The Dutch Golden Age
is a game by Leo Colovini and Giuseppe Bau, produced by Phalanx and Mayfair Games.
Playing Time: 60-90 minutes
The Dutch Golden Age comes in a big box with a bunch of attractive components.
The Board: A massive four-panel linen-textured board that shows off the Dutch Low Countries. Ten provinces are shown, each with a specific color and featuring a specific coat of arms.
There's also a lot of other information on the board: a compass at the top features spaces for colonies in the East and West Indies; several columns to the left depict the current prices of the guilds; and a track all the way around the board depicts countries.
Cards: There are 110 linen-textured cards in the game, which are split among five decks: grey culture cards, brown art cards, yellow investment cards, blue colony cards, and orange spice cards. There are several different powers among the cards, and for the most part there's iconography on each card that makes it quite easy to distinguish what the card does.
Player Bits: Each player gets a set of five movement tokens (which are wooden cylinders) and six influence tokens (which are cardboard discs) in their color; a great job has been done of matching the colors of the cardboard and wooden bits, which is often a challenge.
Other Bits: There's also cardboard money in three denominations (1/2, 1, and 5), a pair of orange wooden dice and an orange wooden pawn which moves around the track at the edge of the game board.
Overall, the components in this game are good quality and the bits are all quite attractive. However, the usability of the bits is somewhat more varied. There are, as I note, some great piece of iconography on the cards. However there are also some missteps on the gameboard.
The most annoying problem is the track around the edge of the board, which has many spaces, each with two countries in them. Each of these spaces is printed vertically, which makes it really hard to scan the vertical columns of spaces. It also makes it harder to see ranges on the board where the same country is in every space for a span.
There were at least three smaller usability issues. One is that the culture cards which depict province governors don't use the colors of the provinces, which would have made them easier to scan. Another is that the same symbol is used on the board for "usage cost" (in most places) and "placement cost" (on the guilds), which definitely will cause issues for first-time gameplayers. A third is that though a victory point symbol is used to mark several things on the game board, it wasn't used to mark all of the possible victory points, requiring players to remember everything that could score, when they really shouldn't have too.
(I've also seen some people complain about the lack of a score track, though I find this a lesser issue, because toting everything up is usually the work of but 10 or 15 seconds.)
None of these usability issues are game breakers, but together they do make the game slower to play than it should be and more prone to errors, which is unfortunate in an otherwise fine production.
Overall, i"ve given The Dutch Golden Age a high "4" out of "5" for Style. It would have been a fulL "5" without its several usability problems.
The object of The Dutch Golden Age is to gain victory points by exerting influence on the board and collecting sets of cards.
Setup: The board is laid out and the five decks are separated and each shuffled. Each player gets 10 guilders.
Over the course of two turns, each player places one influence marker (on a province not already claimed by another player) and two movement tokens.
The last player decides where the steward goes on the track around the edge of the board.
Influence Markers. These proclaim that you control a province (or a colony or a guild). They allow you to use (or in some cases auction) the special power of that space and earn some income from it.
Movement Tokens. I find these pieces a rather peculiar abstraction, perhaps just because they don't have a good name. They allow you to earn income from the space they're in and when you have three in a space you can turn them into an influence marker (provided there isn't one already in that space).
Province Track. This track around the outside of the board contains spaces each showing either two provinces or else one of the leaders of the Low Countries. It generates income.
The Provinces. There are ten provinces on the board. Each one is marked with one of five colors, which shows what special power it gives access to.
Order of Play: On his turn, a player first moves the steward, then he takes any of several actions: "free" and special actions.
Move the Steward: Each turn starts off with the steward getting moved. This usually occurs based on the throw of two dice (though there's a card that lets you select a landing space 2-12 spaces away).
A few spaces give every player money. Most spaces list two provinces, which earn players money if they're present in the space. A player gets 2 guilders if he has an influence marker in the province, 1 for each movement token he has there, and 1 if he has the governor card for the province.
Take "Free" Actions: These actions may be taken any number of times (subject to resource limitations for each sort) and in any order.
- Move Tokens
- Create Influence Marker
- Control Guild
Move Tokens. A player may move his movement tokens for a cost of .5 guilders per space per token. This is usually needed only if someone has beaten you to claiming influence in a space.
Create Influence Marker. You may discard three movement tokens in a space to create an influence marker there, if no one else has one already.
Control Guild. There are five guilds, one for each color on the board: blue, yellow, red, gray, green. Each one gives the same special power as the provinces of that color.
Each guild has a cost chart, running from 3-10. To take control of a guild, you place an influence marker on the lowest space above the player currently on the track (if there is one) and pay that cost.
Take Special Actions: There are six types of special actions. Each of the five colors of provinces gives you access to power of that color as does each guild. The sixth type of action comes from colonies that you've built.
You get to use each special action once a turn (again, in any order, before or after any "free" actions you're doing). You mark when a special action has been used by flipping over your influence marker and paying the cost (5 for green actions; 3 for any of the other province/guild special actions; or a variable amount for a colony special action). Most of the special actions just amount to you drawing from a deck of cards.
For the guilds and the colonies, the only way you can use the action is to pay the cost and use it yourself. However, for provinces, you can opt to auction off the special action. A once-around auction starts with you. The highest bidder pays you their bid, then gets to use the special action (without paying its normal cost).
Here's a list of the special actions:
- Green: Place a new movement marker.
- Yellow: Draw from the yellow (tulip) deck. It includes cards in sets of 1, 2, or 3 which can be turned in for money.
- Blue: Draw from the blue (naval) deck. It includes cards in sets of 3 which can be turned in to found a colony (which is both worth VPs and lets you start using the colony/orange action).
- Brown: Draw from the brown (artwork) deck, which gives you a card that earns VPs when it's complete. Or, place a guilder on a brown card you already have, to move it toward completion.
- Grey: Draw from the grey (culture) deck. It includes cards from the other decks. It also has windmills (worth 2 VP each), governors (worth 1 VP each and guilders whenever the steward is moved to that province), and dice (which are those cards that let you select where the steward moves).
- Orange/Colony: Draw from the orange (spices) deck. Like the yellow deck, these give you money for turning in sets, but the ratio is better than for the yellow cards.
Winning the Game: At the end of each turn, a player adds up his Victory Points, which are worth the following:
- 4 VP / influence marker in the provinces
- 5 VP / influence marker in the East Indies colonies
- 6 VP / influence marker in the West Indies colonies
- 1 VP / movement token on the board
- 3-8 VP / finished piece of art
- 2 VPs / windmill
- 1 VP / governor
- 1 VP / 10 guilders
If a player sums 33 points, he wins.
Relationships to Other Games
I've seen some people call The Dutch Golden Age a sort of Advanced Monopoly and I think that shows off a fair amount of ignorance about the game. If anything, the mechanic of gaining ownership of territories, then earning resources because of them is closer to The Settlers of Catan.
Generally, I'd say that The Dutch Golden Age puts together a few different sorts of gameplay. You have some resource management, some set collection, occasional auctions and some brinkmanship, and together those styles of play define a fairly original game.
Overall, the game is pretty unique, but if I compared it to something I'd probably point out a game like Amun-Re, which offers up auctions as part of a larger resource-management whole.
Finally, I'll comment that a lot of Leo Colovini's games are pretty abstract. This feels a little bit less so than most, which is probably the influence of co-author Guiseppe Bau (who hasn't designed anything else yet).
The Game Design
Generally, The Dutch Golden Age is an interesting and thoughtful game. One of the things that I like about it is that it has several paths to victory. You can push on board position, on colony creation, on guild usage, or several other game systems and do decently well with any of them (depending, partially, on how other players specialize).
Balancing all of these systems (and figuring out how to value things in competitive auctions) allows for a fair amount of strategy--though gaming purists should be warned that its tempered by some random elements, namely the card draws (for various set collections) and the dice rolls for income generation. A lot of it evens out if you stand fast on a strategy, but good or bad luck can definitely influence the game.
Nonetheless, I generally find The Dutch Golden Age interesting, unique, and fun. It's my favorite Colovini game in a few years and definitely one of the better heavier games he's done. I've given it a high "4" out of "5" for Substance.
The Dutch Golden Age is a fun middle-weight game by Leo Colovini and Giuseppe Bau. It blends together several different mechanics--from auctions to resource management--to create a system that allows for dense and variable play. Some random elements and a fairly short play time keep it from getting too heavy.