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Subject: Not quite paradise, but an excellent tropical distraction rss

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Wade Broadhead
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Conquest of Paradise » Forums » Reviews
Not quite paradise, but an excellent tropical distraction
(no Jimmy Buffet songs were sung or injured while writing this review)

Players: 2-4
Time : hmmm… 1 hour to 2.5 hours

After a rather anticlimactic, bland, economic first game of Conquest of Paradise (albiet with some rules played wrong) I was determined to get it back to the table for a second try with a more friendly audience. Having waited 1.5 years for the game or so I felt I needed to get my “hype and money’s" worth. After my second game I feel this is the best Polynesia wargame and ‘rails at sea’ economic game out there. COP is a unique design in some ways similar to Serenissima and a generic train game, all set at sea in 500 A.D.

I’ve always been a big exploration and empire building game. After finishing Entdecker I’ve have the yearning to build and an empire and go to war on the beautiful map, now here was my chance! The coveted <2 hour empire building game may just be here…

Conquest of Paradise is an empire building /efficiency / war-game set in 500 AD when native peoples set out to explore and settle the archipelagos of the South Pacific. The native conquest theme is clever and a nice change from Euro American domination of natives peoples. It’s an interesting idea for a game and done much better than the other S. Pacific title, Tongiki. Players explore the S. Pacific and find historic island chains in non historic locations, settle these chains, and connect a vast empire with transport canoes to socre VPs. Players also buy warrior bands and war canoes to defend, and sometimes attack surrounding islands. Warfare can be expensive, but it can be equally expensive to neglect it as we will see.

The game also captures the theme and excitement of the subject matter magnificently. Players use a simple, real world systems, to explore the map finding open ocean, island chains or heading off course. Numbers of “knots” are used measure wear and tear on the equipment and if you have too much wear your explorers are lost and unable to ship out next turn. Kevin also incorporated the remaining “essence” of the S. Pacific into a set of Art and Culture Cards. These card cost 2 building points each (1 per turn) and give players victory points outright and advantages for certain conditions. Some cards have no VP bonus but give you sizable advantages. With cards like surfing, cannibalism, and tattoos, the game has captured the feel of the S. Pacific without getting too complex. Indeed, the cards are simple, and a necessary strategy to win the game.

Components

The game is deceptively simple, although probably clunky and “fiddly” to europurists. The units are chits, yes chits, and the map is a beautiful production of the S. Seas but will not stay down so you must have plexiglass to really play or some nice lead coconut bookends. The game can handle 4 players, but the colors (besides the white player) are so similar that it can cause big problems during the game. With a colorblind friend playing it was near impossible for him to determine the colors. The next reprint must add some type of symbol to each unit besides a color for colorblind players. The game does come with a Polynesia looking dice and some nice black and white player aid cards that really show you how simple the game is.

The game
The point: COP is a VP game with players scoring points for number of controlled island groups and atolls (a chain without the ability to hold a village), points for Culture cards, and number of villages. There is a set point total for different number of players.

Each turn you play through the rounds:

1. Determine first player and direction of play: The person lowest on the VP goes first, and this is huge. It’s worth hiding cards to go last and control the warfare and exploration/movement.
2. Explore, although you have an explorer piece this is really abstracted and you draw chits (yes, this is not 1977, but its actually fun) and find islands, open ocean or are blown off course. Explorers can pre move to any open space to have myriad of exploration options. If you find an island only you see it, and it is played face down! So the bluffing begins. You may reveal your find at any time, indeed no unit can enter the hex until it is flipped.

3. Movement: There is a nifty transit move which allows you to shuttle people around your empire (connected island groups, think reed rails at sea) BEFORE they move (usually 2 spaces in canoes). Going first is again crucial since you cannot move into a hex with an enemy piece unless you have a war canoe (3 build points= expensive). Did I mention you move face down, and you have two rumor pieces which are bluffs. These prove very useful in the game. The movement and bluffing adds an extra element to the game that elevates it from an average level economic/war-game to a superior game.

Battle, after all movement is done, you fight. The battle system will kill many grognards but it is very historical and kind of interesting. The attacker always rolls a D6, 1 he loses a piece, a 6 defender loses a pieces 2-3 attacker panics a pieces and 4-5 attacker panics a pieces. So basic combat is a crap shoot, and only superior numbers help, BUT as we found culture card quickly change things and make some nations very formidable in combat. The systems represent the bravado, then the reality, of warfare and flight common in small scale societies. With small population numbers many native societies could not withstand the slaughters of antiquity. The combat system also is the “euro” leveling mechanic of the game. If someone is in the lead it can be difficult to pull him back unless you take his islands from him/her. The combat system also sees mostly retreats and therefore mitigates the anger some might feel when being attacked without provocation, since their people just sail back home (usually). Also, you must remember if someone has no military they are usually toast, except for villages have instrinic defenders. These intrinsic defenders help balance out the game nicely, as someone usually has the chance to weaken an expanding foe.

