Lately I have had a new favorite board game, Archipelago. It’s a “euro” game, as in it’s a (mostly) non-confrontational economic game with lots of wooden pieces and such, but it has a lot of twists and clever mechanics that spice its gameplay into becoming something more than a dry simulator. Instead of reiterating all that I have said in various posts across communities I vist, I think I shall instead put my posts here!
- 7/30/2012 – This is my first mention of Archipelago. As you can see I was (and still am) a fan of the designer’s earlier works.
Christophe Boelinger, the guy behind Dungeon Twister and Earth Reborn, has been making a worker placement game called Archipelago. The rulebook got posted online today, and the concept looks amazing (also the icon for the island rebels is great).
Archipelago is a worker placement game with tile-laying exploration, mechanics reinforcing negotiation (as in it’s totally cool to trade resources Catan-style), secret end-game conditions for each player, and well, a bunch of stuff. It’s basically looking to be a mix of Carcassonne, Caylus and Puerto Rico except with a theme. I’m hyped.
- 9/17/2012 – The hype begins! Of course, the hype is strained because the damn game released in Europe months before it got to me.
Archipelago, a worker placement game by Christophe Boelinger of Dungeon Twister and Earth Reborn fame, comes out in 8 days!
In Europe. Those in the US (like me) will have to wait until Halloween for our copy. 😦
- 11/15/2012 – The game arrives, and I play it almost immediately. I already have a good opinion of it, but my love for the game is just beginning….
Archipelago arrived at my door today, and I got to play it tonight. First impression: good game, really deep, I want to play more because I get the feeling I’m going to rate this as one of my favorites.
For a worker-placement euro-game that’s about colonizing an island during the Colonial era, I’m not really sure how to define this one. Archipelago is to worker-placement games as Mage Knight is to fantasy adventure games in that both are unlike anything their genres have seen while still being in the confines of their respective format. Also Archipelago may actually be as in-depth as Mage Knight. I can’t say for sure though, for Archipelago’s rulebook is far more comprehensible
There is a ton of mechanisms blended together into Archipelago. There’s not just worker placement; there’s meeple placement and movement, exploration/tile-placement, dynamic markets, buildings with special bonus actions, cards with special bonus actions, events, secret victory-point/end-game conditions, open trading and negotiation, and a very real threat of all players losing the game to a rebellion if they don’t (semi-)cooperate to appease the native population. I’m sure I forgot a few mechanisms somewhere in there.
Just in case it wasn’t obvious, Archipelago is not a light game by any means. However, the rulebook goes a long way to clarify how everything works and the game’s mechanics fit together in a way that makes sense both intuitively and thematically.
The thing that stuck out to me was that teaching Archipelago and playing a learning game is a rather big undertaking. My first game of this took far longer than the average playtime, but I can see how understanding the game would cut down the playtime massively (kind of like how Mage Knight’s playtime can be 1 to 6 hours depending). Thankfully, there are 3 sets of end-game objectives that alter the length of play, so if one doesn’t have enough time to finish the longest variant of Archipelago they can try the medium or short game.
There’s a lot of stuff in Archipelago, and a lot of stuff to like. I am looking forward to getting more plays out of this in the next few days and hope to have a better understanding of this big game.
If Mage Knight and Puerto Rico were blended together (if you can imagine such a mix) you might wind up with Archipelago, a game that arrived on my doorstep today. I got a quick play out of it and I can say that I really like this game. Although a completely different game than the other two, you can tell this was designed by the same person who brought us Dungeon Twister and Earth Reborn. It’s very clever, very hybrid, and very in-depth.
I may end up really liking this one. A lot.
“How fiddly is the game? That was my main worry when I was reading the rules (which I have since forgotten), but I do remember that you had to do a lot of placing things in certain ways that when I read it, seemed like an awful lot of work. Maybe it is about as bad as refreshing the various bins in Agricola, but even that feels pretty tedious sometimes.
But Christophe Boelinge is a pretty underrated designer, so I hope that this is his big break.”
