[In this issue, we are pleased to welcome Angus McCallum to our pages. Angus writes:

Born in 1976, I am a gamer from the Midwest.  My first board games were Hero Quest, Axis and Allies, Risk, Shogun, and several other Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers games.  I am an 18 year Navy Supply Corps Officer.  I have an MBA from Saint Leo University.   I appreciate board games for their unique style, the art, game play, strategic plots and interactive communication between players.  The best part of laying out a board game is bringing a family, community or acquaintances together, while having fun laughing and finding those deep lasting friendships.  My favorite saying is, “If my 13 year old son and 12 year old daughter can win, I am sure you will pick it up in no time.”  I prefer to play games that have meat and substance and make you think.  I do enjoy the punching of cardboard, the excitement of the new, but respect the solid, unique and well established games of the past.  I believe minis should enhance a game and not be the game.  I also believe that no matter how gorgeous a game is, no matter how much it costs, if you do not have a game mechanism(s) that work and make the game flow as intended, your game will be on my to trade list very quickly.  I am very picky about the games I own but not about the games I play.  Usually you can get me to try just about anything or play a game because everyone else loves it, but when it comes to my personal collection, it is streamlined and only full of the games my family and I truly find special.

In his first review for GA Report, Angus explores what it takes to be a colonist.]

Reviewed by Angus McCallum

THE COLONISTS (Mayfair Games/Lookout Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 30-240 minutes, $90)


In The Colonists, designed by Tim Puls, you have been elected Mayor of a new colony that has just been established and need to grow your colony from just two farms at the beginning of era one to the end of era four.  You accomplish this by having a steward present in the original colony  “move”  around, landing on spaces to provide you with actions you must take. This is a heavy Euro that incorporates new techniques in gaming. 

Each player is given a player board that represents their colony.  Your player board starts with two farms that have a farmer on each.  You start with a warehouse and a small supply area.  You also start with a tools manufacturing building.  The limited space on your player board to put buildings really puts a strain on what to buy, what not to buy and when to upgrade.  The supply area can have up to three supply buildings.  These buildings are imperative to the success of your colony and each must be manned by a green farmer.  The warehouse area below the supply area initially is only a single space.  It also has a lock symbol on it so as to signify that any resource that is being contained within the warehouse cannot be used to fulfill a need when building or paying penalties.

On your turn in most worker placement games, it is up to you to pick an action to do and then you go around the table where each person takes an action. This repeats over and over until all workers are used up.  Then, at the end of the phase, all workers come home and you do the same for the next round and so forth.  This is where The Colonists shines.

When you first set up the game, there are tiles that represent several actions you can choose to take.  On your turn, you start your steward in one of the marketplaces and then move your pawn a series of three moves taking each action for each tile you land on.  When you have taken your moves, the next person does the same with their pawn and so forth.  You can land on any square. However, if you land on a square, you must be able to take the action or you cannot move there. You always have the option of moving to a marketplace and taking the actions there if you wish instead.

Before you can take any action on a square occupied by another person,  you must pay each person the penalty (stated on the era card) which, in the first era is either a tool or food and one resource.  This penalty increases as the game goes on.  It is important to note that your steward will never leave the colony (be taken back).  So the steward continuously moves around the colony as it grows, performing actions and providing resources and other things for your colony to flourish.

Another unique change in the game is that each era is broken down into five years with a summer and a winter phase.  At the end of each winter, the first player token changes hands if someone took the action to steal it from the player currently holding it.  This was confusing at first. Unlike most games where once you steal the token you are immediately the first player at the next round, in The Colonists, you wait until the end of winter to change first player, even if you took it in the spring.  We used an additional token to signify the first player and the given token for who stole the first player. (It is possible for the first player to be stolen away multiple times in a year so the extra token gets passed around without losing who is currently the first player.)  At the end of winter, you also get resources for buildings in which you have workers.  If you have a building but no worker on it, you get no benefit. The game also comes with a tutorial that is highly recommended as it removes some of the more confusing aspects like the embassies and the initial laying out of the colony.  The game has a quick reference guide that you should keep handy because, after hours of playing, there might be some tiles coming up that you want to be sure of what they provide or give as a bonus.  Staying ahead of the game and planning out strategies and movements ahead of time can help you succeed but can also hinder you if you plan too far in advance and the tile just is not yet there.

