Tuesday, 12 October 2010


The Game

Shipyard is, of course, a game about building ships. It is well known for having multiple rondels - a mechanism made popular by games like Antike and Imperial, and indeed, it has five, and they work in different ways. This may sound daunting, but the game is actually not that complex. It does have many many components, but they all fit the theme logically.

The game lasts a fixed number of rounds. Within this time, you build ships and score points for each of them. At the end of the game, you score points for how well you have fulfilled two secret government contracts.

Everyone has a shipyard consisting of 9 slots, where you put your ship pieces. A complete ship must have one hull piece, at least one middle piece, and one stern piece. A ship can have various equipment, e.g. cranes, smokestacks (we called them chimneys), propellers, cannons, cabins and sails. Different equipment needs different types of mounting points on the ship piece for you to be able to attach them to your ship, and they provide different benefits. Your ship must always have a captain, and may carry crew members - officers, soldiers or merchants. Whenever you complete a ship, you must immediately send it for a shakedown (kind of like a test drive), and for this you need to have rented some canals. It is during the shakedown that you score points - for the speed of your ship, for the equipment and crew, and also for special icons along the canal where your ship sails. Some icons reward you for safety features, e.g. number of lifeboats. One icon rewards you for cannons and soldiers. There are a few other different icons which reward you for different aspects of your ship.

The player board is mostly open space. The nine slots at the bottom are your shipyard. At the top left corner are reference charts for determining ship speed. At the top right corner is a reference chart for scoring when your ship does its shakedown cruise.

Some of the components in the game. Top left are employee tiles which give you special abilities. These two that I had gave me a free cannon and a free crane whenever I chose the make equipment action. Top right are the government contracts (face-down). In the middle row: a canal tile that I had bought, a commodities tile, a smokestack, and a propeller. At the bottom, $4.

At the start of the game you have 3 green and 3 blue government contracts. At certain points in the game you must discard some of them, and at game end you will only have one of each colour. You score bonus points at game end for how well you fulfill the contracts. This means at the start of the game you have a few options, and as the game progresses you need to decide on which one to focus on.

The actions that you can take in the game are mostly about getting the ship pieces, the equipment and the crew for your ships. You also need to get canals for the shakedown cruises. You can buy commodity tiles which can later be sold for cash or bartered for equipment or crew. You can get employee tiles which give you some special abilities, e.g. getting a free soldier whenever you take the recruit crew action, or selling coal for a higher price.

The action selection mechanism in the game is a little like a worker placement game, but with the action spaces (which are tiles) constantly moving around a track. On your turn, you move the action tile your pawn is on to the head of the "train". This action tile is the one that you have chosen on your previous turn. You can't choose it again on your current turn. Then you choose your action. You can't choose action tiles with other players' pawns on them. If you choose an action tile that is behind one or more other players' pawns, you gain money. This means you are rewarded for choosing actions that have not been chosen for some time. This description sounds convoluted, but seeing it in action makes it much easier to understand.

The rondel mechanism for gaining equipment, gaining crew and gaining employee works just like those in other games. A rondel has a number of segments each specifying what is available. When you take an action related to that rondel, the marker moves one step to the next segment, and you get what that segment shows, unless you pay money to move the marker further, so that you can get something else. Naturally, you should try to save cost by picking the rondel you need when the marker is at a favourable position.

The game has two game boards which combine to become one very big board. The left two thirds of the upper board show the commodities, ship pieces and canals that are available for purchase if you choose the appropriate actions. At the top right corner there is a countdown track. The right side is the action track, with money kept inside the track. Action tiles will keep moving along this track, and when you choose an action, you place your pawn on the tile.

In the lower board, the two circles at the top left are the rondels for getting equipment and crew. The hexagonal rondel below them is for selling commodities or bartering them for equipment or crew. On the right side you have the the "rondel" for the employee tiles. Around that you have your score track. The boxes at the bottom are for storing the various equipment and crew pieces.

The action track.

The Play

The game setup is quite a bit of work, because of the many components. They need to be stored in an orderly manner to make it easier to set up the next time round.

From the early game, I had more or less decided on the government contracts that I wanted to focus on - (a) ships that have soldier-cannon pairs, and (b) many small ships, the more the better. I very much went for a quantity over quality policy, while trying to have as many soldier-cannon pairs as I could. I mostly sacrified speed. This saved me cost in renting canals too. When your ships are slow, you don't need long canals to test drive them.

Han wasn't too sure what to do in the early game, and spent many actions earning money. His policy was: when unsure what to do, earn money first. That worked out quite well. Having a lot of cash meant he later could spend it on extra actions, and also he was able to move the rondel markers extra steps to allow him to get what he wanted. Cash buys flexibility. Han built big ships, and worked a lot on ship speed. His ships scored high, and during the shakedown cruises, he also made good used of the blue riband icon, which rewarded him for ship speed.

