A Review of Nations
Originally posted on Board Game Geek 12/22/2013
Build your civilization through four ages in hopes of being the greatest leader the world has ever known.
Nations is a Civilization building game for 1-5 players, yes you read that correctly, out of the box, with no extra effort on the player’s part, it is perfectly playable solo(I won’t be covering the solo game in this review, that may come later). In it you build your civilization from the age of Antiquity through the Industrial Age, searching to lead the most efficient nation in history. Military must be managed, you have to keep your nation stable and all the while your civilization needs to grow and learn. How do you do that? Glad you asked.
At the start of the game the players will choose their player board, the board represents their nations growth. In the game you can represent Persia, Rome, Greece, Egypt or China. Each player board has an A side and a B side. Each player’s A side is identical, while the B sides offer a bit of variability between the nations, each with a special ability. The board gives you your starting resources, on the A side everyone starts with 3 food, 3 stone, 3 gold, 7 victory points and 5 workers. B sides vary a little on the starting resources based on which nation you start with. On the board you also have your supply of eight workers that can be used throughout the game. At the beginning of the game you should also choose a difficulty level to play on. If you are new to the game, stick with the Prince or Chieftain levels and more advanced players can play on the King or Emperor levels. This difficulty level adjusts the amount of resources that a player can during the growth phase of the game. This helps level the playing field a bit by allowing newer players more resources for options.
The game is played over 4 ages, with each age having 2 rounds. Each round also consists of three phases, Maintenance, Action and Resolution. Maintenance phase is exactly what it says, you do all the maintenance needed to move onto the next phase including: Moving the round marker, refilling the progress cards, Growth, New Events and Refilling the Architect pool.
Moving the round marker is pretty self-explanatory so we’ll skip to the Progress Cards. The progress cards are how you build your nation; there are eight different types, Advisors, Battles, Buildings, Colonies, Golden Ages, Military, Wars and Wonders. Based on the number of players you fill the Progress Board with progress cards that will be available for following round. The cards on the boards will cost either, 1, 2 or 3 gold, depending on their level on the Progress Board. The next step is choosing your growth. During this phase you can chose whether to take another worker or take resources equal to the difficulty level you chose, 1-4. After choosing your growth you flip over the event card for the round. The event cards are played out at the end of the Resolution phase, some effects from the events are positive and some are good. The event card also indicates the number of extra architects to place into the architect pool for the round. After concluding these steps, it’s time for the meat of the game.
The Action phase is where, well let’s see, most of the action takes place. This is when you buy the progress cards, you deploy your workers and you hire architects. As stated before the card cost is determined by the level that the card located in on the Progress Board, the lower level costs 1 gold, second level costs 2 gold and the third 3 gold. Buildings, Military, Advisors, Colonies and Wonders are purchased and immediately placed on your player board on a space with the same border color. Battles and Golden Ages are resolved immediately and then discarded and Wars are placed on the War slot on the scoring board and are resolved during the Resolution phase. In order to gain the benefits of the buildings that you have purchased or have on your player board you do need to place workers on them. The cost of placing workers is on the lower left of the card this is what costs ore and that costs depends on the Age that the card came from. Architects are what you use to build your wonders, each wonder starts in the under construction spot on your player board and requires a certain number of architects with varied costs to complete. When someone is done taking their actions, they will pass and play continues until each player has done the same, at that point you move on into the Resolution phase.
The first step in the resolution phase is the Production step; each player produces and pays the resources necessary for their nation depending on their buildings and worker placement. After production the player order is determined, the player with the higher military strength will be the first person next round, with the tiebreaker being the Stability track. After player order is determined, if there was a war purchased, this is when it is resolved. To determine whether you suffer defeat in the war, you compare your military strength on the board to the military strength required on the War card. If you are equal to or higher on the military track, you are unaffected, but if you are below you suffer a defeat and must pay the resources shown on the bottom of the card. If the defeated nation has a stability that is higher than 0, your resource loss is lessened, you pay the resources minus stability, this can result in 0 resource loss. However everyone who loss, regardless of stability does lose a victory point. After the War is resolved we move on to resolving the events on the event card starting with the event on the top. These events have varied results from gaining resources, to losing workers or even adjusting player order, the events are a very important card to pay attention to while playing. If there is a tie for strongest, no one gets the benefit from the event, but if there are ties for lowest, each person tied for lowest suffers the consequences. The final thing that the event card tells us is the amount of food that each nation loses due to famine. This final step only happens at the end of an age; at that point each nation gains a victory point for each nation that has fewer Books than itself. And with that, that completes a round of Nations. I did not hit on all the finer points of gameplay, but that is Nations in a big nutshell.
Let me preface my thoughts by saying, I have never played Through the Ages, nor have I played Civilization. The only other major Civ building game I have experience with is Clash of Cultures which I quite liked, but I felt like it was more of a 4x type of game to me, but that’s neither here nor there for this review.
Nations is a really well put together game that seems destined to stay in my top 5 for quite some time. The rulebook is possibly the best put together rule book that I have read, and if I had to find a complaint about it, it would be that there is no index, but the it’s put together so well you don’t really need one so that complaint really doesn’t matter. The cardboard is nice thick cardboard and there definitely is enough of it, but the small cards leave a little to be desired, plus with the way they cut the cards it’s hard sometimes to figure out if a card belongs in the advanced or expert set, but before long you’ll be using all the cards anyway so that won’t matter at that point. The player boards are also a little thin, but they work perfectly for what you need them for. For some reason they only felt it necessary to give us four player aid boards even when the game can play up to five, but the fifth person can just use the back of the rule book if necessary. I find it silly to complain about inserts, but some people feel they are important so I will mention that it really is non-existent and I will probably just throw mine out. The game works really well and once you have a couple rounds under your belt you really won’t need the book, except for the occasional ruling. There is also a great FAQ online that seems to be getting updated on a regular basis.
There are tough choices to be made in this game, and at times I felt like I was spinning my wheels just standing still, but it works and it works well, you get the feeling that you are building something and you have to earn it.
I have played the solo game once, and I will probably do a short review of that another time, I actually like the solo play and I love how the designer and publisher included it with the game and didn’t rely on fans to create it for them.