At the end of each winter (except the last one of the era), new tiles are placed that were revealed at the beginning of the summer phase.  These tiles are random and, even if you know what all the tiles are, there is no guarantee that the tile you need is the next to show up.  For example, in the first game we played, the brick maker showed up really early making for a smooth transition and the ability to make some buildings faster than expected. However, during the second and third game I played, the brick maker showed up last and thus hindered the production capabilities of the new colonies.  The advantage of being the first player also comes into play with the laying of new available tiles to the main colony.  The first player can put those they are interested in closer to them or in a strategic way to help them and possibly place others where they will hinder other players. Many times, I have seen the last player using their last turn before the end of the year to take the first player token so they can take back to back turns. The uniqueness of the tile laying provides a different game each time as you try to plan for what will come next.  While you do get to see, at the beginning of the year, the three new tiles that will be put out by the first player so you can prepare for those, you must remain flexible.

Once you have mastered the basic version of the game, you can then add in the embassies that provide added depth.  There are nine embassies but only four are chosen at the start and are available to all players.  A fifth one will be added at the beginning of era three.

Embassies provide added support for your colony. You can align yourself with an embassy.  However, when you purchase the embassy you want to be associated with, you must place that embassy on your player board.  Embassies proved some really unique “cheats” in the game.  Some are better than others and can be upgraded.  What you have to realize is that spending the money and resources to align with one or more embassies can give you great benefits but also comes at a price.  When you have a player board with limited space and you align yourself to 3 or 4 of the embassies, you may be taking up vital space needed for other mandatory buildings.  To make things worse, in the third era, a fifth embassy becomes available.  If you waste your time aligning yourself to every embassy, you will have used up 5 essential spots on the board that you will need for other buildings.  The best course of action is to pick on or two that best fit your strategy and ignore the rest.  The cost for each level of the embassy increases and although one level might provide an outstanding bonus to your colony, the other actions may be wasted.  So, to spend a lot of resources to obtain a level three embassy for the one action may not be as beneficial as a different one or to spend on other essential buildings such as iron mines, casinos or factories. On the positive side, once you attach yourself to an embassy, they can provide additional stewards, additional movement, resource exchange, resource manipulation and many other benefits that we could refer to as “rule breaking”.  It will not be until the third era that a unique building will be added to the game that will allow you to build in the outer edges of your colony.  This is also important in terms of maintaining your workers.

The work force is comprised of three types:  A farmer (green), a craftsmen (yellow) and merchants (red).  The farmers work any building that has a green worker at the lower left corner and will provide the resources of that building at the end of every winter phase; this is the same for the yellow and the red.  However, farmers will work a building for free because farmers produce their own food.  Craftsmen do not provide themselves with food so you have to feed them at the end of each winter a single food.  If you do not feed them they go home and you do not produce any goods for that building.  This is a big point of the game to keep track of that will be explained later when we discuss scoring.  The merchants are even pickier about working and require two foods and a cloak.  Starting the game, you will be using mostly farmers until the end of the first era.  As you transition into the second era and into the third era, your focus will be on building farmer buildings and upgrading them so you can obtain yellow workers and eventually red workers.  Even though you can transition workers from green to red, some workers need to maintain their green and yellow status to operate and for you to get victory points for them.  A big benefit is when you upgrade a single yellow or green building to provide three instead of one of that type of worker so that you save space on your player board and minimize construction costs.

So, how do you win?  At the end of the era you decided to play to, the game ends.  You can play a single era or all the way through four eras.  Once you finish, you assign workers to all buildings you want to work.  You then feed all your workers and those that cannot be fed go home.  This is a very important part of the game to understand.  If your worker is sitting at home, not actively working a building, they do not count for victory points.  It is imperative that the last round of the game you focus to ensure you have enough resources to feed all your people to maximize your score.  You count up all the buildings victory point values, all the working people and multiple their type by their value and any bonuses you may have on cards.   You also add in any victory points you earn throughout the game from certain buildings like the casino that provide coins aka victory points.  When you get your total, the one with the highest point value wins.

