Type: Euro (with a lot of Area Control for points)

Time to play: 60-90 minutes (Teaching: 15-20 minutes)

Best played with: 4/5 Player (3 – 5 Players)

Okay, so as many will have realised I am based in UK so this whole review will be challenged by persistent attempts to add a “u” but let’s ignore that for now, because I am rushing to write about this recent kickstater delivery because this is a really intriguing game and a potential for the biggest surprise of the year.

So Endeavor: Age of Sail is a reprint of an old classic involving players exploring a map and unlocking regions. Once a region is unlocked you can explore in this area and gain further benefits. Will you colonise the Caribbean, will you lead the exploration or focus on robing the riches, and will you use slavery or work to abolish it by the end of the game.

The game had lots of interwoven strategic decisions and the path of other players would both help and hinder you – as it does in the reprint. However, the new version has made this even more replay-able by building on a strong game with some interesting rules shifts which you apply to each new game. These changes, or Exploits, are set at the start of the game and will favour certain regions and make certain play styles more appealing.

Players picking up the new version of the game are opening a box full of the classic experiences but with modules that make the game fresh without breaking the core mechanics. On top of all of that, they are picking up great art and component quality.

In your turn, you will be selecting an action which will almost certainly include the placement of a token on to the board. You might be placing a token in Europe to pick up an instant benefit, or placing a token near a prior token to get a route benefit (benefit between placements) or you could be building up the exploration of a new region which will eventually unlock it. This last action then gives a special bonus to the individual with majority – this brings a tension with players seeking to unlock their own regions but without being the only player to contribute. Smaller instant bonuses will attract other players, but ensuring majority is an interesting challenge.

Also, if you don’t participate it’s very challenging to enter a region later – so those exploits will pull players into the regions which offer bonus points later in the game. Lastly, placement in any region, including Europe, allows you to unlock cards (culture) in that region. These unique benefits improve your capacity within the game and offer advantages over other players. However, with a limited number in each region and each card offering different bonuses – these can become a race. It’s important to know as well that you need X placements in that region to get an X level card – chasing down the leader in a region can therefore be challenging, but with a hand limit the marginal benefit to that player is also limited.

So there’s a lot to where you place your tokens, and just in case that’s not enough you can also displace other players tokens. This is important when you think about those “chain” bonuses from placement next to other tokens – sure the instant bonus is gone already, but there are game end points for these adjoining spaces and displacing the central token can cost your opponent a lot!

Okay, so game end. You are going to score for your presence on the map and special bonuses. The more effective your placement is the more you are going to score the connecting bonuses. This is a lot of fun in the last few turns of the game as the board gets tighter and the buildings you have built determine your ability to act.

Also, watch out because in the early game you only have a few tokens to place, but by the end you should have a lot of tokens and action options. This is a clever mechanic because early game errors can be recovered, but there is a reward for good engine building and clever use of the early bonuses.

There’s always lots of paths open to players in this game, and with a constrained number of turns the game accelerates to the climax where your engine gets to run once “at peak” before the game ends. You aren’t left watching the leader sail in to the distance, but you can use the advantages and play style that you have built.

Other than the issues the kickstarter had with curved player boards, what then can a player find to dislike? Well I think the limited turns feels contrived. I always prefer player driven ends to the game, or where some sort of Nash equilibrium is reached. However, I understand the turn limitation with a game that expands exponentially each turn. Also, late game can become overly analytical with some groups and paralysis can creep in. Everything can be calculated and moves can be predicted by experienced players, so this opens players up to long computations which may slow the end game down. However, there are many great games that this is true for and playing in the right way is an important factor to the game.

Last notes,

  • If you like medium weight games with lots of paths to victory, then this is a prime example
  • If you don’t like a variable game set up with new rules that are hard to remember – then the exploits expansion may frustrate more than it’s worth
  • If you win, try again with a different set of exploits