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Subject: Get your lemons: Avoid Scurvy - A review of Age of Exploration rss

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Juan Medina
United States
Cedar Park
Texas
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Board games rule my life, and my wife's. That is a good thing, believe it or not ;)
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What type of game is this?

"Age of Exploration" is at the core a "push your luck game". I would go as far as calling this more an activity than a game. In it you represent an explorer in search for the Indies, the famous ways around the world, the indigenous riches and more than everything, recognition and fame from your European fellows. To accomplish that you need to fit at least one expedition, set sail, and hope that the perilous journey does not leave you starved, stranded or killed. Be the first to achieve more fame than your opponents and you will be declared the winner.


What type of setting will this game fit?

You will need a good bit of time for this, so this is most definitely something you want to have at least a couple hours to play. I would say this would be better for adults or could even be used as a tool to get young people introduced to the history of the explorers of this age. Though you can change the facts with what you do, the fact is you will introduce these as you go. If you want to have some luck drive your efforts and play a long haul crap shot, this is the kind of game you can play. You also will need a bit of space for cards and the board, so a square poker size table or larger would be required. This game works well as a solitaire game too.


Who would not enjoy this game?

This is not for people looking for a winnable/deterministic game. Though when you win it is awesome, most likely you will be frustrated by several attempts that end up in oblivion. There is no real good strategy to guarantee any type of success. You can put some thought on whether you want a short expedition to blitz some knowledge or a long term one for points and things like that, but there is no amount of build up that will protect you from scurvy and scared indigenous habitants. If you can't handle spending 90 plus minutes budilding up this awesome thing to see it gone in a card whim or a die roll, then this is most definitely not for you.


Production

In case you are not familiar with TimJim games, this is a TimJim game through and through. Except for the board, everything else is really flimsy. The cards are all printed stock paper, definitely not suited for the amount of shuffling and passing around that you will be doing. The manual is a quagmire of rules and not very well written. You are better off using the multitude of notes on the cards and the board itself, as well as your player card, to figure out how things work. There are several decks of cards for different things. You have your sea exploration cards, your land exploration cards, your indigenous civilization cards, equipment cards, boat cards and explorer cards. It is all rounded up with a couple dice. All in all, it is barely functional. I usually sleeve my cards for all games, but on this one it was a necessity, not an option (unless you want the game to go bad after a few plays).

There is a quick start set of rules, and a short booklet that talks about the historic elements surrounding the exploration era, which is probably the one redeeming thing on the component end of things. When you look at the box art you expect something a bit more.

Though I did not have a problem with the typeface, there is a decent amount of text on the cards and you may find that hard to read in some instances.

Overall the production is kind of crummy but functional. This is not a game you will be getting for the production values.


Gameplay

You begin your game by setting up an initial expedition. All expeditions start similarly, but the first one requires you to pick an Explorer (as oppossed to a Conquistador which you can pick later on). You get an initial Caravel and an initial set of equipment/crew cards. I would not go into complete detail here, but the equipment varies from improvements to your ship, to cannons to food. Crew will consist of soldiers, pilots, cavalry and later on indigenous translators. You will position your ship token on the old world start point and you can stay there as many turns as you want fitting your expedition. Your opponents may stay less time or more time, it is up to them. When you decide to set sail, you do so by drawing cards from the sea deck. Each card will have an event description which you have to address and in some instances will allow you to progress forward. At certain points in the navigation/movement you will find gray arrows between locations, these are called transition points. You can transition (cross the arrow) at the end of your turn if there is an arrow where you end up and the arrow allows you to cross. There are a few transition points that are not available at the get go and others that have one direction. The sea deck is also used for coastal encounters, that is, for movement on sea that is adjacent to land. The sea deck is full of good and bad things, but the most common one is Scurvy. You will get scurvy, guaranteed. Fortunately having good provisions will counter that. Other situations include strong winds (all the way to hurricanes), getting lost, getting your crew so afraid you have to turn back and other goodies. Some of the cards will require you to make "checks" which are basically skill checks using dice an the related skill, e.g. check for "Navigation" to avoid getting lost or "Seamanship" to be able to ride a storm.
As you go advancing at sea, you will manage to push the limits of what is known and eventually you may make discoveries. The cards will have symbols on them that tell you whether you make a discovery or not. It really feels bad when you are stranded on a location several turns waiting for a discovery card, while your opponents pull one discovery card after another, usually when they don't need it. Discoveries at sea include new Land sights, Bays, River deltas, Cod and other interesting sea landmarks.
You can keep your entire expedition at sea and get fame points that way, that is, just navigating and finding interesting sea landmarks and routes and then return to the old world and report those. However, you may also want to land.
Explorers can have some measure of success on land expeditions, but if you really want to get ahead on new land you want to go with a Conquistador. Conquistadors use Carrack ships which have a lot of space for men, and if you needed a swift ship to explore the seas, you will need a ton of men to explore land. Because losing men is a problem for the land explorer.
Once you decide to go to land, you break your expedition in two. One part remains with your boat on land, and the other part moves through land. You can pick also discovery points as well as riches, indigenous guides and other goodies. These do provide very interesting avenues for gaining fame and perhaps the game. Exploring land is perilous if you do not leave enough crew to guard the ships. On your return from land to your landing spot, you must check for keeping or losing your ships! Though I have yet to see an expedition getting stranded, I have seen plenty go from three ships to one due to a bad roll on the ship return check.
You can abort an expedition at any time and start a new one. All you have lost is time in the race to be the first with the most fame points required to win the game. A new expedition benefits from previous discoveries returned to the new world, so it is possible to start at sea landmarks or even at bases funded on the new world.
If all things progress fine, you can even take a chance on finding (and perhaps eliminating) the indigenous civilizations.
Turns go really quick, since it takes barely a minute or two to read the card, handle the event (along with any dice checks) and proceed (or not) according to the results. You are always on the move, and though the game is long it does fly by. The decisions are not complex at all, so there is no long term analysis required. You just decide to go or not to go and see what happens. In some instances you will have options, but most of the time your condition will dictate which one is best to pick so there is no much on the way of "thinking" what the best move is.