Allen built big ships too. In the early game he misunderstood that he needed to have bought ship pieces with the appropriate mounting points before he could get the relevant equipment for his ships. Actually he could have obtained the equipment first and set them aside. Equipment only needed to be attached when a ship was ready to sail. I think this set him back a little.

At game end, Han's score was too far ahead for either of us to be able to catch up. I did score well for my government contracts, but it was not enough. The bonus score for the "quantity-over-quality" contract is quite good, but I guess the downside is when you build small ships, the ships themselves won't earn you many points.

My player board near game end. I had completed 3 ships, and was almost done with the last two.

I only ever needed two canals, because all my ships were quite slow.

The Thoughts

Shipyard looks daunting, but is actually not very complex. It's mostly about collecting stuff to build your ships, and then scoring your ships once they are completed. One analogy is you are making cakes, and you need to buy your ingredients at the supermarket. You can buy them in any order. Some are necessary, some are nice-to-have. You try to gather all the ingredients as quickly as possible, and as cheaply as possible. You need to decide on how best to customise your cakes.

Government contracts are a bigger part of the game than I expected. I scored about half my points from them. They really drive the strategy of the players, and I imagine once you get familiar with the contracts, it will become easier and easier to guess what your opponents have. The government contracts can drive the players in different directions. They set the long-term goals.

In our first game, the game felt a little solitairish, in that everyone just focused on his own ships. You can't directly interfere with others' ships. There are opportunities for blocking your opponents. E.g. picking actions that you think they will want, moving the rondel markers to positions that are less favourable to them, or buying the ship pieces / commodities / canals that they will want. In the first game I wasn't able to think that far. With more plays, I will be able to take into consideration opponents' needs better. Overall, player interaction is of this indirect type.

To me, the rondel mechanism, or the action tile track mechanism, aren't really the selling points of the game, although these seem to be the most mentioned aspects. To me they are just tools that fade into the background as I get familiar with the game. When I play the game I'm building ships and not gaming a mechanism. I quite enjoy the ship building theme. There is a sense of satisfaction whenever I build a good ship.

If I take a step back and think about the game design, I'd say there's nothing ground-breaking. There are quite some unique elements, but these mechanisms quickly become second nature and I don't think about them much, whether they are good or bad, innovative or otherwise. To me, they just work. Somehow, Shipyard is a game that really makes me feel the theme. I get a feeling it grew out of a theme looking for some mechanisms, and not the other way round. It is a solid medium-high complexity Eurogame. If you like building stuff and admiring them, give it a go.


wankongyew said...

This is to me the coolest of the new games you've reviewed. I've wondered myself if there were any games like this before as this seems like an obvious theme to turn into a game. There are many different ways to implement it, but I think the core idea is essentially the same, e.g. from the PC game Rollercoaster Tycoon, you're trying to build a theme park, and to do this you buy rides, hire employees, decorate the place etc. Every turn, a batch of new customers with different desires and perhaps budgets appear. They go to the park that best fits what they need, gaining that park's owner points/money etc. Another idea variation: you're making a film (hire actors, choose a genre by picking a script, invest in special effects).

Can you think of other games like this? I think the new Hotel Samoa (build a resort to attract tourists) is a bit similar but seems very simple.

One of these days, I really need to pick you guys' knowledge of boardgames and ask tons of questions like "Has this type of game ever been done before?, "Has any game used this theme?", "How many combat mechanics in games do you know of?" etc.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Have you tried Traumfabrik / Hollywood Blockbuster / Dream Factory? It's about making movies, and you are also trying to collect various stuff to make good movies. Here you gain stuff by auctions. It's a Knizia game. I self-made a version which uses movies and actors from 80's - 90's. It's quite fun.

Allen said...

I think there is a game where the theme really excites me Restaurant Row. You can read more about the game on BGG. The only reason stopping me from getting the game is the design, it's really awful... :). If any 'big' publisher were to republish it with nicer design, I'll be the first one to preorder.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Allen, I've never heard of Restaurant Row before. Sounds interesting. But indeed is quite ugly... ha ha!

Damien said...

Hiew, it's hard to tell whether you like this game or not based on your final thoughts.

Do you like this game at the time of writing? And what about today/now?

p/s sorry for reviving an old post.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Damien,
I quite like the game then, and my opinion hasn't changed, but that's just because I have not got around to playing it again. :-P Shipyard was a pleasant surprise to me. I had expected Euro-ish complexity for the sake of the nifty mechanisms, and instead found that I was quite absorbed into the theme and the nifty mechanisms simple became tools that fade into the background or become second nature once you get into the game.