BGR: Archipelago by Ludically
(Disclaimer: I am reviewing after two plays)
A chain of islands has popped up in the middle of the ocean. You have the chance to land on those islands and harvest their resources. At first things are great. You’ve got new land, exotic fruit, and you are quickly farming. But beware. The rebels native to the archipelago are getting frustrated with you. A rebellion is growing! If you think you have what it takes to hold the natives at bay while reaping what the land can offer, then you’re ready to try out Archipelago!
In Archipelago players represent Renaissance European powers who are attempting to explore, control, and cultivate the land of the archipelago. To do so you’ll have to harvest the resources that the land is offering, then use those resources to build ports, markets, towns, and temples.
A round consists of an auction phase which determines player order, a “population effects” stage which adjusts the number of rebels on the island, a “balance of the archipelago” phase which has a requirement on a card that must be met lest the rebel population rises, an “actions” phase where players place their action discs to perform different actions, and finally an “evolution card” phase where players either purchase one card and rotate another or rotate two of the evolution cards.
Each player will also have a card that shows them an end-game scenario and a scoring condition. If that end-game scenario is ever met, the game ends. These scenarios include things like how many of a type of building has been built. Once the game is over the scoring conditions from each player’s card are revealed and scored. There is also one scoring condition card for each game that is visible to all players.
Here’s a look at the game setup:
- ARTWORK: this game has very nice artwork. It is fun to just look at the different land tiles. As a designer I appreciate when there are added details to artwork that are unnecessary. This game has very nice artwork in all areas and I can tell that was a focus.
- STRATEGY: There is a lot going on in this game, so the strategic decisions it offers are plentiful. On your turn you can place your action discs to obtain resources, reproduce, hire extra workers, explore, use a market or port, or build something. Trying to maximize your value-per-turn (VPT) can be tough, which is where strategy comes in.
- THEME: The idea of exploring an archipelago and developing the land is a really cool theme. Adding in the workers and rebels, the evolution cards, having to balance the archipelago, and maintaining a market balance all add to the theme. It all seemed to work pretty well together.
- COMPONENTS: There are just too many. I found we were constantly dealing with the fiddly-ness of the game because you have to look at the two markets, the two population boards, the evolution card track, the action circle, the archipelago itself, other players evolution cards, and so on. And it is a little tedious to use the box insert itself during gameplay. The explorer tokens didn’t fit very well in the box. The coins were hard to get out. Sure, we could have put them on the table, but the rulebook goes out of its way to say the box is used in the game.
- TIME: this game takes a long time. I read a BGG thread that said to not bother with the short game since you wouldn’t get the chance to develop the full flavor of the game, but I recommend the short version. With three players playing the medium game it took about 2.5 hours. But it only ended so quickly because we didn’t pay much attention to the rebels and they took over, and thus we all lost, pouring salt in our wounds.
- INDECISION: normally I like a lot of choices in the game. Normally those choices have a clear path forward. In Archipelago it seems like you just gather whatever goods are available and hope to use them. Sure, stone helps you build things. But why are you building them? It just seemed like too often I was choosing an action that didn’t really have any reasoning behind it.
Designer Perspective – What Would I Change:
I think that dropping the evolution cards from the game entirely would make it more fun and less fiddly. That would also mean dropping the “balance of the archipelago” phase. That would be fine since that phase seemed very random and non-thematic. I would also make the game more about the actually exploration of the archipelago rather than the whole “control the rebels” nature of the game. As a designer I have learned that it is super easy to add complexity to games. It seems like that happened here. On the other hand, games often get better when complexity is stripped out and the “fun” part of the game becomes the focus.
Fiddler’s Elbow (Wychwood Brewery, UK): Mostly due to the name (Fiddler’s is close to “Fiddly”), but also because this is an English Pale Ale. I could imagine the English exploring an Archipelago in the 17th century and having to deal with the natives. Plus, I didn’t think this game was deserving of a more mainstream beer. I suppose I should share that I haven’t had this beer. But I feel like I understand the beer about as much as I understand this game.
While Archipelago is interesting, it is too fiddly for my liking. During my second play we got to the point where we realized we weren’t having any fun. The strategy is present and complex, but the fact that you have to pay attention to so many little details along the way really stole the pleasure from the game. I’ll rate this as a 6 out of 10 according to the BoardGameGeek rating system: