A periodic blog about Games, Books, Movies, Pop culture, Technology and whatever else I happen to feel like writing about...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Anno 1503

Since Mike the Uber Spielfriek (tm) invited me to some gaming last week, and we were both heading to the FNGS (Friendly Neighbourhood Game Store) Fandom II, I decided to pick up a copy of Anno 1503, being a fan of Teuber's work in general and exploration and development games in particular.

If I had to describe this game quickly, I think I would go with the popular Settlers of Puerto-Entdecker. Anno 1503 has the resource production of The Settlers Card Game, the buildings of Puerto Rico and the exploration of Entdecker. It also has some of the economics of Starship Catan.

The game is played a lot like a multiplayer version of the Settlers Card Game. Each player has their own board showing the colonists that they have built and/or promoted, the islands that they have colonized, the buildings they have constructed and the trade agreements that they have formed. Each board shows the four basic resources, wood, bricks, cloth and tools, and a wild space, on the numbers 1-5, but each board is different, so when a 1 is rolled, each player collects a different thing. This flat resource production is the same mechanism used in the Settlers card game, but here, each player only produces one resource on a roll, unless there is a year of plenty and they have built the Church, which gives them two resources.

The main resource of the islands is the inhabitants, which are composed of two types of two sided tiles that show 1-2 on two sides, and 3-4 on the other. There are four 1-2, and only three 3-4, and the mix is limited, so if you have the four 1-2 tiles built, you will have to promote one to a 3 to get a 1-2 back. It sounds more complicated than it is, and it works very well. This is similar to the Settlers Settlement/City problem, where you are forced to upgrade to a city to build a new settlement.

Each level of colonist will buy certain goods for the amount of gold of their level, so the most you can sell something for is normally 4 gold, and the 4th level merchant is only interested in buying tobacco, which can only be found in the island colony tiles.

There is a central board divided into square spaces that depicts islands, and square island tiles are placed according to the number of players. Island tiles are numbered 2-3-4 on the back, and they are divided face down, shuffled, and placed. If two players are playing, use only the 2 islands, and place them only on island spaces labelled two on the board. For three, use two and three, and place accordingly. This is a great way of balancing the game for 2-3-4 players, and it works very well.

Each player starts with one of their two possible wooden ships on the start space, and at the end of each turn, each ship may move one space for each player in the game. (2 player game, ships move 2, three player, move three). A ship that moves next to an unclaimed island tile may explore the tile by using 1 movement, and the player then has the choice of claiming the tile by taking it, placing it accordingly and sinking the ship, or returning it face down. This is a very neat mechanism, and it works very well. Tiles available inlcude vegetable and tobacco colonies, as well as cloth and tools, trade agreements, which reduce the cost of buying goods from the bank, treasure tiles which grant 12 gold, and tiles which allow the immediate promotion of 1 colonist 1 level.

There is no inter-player trade, but any resource can be bought from the bank for 6 gold minus the number of trade agreements that you have found, to a maximum of three. Only two resources per turn may be bought, and only one resource per colonist may be sold for gold to the bank.

Players start with two colonists on the board, a 1 and a 2, and once they build their 4th, they earn a free building which is drawn from the common pool and built underneath the new colonist. These buildings each grant a certain benefit, like protecting from fire, increasing the value of certain goods or doubling ship movement (very popular).

There is a mechanism for generating random troubles. Whenever a player rolls a six for resource production, there is no regular production, and the die must be rolled again. Then, there is a one third chance of a pirate raid, fire or year of plenty. Pirate raids and fires require all players to pay gold depending on their current levels of development, and failure to have enough on hand means that you will lose a colonist and building or an island tile.

On a turn, the die is rolled, resources are generated for all players, and then the active player may sell and buy resources, and then use resources to build ships or colonists, and to promote colonists. Once all the building and promoting is done, the player may then move all their ships to explore the high seas.

The game is won by collecting three victory points, and points can be earned in different ways:
  • One point for building 3 merchants (level 4 colonists)
  • One point for having 3 trade agreements
  • One point for settling 4 island colonies
  • One point for building 4 Public Buildings
  • One point for accumulating 30 Gold.

The interesting part of the game is that the tile dsitribution is set for 2,3 or 4 players, so that not every player can get 3 trade agreements or 4 island tiles. The only victory conditions that all players can achieve at the same time are 30 gold or 3 merchants, all of the rest are up for grabs.

So, you have to pay attention to what the other players have built. In the last game that I played, I had 2 trade agreements, but there were only two unexplored island tiles left, so I knew I had no chance of getting another trade agreement, and so I did not build any more ships, as I could not get any points from them. (I already had four colonies) The colonies were all vegetables, and I turned this monopoly into the 30 gold that I needed for my 3rd point and the victory. (I had 1 point from 4 colonies, and another from 4 buildings. I built the double ship movement, the increase vegetables and cloth to 4, the church and the increase basic goods to 2. Once I had three level 3 colonists who would buy vegetables for 4 gold each with the building, I was generating 12 gold per turn.)

All in all, I like the game, and I think that perhaps it is not being given the attention it deserves. Yes, it is derivative, but it is derivative of many good ideas, many of which are Teuber's in the first place. While there is little direct interaction, you have to pay close attention to what the other players are doing if you want to win. You also have to base your strategy on the island tiles that you turn up and the production that you get, although it seems that you do get more control over production than you do in Settlers.

If you have played too many games of Settlers where someone manages to whine their way to victory, give Anno 1503 a try, and you might be pleasantly surprised.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mark... I just had to post SOMETHING...

Nicely done site... Not that that comes as any surprise :)

I'll be sure to check it out again.

Paul Thomas

12:04 p.m.


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