Much less fiddly than Agricola. The biggest possible fiddly-bit is the crisis resolution. The maximum amount of meeples a player can have is 10 (well, 20 in the 2-player game), so at most all you’re doing is turning 10 meeples sideways along with everyone else before you’re playing again, which is dead easy and super fast. Let me emphasize that getting 10 meeples in Archipelago felt like a very big undertaking, as getting meeples on the board is rather costly. The other possible fiddliness would come from disengaging (i.e. resetting meeples and stuff), and honestly that’s at most as fiddly as untapping your cards in Magic.
On paper all those meeples sounds like a lot of mindless movement, but in practice it’s a non-issue. Everything else is driven by some player choice and I wouldn’t call fiddly at all.
- 11/16/2012 – Pretty much every time I got to play Archipelago, it made me want to discuss it even more. Here I express a slight worry about a certain mechanic, but over time I’ve come to realize that its a non-issue.
In other news, I got another play of Archipelago in, this time a short game with five players.
There is one thing I can see as potentially fiddly yet am not too worried about, and that’s the Evolution Phase where as you refresh a row of cards there’s a chance thatmultiple domestic crises can occur (each new card draw can have that chance). Now, a domestic crisis requires knocking down all the meeples on the board and then everyone has to negotiate and make sacrifices to raise some or all of them up again. With five players, the chance of these crises happening multiple times increases dramatically from the two-player game.
Now there are two things that make this less of a pain than you’d think. First off, knocking down and raising up those meeples is not really required like it is in the main crisis phase, because everything resets right after the Evolution Phase. All you need is some way of keeping track of how many meeples are rebelling after everyone has paid up (a spare meeple on the population track could work for example). Second off, this is not a trivial part of the game. Every domestic crisis has the potential threat of causing all the players to lose (every rebelled meeple makes the rebellion marker go up by one, and if the rebellion marker every exceeds the number of meeples on the board, game over).
As a result of these two deterrents, crises during the Evolution Phase become less ‘oh shit not another knock down of a billion meeples’ and more ‘oh shit we’re running out of resources and tokens to actually stave off these fucking rebels.’ It’s actually quite brutal!
Overall? My initial impression of the game was “pretty good!” and is rising to “really good!” I’m going to try to get this played again tomorrow and hopefully reach a more final conclusion towards Archipelago.
- 11/17/2012 – Did I mention how my love for this game grew? Basically at first I didn’t think it super-awesome, but that changed over repeated plays.
Archipelago is getting better and better. I played two short-version three-player games today. I complained earlier that the short game feels like there’s a longer game meant to be there but it got cut in half. I take that complaint back. The game is very rich even in a short play; it’s simply that there is more pressure to figure out the scoring conditions players are hiding and try to gain as many points from such. There’s a ton of things you can do and very little actions you have to spend doing what you need.
I feel that the longer games would let you develop out the Archipelago, making it a more comprehensive play through the game but at the same time still maintaining a sense of pressure as I can definitely see the longer one plays the more dangerous rebellions get.
My favorite part of this game is the element of trying to read into peoples strategies to try and out-score them or at least place for points in the game element they are scoring before someone’s end game condition triggers (for instance trying to build at least one chapel if you suspect another player is holding the card that scores them). That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of worker placement, economic engines, and little wooden cubes. The game has all of that.
A brilliant moment came when one player snagged first for turn order, used one of my special action cards (giving me a little money) to sell all of his expensive goods at once (giving him a lot of money), and then used his worker placement pawn to build the final market he needed to end the game on his terms. Not only was the open objective to have the most money, but I was holding the secret objective to have the most money; giving him lead. I miscalculated actually; when I saw that player building markets I thought that was his scoring condition and not his end game condition. I was wrong!
It’s great to have that kind of quick, game-ending play plus the guessing-game potential of figuring out the opponent’s strategy versus yours.
In short, Archipelago is a quality worker-placement game and much, much more. I think the only euro I would rate higher is Dominant Species and possibly The Great Zimbabwe, and even then only DS if I’m playing a 6 player game.
“In all seriousness, though, how weighty is this game? I have a tendency to gravitate away from heavier games since I hate explaining them (reading the rules, I already know I am going to hate explaining this game) and non-gamers tend to have a tenuous grasp on some game mechanics. I imagine it is not something that can be taught that easily, like Catan or Carcassone or something, but I’m leaning more towards Agricola? Am I correct in this assessment?”
