July 6, 2007

My New Favorite Game

by Susan Rozmiarek

Since I really need to be doing about a dozen other things right now, most involving tedious house cleaning chores, I've been overwhelmed with an urge to park here in front of my computer to write about my New Favorite Game. This would be Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery, not to be confused with the game with the suspect mission cards that is called just Age of Discovery. AoE III is/was being hyped relentlessly on BGG and I was sure some nice person in our gaming group would buy it for me to try, but no such luck. Ed and I had to take the plunge and get it ourselves and then we had to actually convince our group to play it. Apparently Adam, our meaty games barometer, had tried it up in his new city and was not impressed, thus damning* it in the eyes of our group. I've played twice now. I loved it both times. I am now one of those annoying fan boys (girls?) who is compelled to babble on about how good the game is to anyone who'll listen. So, here goes:

This is a fabulous game. It takes some of the cool, sleek Euro mechanisms from games like Caylus and Puerto Rico and uses them in a highly themed game with all the American goodness of plastic men and ships. In true hybrid fashion, you have not only little soldiers, but also little merchants and colonists. You get a smidgen of combat with your action selection and trade goods. You get to explore the map and enjoy the suspense of flipping over a tile, but you better have enough manpower to slap down the natives shown. Of course, you don't know exactly how many you'll encounter until you are there, so here is a little luck you'll have to deal with. Like those other two games, there are definitely some distinct strategic paths you can take, but they feel much less scripted in AoE III. You may know exactly what buildings you'll need to acquire to execute the "colonizing" strategy perfectly, but there is a small chance that a building never even comes up for purchase (Oh, no! More luck!). Unlike Puerto Rico, there is only one building of each type. Players may grab actions and buildings before you do, confounding your plans and causing you to have to make adjustments. So, between the few luck elements and the uncertainty of what other players will do, it is harder to plan out and execute a perfect strategy. This made the game more fun and unpredictable for me and makes me think that it will have a lot of replayability. I found myself on the edge of my seat during the whole game trying to decide what actions to grab first. And Ed (drat him!) was always one step ahead of me. Thankfully, there seems to always be something useful to do even if you have to diversify your strategy a bit.

The first game, I did fabulously but fell way short of the win. I went for a "discovery" strategy and was able to discover a new colony nearly every turn, giving me both money and victory points. I was able to purchase capitol buildings that gave me a free soldier and captain for the discovery box. I came in second but far short of Paul, who concentrated on colony majorities. I'm thinking that this strategy cannot be ignored as it scores victory points three times during the game rather than just at the end like everything else. We did miss a rule that, while not a game breaker, impacted my strategy probably quite a bit. We missed the fact that when you discovered a new colony, you get to place a free colonist there.

The second game, I was able to get a capitol building which gave me a free merchant each turn, followed by one that gave me a free captain. So, I decided to aggressively pursue acquiring sets of trade goods thinking that it would yield me a constant flow of cash as well as lots of victory points at the end of the game. Plus, I got a building that required everyone to pay me a buck for each ship that I had, fitting in with my plans nicely since ships can be used as wild trade goods in the sets that I was trying to collect. I think that this caused me to focus too much on trying to acquire those ships. Unfortunately, Ed (blast him!) was able to snag the building at the end before I could that gave bonus points for ships. I ended up way, way, in last place even though everyone, including me, thought that I was doing so well during the game. What was shocking was the fact that Doug seemed to be struggling the whole game with no money and no way to buy buildings. He ended up quietly building up in the colonies and collecting discovery tiles and ended up the winner. Sneaky, sneaky, Doug! Since then, Ed and I have been discussing strategies and I've been thinking about the game constantly. I can hardly wait to try it again. Too bad it takes so long to play. Both our games took three hours, not including the rules explanation. There are a few player aides on BGG that really helped.

I will say that I was disappointed a little in some of the components. I would have preferred that the plastic pieces be dull rather than shiny. I kept confusing the merchants and the colonists. The box is horribly flimsy as well. The card quality is not the best. Nitpicking, I know. :-)

Here I am looking totally perplexed as I decide what to do. My fellow players are Paul, Brian, Helen and Ed (taking picture).

* My blog gets a "G" rating here. We all know what that does to movies so I'm tossing out some profanity here and there to appeal to my adult audience. Heck, even our gaming pastor friend's blog has a "PG" rating! Thanks Mark, for the link to this rating website. I now have a goal. Wait until I talk about the my Runebound character when I will get to mention big boobs. (hee, hee. Maybe I can get an "R" rating!)

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at July 6, 2007 5:31 PM


Woo Hoo! I got a "Drat him!" and a "Blast him!" during this report. My job in thwarting Susan has been accomplished.

Posted by: Ed on July 6, 2007 6:07 PM

Yes, but she may have to make the expletives a bit saucier if she wants to achieve her goal of a PG rating!

Posted by: Larry Levy on July 7, 2007 10:09 AM

I like this game so much I enjoy just reading other people's thoughts on it. Our first game took three hours as well, but now the time has been cut down immensely. We play with a number of variations, but that's only for our own pleasure and not out of necessity.

Posted by: jacob on July 11, 2007 5:22 PM
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