Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Anno 1503

Designer:  Klaus Teuber
Publisher:  Mayfair / Kosmos
2 – 4 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

 

Designer Klaus Teuber is obviously enamored with exploration.  He has utilized the exploration theme in many of his games, including Entdecker, Oceania, Die Neuen Entedecker and even numerous Settlers of Catan variants.  It was no surprise when he was tapped to develop a board game based on the popular German computer game Anno 1503.  

Set in the exciting period when Europeans began their historic voyages of discovery, Anno 1503 cast players in the role of the brave settlers who were attempting to establish colonies in the newly discovered lands.  Ships must be sent into the unknown to discover uncharted islands and bring back their resources or establish outposts and trade agreements.  Armed with the proper resources, hardy pioneers become settlers, townsmen and ultimately merchants.  Various victory conditions give players sufficiently wide latitude and strategic paths. 

A central board depicts a sea dotted with islands.  The reverse of these island tiles will yield resources, gold or trade agreements.  Each player receives a home island board, which he populates with one pioneer and one settler tile.  The top of this board depicts various workshops that will produce commodities when the appropriate resource number is rolled.  There is also space for six more colonist tiles and four public buildings.  In addition, there are spaces for outposts and trade agreements, which may be found on the voyages of discovery. 

 

Each turn follows the following sequence: 

1)      Roll for production.  Each player receives the commodity depicted on their island board that corresponds to the number rolled.  If a “?” is rolled, the player may choose the commodity he desires, even the valuable tobacco or spice, which isn’t initially produced on the islands.  If a “6” is rolled, a random event occurs, which can cause pirates or fires, which cost players gold, outposts or settlements, or good fortune, which awards extra commodities.  Fortunately, players may acquire public buildings to protect against pirates and fire, but there is a limited availability of each type of building. 

2)      Spend and Build.  The active player may build ships, recruit pioneers, promote colonists, and buy and sell commodities.  Ships are needed to sail the seas to explore the various islands, while recruiting new pioneers and promoting colonists will ultimately yield different types of commodities and public buildings.  Gold is often needed to acquire resources, so the selling of commodities is often quite important.  

3)      Move Ships and Explore Islands.  A player may move his ship 2 – 4 spaces, depending upon the number of players.   These points can also be used to explore islands.  When adjacent to an island, the player may spend a movement point to look at the tile and decide whether he desires to keep the tile.  The tiles will either yield gold or allow a free colonist promotion, a new outpost or a trade agreement.  Outposts are placed above existing workshops, and give the player more flexibility when receiving resources.  Trade agreements reduce the price players must pay for commodities.  When a player keeps a tile, his ship is dismantled, forcing players to constantly rebuild them. 

As mentioned, players may recruit new pioneers or recruit existing colonists.  There are four levels of colonists:  pioneers, settlers, townsmen and merchants.  Each promotion requires a specific combination of resources, and each allows a specific type of commodity to be sold.  Further, once a player recruits his fourth colonist, he may begin acquiring a public building for each additional colonist added to his island.  Public buildings grant special powers, including protection from pirates and fires, additional commodities, increased income when selling, increased movement of ships, etc.  Each player can only possess four buildings, and there is a limited quantity of each.  So, choosing which buildings to acquire and at what point is very important. 

Ultimately, players are attempting to be the first to satisfy three of five possible victory conditions: 

  • 30 or more gold
  • 4 outposts
  • 3 trade agreements
  • 4 public buildings
  • 3 merchants 

I am particularly fond of games wherein there are numerous methods in which to achieve victory.  This generally allows players some latitude in pursuing various strategies, and while it works in Anno 1503, it is not without its problems.  There is a very limited quantity of outposts and trade agreements.  Several tiles are not actually placed onto the board, and may actually never appear.  If two players are pursuing the same tiles, it may well be possible that one player is unable to acquire the needed tiles, and be forced to change his strategy late in the game.  Often, it is usually too late, and the player will effectively be out of contention. 

While the game works and has some interesting aspects, it somehow lacks spark.  The exploration aspect is rather lifeless.  Generally, you are searching for a particular type of tile, and will often just keep sailing, looking, and sailing again.  This is actually a bit frustrating, especially when an opponent seems to find the tiles he is seeking quickly.   

Other aspects of the game are not as potentially frustrating, but again, seem to lack excitement.  While there is a race to achieve various victory conditions, the end can be anti-climatic.  Often, a player can sell numerous commodities to quickly acquire the gold needed, or simply get lucky in finding a needed outpost or trade agreement.  I found the ending unsatisfying. 

Anno 1503 is one of those games that is decent, but not spectacular.  For the most part, the mechanisms work fine, and it does present the players with some interesting decisions.  Unfortunately, there is nothing here that generates a high degree of excitement or challenge.  The game simply doesn’t rise above the “slightly above average” category.  The fact that it is limited to four players also limits its appeal.  As such, it is a game that has languished on my shelf for a long time, and its prospects for further play are bleak.

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