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Subject: Explore and conquer the whole Pacific Ocean in 90 minutes! rss

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Daniel Val
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This review is based on two game plays that took place at Triadcon, Washington, on September 2006.

Conquest of Paradise is the hopefully soon-to-be-released game of Polynesian civilization exploration and expansion in the Pacific Ocean. Ever since I heard from the existence of this game I became interested in it for I knew of few games on the subject.
I have recently moved to the USA and I was really lucky to attend a con near my new home. It was a great opportunity to meet some of my favourite designers in the hobby. Kevin McPartland was among them and spent most of the time showing attendants how to play the game. I was one of the lucky ones actually participating in two three player games.
Before I continue, I’d like to let the reader (if any!) know that Kevin (the game designer) and I have become friends thanks to the con and to playing the game, so I’ll leave up to you if you think this could bias too much my review. Truth first!

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the game.

1) Components: Let’s begin by saying that being this a title not yet released it was basically impossible to have the “real” thing checked out. On the other hand, I thought the playtest copy was pretty neat. The board represents the Pacific Ocean and is divided in big hexes. Most of them begin having a blue background, and are subject to further exploration. During the game players discover (or not) islands, which are represented by hex tiles that are drawn randomly, so little by little, the board gets filled with these tiles. The hex tiles have the names of actual islands and have their real geographical shape printed.
There are also chits used for exploration, chits for your colonies, ships and so on. They all have simple but well themed graphics.
My favourite component was the cards. They have old paintings printed, which gives the game a strong flavour.

Some pictures are already uploaded here on the geek. Here are the links:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/148034
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/66476

So, all in all, I like the components, although I have not seen the final version, and I’m sure they will be even better.

2) Game play: Depending where each player seats, each one gets a different tribe, with different starting locations. Two of them start next to each other, which is a little disadvantage, but on the other hand, their home islands are better than those of the other players starting further apart from each other. The game then begins, with each turn following this sequence:

1. Turn Order Step.
2. Exploration Step.
3. Movement & Battle Step.
4. Building Step.
5. Victory Step.

Each of these steps is accomplished by every player before you move to the next one, so downtime between turns is virtually inexistent in this game. Players are always involved in the game. That’s one of the features I liked.

In the first phase (Turn order), the player with the lowest score determines both who will be the first player and in which direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) the turn will go around the table. There are some subtle strategies behind this mechanism. One could artificially lower his scoring in order to determine turn order. I liked this mechanic.

In the second phase (Exploration) players send an exploration party to unexplored hexes. For each new unexplored hex a random chit is drawn. On one side it will indicate if an island is found, or if only open sea is seen. Sometimes, the chit will declare the exploring party to have lost its way, and it will skip that hex to be further moved by the preceding player to another hex, and a chit is drawn again.
Besides what is actually found, the other side of the chit shows a number of knots ranging from 1 to 3, which are added every time the player decides to continue exploring. If you ever go up to five knots, you have to return to base. If you ever hit six knots, you are lost and all you will do in your next turn during the exploration step is recover your exploring canoe. At the beginning of the game some risky decisions are taken thanks to this mechanism (When you already have 3 or 4 knots you wonder: Do I risk my next exploration phase and keep exploring or should I return the boys home?). Later on, when most of the map has been explored, this is less important.
When you discover an island, you draw a hex tile and place it face down on the board after looking at what you have actually discovered. You have three chits to cover three different found islands, which you can peek at any time. If you ever have discovered more than 3 islands which are not yet colonized, you have to start revealing islands to the rest of the players. Other players can discover the same islands you have already found, and they can reveal them to the others or leave them unrevealed.
When all you found was open sea, the chit stays on that hex being open ocean for the rest of the game.
Island hex tiles vary in quality. The worst are those that are practically uninhabitable by enough members of your tribe. From that on, the more habitable space, the better, for you can have more villages built, and accommodate more colonies.

In the third phase (movement & battle) players move their transport and war canoes up to two hexes away. These pieces, unlike your exploring party only enter revealed spaces, so before you enter a new island, you must have discovered it. Each transport canoe can bring one colony or one warrior, while war canoes can transport only one warrior. Before actually doing this, you can redistribute your own forces under a “chain” of transport canoes, allowing players to concentrate stuff at certain spots if they think they might be attacked or if they are planning an attack. The pieces under this chain of canoes are kept secret, allowing some bluffing. In fact, there is a piece that acts as a decoy called “rumors”. I liked that!
If you go into a hex were other player has pieces (and it’s not just rumors!), both players engage in combat, which is pretty simple. The defender first calculates his forces, which account one piece for each village plus any warriors present. The attacker then rolls for each attacking piece and consults a simple table. Pieces retire, destroy an enemy unit or are destroyed. Needless to say, some cards affect the outcome of attacks. Simple and fast mechanics.
Some hexes are occupied by non-player tribes and are public knowledge from the beginning of the game. These spaces are heavily guarded and some are subject to malaria rolls,

In the fourth phase (building step) each player secretly produces new units: transport canoes (1), war canoes (3), warriors (2), villages (2 or 1colony), colonies (2), cultivate a space in an island (in order to later build a colony) (1) or buys a card (2). To calculate each players building points you sum up your number of villages. If you decide to give up your next exploration party, you get one extra point for building this phase.

In the fifth step (Victory determination) players sum a point for each village and one for every occupied island that are linked to your home island by a chain of transport canoes. Depending on the number of players, if any player reaches a certain number the game ends. Most of the cards you purchase score victory points when played, so watch out for surprises in this phase!

That’s it! As you can see, pretty simple system, easy to grasp for newbies and still allows several strategies… so the potential number of players is really big, even non-gamers.
The game plays fast (one hour and a half) and with no downtime.

3) Overall opinion: I really like this game. It’s one of the few empire building games playable in such short time, and unlike other games like Vinci or Tempus (which I also enjoy), there is a decent amount of historic theme incorporated. It is also simple enough to drag your non-gamer or light gamer friends in, while more hardcore gamers can still enjoy it.
I thought the theme was pretty original and one really has the feeling of expanding his empire and improving it, only at a faster speed than other games of this kind. I also liked that each tribe played a little different depending on its starting position, so you always can try a new perspective as a player.
The game can easily admit advanced rules (some of which I only heard of, like reaching the American coast line) and longer playing time for those who might want a longer session.
I really hope this game gets published soon, because I’m looking forward playing it again!
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Stephen Waits
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This sounds great - I've been watching it for awhile now. It's sure a nice change in theme!

Thanks for the early review.
 
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Charlie Sheppard
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Re: Explore and conquer the whole Pacific Ocean in 90 minute
I've been eagerly awaiting this one for a while.

I'm in Washington too. I didn't realize this con even existed, let alone that they'd be playing Conquest of Paradise! cry
 
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Steve
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Re: Explore and conquer the whole Pacific Ocean in 90 minute
I have this preordered... I can't wait. Thanks for the review!
 
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Daniel Val
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Thanks to you guys for reading and appreciating the review!
 
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Jacobo Ca
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Nice review compadre!! Hopefully we'll play this cool game next time we see each other! A good empire building game is always welcomed robot
 
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Kevin McPartland
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Great review, Daniel! Thanks for all of the support, everyone. I'm confident that you'll all have a published copy of the game in your hands next year. Sometime. If lots of pre-orders roll in, sooner rather than later!

Kevin
 
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