Keys to the game

  • Storage is a major consideration in the game. Without enough storage, you cannot hold enough resources to maximize your actions.
  • Building places that produce gold and working them provide a steady income of victory points.  This can be the difference between winning and losing.  However, building too many victory point buildings can prevent you from getting the high victory point building upgrades and merchants.  A full four era game has 20 scoring opportunities.
  • Ensure you construct multiple buildings with a single action when you can and maximize your resources to allow flexibility but be sure you can afford to man buildings before you upgrade so that you have the right worker to man them.  For example, when you upgrade the storage, you will eventually transition from green to yellow to red workers.  Unless otherwise specified, you can perform unlimited build actions per tile.
  • Pay attention to the main colony board and what others are doing. Depending on what embassies are in play and knowing what other people are trying to do will provide you with a flexible path to know what you can and cannot do on your turn.  The key is to avoid paying penalties if possible but not passing up an opportunity because you have to.  Know when to pay and when to pass.
  • Cards provide another unique style to the game with rule breaking additions. However, without the Library building, you can only have 6 cards in your hand and you cannot discard cards.  Collecting era one cards to maximize your hand early will keep you from getting better cards later.  Cards can provide you with flexibility; usually, I found them to be a boost but not game breaking good unless you get the card that lets you avoid paying penalties.  If you do not build a library, you cannot exceed 6 cards no matter what.  Only with the library can you exceed 6 cards temporarily and it also gives you the ability to draw four cards and discard two from the ones drawn and keep two.
  • Depending on the embassies in play, know the best places to position your steward(s) to not only benefit you but hinder the others. You can also benefit from special stewards that provide resources when others use the tile they are on.
  • You have time to do what you want but you must carefully strategize your actions. If you just react to what everyone else is doing, you will find yourself being manipulated by the other players’ stewards.  Formulate a strategy that is best for you and the current scenarios.  The same strategy does not work every game.  Amassing victory point buildings, aka casino, to accumulate wealth throughout the game is essential and you could win. (After playing the game several times, I have seen this tactic succeed as much as any other.)
  • The game builds as you proceed and without certain embassies or cards to allow you to jump around the board, you may find that you are constantly traveling back and forth wasting moves to accomplish simple goals. This is why being the first player is beneficial since you get to place the new tiles and then start the round.  If you are prepared for the new round, you can take actions first and possible block others from doing so without paying a penalty.  On the other hand, going last provides you with the opportunity to see what others are doing and then steal the first player token so you can then take back to back turns as the season changes.
  • This game is epic. If you are not willing to sit down and move from year to year and from era to era, this game is not for you.

The things I love about this game

If you like epic game like I do and you like euros, this game is definitely up your alley.  This game is rich in everything that worker placements provide with the unique style of worker movement.  I have now played this game approximately 10 times and every game has ended differently.  Some games run smoothly with every action you attempt going well and all plans efficiently and effectively administered.  However, there are also some games where you are constantly changing strategy, taking detours to your goals and manipulating the board and other players to your benefit the best you can.  You will experience what it is like to build your colony by obtaining the necessary resources and unique abilities through your stewards at the main colony.  Tile placement at the end of each year provides changes to the game that gives you the feel of a growing city.  As more actions are revealed and your colony starts to grow from nothing, you start to see a machine, churning your resources, victory points and capabilities.

The unique mechanisms with the cards provide a variety of unknowns.  The embassies provide a unique detour around road blocks and can create additional road blocks for you and your opponents.  Paying a penalty to use a space another player or players are on allows you to not feel blocked completely from doing what you want but is more of a deterrent.

The game is fine with the components that are provided.  The box is filled to the brim with cardboard.  (Even using a Plano box or other such storage solution, my box is busting at the gut.) I  replaced all of the resources in this game with more realistic resources and made the game even more fun.

