Reviewed by Frank Hamrick
(Z-Man Games/Hobby Japan/Lookout Games/White Goblin Games, Ystari Games, 3 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $49.99)
Endeavor is “a game of world exploration and empire building” for 3-5 players, designed by Carl De Visser and Jarratt Gray. Each player represents a European empire that is attempting to open shipping in six other regions of the world and earn the most glory.
The game includes a large map board divided into 7 different regions: Europe & The Mediterranean (the home area), North America, South America, the Caribbean, India, Asia, and Africa. In addition, there are 5 player boards (one per player). Each player board contains 4 Status Tracks; 8 Building Tile spaces; 6 spaces to hold Asset Cards; and a Harbor to hold his current Population Discs.
The Status Tracks will track a player’s status in: Industry, Culture, Finance, and Politics; The Building Spaces will hold the buildings a player obtains during the game (one space is imprinted with a “free” building and the other seven are blank)
The Harbor is a small area where captured Trade Tokens are stored and where available Population Discs are kept.
Both the player boards and the game board are quite large, so it will take a bit of space to play this game. In fact, if the player boards abut the map on each side, the total playing area will measure 42 1/4 inches square.
There are also a lot of bits in the game including: 48 Asset Cards; 95 Trade Tokens (one is placed on each city, each shipping lane space, and each connecting link space on the board); 26 large scoring chips; 45 Building Tiles (representing 15 different buildings); 150 Population Discs (30 discs in each of the 5 player colors); 20 Status Track Markers (4 in each of the 5 player colors); and one First Player Marker.
The game plays simply, but the explanation of it, it’s set-up, and the number of bits can be daunting! I don’t know when I’ve had as much difficulty in explaining the intricacies of a game! Thus, I will present a brief overview of the game and will then go into more detail for those wishing more information.
Brief Overview. The object of the game is to score the most victory points (called Glory Points) by 1) advancing on 4 different Status Tracks on the player board; by 2) obtaining Asset Cards that grant bonus victory points; and by 3) controlling spaces on the game board.
The game board is seeded with 95 Trade Tokens, scattered over the seven regions. Sixteen of the tokens are blue and 79 are brown. These tokens will be “captured” by the players during the game allowing them to either advance on one of the four tracks of their player boards (in the case of the brown tokens) or to take bonus actions (in the case of the blue tokens). In addition, each region of the board contains a stack or stacks of cards that may be obtained during the game to add more assets and victory points to the player’s totals.
Each brown token contains one of 4 symbols (brick, pottery vase, coin, shield) corresponding to the four Status Tracks on the Player Board: Industry (brick), Culture (pottery), Finance (coin), Politics (shield). The blue tokens contain 1 or 2 symbols answering to 5 actions that may be taken during the Action Phase (take a card; ship; Attack; occupy; Payment).
The game lasts seven turns and in each turn there are 4 phases:
Build – players choose a building from one of the 15 buildings available. Buildings are free, but players may only build buildings equal or below the “level” they have reached on their Industry (brick) track. The building is placed on their Player Board. Only one building may be built per turn, thus, only seven buildings will be built by each player during the game.
Growth – players gain additional “men” (population discs) to use for the coming turn. The number allowed is equal to the player’s position on their Culture/Growth (pottery) Status track.
Salary – players may return Population Discs used in the previous turn to their available supply for this turn. The number of discs that may be returned to play is determined by a player’s position on their Finance/Salary (money bag) Track.
Action – Players take turns performing 1 of 6 actions. The number of actions they may take is limited to 1) blue Trade Tokens they may hold; 2) Population Discs available to them; and 3) Buildings with still empty Activation Circles they own.
After all have passed, the turn ends and a new turn begins. The game lasts for 7 turns at the end of which players add up all the points (called Glory Points) they have earned for a) cities they occupy on the board; b) connecting links they occupy on the board; c) points they have earned on each of the 4 Status Tracks of their player board; d) Glory Points printed on the cards they have obtained; and e) extra Population Discs they still have in their Harbor. The player with the most total Glory Points, after deducting for any Slavery Cards they posses, is the winner.
