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Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Best "serious" Euro in the last two years rss

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Milton Soong
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LOS ALTOS
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INTRO
I have grown cool about the whole euro scene for a while now. Part of the reason is the weariness of an grognard (been there, done that), and part of it is just my fickle and changing interest is solidly back on miniatures. I still show up to the Friday night euro night mainly for social reasons, so I tend to play old favorites with occasional new releases thrown in (With Chris LaRue and Chris Farrell in the game group, there's no lack of the new stuff). None of the newish release (for me this means Puerto Rico and after) have made much of an impression.

...until now, and from an unlikely source of Glenn Drover.

First I heard of Age of Empire III is when I saw it on the shelf of local store (GameKastle in Santa Clara). It has that Eagle game "look" to it, and then the credit was unmistakable that it's done by the same designer who did all the Eagle titles. I was never a fan of his design: from old Ameritrash like Risk clones (Attack, the American Civil War, etc.), to botched remakes (Conquest of Empire). There were signs of change when Age of Mythology was release after Purto Rico became a standard of "serious game". It is an evolution that is encouraging although that particular game did not pass the test of time.

Make no mistake, although AoE3 has tons of plastic bits, it is NO risk clone, it is a Euro to the core. In fact it's a rare euro indeed since it is strongly themed where one do get a sense of building up a colonial empire.

MECHANICS
AoE3 uses a blend of many systems. You name it and it's probably there. Many mentioned that there are Caylus-like systems (don't know since I have not played that one), there are scoring from majority control, there are assigning your resources to different "stages" to perform different actions a la Aladdin's Dragon, etc.

Every turn each player gets 5 colonists (your basic worker bees). Each player then takes turn to assign these colonist one at a time to various "Event box", one can:
1. change the turn order (one have to actively spend workers to change the turn order)
2. go to the dock to get shipped out to the new world (there are limited berth on how many colonist total that can ship out per turn. Colonists can go to ANY area that has already been explored.)
3. grab one of 4 trading goods (building up sets of 3 or 4 identical trading goods is the only reliable way to make money turn over turn.)
4. bid on a merchant ship- (A merchant ship is a reusable wild card in calculating sets of trade goods).
5. Get in line to buy a capital building- (These are like the buildings in Puerto Rico
6. Setup discovery party- (these guys goes off to the new world to explore undiscovered regions, which grants a one time $ & VP. It also opens up the area for future colonists).
7. train specialists- (One can upgrade a regular colonist into specialists who can perform better in one of the many tasks. So a soldier can get you additional $ upon discovery as well as gives you muscle to fight a war, and a Merchant is better at bidding for a merchant ship and it also give you $5 if it moves to the new world, etc.)
8. start a war- seldom used, but allows one to use his soldiers to reduce enemy presence in the new world. War is relatively limited both in frequency (in our game it's only used in scoring rounds, or if someone ran out of constructive things to do), as well as effect (one solder gets to kill one dude, done).

After all the players have assigned their colonist, each event box is then resolved in order. At the very end of the turn, income is collected and special capital building generated events are carried out. If this is turn 3, 6, or 10, then victory points from the new world regions is scored via a simple majority control scheme.

This is pretty much it. The mechanics and its interaction might sound pretty intricate, but after about a turn you get the hang of it, and is very elegant compare to many Euros like Puerto Rico.

GAMEPLAY
The goal of the game is to get VP, and the ways to get that is:
1. Majority control of regions in the new world during scoring round
2. Make discoveries
3. Some capital building gives you VP
4. Some (expensive age III) capital building gives you bonus VP for having something else (i.e. one building gives you 1VP for every 2 colonist in the new world, a big boost for someone going with a colonist heavy strategy).

Of all these ways to get VP, the most efficient is probably through majority control, since colonist generally do not go away once landed (other than through infrequent wars), so a colonist that landed in Age 1 can potentially score you three times.