Fun/Challenge Factor

This is not "fun" on the common use of the word. You will be doing a lot of busywork trying to keep alive to find out that your one hour turn spree ends up with you going down due to some totally luck driven turn of events. As for a challenge, well, this game is downright nasty. Your chances of succeeding are slim. Playing it safe could work for you, but then your opponent who is risking everything will in a struck of luck manage to pull ahead of you may not want to keep that for long.


Replayability

There are a ton of things to do in this game, and you can try a different one (or one you failed at) every game. The different combinations of Explorers/Conquistadors and missions will keep you busy for a long time. Varying amounts of players will also alter the game feel. The key here is not to try and do all adventures in short succession. Let the game rest a bit before trying a new adventure and you will get plenty of plays out of it.


Summary/Impressions

I thoroughly enjoy this game. You should take this with the right mindset. This is a game about a long term luck push as much as a game of storytelling. I find that narrating the disadventures of Magellan, who went the wrong way to the North Passage and died of starvation on the coast of Newfoundland is as entertaining as finding Pizarro funding missions in Central America and go back a hero to the new world. This is a great way to pass time and see how far can you go. Also, this is a pretty multi-player solitaire affair. You can mess up a bit with another player expedition, but you have much better chances if you try something different. I also think that the game conveys the slim chances a explorer had of actually succeeding at getting anywhere. The names of those who failed tend to be forgotten.

I gave this game an 8.0 out of 10 using the BGG rating scale (Very good game. I like to play. Probably I'll suggest it and never turn down a game.)
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Chris in Kansai
Japan
Otsu
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Ha, I just picked this up and started playing - considering how old it is I certainly wasn't expecting to see a fresh review.

I loved reading about the age of exploration as a kid and this reminds me of having my nose buried in a book and my mind in far-flung corners of the globe - it's great fun. The dated components don't bother me as the shoestring look seems to fit the theme somehow. I do find myself wondering if with some tweaks and polishing this could be worthy of a reprint though - you could have some great miniatures included.

As for the multiplayer solitaire aspect, it makes this game great for solitaire multiplayer - you can play up to six different explorers or conquistadors at once and see what the vagaries of fate have in store for them (which is just what I'm doing - currently Magellan is not a happy camper...).
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Ryan Hendricks
United States
San Antonio
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Great review! Sounds like I need to give this one a try.
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Jorn Pedersen
Norway
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I've had this game for a looong time. I'm certain there's a great game in there somewhere, but the close to incomprehensible rule sheets has thwarted my every attempt to locate this great game. It's been spending a lot of time on the shelf lately, but I haven't quite given up on it yet. My daughter is learning about the explorers and conquistadors in School right now, so maybe this is the right time to give it another try.
Now, if only FFG could do some of their magic with this one...
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