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AGE OF EMPIRES III

[In this issue, we welcome Jeff Feuer to our pages. Jeff is a new reviewer for us and a relatively new member of the European style boardgaming fraternity. As Jeff explains:

“I’ve been computer gaming since the Atari days (including having played many of the incarnations of Civilization as well as some Railroad Tycoon and the Age of Empire series) but, except for some Monopoly, Risk and a few of the Avalon Hill sports simulation games, I did not get into boardgaming until late 2003 or early 2004. At that time, I was introduced by a fellow math professor in South Carolina where I was teaching at the time. Once I moved back to LI, I convinced a few colleagues to join me for a weekly gamenight. Eventually, I found LIBO in summer of 2006 and they directed me to LI Gamers.

My favorite types of games are the higher strategy types of games most of the time. Puerto Rico, Tempus, Goa, Pillars of the Earth, Amun-Re and Power Grid are amongst my favorites. Caylus is good, but something about the game turns me off a little compared to these others. I try to stay away from the high luck games, although I do enjoy playing Ticket to Ride and Alhambra on occasion.”

In his first review, Jeff combines his computer gaming experience with boardgames as he sets his sights on Age of Empires III.]

(Tropical Games, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 90-120 minutes; $59.99)

 

Age of Empires III is a board game loosely based on a popular computer game series. Those who have played the computer game will recognize certain features of the computer game in the board game, but the board game is really drastically different. In fact, it seems to have more in common (in several gaming respects) with Puerto Rico (featured in the Spring 2002 GA REPORT) and barely more than having theme in common with the computer game that inspired it. The board game is designed by Glenn Drover, formerly of Eagle Games. He has also designed the board game versions of other popular computer games (Railroad Tycoon [Winter 2006 GA REPORT] and Sid Meier’s Civilization) as well as a few wargames (most notably Conquest of the Empire [Fall 2005 GA REPORT]).

During each turn, players take turns putting miniatures (representing a colonist, merchant, soldier, captain or missionary) on the board to claim an action. All miniatures can be treated as a colonist for the purpose of the action chosen by the player. The special ability of a piece only comes into play in certain actions.

The game takes place over three eras (a feature of the computer game is that there are eras with ever increasingly better buildings). The first two eras have three turns each and the third era has only two turns. Players can get Victory Points three times during the game (at the end of each era) through area control. At the end of the game, they also earn victory points based on their last turn income, victory points from buildings (like Puerto Rico) and from discovery tokens/cards. While the buildings and tokens/cards are earned throughout the game, they are only tallied at the end of the game so as to make a more tense game as it is less obvious who exactly is leading in a close game.

Players take turns (when they feel their expeditionary force is big enough) discovering new territory in the new world (taken from the computer game). All miniatures put in the discovery box on the board count as one point for the purpose of discovery except the captain which counts as two points. The player chooses an undiscovered territory (one with a discovery tile still on it face-down) on the board (and when all regions on the board have been discovered, they move on to discovery cards). Each tile (and later card) has a set number of natives defending it. If the player has enough points to match or beat the number of natives, the discovery is successful. With a successful discovery, a player gets to leave one colonist piece behind (regardless of the size of the discovery force), a set amount of plunder as well as extra income per soldier in the expeditionary force. All pieces are forfeit in an unsuccessful discovery and the tile is put back face down (despite the fact that all players have already seen it).

Players can also put units on a colonist dock to immigrate to previously discovered regions. The game starts with the Caribbean as the only pre-discovered region. The first player to have three units in a region gets the trade good that the region offers (one time payoff). For the area control scoring, all regions where at least one player has three units can be scored. For sole majority control, the player earns 6 and any sole second place (regardless of whether they have 3 units or not) is 2 points. If 2 players tie for majority control, each earns 2 points and there is no second place. There are no points for a three-way (or more) tie for first place. Players can emigrate colonists, soldiers (for war), merchants (each merchant immediately earns $5 and then is a regular colonist) and missionaries (converts a hypothetical native and so you get two colonists for your one missionary). Captains have no benefit if emigrated.Income is gained through trade goods. If you get 4 of a kind, you earn $6, 3 of a kind is $3 and any 3 trade goods earn $1. As an action, players can put a unit in the trade good box to get a choice of trade good. Once gained, trade goods are never lost and can be switched around to make better sets each turn. Income is important for currency to buy capital buildings and for points at the end of game. Players can get a wild card through winning a merchant ship. A captain and a merchant count as two points and all other units count as one point towards determining who has the majority influence in the merchant shipping box. Ties are broken by turn order. The player who comes earlier in turn order wins the tie-breaker.

Capital buildings work like the buildings in Puerto Rico. Most of the buildings give special benefits (an extra soldier each turn, a missionary converts two natives instead of the usual one, extra income, etc.). At the end of the game, there are VP generating buildings and throughout the game there are a select few buildings that earn VPs just for owning them (another similarity with Puerto Rico). To buy a building, a player must put a piece in a capital building box for each building they want to buy and the buildings are bought in order of piece placed.

Turn order is changed through the initiative box. The first player to place their piece gets 1 gold piece and guarantees first place next turn. Second player gets 2 gold pieces and guarantees second place, etc. Players who do not put a piece in the initiative box do not earn the gold and keep their place relative to other players who also did not place a piece in the initiative box.

Players automatically get 5 colonists each turn. They also get any extra units gained from special buildings. They can also put a colonist in a box on the board to earn a soldier, a captain, a missionary, a merchant or pay 5 gold for any specialist they want for the following turn only.

The last option for an action is warfare. This game is not a wargame by any stretch of the imagination. War is only used to impact the numbers for area control scoring. A player with a piece in a warfare box can choose to have battle(s) or change their mind and do nothing. A single battle is free. The player picks one province and one enemy to fight. All soldiers (on both sides) pick a unit to eliminate. The eliminations are done simultaneously, so that a soldier that is being eliminated still gets to eliminate a piece on the other side before it is removed from the game and returned to supply.

Players are encouraged by the rule book to adopt a two part strategy. Focusing just on area control will not win a player the game since others will notice this strategy and counteract it. However, there are lots of strategies to choose from: income for capital buildings, soldiers and captains for discovery, soldiers and missionaries for area control, etc. This is where the game can draw many similarities to Puerto Rico. The game is enjoyable for those that like games that reward planning and having a variety of strategy choices to explore. It does have a little more luck to it than Puerto Rico since one does not know how many natives a discovery will encounter. However, the tokens have at most 5 natives and the cards have at most 6 natives, so one can guarantee themselves enough by waiting until they have the appropriate number of points.

The game mechanics of Age of Empires III are not novel. However, they are mixed together well. The hallmark of the game is the variety of strategies to try and the tense turns. Most turns are tense as you are left wondering what your opponents are going to do (what options they are going to leave you with and which options they are going to take themselves before you can). It is a very enjoyable game for those that enjoy games with high amounts of strategy, planning and nail-biting turns along the lines of Puerto Rico. — – – – – – – Jeff Feuer


 

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