The most inefficient way to get VP is probably through exploration, since you have to build up a large enough war party to over come likely native resistance, and at the end of the exploration, all the explores dies so they aren't really reused. One can get lucky since a few of the discovery tiles gives you HUGE amount of VP, but like roulette, not something you should build a strategy on.
The good thing about exploration is that the other roads to VP can get one locked out (i.e new world could've already been thoroughly dominated by your opponent, and you might not have enough $ to buy capital buildings), in such cases exploration can be the "default" cheap way to get some VP, and hope you get lucky. After all the onboard region have been explored, one can even explore "offboard" regions which in reality never really runs out (i.e. One can always go "discover" Japan for some quick gain in $ and VP. I am sure my Asian studies PC police would have a field day with this..)

The capital building is the tough one. These are the stuff that at simple glance is not REQUIRED to get VP, but by having a cache of them will give you bonus which can eventually build up. All the building are divided up according to age (first 3 turns are age 1, turn 4~6 are age 2, age 7~8 are age 3), with progressively more powerful bonuses accompanied by more expensive cost. Someone can do a thorough study of the cost/benefit ratio of each of the buildings, but the ones tied to your winning strat are must haves (i.e. if you are the king of trade goods, then you need the capital building that gets you 1VP per trade good). The cool building cost you a good $20, which is a hefty chunk of change that you need to save up for.

Money: The only real important use of $ is the acquisition of capital buildings, and the way to get money is:
1. Through sets of trade goods
2. sending merchants to the new world
3. small amount comes from bidding on turn order, and
4. some capital buildings themselves.

How to acquire money is a sub game that can consume a player, but one should be careful not to spend too much energy on it while neglecting the true worth of money: Acquire useful capital buildings.

THE FLOW
The game is quite long (about 2.5 hours for 4 players, and three of us have never played the game), but does not drag. There are always meaningful decisions to be made, and even if one's fallen behind on the power curve, one can always go exploring and pick up VP that way. The end of our game shows that the person who went for the "build missonary and then make babies like crazy in the new world" strategy won out big, but that being the most "efficient" way to victory, I can see that if more people put more emphasis on that facet of the game, it'll naturally balance out.
It is one of those "avoid the crowd" game (i.e. if everyone is following strategy X and therefore competing for the same stuff), so being a contrarian is a viable road to victory. It is also a game where one can relatively easily shift between strategies so one is not locked in by bad decisions made early on (one exception maybe that one have to make sure to save up $20 so one can get in on the age 3 capital building race, since those are game winners).
As I mentioned earlier, the game is heavily themed, and does not feel tacked on at all like other Euros. One begin the game with a steady flow of options, and an empty new world. One gradually build up economic infrastructure (the trade good aspect is probably the most abstract of all the subsystems), build up colonist for the new world, build up exploration party, etc. As the game goes on the new world gradually gets filled up, then you start to see jostling for position in the different colonies, and near the end game (or scoring rounds) war getrs declared to curb opponent's influence in the new world. All feels very logical, while not a simulation, one FEELS that on an abstract level approximate running a colonial empire better than most of the competing games out there.

FINAL WORD
The best euro-type board game in the last two years. Strategic game play coupled with straight forward and elegant mechanism. Definitely one to stay in the fickle Soong household.
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Jason Maxwell
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msoong wrote:
The most inefficient way to get VP is probably through exploration, since you have to build up a large enough war party to over come likely native resistance, and at the end of the exploration, all the explores dies so they aren't really reused.


Great review, but I wanted to partially disagree with this staatement. I played my first game last night, and tried a exploration strategy. What I did was get the buildings that gave me a free Captain and Soldier in the Discovery box, and the building that gave me a free Captain. Those combined are worth 5 exploration points, enough to defeat all but the toughest Discovery Cards, and I never had to commit one of my stock of colonists to the Discovery box. Admittedly I only finished 3rd, but I think that was less about my exploration strategy and more about decisions I made in the New World.
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Stephen Shaw
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Ways to get money:

5. Discoveries of areas of the New World
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Todd Sweet
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You forgot a very important way of getting VPs:
5) Your economy from trade goods and merchant ships. Whatever your income from these are on the final turn is also VPs for you! This can be worth over 20 VPs and rival any Age III building.