Here is where the game can feel a lot like Serenissima which can be a straight euro trading game or a violent war game. The first person to attack usually starts a vicious cycle that can sour the game. In COP it’s a little different, an early well timed attacked or even an aggressive move can severe a chain and set a player back. However with the cards and the exploration of islands on the fringe players can find a way back into the game as I did my second game. Also, once you have been wronged and are in a bad spot I see no reason not to build up and take back some island chains, forcing the leader to change gears. If you win a battle the enemy retreats and you destroy all villages except you can sacrifice war units to save villages, to the victor go the spoils! This is another nice touch to equal out the game. You must give up military power to gain economic power. The formidable warrior becomes the loyal husband and father who will not fight unless his people are attacked.

4. Build. This section should probably come first, but after all movement and battle each player calculates his creative energy and muscle via villages. Add villages 1 build point per village and 1 extra if you do not explore (you turn inward, another nice touch).
Villages cost 2
Colonies (mobile villages) cost 2
War bands cost 2
War canoes cost 3
Transport canoe cost 1
Culture card costs 2
Improve agriculture (till brown spaces on certain island for a village) cost 1
It’s a pretty simple tech tree and unit scope, there’s just enough variability to make the hidden movement and bluffing interesting. Remember all units are built face down and you may add your rumor piece to fake out your opponent.

Settlement
Even though it occurs during movement, I’ll describe settling island chains now.
Island chains either have habitable islands or are atolls. Each must be connected to your home island via a canoe chain, atolls are worth ½ VP but cannot hold villages. Island chains can hold villages. First a colonist must arrive, which is flipped to a village and then the player my build units on the island. So seizing an island chain from someone means destroying 1-4 VP worth of villages and 1 VP for the island chain, pretty devastating.

5. VP check. At the end pf the round add up all controlled island chains, atolls, and villages connected to your home island, move VP accordingly. Remember only connected islands can share energy, so breaking a canoe link reduces VP and collective creative energy, brilliant idea! Players also reveal their Culture cards at any time for one time or game long advantages, these points are included into the VP total.

Gameplay
COP will take a little while to explain and to understand for some, but for others it should be easy. Like a good euro, first move blunders will not doom you to last place, as everything ramps up nicely. The unique mechanics interact seamlessly in an enjoyable manner that stays true to the theme without sacrificing game play. There is some serious luck of the draw in the cards and regarding the island chains, however, you must adapt your strategy to your cards and geographic position. If you get good war cards and few islands, grab the war clubs and head out as I did in my second game. In this way it is like Race for the Galaxy, in that you can have a long term strategy and adapt as the board develops and your cards change. I was also surprised to see the 3 player game scales really well, and the start positions give us all small empires to handle and tense buffer chains that were hotly contested. I expected a Player A attacks B and player C wins. B was attacked but was able to battle back to second place, and great sign about a 3 player war-game (well played as a war-game).

The decisions are not quite as delicious as some euro games, but they are different and offer a different experience. In a sea of similar looking, wooden bit studded, Medieval, European euro games ,COP is a fresh warm breeze from the S. Pacific. It’s not a euro game in that your bad decisions are not rewarded with some catch up mechanic, you must dig yourself out of your own mistakes, or misfortune, but I must report it IS possible to dig back. The game is a very good empire building game, and the catch up mechanic is largely warfare, since it elevates you and lowers the leader. The 3 player game allowed us to see who was about to win and plan accordingly, causing some last minute shifts. I was able to jump from last place to second in a 25-23-21.5 finish, this was after I was last the entire game by about 8-12 pts.

My economic game was very bland and after that I would rate the game a 6, but after playing to the full potential of bluffing and military strikes it rises to an 8.5. By bland I mean it was very predictable, even with bluffing and it had the Triumvirate feel of being able to predict 5 moves ahead and announce a winner all things being equal (if no one is attacking). In this way the game is kind of like Power Grid, Age of Steam or other low luck predictable economic euros.

The Verdict

After only two games (yes I wrote a review after 2 games, please complain someplace else) I really enjoy this multifaceted design. As previous posters pointed out is can be played as economic or a war-game or some combination of the two. I found the full game utilizing warfare, surgical strikes, and conflict much more interesting. Without it I don’t see the point of really even bluffing, but it may be the way to play with many people who can’t stand conflict, because it can be nasty, brutish, and frustrating in this game. Our second game went over 2 hours I believe, but it was they type of longer game where all of a sudden its 2 hours later and you didn’t even realize the time because you were trying to build your scantily clad empire. Also, as the map fills out and chains are established it starts to feel like a well oiled island civilization, and I think the warfare makes you realize how tenuous their situation really was. I don’t think COP will be a 10 for me, but as of now it’s an 8.5 which is strong rating and its something I am always willing to play, and will try to bring to the table often (with the right crowd). I really feel that the <2 hour empire building game is here, if you can stand to NOT build your empire in the ancient Mediterranean. The game accomplishes what it sets out to do very well, and although it’s not a mythical paradise, it is a very excellent tropical distraction and a fine place to while away an hour or two with some friends.
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Dan Rivera
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Would like to emphasis that I was the colorblind player and the colors are preaty much Identical if I hadnt been white I would not of been able to tell my pieces from everyone elses. Something does have to be done about the colors. You figure that supposedly 50% of all males are colorblind to some extent and the majority of gamers are men that the design would of included some sort of other piece recognition besides color or at least not shades of brown and green. This is not just this designer who has done this. It happens alot with euro games and cubes too. Before you buy beware if you are red/green colorblind you will have dificulties telling the colors apart. Besides this grip however I actualy liked this game. It was a fun, lightish exploration wargame that captured its theme perfectly.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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coyotelaughs wrote:
You figure that supposedly 50% of all males are colorblind to some extent and the majority of gamers are men that the design would of included some sort of other piece recognition besides color or at least not shades of brown and green.


