Barnes on Games- Empires: Age of Discovery and Tumult Royale in Review; A Study in Emerald

Barnes on Games- Empires: Age of Discovery and Tumult Royale in Review; A Study in Emerald Hot

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Two old fashioned games this week.

Two reviews are up at the Review Corner this week- Empires: Age of Discovery and Tumult Royale.

Empires is of course the de-IPed reprint of Glenn Drover’s Age of Empires III, which was one of the first hybrid worker placement games. I didn’t really care much about it when it was first released (although Bill Abner constantly reminded me of the wrongness of my opinion), but I welcomed the chance to get back to it and see how this game, which was kind of ahead of its time has aged. The answer is really well. Compared to today’s Kickstarter treadmill WP games, this one is surprisingly tight and it hews closely to a 4x template. It’s like a full blown 4x game of conquering the New World but metered and measured out like Caylus. Yet it feels like a DoaM at times.

I’ve really been enjoying it. There is a lot of dimension to it, lots of opportunities to explore, and the way it manages economics, exploration, conflict and development is just right as far as I’m concerned. The new edition is cool, it comes in a typically gigantic Eagle Games box with tons of plastic figures and metal doubloons. The gaudy Paul Niemeyer artwork is gone. And it has a two-sided board so you can play a “world map” version. All in all, I was surprised to find how much I liked this after giving it a second (really like fourth) chance).

The other review is for a much lighter game, Tumult Royale. It’s designed by Klaus Teuber and his son Benjamin and it is just about as old school German game as it gets. 45 minutes, fairly light, quite clever and with a hint of satire. The idea is that everyone plays a noble robbing goods from the local peasantry in order to build self-aggrandizing statues across the land (which is built kind of like Domaine or Lowenherz). Before each round, you spin a REAL SPINNER to see how many goods of each type have to be left for the peasants after a 20 second, Galaxy Trucker-like real time mad grab for tiles. If the players take too much, they tumult and the greediest player gets penalized. It’s a neat little game that I fear won’t find an audience, because for the most part that audience was in 1994. But if you like this kind of thing, it’s one to look out for.

I finally “got” A Study in Emerald. It’s pretty great. But it is definitely Martin Wallace, so it’s wonky and sloppy in some ways. But the intrigue and the gameplay are really top flight. It’s pretty cool how it doesn’t necessarily retell the Gaiman story, but it builds a game environment sort of around its setting. As far as the 1st edition/2nd edition thing…don’t ask me, I only have the 2nd. From what I have read, the streamlining and revisions do cut away some detail, but they also take some of the more shaky or complicated parts along so it’s kind of a net gain. It’s still weirdly confusing, sometimes obtuse and the rules are tough to learn and teach, let alone the strategy. So I’m kind of not concerned about it. Although the 1st edition box definitely looks better, I can at least attest to that.

Talon continues to delight. But I am getting to a stage where I’d really rather put Armada on the table because there’s just more there. Yet it’s so easy to play and so easy to set up that it’s hard to resist. It is the accessible Star Fleet Battles you have always wanted, or at least hat I have always wanted.

I have a prototype of the new Climate expansion for Evolution. I’ll report on that next week. It looks pretty cool, it adds (obviously) climate to your custom-made biome.

This week- more plays of Healthy Heart Hospital and I’m getting back into Archipelago. God help me.

Barnes on Games- Empires: Age of Discovery and Tumult Royale in Review; A Study in Emerald There Will Be Games
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Posted: 04 Feb 2016 16:57 by JonJacob #221723
OldHippy's Avatar
I've always been interested in Age of Discovery but never pulled the trigger on it. Now it seems particularly antiquated in terms of theme - although it still sounds interesting. Is there any hint of self awareness about post colonial thought hidden in the design somewhere? Not that you can't add that yourself by bringing it to the table but it would be cool if there was some hint that they understood how sensitive this topic can be for some people. I doubt that was ever a design goal but I've never played it so who knows.

Edit: I don't ask this because I want games to be PC, I don't want that, I just want them to be self aware. I'll gladly play colonists bashing native skulls, hell I'll gladly play Nazis and evil Gods... that's not the point. I just think that modern political discourse can actually make a game like this more interesting.
Posted: 04 Feb 2016 17:09 by Msample #221724
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The floating red tab on the side of the screen while reading the review on the MM page....fucking annoying.
Posted: 04 Feb 2016 17:23 by Michael Barnes #221730
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JonJacob wrote:
I've always been interested in Age of Discovery but never pulled the trigger on it. Now it seems particularly antiquated in terms of theme - although it still sounds interesting. Is there any hint of self awareness about post colonial thought hidden in the design somewhere? Not that you can't add that yourself by bringing it to the table but it would be cool if there was some hint that they understood how sensitive this topic can be for some people. I doubt that was ever a design goal but I've never played it so who knows.