Supply space is limited and knowing when to move your manufactured resources from your buildings and your warehouse to your supply are is very crucial.  You can only move items from your buildings to your supply but not from your supply to your buildings.  You can move items from your supply to your warehouse back and forth but only before an action and not during.  In the early stages of the game, you will struggle to build quickly due to storage constraints and the inability to do multiple actions on a single hex either because of space available in your supply is lacking to hold all the resources or the penalty plus the resources needed to enter a hex another already present on is greater than your capacity.

Seeing strategies that other people have attempted and ones that I have attempted have failed and succeeded depending on the way the colony took shape that really makes you understand the complexity and uniqueness of this game.  The game starts out slow and a little hindered by the few available actions, and then builds the more the main colony grows and the ability of you to expand and maximize the squares available to you on your player boards.  This game gives you just enough to do what you want, and then draws you in as you try to understand what your opponents are trying to do without making every step critical, but trying to figure out your opponents plan before they can figure out yours is detrimental to success.

Things that I did not like about this game

This game is a beast.  The game can take way longer than the box states.  Three books are provided with this game: the manual, the tutorial start up book and the quick reference guide (that are done amazingly).  There was a lot of reading and many things did not make sense until we played our first game with many times looking up rules and building benefits. (Players who do not love euros can get drowned in the rules and the “cheats”.) Although I enjoy the embassies as part of the game, some combinations can really bog things down.  You can have so many pawns on the main colony that many of the actions will require you to pay a penalty that only gets even worse the more you transition from era to era.

Another part of the game that I did not care for was the save feature; I would rather just start a new game.  After playing this game several times, my opinion is that playing a single era or three eras feels incomplete.  If you want to play a short game, end the game at the end of era two.  If you want a long game, play four eras.  You can find that many of the actions you attempt can be unforgiving when you only play a single era or end after the third era.  In a full four era game or at the end of the second game, the game feels complete and that all the actions and time taken was well worth your effort.  Keeping track of the year and season is big in this game as well as who is currently the first player and who has stolen it so far this turn.  Animals are the one thing I miss playing this game compared to some other worker games.  Although the concept of making baby animals by having two in the same location is appealing, I can see why it did not fit here, maybe in an expansion.  This leads me to my final dislike, the expansions.

The game is complete the way it is and, unless they were to add different cards later for variety as other games have done or add additional embassies that are able to be used and possibly additional tiles, there is not much to expand on here.  This is a complete game, heavy, deep and long.  The worst thing about this game is getting people to commit to a game of epic proportion that is also a worker type game when you have other epic games that involve space battles and giant monster minis.

Recommendations if you decide to play

  • Make sure you decide how many eras you are going to play before you start.
  • Ensure everyone is aware of how long this game will actually take.
  • Keep the game well organized to minimize setup, changing of eras and breaking it down.
  • Sometimes it helps when you help others. Assisting others on the best course of action based on what is available can sometimes provide additional fun to the game, however, during your first couple games, you will find that you are helping each other learn the game more than play the game
  • This game will take you four or five plays before you get a good handle on the mechanics, cards, buildings, embassies, strategies and all the other goodies that the game provides. Even after ten plus plays, I still occasionally referencing different buildings and guides to ensure we do not miss anything or to find out what buildings will be available this era.
  • If you are playing with one of those players that takes 20 minutes each turn, you could be in for a long game.
  • Play the introduction scenario first. It will ease you quickly into the game with limited hang ups.
  • Have a nice chair to sit on and schedule breaks. We play the first two scenarios and then take a break to eat lunch and then continue with the second half of the game.  You will need time to get up and stretch your legs at points in the game because of its length.
  • This game can be frustrating when starting out and teaching new people.

Rules that we broke multiple times until we accidentally found the answer

The rule book, introduction scenario and the quick reference guide provide ample resources to answer questions. Then there are those that you read but do not fully understand.  All of a sudden you read a rule and realize, “well, we did that wrong.”