Over the years I've played hundreds of wargames that used nothing but color to distinguish pieces, and played them with hundreds of male wargamers. That experience leaves me - let's just say "extremely sceptical" - about your 50% colorblind theory.

Not that I don't sympathize, but I don't think wildly overstating the issue is the best way to approach it.

BTW, I think CoP is a very intriguing game, and am anxious to get it back on the table.
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Daniel Rocchi
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I got my copy last Friday. Yay!! (Missing a counter sheet. Boo!!)

But I did get to go through the rules and am looking forward to trying it out. I will say though, that I did get the map out and think it is of great quality. I only had to give a little backbend along the creases and it lay perfectly flat on its own.
 
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Dan Rivera
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Sphere wrote:
coyotelaughs wrote:
You figure that supposedly 50% of all males are colorblind to some extent and the majority of gamers are men that the design would of included some sort of other piece recognition besides color or at least not shades of brown and green.


Over the years I've played hundreds of wargames that used nothing but color to distinguish pieces, and played them with hundreds of male wargamers over the years. That experience leaves me - let's just say "extremely sceptical" - about your 50% colorblind theory.

Not that I don't sympathize, but I don't think wildly overstating the issue is the best way to approach it.

BTW, I think CoP is a very intriguing game, and am anxious to get it back on the table.


Yeah probably shouldnt have thrown out stats that I pulled from my 4th point of contact. But it is frustrating when you play a game you like and have to ask people is that your army or his so I know who Im attacking especially in the island groups that were contested and changed hands freq. anyone who reads the previous post from me please disregard stat and change to being colorblind sux when a game requires colors.
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Kevin McPartland
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Name this Leader counter from Amateurs, To Arms! by Clash of Arms Games.
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Warrior Band counter for Conquest of Paradise by GMT Games.
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Controlled Island Groups are supposed to be rotated in the same orientation as the owner's home islands. When we play, we rotate every island group, including atolls, in the direction of the side that occupies it. That coverers about 90% of the game in a non-color dependant way. You could ask your opponents to turn their discovery markers and any other non-connected pieces in the same direction. That should make for a game that is completely independent of the colors of the pieces.

Kevin
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Joe Lott
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denverarch wrote:

2. Explore, although you have an explorer piece this is really abstracted and you draw chits (yes, this is not 1977, but its actually fun)


Wait so since when did drawing chits become an out dated american wargame mechanic. Let me see... T&E perhaps comes to mind? How about Samuri? Both of these are by Eurogame god RK.

Nooooo Mechanic can really become outdated, unless there is something to replicates the result, with less mess. This, in board games, is rare.
 
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David Seddon
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I do look forward to playing this game. Alas, there is someone who has obviously and clearly shilled the ratings with a 1. Having checked the guy out, he has an abnormally large number of ones.

I understand his point about designers and ratings, but if he's not played the game himself, he should lay off of the ones! That sort of thing gives the ratings a bad name.
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Dan Rivera
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KMcPartland wrote:
Controlled Island Groups are supposed to be rotated in the same orientation as the owner's home islands. When we play, we rotate every island group, including atolls, in the direction of the side that occupies it. That coverers about 90% of the game in a non-color dependant way. You could ask your opponents to turn their discovery markers and any other non-connected pieces in the same direction. That should make for a game that is completely independent of the colors of the pieces.

Kevin


That would probably do it thanks for the help. I enjoyed the game and am looking forward to playing it again in the future.
 
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Kevin McPartland
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Name this Leader counter from Amateurs, To Arms! by Clash of Arms Games.
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If everybody keeps everything carefully oriented in the proper direction, what belongs to who should be clear. And the board will look nice and neet. My daughter calls this my OCD problem.blush

Kevin
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Wade Broadhead
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Quote:
That would probably do it thanks for the help. I enjoyed the game and am looking forward to playing it again in the future.


If you werent so busy winning maybe you would have orientated your islands properly, oh wait that was hard to do when I was sacking your nice Samoan ranches.
 
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Paulo Soledade
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Re: Not quite paradise, but an excellent tropical distractio
Now I'me qualified to comment your review since I've played the game. I've played it once with two players and another one with four. It plays very well it's very fun and we actually should know, as you say, that luck is very important in the cards you get and in islands' chains. However, as the designer said, luck is in fact part of life.
And I still have to discover (if I'll be lucky enough ) if luck determines the winner or if it's just something that helps you in some circumstances or makes you search a different strategy.

Paulo
 
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