Edit: I don't ask this because I want games to be PC, I don't want that, I just want them to be self aware. I'll gladly play colonists bashing native skulls, hell I'll gladly play Nazis and evil Gods... that's not the point. I just think that modern political discourse can actually make a game like this more interesting.

Ha ha!. Good heavens no, this is the heroic, European Age of Discovery where you are bringing civilization to the savages...who are represented as discovery tiles and cards. Narratively, if you are bringing over Colonists and Missionaries, you are simply stealing their land and resources and showing them the light of good Christian living. But if you bring soldiers with you, you get a bonus for "plunder". So there's that.

I thought about bringing this up in the review because it is a subject I am sensitive to IRL, but in the context of the game I sort of felt like it was irrelevant. The game is about what it says it is, and it's not really in its scope to comment on or assign moral judgment to it. It's about on the level of the slaves in Puerto Rico, really. It isn't very PC, but it's also kind of an "it is what it is" thing.

But I do agree with you, that a more enlightened viewpoint COULD lead to some interesting themes around colonialism/imperialism...I believe there was a game a few years ago that tried this, but it was one that pretty much no one played. I think it was called Colony.
Posted: 04 Feb 2016 19:49 by Alastair MacDirk #221746
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Usually I find myself reading your reviews where you've scooped the pack and written about something prior to or just after it's release. Plenty of those have moved me to go and get the game. This time you have reviewed a game I know well. Too well. One of my old gaming buddies had a total boner for it and if there was ever a lull deciding what game we should play next he would start his AoE, AoE, AoE chant. When I left Norcal (northern California) I left my copy with him. So I probably have 25 plays on it easy. Before I burned out on it I liked it a lot. I feel it's a top 5 worker placement game and maybe THE most thematic one because I felt like I was colonizing (more than I ever felt I was managing a farm when playing Agricola or building a church when playing Pillars of the Earth). Anyhow,knowing the game well I feel this review really nailed it and i couldn't imagine a better review to sum up the game. My first post ever on F:AT (like 6ish) years ago? I said something about liking AoE and was summarily curb stomped for it. Times have changed around these parts what with the Eurogame Reclamation Project and whatnot.
I am curious to know how Age of Discovery differs from Empires. You mentioned the rules being tightened, but I thought the original rules were fine... just a few pages to grok really. The builder was not part of the original game but was added in the expansion. My only critique was that the capital buildings could really swing the game especially in the 3rd age if the right one popped that rewarded your overall strategy up to that point. Knowing the importance of the capital buildings made it important to commit a worker to get first or second on the initiative track when a new age started and new buildings would flood the lineup. A second map sounds interesting.
Posted: 04 Feb 2016 21:06 by bfkiller #221750
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I've played 2 games of A Study in Emerald. I still have no idea what the zombie meeples are for... They've never come up.
Posted: 04 Feb 2016 22:41 by Grudunza #221757
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bfkiller wrote:
I've played 2 games of A Study in Emerald. I still have no idea what the zombie meeples are for... They've never come up.

Chrome. I've seen them I think twice in about a dozen games. One of the things I like, though, is that you can end up with some pretty different types of games, where sometimes there are zeppelins or Cthulhu or zombies or vampires or Moriarty or Holmes, and sometimes all of the above, or none. And some of the different things that can come up are pretty impactful, so you can get people fighting heavily over certain cards.

From what I've read of the comparisons between 1st and 2nd edition, I wouldn't call 2nd a net gain. Some things do seem to be improvements, but I can see where some of the fun dynamics as far as agents and fighting for cities is removed, and that seems like a big loss. It's probably a case, though, where what you don't know doesn't hurt you. So if I'd never played 1st edition, I might love 2nd as it is and prefer that. I do want to try 2nd at some point and give it a chance.
Posted: 05 Feb 2016 06:50 by Legomancer #221767
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I only played AOE3 or whatever it was called a couple of times, but it seemed like there were false roads in it. IE, you can try X, Y, or Z strategy, but Y is easier and will almost always win. (If I remember correctly it was the "conquest" strategy, surprising no one.) But it's been a while and no one I know was particularly wowed by the game enough to dig into it.
Posted: 05 Feb 2016 06:54 by charlest #221770
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I'm a longtime fan of AoEIII as it was the first worker placement I truly enjoyed and convinced me I didn't wholeheartedly hate the mechanic. I love soldiering up and threatening war across the continent.

Dave - I never felt that way (after about 10ish plays years ago). Conquest was good but you could net great points from buildings and exploring could be huge although was very risky.
Posted: 05 Feb 2016 14:37 by Shellhead #221829
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I played AoEIII exactly once. I found it somewhat more enjoyable than other euro worker placement games, but still dry and mathy enough to fall short of actual fun.