Friday, 4 January 2019

7 Wonders: Armada

Plays: 7Px1.

The Game

7 Wonders is a successful game, having spawned many expansions, big and small. I have played some of the expansions but not all. Armada is one of the bigger expansions. It adds a naval aspect to the game, and increases player interaction in a few ways.

Everyone gets a dockyard board like this. You have four ships in four colours. Every time you construct a building or a stage of your wonder, you may also move a ship of the corresponding colour by paying extra resources. E.g. when you construct a red military building, you may move the red ship. The cost of moving the ship is printed on the dockyard board. Most of the time when you move a ship, you gain some benefit, as printed on the dockyard board too. E.g. the green ship lets you draw some island cards (see photo above) and claim one. Island cards come with various benefits.

The red ship increases your naval strength, which is a new game element. You now have not only army (military) strength but also naval strength. Unlike army strength, naval strength is compared among all players at the end of every era. The few who are strongest score points, and the weakest loses points. You are not just comparing with left and right neighbours.

The yellow ship increases your commerce level and also triggers taxation. Whenever taxation occurs, players with lower commerce levels than the player triggering taxation loses money. So this is a form of high commerce level players bullying low commerce level players. There is another side of the coin - piracy. Some cards trigger piracy, and piracy hurts players with high commerce levels.

The blue ship gives you points, just like the blue prestige buildings in the base game.

The Armada expansion comes with some new cards. You'll be playing 7 instead of 6 turns every round. Many of the new cards are related to the new naval element. Some cards let you interact with players other than your immediate left and right neighbours. You can buy resources cheaply from players who are sitting further away. You get to compare army strength with them too. Naturally you want to do the latter only when you are stronger or expect to be stronger than them.

One small change is the purple guild cards now score at most 10 points. I am guessing after introducing the new game elements some guilds can be overpowered, thus the need to set a limit.

The Play

I did a full 7-player game. If you have an 8th wonder from other expansions, you can play an 8-player game. The rulebook also comes with a team variant, where you can play in teams of two players sitting together. I have not tried this yet.

In the early game, I emphasised buildings which produced resources. I wanted to make sure I could build all three stages of my wonder. Investing in resource buildings early makes construction easier later. I noticed that no one spent much effort in constructing science buildings, so I decided I was going to be the science guy. See all those green science buildings I already had at this point. In this game the decision-making was fast and almost brainless for me. Most of the time, the moment I received the hand of cards from my neighbour, I already knew which card was best. Usually it was the science card. I didn't want to be distracted by blue prestige buildings or red military buildings. There was much thumb-twiddling for me waiting for others to decide.

I had two big problems. Firstly, I wasted many opportunities to sail my ships. Very often I was short of resources or money. This meant I missed out on many of the benefits on the dockyard board, or I got them later than I would have liked. The other problem was commerce level. I was behind most of the others, which meant I suffered much from taxation. I contributed much to the government and the pirates. I completely neglected military - both my army and my navy. I did have to lose points because of that, but it was not too painful.

My green science ship helped me discover this foggy island. Once I had this island, I was no longer affected by taxation or piracy. I just wished I had it earlier. I would have saved much money, which in turn probably meant I could afford to buy resources to sail my ships more often.

I fared poorly in sailing. My red and blue ships never moved. Green and yellow had only moved two steps each at this point. At the bottom of the yellow column you can see the pyramid icon. This means whenever I build one stage of my wonder, I get an opportunity to pay to sail my yellow ship. On different dockyard boards the pyramid icon appears in different columns.

This was my nation at the end of the game. My green ship had reached the end of the track, which was expected, since I was the science guy. Science gave me many points. The two purple guilds too. However my total score was mediocre compared to others. The penalties due to weak military was just one factor. I think the bigger problem was how I missed out on many opportunities to sail, and it had a cascading effect. I had played two yellow cards, and built all three stages of my wonder. If I had not missed any sailing opportunity for the yellow ship, it would be at at least the fifth step.

If you look at the top three green science cards, they have a new icon not seen in the base game. This new icon means it becomes the science icon which you already have the most of. It is not exactly a joker and you don't get to choose what science icon it becomes.

The Thoughts

The Armada expansion adds player interaction. You now need to compete in naval strength. You may interact with players sitting further away from you. Taxation and piracy affect everyone. In the base game, most of the player interaction is with your immediate neighbours. That was a basic design principle when the base game was designed - to make a 7 player game move briskly, don't overwhelm a player by requiring him to study closely what all the other six players are doing. Armada changes direction somewhat. The impact on player interaction is more obvious when you play with a high player count. If you only play with 3 or 4, these changes don't come into play or don't matter much. So I see Armada as mostly meant for playing with 5 to 7 players.

Armada adds complexity. It's not suitable for players new to the game. I think there will be too much to digest. I think 7 Wonders is a perfectly complete game and it plays fine without any expansion. Expansions do spice it up a bit and create same variability, but are not essential. You want expansions only if you play the base game heavily and want to get more life out of it.

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