Enjoy!
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Glenn Drover
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Great review (though I think Conquest of the Empire II was a very good game... )

I'm not a big discoverer, but it is actually fairly efficient in that it gives you both voctory points AND money. It also gives you a head start in a region (for domination AND for the trade good there).

Don't count out Discovery as a viable PART of a successful strategy.

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Joe Donnelly
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It seems odd to call Conquest of the Empire a "botched remake". Of the two games included in the Eagle edition, one is a "faithful" remake of the original (was that, then, the botched one?), and the other a well-received new design.

Your review would stand up better had you avoided the backhanded and begrudging treatment of the designer. Why not review the present work on its own merits, and leave your personal agenda for your diary?
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Milton Soong
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JasonRMax wrote:

Great review, but I wanted to partially disagree with this staatement. I played my first game last night, and tried a exploration strategy. What I did was get the buildings that gave me a free Captain and Soldier in the Discovery box, and the building that gave me a free Captain. Those combined are worth 5 exploration points, enough to defeat all but the toughest Discovery Cards, and I never had to commit one of my stock of colonists to the Discovery box. Admittedly I only finished 3rd, but I think that was less about my exploration strategy and more about decisions I made in the New World.


Having the right capital buildings of course will make some strategy more efficient, but if everything being equal, controlling a region in the new world can score you up to three times, hence my comment about efficiency.
 
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Milton Soong
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Sunray11 wrote:
It seems odd to call Conquest of the Empire a "botched remake". Of the two games included in the Eagle edition, one is a "faithful" remake of the original (was that, then, the botched one?), and the other a well-received new design.

Your review would stand up better had you avoided the backhanded and begrudging treatment of the designer. Why not review the present work on its own merits, and leave your personal agenda for your diary?


To clarify, the original CoE was a standard risk derived light wargame that I do not have that much love for, and the "new" Struggle of Empires influenced one is the one I was referring to. "Botched" might be too strong of a word and if that caused offense I'll gladly retract, but from my limited play I was not impressed.

As far as the designer is concerned, AoE3 firmly placed Glenn on the top tier on Milton's list, so hopefully the take away is a positive one!
 
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Bruno Valerio
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msoong wrote:
FINAL WORD
The best euro-type board game in the last two years. Strategic game play coupled with straight forward and elegant mechanism. Definitely one to stay in the fickle Soong household.


The game very good indeed but i wouldn't go so far as to call it the best euro-type of the last two years.

 
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Sébastien Volle
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msoong wrote:
Having the right capital buildings of course will make some strategy more efficient, but if everything being equal, controlling a region in the new world can score you up to three times, hence my comment about efficiency.

I played the discovery strategy in my last game and came out 2nd out of 4 players. I had buildings that gave me 2 free soldiers and 1 free captain each turn.
Not only could I launch easy and highly lucrative discovery parties, warfare played an important part in my strategy too. With 2 free soldiers each turn, it was very easy to wreack some havok in the colonies and break up majorities or give myself the 2nd place.
It proved to be a pretty effective strategy that yielded tons of money throughout the game (I had more money than everybody else most of the time) giving me a nice edge on buildings and despite it doesn't make as much VP as other -safer- strategies like heavy colonization, it's pretty nice for kicking your opponents in the knees and keep them from making 6VPs on colonies. And it's funnier arrrh
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Glenn Drover
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I think that discovery can be a very powerful part of an overall strategy. The key would be to also focus on one or two other aspects that compliment that strategy well.

I would colonize and take trade goods.

One of the best things about a Discovery strategy is that there is no time pressure to deploy your men there. This leaves you free to spend your early moves doing other things.

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brian
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Great review (with the exception of the Intro!). I think you summed up the game play accurately and captured my feelings on teh gaem as well.

