The Games We Play

The Games We Play

A repository of reports on the Wednesday night sessions of the club and anything else related to the club or boardgaming in general, which may be of interest to anyone who may be passing by.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Nations: Shorter Name, Shorter Play Time, a 'Through the Ages' that comfortably fits into a Wednesday session

A few weeks back I decided to start buying Eurogames again after a break of around three years. A quick bit of research on Boardgamegeek gave me a long list of possible contenders for my first purchase. The criteria for the game(s) were: published within the last couple of years; not owned by other club members or, at least, not regularly brought to the club; mid-to-heavy weight; either by a designer I like or with a theme that attracts me. Of course, I also wanted a game that I could play at the club, so it had to appeal to other members. A quick consultation with Gordon helped me to narrow down the list and I chose Nations and Bruges. The latter is not currently available in the English-language edition from Games Lore or, indeed, from other board games shops in the UK. I've long become accustomed to playing games in various languages, but I deduced that a German-language edition of a game with a significant amount of card text might prove a barrier to others being willing to give the game a try. That left Nations to become my first new non-wargame boardgame since I repatriated myself to this sceptred isle, this precious stone set in the silver sea, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Last Wednesday, no sooner had Steve P handed over my copy of Nations, I received an enthusiastic request for a game from Steve himself. It only remained to convince Dave F and Steve H to postpone the conclusion of their Twilight Struggle, a task no harder than snatching candy from a sleeping babe, and we had a suitable complement of four players. No wait, Andy has spotted the game and asks to join us. Four becomes five and, standing like greyhounds in slips, straining upon the start, the game's afoot!

If you are familiar with Through the Ages, then you'll recognise much about Nations. For those who are inexplicably ignorant of that Czech masterpiece, I'll attempt to describe its Finnish younger sibling. Nations belongs to that time-honoured genre: the civilization game, which has its origins in the board game of the same name by Francis Tresham (the computer game of the same name postdates the board game by more than 10 years, though its author, Sid Meier, claims that he his game wasn't inspired by Tresham's earlier magnum opus). However, unlike games such as Civilization, Antike and Sid Meier's Civilization (the board game of the computer game), Nations does not feature a map. Instead the focus is on a set of cards which are available for purchase by the players and which represent advances in technology and military might, advisors, colonies, wonders to construct, wars to wage, and the one-off bonuses of battles and golden ages. Thus the game is, in a way, like an advanced version of Saint Petersburg or London. Nations lasts 8 rounds, representing 4 ages - there is a different set of cards for each age. Each player has workers, some of which begin in the resource pool available to be deployed (NOT placed - this is NOT a worker placement game!), while others are on the population track, yet to be born. Each player also begins with some Resources: gold, food, stone and a few VPs (they can be lost!). A score board is used to mark not scores, but the game round, player order and the level of each player's Stability, Military Strength, and Books. 

At the beginning of each round, cards from the current age are made available to be purchased (some cards from the previous round may also remain available). Then each player may either gain resources or move a single worker from the population track to the resource pool - the disadvantage of the latter is that each new worker born either decreases the player's Stability or requires Food each round. During his or her turn, a player may either purchase a card and place it on their Player Board, deploy a worker onto a Building or Military card on their Player Board, or hire an architect, which is used to build part of a wonder on their Player Board. At any time workers can be undeployed so that they can be deployed elsewhere. Each Building and Military card provides an increase, or possibly a decrease, in two things - which may either be instant (in the case of Military Strength and Stability) or accrue at the end of every round (Gold, Food, Stone, Books). These increases/decreases are multiplied by the number of workers on the card. Advisors, Colonies and Wonders may also provide such increases/decreases, while Battles and Golden Ages provide one-off gains in Resources or Books. Players continue taking turns until all have passed. Then comes a Resolution Phase in which new resources are produced, wars are waged (using a very abstract mechanism), an event is resolved and VPs are gained or lost (based on how many Books each player has).

The game ends after 8 rounds. Final scoring is calculated for each player by summing his or her VP tokens (accumulated during the game), VPs from workers on Buildings and Military, VPs from Wonders and Colonies, and 1 VP from every 10 Resources/Books/Stability/Military Strength.  

So how was our game? Well, the scores were fairly close, but Andy won thanks to an efficient production mechanism that saw his nation generating plenty of stone and gold. Despite having to explain (indeed, partly read) the rules, we finished a little after 11pm, making the duration a little under the "40 minutes per player" quoted in the rule book. All in all, Nations is a less complicated game than Through the Ages, much easier to explain, and also much shorter. Yet it retains the thematic richness (relatively-speaking: compared to the wargames I play, any eurogame is light on theme) and, quite possibly, the replayability, of its bigger brother. It is not necessarily a lighter game either, so it delivers a similar amount of heavyweight 'civ' goodness, but in a more steamlined package - a concentrated dose like a cup of espresso brewed from Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good game to try. When I first read about it did "scare" me a bit as seemed quite in depth and I've not really played a game like it yet (though do have sids civilization I'm yet to try, to scared to even start reading the rules on that one) but maybe I'll give this a go if I have the opportunity