Yeah I’d say it’s about Agricola-level, although I found that Archipelago is one of those games where it’s actually pretty easy to learn if you teach the game as you go through setup and the first turn. Don’t explain the victory conditions until you finish setup, since you don’t hand out the secret objectives until everyone has settled on their first hex. I’d even go as far to say that the game works well if you have each player do a different action so you can teach them one-by-one.
Normally I wouldn’t say this is a family game (certainly not Catan/Carcassonne simple), but you have a fair chance to teach this to a family if you take the rules step by step.
“Also, how prone is this game to analysis paralysis? The counterbalance on the neophyte vs experienced gamer is that the experienced gamer has a bad tendency to waste everyone’s time going in mental circles trying to figure out the best possible move when the difference between their choices are pretty minimal/circumstantial.”
I haven’t had too much trouble with AP yet. The thing I think that is a deterrent to AP is that there’s a lot of table-talk involved since negotiations are open. For whatever reason, this has made me not think to hard about my optimal strategy and worry more about what secret objective someone else might be holding onto. As far as neophyte vs. experienced gamer; I’d say Archipelago is more like Mage Knight in that the game goes faster with experienced players as they start to understand what a good move to make might be rather than being blinded by what at first seems a lot to grasp.
Another thing about Archipelago that kind of deters AP is that you don’t know exactly what things you need to win. With all but one of the scoring conditions being kept secret, optimal play in terms of the ideal meeple to place somewhere not really possible.
Could Archipelago be prone to AP? Probably. Is it more prone to AP than other games? I don’t think so.
- 11/23/2012 – The game tightens its grip….
Archipelago, much like I expected, is getting better with more plays. I wouldn’t say it’s a game where it rewards experience so immediately that a player with a couple of games under his belt will trounce newbies, but it is a game where you start to understand the intricacies of systems and the way things come together in a much better sense after your first play or two.
The biggest ‘clicking’ moment for me was realizing how important trying to figure out what other player’s scoring conditions might be. In Archipelago there is one open scoring condition (called a trend) and then each player has a secret scoring condition that applies to all players, as well as on that same, secret card an end-of-game trigger. This leads to players trying to figure out why someone may be building chapels even if it doesn’t immediately benefit them through the open trend. “They must have the chapel scoring card! Wait, there’s an end-game trigger on one of the cards for when a certain number of chapels are in play. Maybe he has that and is trying to rush to end the game. Which is it?!”
That being said, even if you do have a good guess of what people are trying to do, there’s a lot of straight-up euro-strategy involved in this euro. When to explore, keeping the rebellion suppressed, which resources to buy/sell; all of this and more is critical to the game. What’s really cool, however, is that Archipelago does all the good, meaty euro-stuff and more.
I think one of the best parts of all of this is that these mechanics go well with the theme. The mechanic for exploration makes sense. That exploiting resources raises discontent with the natives makes sense. The dynamic market makes sense.
So there you have it. Archipelago is thematic, strategic, and blends together the traditional euro with a game of intensity and depth like, say, Mage Knight, except Archipelago has a ton of player interaction. Need I say more?
- Sometime in December 2012 – My love for the game is reaching peak levels.
Played Archipelago twice since my last rant about it. My opinion is still that it is an amazing game; these plays haven’t changed my views.
First play was a long game which ended early due to a domestic crisis for a resource we had none of, resulting in an immediate game over–my first loss due to rebellion. I now have a much more immediate respect for the threat of a game over if players don’t pay attention to it, especially as the game wears on and people don’t watch the market.
Second play was a short game with family, which lasted far longer than average. Although teachable, I don’t think Archipelago is ‘light’ by any means and as such not entirely suitable to bring to a table of non-gamers. It’s almost as bad in that regard as Mage Knight.
- 12/??/2012 By this point my love for the game is at full, but I will concede to problems–if not flaws–players may encounter in their games of it.
Archipelago is pretty awesome, but I it falls under the ‘board gamer’s board game’ category (and only goes to 5 players if you’re group goes more than that). In other words, Archipelago has a lot of mechanics and interactions to worry about. If simple is more your thing, then I wouldn’t recommend this one.