Whew….That’s just the brief overview! As I said, there are a lot of bits and a lot things going on in this game!
More Detail. The seven regions of the map are over-laid with a network of 29 cities connected by lines representing communication/transportation. Each connecting line connects exactly two cities and a “connection space” is printed on each of these connecting lines. During set-up, each of these connecting spaces will be given a Trade Token. When a player occupies both cities the line connects, he may take the token in the “connecting” space.
In addition, six of the seven regions contain a shipping track that leads to a stack of Asset Cards. The cards in each region are not available until each of the shipping spaces leading to that stack have been occupied by one or more players. Europe & the Mediterranean is the “starting region” of the game and is unique in that it has two card stacks and has no shipping track.
Set up takes a few minutes as all 29 cities, 26 connecting links, and 40 shipping spaces are randomly filled with the 95 Trade Tokens. Then, each of the seven regions is dealt its specific set of Asset Cards (each region gets 6 Asset Cards stacked face-up in numbered order from 1-5 and topped with a Governor Card). Europe & The Mediterranean area has two stacks of cards, one similar to the other six regions, but with no Governor Card, and the other a stack of Slavery Cards. Both of these stacks are numbered 0-5 from top to bottom.
The Building Tiles must also be separated into five different levels, with each level delineated by 1-5 bricks showing on the tiles. Each level contains three different types of building granting differing privileges, actions, and/or resources.
The game play is actually very simple. A game last seven turns, and when played by an experienced group can be completed in an hour or less. The game is rated at 90 minutes, but our group can play it considerably faster. Each game turn consists of four phases: Building; Growth; Salary; and Action.
The first three phases are “preparatory” to the Action Phase and should take hardly more than a couple of minutes, with most of that given to the Building Phase. The Growth & Salary phases may be taken simultaneously and should take only seconds to complete.
Building Phase. Each player checks the Building Status Track on his Player Board to see the Building Level he may choose. Players begin the game at Level One, but as they gain Trade Tokens from the board and from Asset Cards, they will advance on the Building Track, enabling them to build higher level buildings. On a turn a player MUST build exactly one building. He does so by simply moving the chosen building to an empty space on the Building Spaces section of his player board. The building will give him various combinations of benefits ranging from allowing him to take a specific action or actions, to granting him advancement on one or more of his Status Tracks. Buildings that allow for actions, will contain an “Activation Circle” that when occupied by a player’s Population Disc will allow him to take that particular action.
Growth Phase. During this phase each player adds a number of Population Discs from their supply to their Harbor. The number added is determined by that player’s position on their Culture/Growth Status Track.
Salary Phase. During this phase each player may move Population Discs that currently occupy one of her buildings (these would be Population Discs placed in an Activation Circle in a previous turn), back to his harbor. The number of PD’s he may return to his harbor is determined by his advancement on the Finance /SalaryTrack.
Action Phase. The Action phase is the heart of the game. This phase is played in “rounds” and during each round a player may take exactly one of the following six actions:
1) Occupy (Move a population disc from the harbor on your player board to an unoccupied city and take the corresponding Trade Token. Add the token to your supply). If it is a brown token, move your marker up one space on your player board on the track corresponding to the token taken (brick, pottery, gold, shield).
Players may capture tokens only in cities in “Open” Regions. Regions become “open” when all of the Shipping Spaces of the Region are occupied by one or more players, and the “Governor Card” has been removed. After that, those players with a presence in the Region may occupy a City space in that region.
2) Ship (Move a population disc from the harbor on your player board to a Shipping Track in any country and take the token on that space and add it to your supply, moving up one space on the corresponding track on your player board if it is a brown token.)
When taking this action, the shipping space moved to must be the next non-occupied space on the shipping track. Once the last space of the shipping track has been occupied, the player who has the most Population Discs on that track is awarded the Governor Card on the top of the Asset Card Stack for that region. Once the Governor Card has been awarded, the Region is now “Open” for Occupation. Thus, players in the Shipping Lane are now qualified to occupy Cities in that Region/Country.
