The Colonists from Mayfair Games arrived just before the New Year hit, and I was bound and determined to make this one, one of the first games of the year, the year of less buying, of less backing, the year of playing more games that are sitting there staring me in the face. But The Colonists is no ordinary game, it isn’t a game that one can just throw on the table, grab three friends and sit down for an afternoon of fun and games, well, you could, but that afternoon would turn into evening which may in turn, turn into morning. So over the previous couple weeks, I sat and I read the rule book, and I read the rule book and I read the rule book, which isn’t to say that the rulebook is difficult to get through, in fact it’s the opposite, the rules are very well written and everything is pretty clear. I was reading over and over in preparation of asking my wife to play. You see, this may have been the most difficult question to ask my wife since she asked me to marry her, wait, so that wasn’t even that difficult for me. This may have been the most difficult thing I was going to ever ask of her!
Finally, one cold Sunday afternoon I worked up the courage and asked her, “Hey, you wanna play an era of The Colonists”? And to my surprise and bewilderment she agreed and we sat down to play it.
For a game that calls itself The Epic Strategy Game and possesses a rule book of about 30 pages and has two supplemental books as well, it’s relatively easy to jump into this one. Really, I didn’t take much more than 5 minutes or so to explain a bit of flavor and what was going on action wise to Kerensa and we were off and running. This is such a huge bonus for a game of this size, of this magnitude, to be able to hop in and be ready to play in about 5 minutes. Now that didn’t include setup, which took me a bit as I’m still working on storage solutions for the game to facilitate easier setup, but we were really up and running in 5 minutes. The concepts at first are simple you have a Steward on the board, and that Steward is running around among the 12 available spaces at the start of the game. They’ll be gathering resources, building things with those resources or trying to set up alliances with one of the available colonies. It’s really basic stuff, but don’t take it too lightly as this basic stuff is what you are building your base for in the future. If you’ve played any Euro in the last 5 years, the actions, the planning, the way you go about it, will all seem familiar and come to you fairly quickly, and that’s what the first Era is, setting yourself up for the next 3 eras.
As you progress through the game, you are going to be adding more rules, more resources, more Stewards, more Colonies and more, way more, options on that player board. You see, each era, you are going to be adding 12 locations to that board, 12 locations that the first player gets to place and build the map as they please. They could be a jerk, like I was and not really pay attention to where they are building new locations with respect to the old ones, or they could be thoughtful, like Kerensa, and try to find the best place to build them so as to facilitate easier completion of their goals. Here comes one sticking point as far as our AP(Analysis Paralysis) goes. Kerensa did take a bit long to go over in her head what was going on, and what would best help her in placement, even looking down the road a few turns, I didn’t, I saved my AP for deciding where that damn Steward was going to go next, which could have partially been an easier decision, had I actually planned out better where to place those locations.
So that first era builds nicely, going from 12 locations up to 24 by the end of the era and you begin to see where the game is going, what it is building, but still, you may not be ready for the scope of what is about to unfold before you. We called it quits after that first era, but I kept everything on the table as we wanted to play era 2 the next day since the kids were at school and we would be at the house by ourselves for a few hours. We recorded a bit of our thoughts after that first play as well, you can hear them on Week 111 at around the 1:21:28 mark, after we talk a bit about another game.
Monday(at least I think it was Monday)
We arrive home after taking the kids to breakfast, make some coffee and some snacks and sit down to era 2 of The Colonists, we were so naive at that point, we had no idea what was about to unfold before us.
Before continuing I just thought I’d mention that Kerensa likes to play games till there is an end, a verifiable winner or loser, even in cooperative games, who won or lost is important, but I completely forgot that as I was pushing to continue, just one more era, in reality, I could have just kept playing and not even mentioned anything, just keep putting out the new era cards, the new era tiles and setting it up, she would have wanted to finish, but I kept leaving the option open. We could quit here, or keep on playing, and keep on playing we did.
So, Era 2 begins and the importance of those colonies start to become apparent. At the beginning of the game you randomly pick 4 different colonies that you can affiliate yourself with, our 4 were:
The Altruist Colony which is all about charity about sharing of resources. As you progress through the Altruist Colony and gain more diplomacy with them you have more choices of resources to gain from them at the end of every year
The Storekeeper Colony, they are all about storage of goods. They start out by expanding your Storage and Warehouse, but eventually give the benefit of increased storage over those who do not affiliate themselves with the Storekeeper Colony. (More about storage a bit later as it is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY important)
The Industrialist Colony, they are all about the refinement of goods, taking that wood and turning into planks and clay into bricks, etc.