I was going to pass over this game as well and decided to get it on a whim when I saw it as the last offer on a Tangathon. Not knowing what to expect (just rumours of a Caylus-PR hybrid), I was pleasantly surprised about how tight the game played. As Glenn mentioned elsewhere, the flow of the game is very intuitive. I found money to be quite the paradox as well - couldn't get enough of it in the beginning and had too much at the end. but as you said, it drives the Capital buildings which support your other strategies.

It might not be the best Euro in the last two years but it makes a strong argument for it. It is well deserving of it's climb up the charts. Though I haven't played all of them, I would think this qualifies as Glenn's best design ever.
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Glenn Drover
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The funny thing about this game is that it really grows on you. The more we play it, the more we want to play it (which has almost never been the case for me). I guess as we learned the game systems and how they interact, we tried to figure out the optimum strategies. It also plays very differently depending on the number of players, which requires unique strategies and adaptability.

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Robert March
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I'm intrigued by this game. But, I have Railroad Tycoon (which I personally enjoy greatly), and several of my gaming group hate it because it is not, umm, casual enough for them. Thus, my overly analytical brain has allowed me to run away with the game several times. In RRT, it seems pretty hard to reel in a runaway leader (correct me if I'm mistaken).

Does Age of Empires III have a runaway leader problem? Or are there balancing mechanisms to help the last place player catch up (I particularly admire Power Grid for how it manages this).
 
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Glenn Drover
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In most game sessions of AoE III it isn't really certain who the leader is for sure. Unless one player is vastly better or more experienced with the game, the games are actually very close.
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Nick Szegedi
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Budley wrote:
Great review (though I think Conquest of the Empire II was a very good game... )

I'm not a big discoverer, but it is actually fairly efficient in that it gives you both voctory points AND money. It also gives you a head start in a region (for domination AND for the trade good there).

Don't count out Discovery as a viable PART of a successful strategy.



...I STILL think CotE II is a GREAT game! That and AOE III are my fav games from you, Glenn.
 
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Glenn Drover
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I like those two as well (and Railroad Tycoon). Oddly, my last three.

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Nick Szegedi
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RRTycoon is good as well... but my 3rd prob would have to be Age of Mythology... I just think that game was/is cooL! Keep wishing for an expansion!-
 
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Julien Van Reeth
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Budley wrote:
In most game sessions of AoE III it isn't really certain who the leader is for sure. Unless one player is vastly better or more experienced with the game, the games are actually very close.


That was the case in my first game, a 5-player one. The leader (the only experienced player) won with 78, focusing on military and gaining first places in the new world. I came in second with 75 being the trade good king (and getting the big building for 15 vips, yay), third place was 73 with the Privateer and his 4 ships (plus the big building for 16 vips, ouch), 4th place was Cortez (with his free captain and free soldier in the conquest box every turn) with 72, (and had he not made the gamble to bring only 5 guys when he had 6 available, and flipped a card with 6 natives, he could very well have won) and last player had 67, he was the missionary, getting one free priest and the cathedral.

It was thus very interesting to see 5 wholly diferent strategies duke it out on the board.
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Anni Foasberg
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Budley wrote:

I'm not a big discoverer, but it is actually fairly efficient in that it gives you both victory points AND money. It also gives you a head start in a region (for domination AND for the trade good there).


Combining it with the Monastery strategy works quite nicely in my opinion, for both of these reasons... you are all over the place with all your missionaries. Then again,I haven't won a game yet... but I've certainly area-controlled the heck out of the New World while playing with some very warfare-oriented people.
 
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Ron Olivier, Sr.
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msoong wrote:
INTRO

...until now, and from an unlikely source of Glenn Drover.

.


This is a fine review, and it really makes me want to pick this game up for my Son. He's a fan of the AoE computer game, and I know he'd love this. I, too, would love to try it out

As far as Glenn Drover being an unlikely source, we have only two games by him - Railroad Tycoon and Conquest of the Empire. They are both in my top 5 games. Well, to each his own, I guess.
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