be discovered and occupied - North America, Central America, South America, Africa, India and the Far East. When a game starts, the six regions are not yet accessible. You need to do enough exploration to discover a region before you can start occupying cities in it.

You can see many natural and light blue discs on the game board. The board is seeded with them randomly at the start of every game. When you place your own player disc on a space with a natural or light blue disc, you claim it for yourself. The icons on the natural discs improves the four aspects of your nation. The icons on light blue discs allow you to perform specific actions.

This is the Far East region. In our game, many of the seeded discs happened to be shields, which improve the Influence aspect of a nation. At this moment Allen (blue) and Han (yellow) had started exploring the Far East. They had placed discs on the shipping track along the right. When the shipping track fills up, the region opens for occupation. The player with the most discs when the region opens becomes the governor of the region, which means claiming the governor card of the region. The governor card is similar to an Asset card. It has icons which increase one or more aspects of your nation.

There is warfare in the game, but warfare is costly, to both aggressor and victim. Yet, sometimes it is worthwhile for the aggressor. You need specific buildings or action discs to attack an opponent. Both aggressor and victim lose a disc, and the aggressor takes over one city or fleet previously controlled by the victim. There is no defense. Well, other than pleading, which doesn't always work. 

When using the Exploits expansion, at part of game setup you will randomly pick three Exploit cards like this one above. Exploits allow you to perform special actions in lieu of the normal actions. They also allow you to score points based on additional criteria at game end. An Exploit is linked to two specific regions on the board. It comes into effect only when both the regions are open. Only players who have presence in both regions may use its abilities. In case you lose presence later (e.g. you are attacked), you will lose access to the Exploit too. Exploits are all based on historical events, so they add flavour to the game.

In the game we played, Africa was linked to two of the Exploits we drew, so we set Africa up with two keys. When Africa opened up, we would move the keys to the relevant Exploit cards as reminders. Note that these pretty keys only come with the Kickstarter version of the game.

In this photo above, you can see discs on the cities, as well as on the lines linking the cities. If you occupy a city, you get the disc on it. If you occupy two linked cities, you get the disc on the link between them too. This mechanism influences how you plan your conquest, and how you compete with others.

The Play

Endeavor is a game of balanced development. Of the four aspects of your nation, if some advance too quickly and some too slowly, the slow ones will cripple you and waste the quick ones. In this it is a little like Through the Ages. Endeavor does this in a simpler and more abstract way. This sounds limiting, as if you are constrained to one way of playing, but you do have flexibility in choosing how to develop the four aspects. You get to decide which ones to prioritise over others. There are still tactical decisions to be made throughout the course of the game. You have to grab opportunities, compete smartly, and optimise your moves. In some ways it's an efficiency game. Players are doing similar things, and you sometimes win through better efficiencies gained here and there throughout the game.

In our game, I had to learn the strategies all over again because it had been quite some time since my previous play, so I did not spend much time thinking about the Exploits. I focused on only the basic gameplay. I did not get a good grasp of the Exploits. Han made good use of the Exploits, in particular the Letters of Marque. Right before the game ended, he attacked Allen's lone disc in the South American shipping track. This resulted in Han being the only player with discs on the shipping track, and he scored a bonus for that. Because of this bonus, Han eventually tied Allen for the win. The game has no tiebreaker, so they were both winners, and I was the sole loser. My problem was my Industry level. I was too slow in advancing it, and didn't get many decent buildings which were more efficient.

This was my player board in the final round (all building slots were filled). My Industry level (first track) was good now, but I only got to this level quite late in the game. You can see my three mid-game buildings were the same. My Industry level was low then and that was the best I could do.

There is an interesting tension between competition and collaboration in opening up new regions. If only one player does exploration to open up a region, it takes much time and effort. Things can speed up significantly if more players chime in. However that also means they are competing for discs, for cities to occupy, for the governorship and for the Asset cards. Deciding which regions to go for and how hard to compete / collaborate is something you constantly do.

Endeavor: Age of Sail is a game of contesting in details, as opposed to grand strategy. Everyone needs to develop in a somewhat balanced manner, so there are no wildly different strategic directions. The main difference in pursuit among players is which regions to invest in. The rest of the competition is more tactical in nature. It is still interesting and challenging, just don't expect extremes. Extremes won't work here.

The game board is double-sided, to cater for the different number of players. This is one improvement over the original. We had only 3 players, but we almost filled the board. We did not battle much, since there were enough items to grab to keep us busy. It was more efficient to grab unclaimed cities than to fight others for theirs. With more players, I expect more battles. I (white) did not do much exploration or colonisation. I only went to 2 regions outside of Europe. Allen (blue) was most aggressive, and had presence in 5 regions. He was the only power in North America (top right corner). Han (yellow) had presence in 4 regions.

This is India. I (white) captured a few linked cities so that I could claim the discs on the links. At game end, the cross icons on the links also gave me 1VP each.

The Thoughts

Endeavor: Age of Sails is a development game. You start with humble beginnings and you steadily build your empire throughout the game. It gives you that kind of satisfaction, seeing your power grow. You gain access to more and more actions and options. The game accelerates towards game end. There is much player interaction, even though not necessarily through warfare. Ultimately warfare is just a means to an end. It is costly and you will weigh the ROI before you commit. You will need to watch out for threats. Not that you can do much to defend yourself (by pleading), but sometimes a deterrent in the form of counter-attack ability works.

The journey of developing your nation, balancing the four aspects, is challenging an interesting. Eventually all successful nations may look similar on the four tracks, but they may have reached there via different paths. It is an intricate balancing act as you strive to progress and stay efficient.

One word that I associate with the game is "comfortable", as in it is smooth, polished and streamlined. Some may think negatively about this, because some over-polished or over-developed games lose character and become bland. Indeed it may feel a little abstract, but I think it has enough to chew on. I adore the art work and graphic design, and they contribute to how at ease I feel with the game. It is a pleasure to experience the game. If you are looking for a conflict-heavy game, then this is not it. Endeavor: Age of Sails is a VP-scoring Eurogame.