Game Review: Empires: Age of Discovery

We had a few unscheduled attendees on Thursday, bringing our attendance to six. We hemmed and hawed about what game to play. We settled upon Glen Drover’s Empires: Age of Discovery. This was the first time in several months that this title made it to the table. The game was (and has been) a hit. I thought I would share with you why this is such a good game.

Game Review Empires: Age of Discovery

 

Theme

Game Review Empire Age of Discovery game box
Empire Age of Discovery game box

Glen Drover’s game Empires: Age of Discovery takes players back to the age of colonialism and exploration. Each player takes on the role of a European country. He musters soldiers, sea captains, merchants, missionaries and colonists to forge a New World empire.

Empires: Age of Discovery wins no points for originality. The theme of colonizing the New World has been a dozen times by major publishers. Indeed, the game was even loosely based upon a computer game, Age of Empires III. Eagle Games originally published the tabletop edition as Age of Empires III until they reimplemented it with this edition.

So if Empires: Age of Discovery is so unoriginal, why would the Muskegon Area Gamers be such big fans?

 

Components

Game Review Empires: Age of Discovery plastic
Empires: Age of Discovery

The trend at Eagle Games has been unmistakable: make games with heirloom quality components. Empires: Age of Discovery is another example of this.

There are six sets of plastic pieces, comprising 420 figures in total. There are six different sculpts. And the plastic isn’t the shoddy, rubbery plastic from earlier Eagle Games like War! Age of Imperialism. Eagle Games is making a play for Fantasy Flight’s customers–and they will likely get some.

Empires: Age of Discovery
Empires: Age of Discovery

The game also comes with the super large board that is typical of Eagle Games. It has to be big to accommodate the 420 figures and 10 plastic trade ships.

The other components are also nice. The cardboard is the high quality thick cut cardboard that lasts forever. The money is plastic coins in two denominations. I have the basic version. There is also a kickstarter version that has metal coins.

The MSRP for this monster is $120 so one should expect great components at the very least. But with that price tag, one should also expect great game play. And Empires delivers.

 

Game Play

Empires: Age of Discovery game board
Empires: Age of Discovery game board

Empires: Age of Discovery is essentially a worker placement game with area control scoring. Again, it scores nothing for originality. But it does these functions better than any other game I’ve played.

There are several areas on the right side of the game board. This is where the workers are placed.

The top area, called Initiative, is where players select their turn order for the following turn. It also gives the player a small amount of money.

The next area is the colonist boat. Players place their workers here so they can move them to one of the discovered areas of the New World. Seating is limited so make sure you get your workers on the boat. The workers do different things when they get to the New World. The missionary converts a native, immediately granting the owner an additional colonist. The merchant gives you $5. The soldier allows you to use the war/battle space (see below). The builder is worth 2 to 4 VP each.

The third area is where players collect trade goods. Trade goods are the main source of income in the game. Seating is limited to four per game round so these suckers will go fast.

Bag o' trade goods
Bag o’ trade goods

Below the trade goods is the merchant ship. Each game round exactly one merchant ship is doled out. The single player that has placed the most workers here gets the ship. However, some of the workers are worth more than others. The captain and the merchant are worth 2 of the other workers. The merchant ship is kept by the player who wins it for the duration of the game. Merchant ships act as wild trade goods, substantially augmenting one’s income. Seating in this space is unlimited but you may not get anything if someone spends more workers than you.

Capital building track
Capital building track

The next area is the capital building track. Each game round five capital buildings (cardboard tiles) are placed on this track. Players must pay for the buildings in addition to putting a worker here. The cost increases throughout the game. One of the workers, the builder, reduces the cost of the buildings by $5.

Each building gives a different special ability. The buildings generally give a once per round ability that will give players more workers, more money or some other flexibility.

The Discovery Box is right below the capital buildings. Players may place unlimited workers here. Players have the option to use some or all of their workers here to discover a portion of the New World. They select which workers they want to use. They select the discovery tile they wish to discover. Then they flip the discovery tile (flip it for real). If they meet or exceed the strength of the discovery tile, they have discovered it. They keep the tile and put a colonist on the territory. Otherwise, they lose their workers and get nothing.

Players may invest in better workers for the next game round in the training area. Players may place a worker (generally a colonist) onto one of the spaces. The space can turn the colonist into a soldier, builder, merchant, captain or missionary.

Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery
Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery

And finally there is the War space. Players may place up to four workers here. Workers here can be used to battle or go to war. When selecting a battle, the player chooses an opponent and a territory. In this territory, all your soldiers and all your opponent’s soldiers shoot. You select which enemy worker they are shooting and that figure is removed. If you select war, you must pay $10. Then you have a battle in every territory where you and the selected opponent have soldiers.

There  are three scoring rounds. Players score 6 victory points if they have the most workers, 2 victory points if they have the second most. At the end of the game, players also score victory points based upon their income level. The highest total is the winner.

 

Final Thoughts

Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery
Sculpts in Empires: Age of Discovery

So why is this game such a good fit? The components are quite nice. They make the game worth $100 MSRP. But the game play would be fun even with different components.

The worker placement aspect of Empires: Age of Discovery allows for a good mix of tactics and strategy. You can place workers onto the board to get things now or invest your workers for a pay out later. A soldier or a builder is substantially better than a colonist. But you have to wait a game round to get him. Playing early is generally better than playing later. But it’s also good to wait until your opponent has committed some of his workers so you can respond appropriately.

The area control aspect is simple. Games with complex area control usually devolve into analysis paralysis. But that is not the case when you mix area control with worker placement. Players cannot min/max like they normally can in an area control game.

The output of the components and mechanics is a game that could be the centerpiece of most game collections. The components and presentation are impressive. The game is approachable to new or light gamers. And the strategy is deep enough to make hardcore gamers coming back for more.

 

Where you can play this game…

https://www.meetup.com/The-Gaming-Annex-in-Muskegon