- 12/29/2012 More session reports? This time, I come across what has been the most debated issue of the game: the traitor mechanic and the “everyone loses” condition. A lot of people online have complained that the game falls apart because it encourages competition but also requires cooperation. In my mind, the game walks this line fine and if players encounter an issue its more the group’s inability to get in the mindset to play Archipelago rather than the game being at fault.
Archipelago was interesting this time in that it was the first time I’ve had a game where the Separatist (i.e. traitor player) won. I think the chances of this outcome can vary greatly on whom you’re playing with. Archipelago is semi-cooperative, and quite simply if players ignore the “everyone loses except maybe a traitor” condition, it can very well occur! There is a lot to wrap your head around in this one.
- 1/14/2013 – By this point I’ve been called out on ranting about Archipelago non-stop. My posts are less of essays now and more quick notes.
Archipelago is a game I’ve talked enough about in this thread, but I’ll addend that the traitor mechanic can be awfully powerful (game-breaking, even?) for groups that refuse to take a break from exploiting their economies and actively try to stop the “everyone-loses” mechanic from triggering. I’m going to need to play more to find out if this is indeed going to end my joy with the game, but I certainly hope it does not.
- 2/2/2013 PA – Here why have someone who has had practically the opposite response to Archipelago that I’ve had, and as I am at this point head-over-heels infatuated with the game I felt compelled to make a rebuttal.
“we got to try out Archipelago Wednesday night. Was a 4 player game with some very picky players (one of em is a professional game designer, another has an absurd amount of experience with board games). But ones who in theory should like the game. I mean the game is a very long vaguely euro-looking economic game at first glance. That should totally be our thing.
it wasn’t. the worst thing was that there are a couple interesting ideas buried in all the bullshit and horrible game design. If it was just a terrible game we could just write off the experience and ignore it. But after chewing over the problems for quite a while after the game I think it is bad enough that it needs a real overhaul not just some tweaking and there are too many good games out there for me to spend time fixing someone else’s.
the biggest problem is of course the play length. Using the game-end cards where you need 7 of a thing (eg: markets) to end, it was pushing 4 hours. A game absolutely must have top not design, a lot of depth and great balance to be worthy of such an absurd game length.
the single biggest problem is of course the asinine hidden victory point conditions. Unless everyone is just playing stupid (which, in a game this long, I suspect people often will as hour 3 rolls around with no end in sight and everyone just wants it to fucking stop) you are only going to be figuring out a couple of the victory conditions other players are holding. The total scores in the game are very, very low so even a single point is going to make the different between winning and losing. And it is pretty much guaranteed that about 1/4 of each players total score is going to be essentially random. And that 1/4 is probably going to be the entire difference between the player in first and the player in last. The entire margin of victory is just going to come down to some bullshit pointless time-filler decision someone made with no strategic thought because it turns out one of the players had the card that gives out VPs for that.
Even with open victory point conditions (which is a variant in the book) the rebellion mechanic becomes a big problem. If you are not in the lead your best move, by far, is to drive the game to rebellion. Even if you are just in 2nd place that is the optimal play. It forces the lead player to spend resources reducing unrest in order to defend their lead, nets you resources (because most things that generate unrest are good for you, like taxation) and even if the game ends you weren’t winning anyway so everyone losing is preferable.
It also shares a problem with Arkham Horror: far too much of the game is determined by the order of a random deck of cards. The Barbarian card is by itself fucking insane. Just off the charts good. But if that card happened to be available early and the assassin didn’t come out late that would just wreck the game. In our game, the barbarian didn’t come out till fairly late AND the assassin came out the very next turn (and was used to kill the barbarian of course) and it still just about took one player out of the game (he got burned into last place). Even if you do the sensible thing and tear up that card as soon as you open the box, too much relies on the order of that deck. Which of course means you are going to get people who got lucky on their card order saying “no way man the cards work just fine” without thinking about what is possible instead of what they personally experienced.
and it is more than a little weird that this statement is a perfectly accurate description of one of the main game mechanics: “on the rebellion chart the little black dude is chasing the little white dude and if the black dude ever catches him everyone loses”. there is a lot of weird tone-deafness in Archipelago. “
Crazily enough, Archipelago is one of my favorite games! As such, I would like to contend some of the points you made.
the biggest problem is of course the play length.
the single biggest problem is of course the asinine hidden victory point conditions.
