Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Endeavor

Allen brought a new unpunched copy of Endeavor on Sat 15 May 2010, and we punched the game (and played quick games of En Garde and Times Square) while waiting for Han to arrive. Allen had played the game before, and taught us how to play.

Endeavor is a recently released game (2009) which has been well received. So I was happy to have a chance to try it.

The Game

The historical background of the game is the Age of Exploration, when European nations are exploring and colonising new lands. In the early game players fight over Europe, but soon they run out of space and start exploring and conquering new distant lands - North, Central and South America, Africa, India and the Far East. The game is played over 7 rounds, and at the start of every round you get to construct a building (for free). Buildings usually give you an action that you can use during the action phase of a round, or increase your level in one of the four status tracks. Your choice of building will determine your strategy.

The action phase of each round is the meat of the game. You normally take an action by placing a marker on the building that allows you to do that action. You can also take an action by discard an action token that you have collected earlier. The most basic action is the Occupy action - you place one of your markers on a vacant city and take the token on it. You can Attack another player's city, replacing his marker with yours, by paying one marker. There is no defense against this, but you do need to have the appropriate building or action token to make an Attack. You can Ship, which means to explore a certain new region - you place a marker on the outermost vacant space of the shipping track of the region, and take the token on it. Shipping symbolises exploration of the region, and only when the region is fully explored (represented by the shipping track being filled up), it becomes available to be Occupied.

You can Draw cards. There are stacks of cards that provide various benefits in the regions, sorted in a fixed order from good to very good. When a card is taken, the next (usually) better card is revealed and becomes available. However to be able to get the next card you need to have sufficient presence (i.e. markers) in the region.

Throughout the game you keep collecting tokens and cards from the board, and most of them have icons that allow you to progress on your four status tracks, which are like development tracks. The Industry status track determines how many building types are available to you. The more advanced you are, the more and better the available buildings are. The Culture track determines how many markers you gain every round. The Finance track determines how quickly you can reuse your buildings (by removing the markers you've put on them when you use them). The Politics track determines how many cards you can hold. All these tracks also give victory points depending on how far you progress.

There is a spatial element to the game. Most cities on the board are linked, and a token is placed on the link. The first player to control both cities at both ends of a link takes this token. The player who controls both cities also earn at game end also earn 1VP.

So the whole game is about land grabbing, exploring, and advancing on your status tracks. The buildings you construct, the tokens and cards you collect, and the benefits you gain from advancing on the status tracks, are all your tools to do these.

The Play

I started the game with a card collecting mindset. Unfortunately my rhythm in Occupying was a bit off, and I found myself eventually controlling only 1 European city, compared to 5 and 4 respectively by Allen and Han. I did quite badly at the spatial element of the game, not ever controlling cities at both ends of a link. I did alright in card collecting, and that did help. But the poor performance on the board meant I came in a rather distant last at 36pts. Allen won the game at 51pts, beating Han's 49pts narrowly.

The game was very quick, very streamlined. Everything clicks very well. The different aspects of the game are well integrated and are intuitive.

The whole board. Europe is in the middle. At the start of the game only Europe is open for players to fight over. At this point in the game, Africa (lower left of this photo) had been fully explored, and Han (white) had Occupied both the cities there. North America had been fully explored too, and it was now fully Occupied by Allen (red). Han did some exploration of the Caribbean (top centre) and the Far East (bottom right), but Allen and I had not been interested to participate.

A slightly closer look at the board. See how weak I was in Europe (green).

Africa, land of lions. Colonising Africa was good for Han because the cities link to other cities in the Mediterranean already Occupied by him.

My player mat in round 6 (6 buildings constructed, not counting the one everyone starts the game with, the Colonial House). I had filled up all my card slots. Unfortunately most of my cards are not very powerful ones, nothing more than Level 2. I did have one Governor card due to being the biggest explorer of North America.

My player mat in round 7, the final round. Some of my cards had been replaced with better ones.

The Thoughts

I quite like Endeavor. It does not have big innovations, but there are some small ones that I quite like. I like that the buildings are free and you don't need to managed multiple types of resources like many other Eurogames. The game play feels smooth, simple and clean, although there are actually some rules exceptions and small details that you need to keep in mind.

I think the game is quite thematic, which many may disagree. Occupation, exploration and warfare are abstracted down to simple mechanics, but I find that the game as a whole works very well to give a feeling of colonial powers competing in discovery, conquest and technology.

There have been complaints that the status tracks, i.e. the development aspect of the game, are not very interesting, because by game end everyone tends to have more or less the same technology level. I don't think that is a problem. I think in this aspect of the game the journey is more important than the destination. During the game you need to decide and prioritise which tracks to progress on. Indeed you can't let any specific track fall behind too far, but there is some room for flexibility during the game, and it is within this space that you try to come up with a competitive strategy.

There is a bit of a game of chicken in Endeavor. Do you wait for an opponent to pick up a card, so that you will gain access to the next more powerful card under it? Will another opponent place enough markers to take that card before you? There may be multiple regions that you want to compete in. Which city do you Occupy first? Which region do you Ship to first?

Details of card artwork.

One thing that I like a lot in this game is the artwork, especially the box cover and the buildings. I like the overall graphic design very much - the style, the font, the colour scheme, and the good communication design. It is by Joshua Cappel, who also did the graphics for Wasabi, another game with very good artwork. Joshua is also the co-designer of Wasabi. Multi-talented.

4 comments:

wankongyew said...

I heard from a New Zealander friend that this game was designed by an NZ guy. Looks like something my wife and I would enjoy.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Yes indeed this game is designed by two New Zealanders. I think it's their first published design too. Quite impressive.

Persuade Chong Sean to buy this lah, then next time when I go back to KK we can all play. :-) I quite like it. You can play 2 back-to-back games because it's quite quick.

Chong Sean said...

Okok, i'll get it eventually.
But my game-buying quota is 15 games a year, i used up too many already!
so i can only buy it when i am 50 years old...

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Chong Sean, the 15 games per year quota is trademarked lah, so as a penalty for trademark infringement, you have to buy 15 games that I specify and put them at your cafe, so that they won't count towards my quota. :-P