30th Mar 2023 - Archipelago

by RobinMon, 3 Apr (Updated at Mon, 3 Apr)

It appears that this week was Darwin's Journey week. After a lot of build-up, we finally had two copies very loudly in play in the upstairs room. But sadly that's as much as I can tell you: I am generally put off by hype and fashion, so was delighted to be playing an older, lower profile game instead. But I'm sure they all had a good time playing it.

Having tried Mombasa, I found myself playing Archipelago this week, which is another of the surprisingly-many Euro games on the theme of colonial "administration" - or exploitation, as we would now call it. This trend for me is not by design - I actually found the theme of Mombasa quite distasteful. But Archipelago was much better - for one thing it was more about exploration than exploitation; and I also found the mechanics more interesting.

That interest was heightened - inevitably - by the fact that none of us had played it before, none of us had read up on it, and the rules were not very well-written. So we endured a very slow start with a lot of pondering over the rulebook, and at one point facing the prospect that - having chosen the "short game" end-game conditions, we still might not finish. But after a while we all accepted that it was a learning game, and tumbled chaotically through to the end.

Mostly it's a fairly standard worker-placement / tile-placement combo, but the mechanic that sets it apart is the way that the end-game scoring is determined by a set of cards, of which each player only sees one. I can safely say we were nowhere near getting to grips with that mechanic. If the length of the scoring track is anything to go by, we all did terribly; and one of us ended up after the whole 3-hour game with exactly zero points - which no-one wants in any game. I'm still not sure what the right strategy is for dealing with this challenge. I satisfied myself with trying to maximise the commodity that I could see - money - in the hope that it would translate into points somehow, which at least allowed me to enjoy the game - but not to win it.

So I did like this game: more like Puerto Rico than Mombasa - if that's a good thing?? And I would play it again - to make a better go of it, if nothing else. There's an interesting diversity of different actions you can take, and it's only having played through it to the end that I can finally see how they could all combine usefully.

In the relative tranquillity of downstairs, they were playing the even older - if not so low-profile - game of Power Grid. I think it was the Italy map? And Ed was getting his fix of Tapestry with the new expansion. And gameplay was enhanced throughout by the new tables: top-quality wood in ample 6-foot by 3-foot proportions. Richard may be able to offer more detail on the exact number of kilograms, having lugged one up the stairs.