That is not how you use superlatives.
- Play length. The game comes with three sets of objectives, and reading on what you said about your end-game condition, your grouped picked the longest variant possible. That’s like, the worst thing you could have done for your first game of it. The short game with four players takes about 90 minutes, and yes the long game with that same group will push four hours.
- Victory conditions. Figuring out who has what card is a huge part of the game and one of skills that you develop with continued plays. Players who can figure out who’s holding what cards and utilize this knowledge (but most importantly make sure they’re ontop of the open scoring card) will get in the lead. This is something, sadly, that a player gets better with after repeated plays, and there are plenty of games that deliver an in-depth satisfying first play rather than needing two or three plays for it to really get going.
- Rebellion mechanic. This is probably the most contested part of the game, and honestly probably the biggest barrier to enjoyment for people to get over when playing Archipelago. I think the best way to look at it is like a very brutal, Agricola-like harvesting mechanic. It taxes player’s resources who are in the lead, unless they go out of their way to build chapels which may very well be a worthwhile investment for crises anyways. Still, if people can’t get over the rebellion threat then Archipelago will not work for them. I like the threat of the rebels, but I can understand this being a ‘not for everyone situation.’
- Cards. Although you do end up paying whoever owns the card, most of the cards are usable by any player, with a few exceptions (Barbarian is one of them). As far as balance though, I honestly don’t see the Barbarian being immediately imbalanced (although undeniably very strong). Considering you have to occupy the region you’re burning and pay a coin for each resource being burnt, you basically have to be burning something you could be using on your own anyways (unless the player is using a town to block you out) AND you’re basically going to be overextending yourself as you move meeples to burn more stuff. Maybe it’s broken, but is that something you can really say for sure after one play?
I can’t argue with the game being tone-deaf. Archipelago is very much not politically correct
As for why I like Archipelago so much (some of it probably comes from being a huge fan of the designer’s previous games…), I think ultimately I like the marriage of theme to mechanics and the amount of direct interaction that goes on compared to most euros. I like that you can openly trade with other players, even to bribe someone for turn order priority. I like that all these crazy cards are happening (and that they represent the evolution of the archipelago but come with a risk of crises as the islands change with the new cards), throwing a wrench into what would be a static design. I really like how tiles are being lain out, with meeples moving back and forth on them. It gives the game a spatial element and a sense of there really being an place you’re manipulating that I frankly don’t find with many euros at all. I like the guessing game of victory/end-game conditions, and playing off the hints and tells the other players are giving. I like the three different sets of objectives that allow for a short, medium or long game (and I really wouldn’t play the long game until I’ve had at least a few plays under my belt of short variants).
In other words, I pretty much like everything Archipelago has to offer. Except the stuff like there being a Slavery card. Say no to Slavery :B
Really though, it seems that everything I liked about the game seems to be everything you dislike, and I wouldn’t want to press that the game is for everybody (it’s not). I’m sorry your play didn’t work out for you, thankfully there are some other euros out that are very elegant and well-designed. Particularly for this year, CO2, The Great Zimbabwe, Tzolk’in and Myrmes stand out in my mind.
- 2/17/2013 – By this point Archipelago has seated itself as one of my all-time favorite games, even though I know at this point its not for everyone. Here is a session report of the game that led me to what is probably close to my current thoughts on the game.
After Mage Wars came one of the better game of Archipelago I’ve played. That game is one where you really need to have the table in a particular mindset that the game is both cooperative and yet not. For the medium game we played, everyone was indeed in that peculiar mindset and managing to collectively stave off everyone losing while at the same time competing properly against each other. Between the crazy mix of mechanics going into it, I’ve really come to feel that Archipelago less of a Euro and more of…something else. The game may have the basic foundation of euro mechanics, but the way the victory conditions and the rebels drive the game changes everything. I can’t say this is a game for everyone, but for those who can get into, Archipelago will shine.
I think that last line is ultimately my stance on the game as of this writing. Archipelago is not for everyone, but for those it’s for it’s a must-play.