Posted by: gschloesser | July 13, 2011

Age of Exploration

Design by:  Tom Lehmann
2 – 6 Players, 3 – 4 hours
Published by:  TimJim Games
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Exploration, peril and discovery on the high seas in the 15th & 16th centuries in this TimJim and Prism Games release. 

Age of Exploration by TimJim and Prism Games is a game of the exploration and discovery of the New World and its related secrets. 2 – 6 Players must race to make as many discoveries as possible and be the first to publish their findings and reach a set number of victory points (15 in the campaign game). The game is played on a small board (too small – things get a bit crowded) and uses a card system to determine events and the success or failure of certain actions and movement. It bears many similarities with the system used by the old Avalon Hill title Source of the Nile. 

The game is fairly easy. First, players are dealt six ‘Outfitting Cards’ and must outfit and equip their initial expedition. Depending upon the cards they were dealt, they can purchase additional ships (to a limit), supplies, soldiers, cannons, trading goods, missionaries, etc. They must also decide to use Carracks or Caravels and to have their expedition led by an explorer or a conquistador. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Once the outfitting is completed, players set sail. The board has different paths that can be followed, each leading to different areas. Cards are drawn from one of three stacks – Sea, Land or Civilization Encounters – depending upon the player’s location. The cards determine the success of a movement as well as any random events which occur (storms, scurvy, encounters, etc.). Players can stop along the way at known islands for supplies and/or repairs. This takes time, however, and swiftness counts in this game. 

Players can concentrate on making discoveries at sea (land sightings, rivers, channels, bays, etc.) or choose to land and make inland discoveries (gold, gems, pearls, civilizations). Each has its own rewards and/or perils. There are also Voyages of Discovery that can be taken (Northwest Passage, Mississippi River, Circumnavigation of the Globe, etc.). Players can also attempt to engage and defeat the mighty Aztec and Incan empires. 

With six players playing the 15 point ‘campaign’ match, , the game is going to last from six-to-eight hours. Movement from space to space is agonizingly slow and dependent upon the luck of the draw. Even with the swiftest ships and hurricane force winds backing you, two spaces is the maximum progress that can be made at sea, and that’s only if you happen to draw the correct card. 

Progress along the coast or inland is even slower – limited to a maximum (card permitting) of one space per turn. With six players, this makes for a VERY slow moving game. 

Several of our players have commented that the game is basically a solitaire one. Each player does ‘his own thing’ with no interference from the other players. The only encounter that can occur is if two players meet on land, in which case one can attempt to take over the other’s pieces. There is no combat between the players and no ‘dirty tricks’ that can be pulled upon one another. Thus, there is little, if any, player interaction. About the only thing that a player can do to thwart another’s plans is to reach a discovery before he does and race back to Europe or a New World base and beat him to the ‘publishing’ punch. 

Another comment is the game is very dependent upon luck. The success or failure of most actions is dependent upon the draw of a card or the roll of dice. Other than deciding upon how to outfit one’s expedition and which way to sail, there seems to be little strategy involved. Perhaps further playings will dispel (or confirm) these initial feelings. 

I have corresponded and spoken with others – whose opinions I generally respect – who profess to enjoy this game. They praise the game’s ‘historical’ feel. I can agree with that. The game does give a nice historical feel for the period, and there is a certain sense of accomplishment and exhilaration when one completes the Northwest Passage or successfully floats down the Mississippi River. However, my enthusiasm for the game ends there. The game is slow moving, heavily dependent upon luck and has little, if any, player interaction. I also do not like the “turn over a card and see what happens” method. Unfortunately, Age of Exploration is a disappointment.

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