  • The first player only changes at the end of the winter phase, even if you took the first player in the spring and others can take it before you get a chance to actually be the first player
  • Ensure you turn over three new tiles at the beginning of summer so people can prepare for what is coming next.
  • You cannot exceed six cards in your hand nor discard cards. This rule can be broken if you have the library to exceed six cards temporarily but you still can only play cards and cannot discard them.
  • A factory only provides bonuses based on the type of worker assigned to it. (it can have all types of workers assigned)
  • A factory only provides one additional resource or food. A factory does not provide additional bonuses to money making buildings like the casino.
  • If you have resources on a place and you cannot feed your worker, that worker goes home and those resources are discarded.
  • You have to have the resources you need to take an action PLUS the penalty in your storage, not on buildings or the warehouse prior to taking the action. If your storage prevents this, you cannot take that action.
  • Food resources and purple cloth can be used from anywhere when feeding your people. You do not have to move it to your storage prior to feeding.
  • Once a building has been built or upgraded, it cannot be downgraded; it can only be destroyed for two tools.
  • At the end of the game, if a worker is not assigned a job, aka sitting on a farm, he does not count toward victory points. Ensure you feed your workers.  We quickly remove all lazy workers from our boards immediately before scoring to prevent accidental scoring issues.
  • Some cards you play have victory points on them; don’t forget to include them in your calculations.
  • Embassies allow you to break or bend the rules, just like the cards, but be sure you properly understand how they let you “cheat”.
  • The library allows you to temporarily exceed your six card maximum and additional draw four cards and discard two. However, you can only discard cards from the ones you drew, not from your hand.
  • You cannot build in the darker shaded area of the player board until you build the appropriate building and man it with red pawns.
  • If you land on a space you must be able to take the action(s).

Final thoughts

Playing this game with two players and doing a complete four era game took us about four hours, with three players a complete four era game took us about seven hours and a four player “max” game took us nine hours to complete.  This game is definitely an epic game.  However, you do have the choice to only play a number of eras and the rules tell you how to setup for a partial game.  I did not play a solo game, but I have been told it takes about two to three hours.

If you do not like long games or are not a fan of worker or engine games, this is not for you.   This game can be smooth, confusing, manipulative, competitive, frustrating, simple, complex, fun and aggravating.  If you play the game with a strategy and are not willing to be flexible and have the ability to be creative as well as inventive, you may find that this game frustrates and aggravates you more than it being fun.  Every game plays differently and every game needs its own strategy.

This is not a standard worker placement game – and that matters – because when you cannot withdraw your workers from the colony and then have everything reset means that the first player token is not a free pass to do what you want.  This also can hinder you when you just received the resources you need to do an action but that action is on the opposite side of the colony.  Sitting on a space because you obtained a second steward is a common way to get additional resources and slowly drain them from your opponent.  Also, using the special stewards to do similar special actions also gives this game a unique playstyle and feel with every new game.  This game is demanding and, going in, you might get overwhelmed by the rules and the ways to break them but by playing the introductory game and taking the first game slowly, you will quickly pick up on the unique mechanisms and the wonderful complexity this game provides.  Playing the tutorial through the first two eras gives a good feeling of a complete game without spending time learning everything at once.  Era two is where you really start to appreciate everything you have done so far as your colony starts to churn out resources and has the capacity to grow.

Game play is smooth and I love the three move worker movement mechanism combined with the tile laying mechanism for the main colony. The game provides a new experience every time you open the box. I think this game works best with two or three players.  I like the interaction in this game and would think that a solo play might miss a lot of what this game can offer.  However, with four players, this game is way too long and the boards can become excessively crowded.  This can become really bogged down if certain embassies combinations are drawn as well.

The Colonists is a game I really enjoy and would recommedn to anyone who has a deep, rich love for epic games and euros. Every game will have its own challenges from the way the tiles get played in the main colony to the embassies available and their effects to the unique cards that will provide a pick me up for players that are able to get them played. The Colonists is a deep, rich, game that provides unique gameplay every time you pick it up making it very much worth its price. – – – – – – – – – –  Angus McCallum

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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