3) Attack (Remove 1 Population Disc from your Harbor into the Supply; move another Population Disc onto any city occupied by another player’s Population Disc, replacing the other player’s Population disc.) If a player uses a building to activate an attack, he must move a 3rd token to the Activation circle on that building before making the attack. Thus, attacks using buildings require 3 tokens. Attacks using a captured blue Trade Token require only two Population Discs.
4) Payment (Move a Population Disk from a Building on your player board to your Harbor on the same player board.) That Population Disk will now be available for use that game turn.
5) Draw (Take the top card from the deck of any “Open” Region/Country.) To do so you must be present in that country and be qualified to draw the top card (more on this later). Since the cards are numbered 1-5, a player may take the current top card only if he has at least the corresponding number of Population Discs present in that Region. (Example: If the topmost card is number 3 and the player only has 2 Population Discs occupying spaces in that Region (whether in a Shipping Lane or a city), he may not take the card).
Cards taken give players advances in one or more the Status Tracks on their player board. Note: The Europe/The Mediterranean Region has no Shipping Lanes, and is thus considered “Open” at the beginning of the game. Thus, players are free to take the cards in a draw action from either of the two stacks of the region, as long as they have a large enough presence to do so. The Slavery Card stack in the Europe/Mediterranean Region are different from all other card stacks. At the end of the game each Slavery Card stack is a minus one to a player’s final “glory” score.
6) Pass/Discard. When taking this action, the player may take no additional actions. He must immediately discard down to his Card limit based on his position on his Politics (shield) Track.
A player may only take a given action if 1) he has a Blue Trade Token in his harbor allowing him to take that action, or 2) he has an empty building that allows him to take that action; and 3) he has enough Population Discs remaining in his Harbor to take the action.
If a player has a blue token allowing him to take an action, he discards the token (they may only be used once in the game), and then takes the corresponding action. He does not need to occupy a building to take the action. Thus, blue Trade Tokens are valuable tokens as they require one less Population Disc when taking an action.
If a player uses a building to take an action, he must move one of his population discs from his harbor to the Activation Circle of one of his buildings, before taking the corresponding action. If he doesn’t own a blue Trade Token or building that will activate the action, he may not take the action.
There are numerous other rules related to each of each of these actions, but it is not my intention to turn this article into a rules book!
My Assessment Of The Game. If you’re like me, you’re most interested in what the reviewer thinks of the game. In my opinion, Endeavor is one of the better games to appear at Essen ’09. The components are quality, with an excellent 12-page rulebook that clearly describes the game play (despite my bumbling to explain them). When playing Endeavor one gets the feeling that they are playing a well designed game.
I really like the game board with its old world look. It leaves the impression of 7 maps spread out over a table, overlapping each other to some degree. The Building tiles are thick, the cards well made, and the player’s bits (Population Discs, Status Markers, and First Player Marker) all made of wood. The Trade Tokens are thick and the symbols easy to read. Players with color blindness will have no problems with this game.
Some complain that the game is theme-less, but I think that is due to a misunderstanding of what the game is NOT. This is not a war-game. Rather, it is a resource-management game that offers lots of difficult decisions and choices. Although there is an “Attack” action, that is only one part of the strategy required to win the game. Those who approach Endeavor thinking it is a war game, will be disappointed. The game is basically about shipping and influence.
I think the presentation of the game board, and the buildings make the theme work. Certainly the setting could have gone in a different direction, but that is true of most games. For me, it works. The game play itself is so interesting that the theme is inconsequential. But the same could be said of many excellent games: Dominion, Euphrat & Tigris, and Caylus are just a few that come to mind.
My attraction to the game lies in 1) its relatively short game length, 2) its many choices each turn, 3) the angst of never having enough actions available to do all that I want to do, 4) the lack of luck in determining the winner (this is a game of strategy and tactics), and 5) the fact that I still struggle to compete in this game! I enjoy games that challenge me – and this one does!
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