The Alchemist Colony, which is all about exchanging goods of one kind for another.
The Colonies cannot be ignored, they just cannot be. First off, most of them allow you to expand your storage early on, even if it is just one extra spot, that spot is so important as you need to have access to these resources to build your buildings on your Community board.
Oh, what’s that? I haven’t even touched on your Community boards and we are already nearing the end of Era 2?!? Let me remedy that. On your Community board you will start with 2 farms and each of those farms gives you a Farmer to employ into other buildings that will be built. In the regular game, your Community board allows you to grow to 20 buildings, that can expand later on through the building of the Community Hall, but I get ahead of myself. The Community boards are where you build the buildings that will bring you the workers who you then employ in other buildings to gain resources, to be able to store goods. Got it? I told you this was easy!
What do you mean we’re nearly 3 hours into the game?!?!
Era three starts out and your board is now full of 36 different locations to visit and you may have an extra Steward, but probably not, there may be an Altruist on the board to move as well, which is a good thing, trust me, but that decision tree keeps getting larger and larger! What happens when the decision tree gets larger? More time to think about each and every thing you want to do, or even need to do. Because, once you move past your farmers and start attracting Citizens to your board and you start employing them, you have to make sure that they are fed, after all, they aren’t farmers any longer.
In The Colonists, there are 3 different Colonists that will work on your Community Board, the first is the Farmer, the farmer is self sufficient and can work but does not need to be fed at the end of a year, after all, he’s growing the food, right? Next up would be the Citizens, they can come around in different ways, either your farmer tires of the Farming life and becomes a citizen, or you build an apartment to attract new Citizens. Citizens do need to be fed, so you need to make sure that you have 1 food per Citizen at the end of the year to feed them. After Citizens, come your Merchants. The Merchants are a bit higher maintenance, but then again, they can do some pretty important work. They cost you 2 food and one Robes to sustain them at the end of the year. I believe you can start creating robes and obtaining Merchants in the 3rd Era.
So wow, it’s been how long?!?! Did you just say that we’ve been playing for 5 hours?
After each Era, I offered to end the game to Kerensa, just in case she was tired of sitting and playing, but she said “NOPE!”, so we pushed onward.
The 4th Era, man, the 4th Era. This is where the wheels hit the pavement and you see how well this engine you’ve been building runs. But also, this is where the wheels of the game wobble, just a little bit, at least it did for us. You see, you’ve done all this work, you’re building your engine and then you hit this final Era and all you do is try to min/max your points. It’s still fun, it’s still stressful, and you still have to continue to produce and build, but at this point it most of your thoughts turn to that end of game scoring, and it can seem just a tad bit anti-climatic. Nothing horrific, it’s not enough for me to put it away and not want to play it any longer, if anything it makes you want to try again, and we did, the next week.
Seven and a half hours, that’s what it took for us to play through The Colonists, we played the first Era on a Sunday evening, and played 2-4 on the next day in one sitting and it was worth every minute.
I wrote this about three weeks ago, and the surprising thing is, we went right back to The Colonists the next week and we knocked out another 4 era game, in the same time, with decidedly different endings. Our Colonies were different and we had very few ways of increasing our storage other than just the regular upgrading so we had to juggle storage issues a bit more. This is kind of what makes the game difficult, you can’t keep more than you can store, so you are constantly juggling what you need from your warehouse to your Storage and even buffers. Only goods in your Storage can be used, if it is sitting in your warehouse or on the buffers, the goods are unavailable, so you have to have those moved around and ready before your actions.
So two plays in about a week’s time and 15 hours of experience later am I still wanting to play? Your damn right I am. This is the type of game that just cries to be played over and over again, with all the variability and the myriad of ways to get what you want, it just cries for replays. I do worry about that 4 Era a bit being strictly a min/max era and I do worry that money is a really strong strategy, that’s what Kerensa kicked by butt with the second matchup, but I think that it’ll be fun trying to figure all of that out, I really do. Oh, and you can hear what Kerensa and I thought after our second play on Week 112 at about the 1:34:09 mark.