Time to play: 180 – 300 minutes (Teaching: 25 minutes)
Best played with: 3-5 players (Best with 4)
I really struggle to say what type of game this is – there are no workers to place, there are no action points to use, and there is no race element. The only win condition in this game is money, and every company that comes and goes on the board can be owned by any player at some point in the game – if they can pay for it. Indonesia then is perhaps right to have one of the most vague descriptions in board game geek and in the manual that I have ever read! However, that is also because it is one of the most varied and malleable games out there.
So how can I best describe this game? Well, it’s a game about buying, growing and selling companies. It’s an advanced version of a classic game – Acquire. In Acquire you have an excel spreadsheet for a board and expand companies through the placement of tiles – Indonesia takes that two steps further by allowing for a map based structure and a more flexible organic growth of companies.
Each game is carved up in a series of rounds. Starting with an important bid for starting player. Starting player in subsequent rounds gets to select the first merger, start their preferred companies, trade first and expands into preferred territories. This position then is worth bidding, but with each player only able to bid once, and forced to bid in turn order, it is simple for the last player to pick his preferred turn position with a precise bid. This is a clever mechanic – it’s not a catch up, but it means that the last player can re-position at the minimum cost next round.
The rest of the rounds are complex; Development to offer you the chance to improve your skills – either shipping, owning more companies, merging bigger companies, expanding faster and holding more goods in your ships. This is a crucial round where you decide your strategy for the game – these small changes amount to vast differences in what you can achieve / will be good at.
Merging – where you can declare mergers between companies that any player owns. The fact that these don’t have to be your companies is nearly as important as the fact that a merger is actually the start of a bidding war. All players involved in the merger and all those with spare company slots, can try to buy the merged company. This leaves you with an unpredictable market where bids can escalate quickly. Be careful, because you must bid for even two companies you own and you must have the cash of the winning bid. These rules can combine to create really interesting situations – a player being bought out and earning large amounts of money, leaving the other player poor or a player stepping in an picking up both companies cheaply!
New companies; where you select from the available start ups, which one you are going to take on, and exactly where you are going to found it. You will quickly be able to operate and grow – so look for potential to trade and potential to block your opponent. The companies gained here, will be the ones you sell for 100s of rupees later in the game!
Operating – where you can expanding shipping companies or trade goods. An important round where you can make new money and create opportunities to beggar thy neighbour. Ship your goods first and fill up the capacity of near by cities – bad for your opponent if they can’t deliver, but worse if they have to deliver to the far corners of the map (and across your shipping company!). This is the tactical part of the game, where you have the opportunity to use trade routes, and far flung cities to maximise profit your cause your opponents loses. All companies must ship if they can, and all companies expand if and only if they deliver ALL their goods. This is a tough way to do business, but expanded companies are worth more later, so there are plenty of trade-offs to consider.
If you make it through all of that, then it’s time to grow any cities that got full supplies and roll right back through to the start – and the bidding!
Now all of these simple but delicate rules means that you have a cruel and calculating economic game. You can buy out players’ best assets, you can sell off your low quality but heavily expanded companies, or perhaps you can create a merger to bring a profitable business into existence or control the seas with a single unified shipping company. The game can play out in many ways, and it’s driven entirely by player choices around the table – no luck, no randomness, but crafty decisions and implications that roll out years later!
The game comes to a head late on as the final age of development ends (three ages, with each age triggered by player achievements). Once this game ending scenario is triggered, you trade once at double profit and then count up the cash. Was that last merger worth the high price just for double operating profits? Or did defending your company bankrupt you before the final turn! All these decisions become complex and involve direct player to player trade-offs.
So, if you are thinking that this ambitious game is for you then here’s a few health warnings. Firstly, this is unforgiving. This game will punish you for mistakes and has no catch up mechanics. Players can get back in the game, but you will need to profit from others’ mistakes and play masterfully. Once you are behind it can be a tough journey to get back to parity – imagine for example that you overpaid for a rice company only to have it’s shipping route bought out by that same opponent and find that you had to ship the goods a long distance next time a city was placed!
Secondly, this is a long game. I often look at this game and think – I could get through this in one and half hours, but that just doesn’t happen. The more you learn this game, the more it evolves and the strategy develops – your efficiency gains traded off almost directly with the additional options and tactics you find.
Lastly, the component quality here is poor. Splotter are known for unforgiving but very innovative games such as Antiquity, Food Chain Magnate and Indonesia, but unfortunately this has also come with many forum posts about components. In this instance the unfortunate decision to have quite a small map and quite big pieces can often make it hard to see the borders or sea routes.
So, rounding off – an immense game with lots to learn, but not for new players and tough to engage with at first.
- If you like mechanically innovative games, and a focus on money as the solitary win condition – grab this game with both hands and enjoy the ride
- If you hate playing two hours after you know you lost…either spend a long time starring at those rules, or maybe give this a pass
- If you win, the next game will be very different…