Posted by: gschloesser | July 15, 2011

Cannonball Colony

Design by:  Phil Harding
Published by:  Adventureland Games
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

NOTE:  This review first appeared in Counter magazine. 

Cannonball Colony by designer Phil Harding – the man who brought us Archaeology: The Card Game – is not a study in folks getting along.  Rather, it presents the scenario wherein four different countries intent on colonization land simultaneously on an island.  Rather than negotiate territorial rights and boundaries, conflict is inevitable.  Sadly, in this regards, the story presented all too often loosely reflects historical reality. 

Cannonball Colony abstractly depicts this situation.  Up to four players represent countries expanding their network of forts and cannons on a small, isolated island.  The island is formed by four 6×6 boards, with each square depicting grasslands, forests, mountains and lakes.  Players each have ten forts, two cannons and a blockade.  The components are very basic, and consist of plastic squares, blocks, cubes and pyramids. 

Each turn, a player has several options, the most common being the placing of one or two neutral road tiles.  Roads may not be constructed on mountains or lakes.  Alternatively, a player may construct one of his forts on an empty road tile.  Forts must be connected by roadway to a player’s ship, or one of his previously constructed forts.  There can be no opponent’s fort or blockade blocking this path, and the newly constructed fort cannot be in the same row or column as an opponent’s cannon.  Mountains and blockades do provide cover, however, so constructing behind one of these obstacles is a wise move.  Further, a player’s fort must be located at least three spaces away from any of his other forts.  Mountains and lakes serve as blocks when performing this calculation, so the connected pathway must go around these obstacles.  These simple placement rules are what make the game a challenge. 

Players also have two cannons that they can install during the course of the game.  Cannons become available after a player has constructed his third and sixth fort.  Cannons are also installed on empty road tiles, and cannot be in the “line of sight” of an opponent’s cannon.  Again, mountains and blockades block line of sight.  Cannons are particularly nasty, as at the beginning a player’s turn, he may destroy an opponent’s fort that rests in the line of sight of one of his cannons.  Once cannons begin being installed, the game takes an ugly turn, and the construction of forts becomes more difficult.  The challenge is to place the forts in positions so as to make fort construction by your opponents difficult, while securing safe places on which to erect your own forts. 

Blockades are the final piece that can be constructed, but this one piece does not become available until after the player has constructed his eighth fort.  Blockades are generally used to block the line of sight of an opponent’s cannon and can help provide a safe location or two for the construction of forts.  

The ultimate objective of the game is to be the first player to construct all ten of his forts, at which point victory is achieved.  The game can also conclude when the final road tile is placed, in which case the player who has constructed the most forts is victorious.  Ties are resolved in favor of the player who has constructed the most forts outside the boundaries of his starting board.  Generally, the game plays to conclusion in about 45 minutes. 

Cannonball Colony is a game of placement.  The board is limited in size, and as the road network develops and more forts and cannons are constructed, placement options become more and more limited.  So, players must carefully place tiles and forts in order to maximize their placement options.  Cannons are a constant source of worry, and players must resist the temptation to place them too early, as they cannot be moved once placed.  It is wise to hold back a cannon in order to thwart an opponent’s plans, and to open-up space for your own fort placements by destroying opponent’s forts.  On the other hand, placing cannons early may prevent your opponents from placing their cannons so as to threaten your placements.

The abstract nature of the game will likely be a source of displeasure for some, as the thinking and planning involved is endemic to many abstract games.  I admit that I prefer a game that has more options and a more rounded storyline.  Still, I find Cannonball Colony to be quite challenging.  The small size of the board really does limit a player’s viable options, so a premium is placed upon using the space optimally.  There is a persistent danger, however, that a poor placement can cripple a player as the game develops by severely limiting his future placement options.  In that sense, the game can be fairly unforgiving when an error is made. 

The game is certainly worth a look, particularly by those who tend to enjoy abstract placement games.  It likely won’t be popular with mainstream European-style gamers, or perhaps those who prefer American style conflict games.  That does eliminate a lot of folks, but there should be enough folks remaining to accommodate the game’s limited print run.  I hope so, as the game is deserving of an appreciative audience.

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