Okay, I admit, I have played nothing but Nations at the Halesowen club since I got my copy of the game. But it does seem to be popular and there have even been some repeat visitors besides myself. The last game on Wednesday 9th was long and difficult, proving that Nations continues to be something of a brain-burner even after a few plays. Here are my thoughts on the game, and a few tips on how to play, based on 4 plays, half of them 4-player and the other half 5-player.
A game of Nations is never going to be short - all of our games have fallen between 2.5 and 3 hours in length. There seems to be no significant difference between 4- and 5-player games. The rules themselves are fairly straightforward and seem to be easy for new players to grasp. I continue to recommend that new players use the 'A' (generic) side of the player boards, as the 'B' (nation-specific) sides increase the difficulty of play due to players starting with fewer resources and having only 4 spaces for Buildings and Military rather than 5. I cannot yet judge how balanced the 'B' sides are, but I'd be surprised if any of them gives more than a small advantage over any other - however, in any given game it is possible that a particular nation will benefit more than others due to which Progress cards become available. The impression has arisen that China is more difficult to play than the others, but I note that the only time it featured in a game, the player (Dave F) had the most convincing win we've seen so far: 45 points versus 35 for the second player. We have been using the handicapping system by allowing newbies to play as Chieftains (4 resources per Growth phase) and more experienced players as Princes (3 resources). I don't know how much difference this makes, but as I've won my last couple of games as a Prince, I should probably try King next time.
In terms of tips, it is difficult to generalise both because each game is different and because this is more of a tactical than a strategic game (at least compared to Through the Ages). A key area of play is in adapting both to the available Progress Cards and to the tactics of other players. All of the resources are important and there is no clear winning strategy. However, I can make the following comments:
- Military is possibly more influential than other factors. In any case, it impacts on many different aspects of the game. Having a high Military places you favourably in turn order, makes you less vulnerable to Wars, and enables you to collect Colonies. It is also significant in terms of Events (see below). Furthermore, having at least one worker on a Military card enables you to purchase Battles. The disadvantage of a focus on Military is that is costly - it will probably generate negative resources, and every worker on a Military card is one less worker on a Building generating resources. It is very difficult, and probably not advisable, to be the player with the highest Military throughout the game - you should be prepared to focus on other factors when necessary. On the other hand, being the player with the lowest Military is risky. At the very least, if you have low Military then you should probably compensate by having a high Stability as this mitigates the effects of lost Wars and potentially enables you to pick up benefits from Events.
- Stability brings fewer benefits than Military, but it does have its uses. The two most significant are in Events, and in enabling a player to take workers off the Population Track. It shouldn't be forgotten that it acts as a tie-breaker in determining player order.
- Food and Stone are both vital. However, an excess of either will not necessarily provide any benefit. These resources are important throughout the game. The requirement for Food increases as famines become ever more severe. Food also plays a role in events: some events reward the player with the most Food, while many events impose their cost in Food. Finally, generating plenty of Food enables you to take workers off the Population track. The requirement for Stone also increases during the game as deploying workers becomes more costly with Buildings/Military from later ages. Of course, Stone becomes more important if you want to focus on constructing Wonders.
- Money is perhaps not as vital as Food and Stone, but a lack of money significantly restricts your options for taking Progress Cards. As the cost of Progress Cards does not increase through the game, players tend to have more money in later ages than at the beginning. It is particularly important to have spare cash in the Industrial Age in order to pick up cards that will give you Victory Points.
- Personally I regard Books as the most important of all the resources. At least, my focus on Books has stood me well in all the games I have played. Books do nothing besides give you Victory Points, but they do provide a lot - up to 12 VPs in a 4-player game and 16 VPs in a 5-player game, plus a few VPs at the end when they are summed with all of the other resources. Players should certainly keep track of how many Books other players are generating each turn, and be aware that some Wonders and Events can generate a one-off increase in Books.
- It is, without a doubt, not easy to get new workers into play. Besides the cost in Food or Stability, there is the penalty of not being able to take resources. However, the benefits are commensurate - don't forget that each deployed worker provides 1 or 2 VPs at the end of the game.
- Events. As Steve H. learned to his cost - you simply cannot afford to be the last player in both Military and Stability! Almost three-quarters of events concern Military or Stability. Roughly a third of events penalise the player who is lowest in one of these two factors - this rises to just over half of events in the Industrial Age. Food is also quite important for events - about a quarter of events concern Food, either rewarding the player with the most, penalising the player with the least, or imposing a cost in Food.
Looking back on the results of our games, I see that scores vary from 28 to 48. Breakdowns for the individual categories (min. and max. scored) are as follows:
Game VP (markers): 4-21
Buildings and Military (workers): 6-16
The winning players have always had a good mix of VPs from the various categories. The following are the minimum scores obtained by any of the game winners in each of the categories:
Game VP: 13
Buildings and Military (workers): 12
I suppose the message from this is that you should be aiming to have at least 13 Game VPs by game end (bearing in mind that you begin with 3-7 VPs): ie. gaining from Books, Events, and Golden Ages, and avoiding losing from Wars, Events, and lack of resources. Though I should note that in our last game Mark R almost won with only 7 Game VPs!