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CONQUEST OF PARADISE

Reviewed by Ben Baldanza

GMT Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 2 hours; $46

Polynesia is both a beautiful and rugged part of the planet. There are plenty of islands with a lot of water between them, and many of these have unique and interesting histories. Theories have been tested as to how the region was populated (from Asia, from South America, or from both) and the region is ripe with backgrounds of cannibalism, obsessions, tattoos, warriors, and more. Conquest of Paradise, designed by Kevin McPartland, is a very well themed game that captures much of this regional mysticism in a game that is approachable enough for most gamers but has a touch of a very light war game too. 

Most of the board shows open water except for a few fixed place islands, and these are the players’ starting points. Through the game the spaces are discovered by revealing hexes, Entdecker or Tikal (Spring 1999 GA REPORT) style, and the result is an everytime different new map of Polynesia. Players gain victory points through the game by controlling villages and islands and by contributing to the cultural development of the region.

The game has three principle steps: exploration, movement, and building. These are sandwiched between the establishment of turn order and a check on the scoring. Exploration is the fun part of the game. Explorers enter undiscovered hexes and can find open water, rocky atolls, or islands with spaces for village development. In a Can’t Stop (Winter 1997 GA REPORT) kind of way, a player explores until they reach a certain number of knots as shown on the back of their exploration markers – get too many and you get lost and lose an exploring turn. As the hexes get discovered, the island groups become available for both development and battle, and these also help to determine the transport network aspect of the game that takes place in the next phase.

The movement phase lets you send out canoes, move playing pieces along a connected chain of your canoes, and to potentially battle. Player pieces include colonies, warrior bands, and both war and transport canoes. Canoes can carry warriors, and pieces can be stacked to create roving bands that are good for attacking. As pieces move around, they stay face down and are not revealed until a battle heats up. Battles happen when a war canoe ends its movements in a hex controlled by another player. Each player lays out their battle orientation, placing their warrior bands and war canoes in a front row and the transport canoes and non-warrior pieces in a back row. The resolution is based on simple dice rolling, and continues until one player’s front row is depleted. Through exploration and attacking, players gain control of island groups and these are the basis for most of the victory points. 

After exploring, moving, and fighting, the building phase occurs. The more a player controls, the more they can build and thus there is a rich get richer aspect of the game that is typically controllable but can get out of hand. New villages can be built onto islands capable of handling the growth, and players can invest in the cultural development of the region by “building” art and culture cards. These cards are particularly well designed and add a lot of flavor to the game. They are well researched and educate the players to the history of the region while earning them points.

The basic game can be embellished with several advanced rules, including variable starting pieces, allowing malaria outbreaks to occur, searching for sweet potatoes, and bringing in the south island of New Zealand which adds more strategic options. These all add nicely to the base game but aren’t necessary for a good contest.

The three main phases of the game define the three nice aspects of the game. Exploring is fun but can be frustrating, making this somewhat of a simulation. The movement and battle is similar to many light war games and has the canoe chain transport logistic aspect that must be considered. Building essentially brings more pieces into the game and provides the development nature of the game. This is not the best exploration game made, nor the best combat game, nor the best development game, but it combines these three very nicely and wraps them into the perfect theme. It is funny to see how the board looks at the end of most games, with islands no where near where they should be in absolute or relative to each other, but this is a small price to pay for a very decent way to implement the idea of discovery of this region.

Kevin McPartland’s designer notes are extensive and outline good summaries of the history of all the islands used in the game. This is a good read on its own, and anyone interested in learning about the diversity of this region will enjoy the notes with or without the game. GMT’s production is very mixed, with a solid box and counters but somewhat flimsy paper board that is not mounted (like the original Twilight Struggle map). Overall the game plays quickly, is fairly easy to learn, and is a nice mix of several good ideas. The game play can be uneven due to the randomness of the discoveries though, and so if the first game doesn’t work too well try it again. When the tiles come up more evenly, the game works quite well. — – – Ben Baldanza


 

Spring 2008 Gamers Alliance Report

 

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