Review of Age of Discovery
The theme of Age of Discovery (Mayfair Games, 2007 – Alfred Viktor Schulz) seems to be one of exuberance – sailing out to discover new lands. Make no mistake, the game is one of mechanical maneuvering; but the shipping theme is there, and the bright colors give this game a charm that adds to the mechanics. At the same time, the game has stirred up some debate on the internet, as one of the four special cards seems wildly underpowered.
Take two coins from the bank.
Take either one face up contract or the top one from the contract deck. This costs one coin. All contracts may be kept in a player’s hand.
Purchase ships from the bottom row of chip cards. Each ship is a different color and has a value from “1” to “3”. The ships’ prices are printed on the cards, and the player can buy as many as they want – with the ships from the top row moving down to the bottom row and being replaced themselves by cards from the first draw pile. All ships bought go face up in front of a player.
Send ships on expeditions and or trade contract voyages.
I disagree that the specific card is too weak; I actually prefer it and consider it balanced. But it is a pointer to a fact about Age of Discovery; it’s a game that must be played more than once to truly understand its intricacies and winning strategies. It’s intriguing and requires some thought as to how best use one’s money; but there’s certainly more to the game than initially appears, and it feels quite “meaty” for the forty-five minutes it lasts.
In the middle of the table, twelve expedition cards are placed. Each of these expeditions is assigned a number from “3” to “8”, is one of six colors (red, yellow, blue, green, white, or black), and has victory points printed on it for the two scoring rounds. Each player takes a pile of wooden cubes in their color as well as six coins. Players place one of their cubes at the beginning of a scoring track, as well as the “0” space of a trade contracts track. A pile of trade contract cards is shuffled, with four being placed face up next to the draw pile, and a pile of “ship” cards is shuffled and placed in a way that basically results in two rows of five face up ships and five draw piles. Each player gets some special cards, depending on the number of players, and one “flagship” card. Finally, each player is dealt a special mission card, and the game is ready to begin, starting with one player.
On a player’s turn they may take two of the following four actions in any order.
When using a trade contract, the player plays the contract face up on the table in front of them. Each contract has a number of completion, and the player must play ships whose value equal that total AND are the same color. The player must also pay one coin for each ship sent. After doing this, the player decides how long the voyage will last, placing a cube on the number of turns (1, 2, or 3). At the start of each future turn, they move all cubes of this type one to the right. When it moves off the contract, the player receives money equal to the corresponding length of the trip. Fox example, on a trade contract with a value of “6” one turn returns nine coins, two turns returns eleven coins, and three turns returns fourteen coins. All ships are returned to the player, the trade contract is discarded, and the players trade contract marker is moved up one space.
When sending ships to an expedition, a player must pay attention to the number on the expedition; the sum of all ships there may never exceed it. The first ship to any expedition may be any color; all succeeding ships must be the same color. Players place one of their cubes on the ship(s) to denote ownership, and pay one coin per ship.
Players may use their “flagship” as a normal ship, except that each flagship acts as one of two different colors, can be a value of “1”, “2”, or “3”, and costs two coins to put out. A player may also use their “wild ship” action card to assign a ship to an expedition or trade contract, even if not the necessary color. Finally, the reservation card can be played by a player to allow them to “reserve” a ship or trade contract until their next turn.
The game has two scoring rounds. In the first, when the card comes up in the ship piles, each player receives victory points for each ship they have at the expeditions. Ships will score more points if they match the color of the expedition. The second scoring is similar, except a player also scores one point for each ship in front of them, and points for their special mission. There are four special missions, and each offers a bonus for a different setting.
One requires the player to have at least one ship at an expedition.
Another requires the player to have at least half the ships at an expedition.
Another requires the player to have the majority of ships at an expedition.
And the last requires the player to have all the ships at an expedition.
For each expedition that meets this requirement, the player receives a bonus that corresponds with how far they’ve moved on the contract chart. For example, if I have the one ship bonus card and have done six contracts, then I would receive two points for each expedition that I have at least one ship at (in a two player game. All points are totaled together, and the player with the most wins!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: Once again, Mayfair does a great job with this game, with high quality components filling out the nice plastic insert in the smallish box. The colors on everything are bright and cheerful, even though the chap on the front cover looks a little stilted. There’s no game board, per se, but the expedition cards basically form one; and you’ll need a decent amount of room on the table to fit the ship cards between them. The cards and coins are of high quality, although the bonus cards look more complicated than they really are – I have to explain them multiple times before each game.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is eight full color pages and has many explanations and illustrations. I had to play through a couple rounds to actually understand how everything clicked together; but once I got it, it was rather easy. I have no problem explaining the game to people, although it’s sometimes hard to comprehend that “buy as many ships as you want” takes the same amount of actions as “take two coins”. Also, as I said above, it takes a bit to understand the bonus cards. But players MUST understand them, as they are critical to the game.
3.) Bonus cards: Some feel that the “have one ship at an expedition” is MUCH easier than the others, particularly the “have all ships at an expedition” card. Even though the “all” bonus card has much higher point bonuses, it’s negated by the fact that every time the “one” player places a ship and completes their goal, they are canceling the goal of the “all” player. For inexperienced players, I would agree; but once you understand the game, this is much less of a problem. The player with the “all” bonus card must realize that it’s important that they completely fill an expedition as quickly as possible. Some of the expeditions can be filled using only one ship, and others with only a few. It may take a couple plays, but I think strategic players will find the four bonus cards well balanced.
4.) Scoring: Bonus cards are important, because they are the lion’s share of the points. I’m not even sure why there is a first scoring, because it’s so miniscule compared to the second scoring. Maybe it’s just to wake up lethargic players. A player can score a lot of points if they ship at the larger expeditions, but a player is usually better served attempting to either complete their bonus or spoil the bonus of another.
5.) Money: The action “take two coins” is used almost every turn, as money is tight in this game – it seems like you have to pay to do everything! Really, though, a player needs to complete some trade contracts to get some serious money. I find it interesting, though, to determine how long to wait for the trade contract reward. Waiting two weeks only slightly enhances the coins returned, so is the extra time worth it? At the same time it costs money to send ships out on these trade routes, and taking money NOW isn’t always the most economical move. I have yet to master the intricacies of the financial part of this game, but I’ve started moving towards mostly doing two-week trade routes at the beginning of the game, and one-week trade routes near the end.
6.) Fun Factor: Age of Discovery is typical of many designer games, in that the players are slowly increasing their money and their ships throughout the game. However, a player who dallies too long about this may find themselves with few spots to place their ships in the expeditions. Send your ships out too soon, and you won’t be able to complete the all-important trade routes (for both money and bonus points). Wait too long, and other players will determine the colors and possibly stop you from completing your bonuses. Add to this tension a few special cards that help you when it seems that the luck (the ships that are available) goes against you, and Age of Discovery becomes a slightly cutthroat, intriguing game.
Lasting less than an hour, Age of Discovery will likely present a problem to new players, as they struggle to determine what exactly to do. But once played repeated times, some neat strategies present themselves as players learn the timing of when to purchase and place ships. Certainly a game for experienced gamers, Age of Discovery takes some common mechanics and puts an interesting time-limit feel to them. Delay too long in this game, and you won’t discover anything. It’s a satisfying two-player game and works even better with three (okay with four). Yes, it’s yet ANOTHER game about sending out ships in the 1600’s, but it’s a good one.
“Real men play board games”