Boardgame Reviews

Colony Board Game Review – It’s Another Apocolypse

dsc_0718Designed by: Ted Alspach, Toryo  Hojo, N2
Published by: Bezier Games
Players: 2-4
Playtime:  45+ Minutes

Copy supplied free of charge by Esdevium Games for review.

There’s something weirdly satisfying about rolling dice. For something so simple and small they sure can bring a lot of joy to your life. The fact that Colony revolves around dice, then, gives it an immediate +1 awesomeness in my book. Looks take a look at this dice-drafting, engine-building game from Bezier, shall we?

The idea is that you’re in some sort of post-apocalyptic setting some eighty years after a disaster has befallen the planet and have to  construct a new colony from the available resources, as represented by dice. A one is scrap metal, for example, while a six is much more valuable uranium. And…no, that’s it. To be honest, Colony may as well not have any theme. It’s incredibly tacked on, even down to the fact that there’s no custom dice, just standard ones where the numbers represent the resources. All you really need to know is that the first one to score enough victory points by building up their colony of cards wins.

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Each player gets given the same basic starting cards for their personal colony; a warehouse to store up to six dice between turns; a construction crane that can be used to build one new card per turn or to gain a CHIPI; a market where two dice of equal value can be exchanged for one dice of any value; and an upgrade card that let’s you flip any card, including your starting ones, over to their advanced side which provides better benefits and more points

With the starting cards laid out each player rolls three dice and then stores those in their warehouse. These will be your starting resources, the foundation on which you’ll begin working on what will hopefully be a game-winning colony.

Every turn starts by grabbing all the dice out of your warehouse and then going scavenging, which means taking three more dice from the general supply and rolling them. You then select one of the rolled die to keep for yourself, before passing the rest over to the next player who does the same. In a two player game the first player gets to take the last die for themselves as well. This is where a lot of the player interaction in Colony comes from, because by watching what your opponents are up to you have a chance to deny them key dice or take what you need.

Then comes the interesting part; the activation phase and spending of the dice. To build something you just activate your construction crane by turning it sideways, put the dice matching those listed on the desired card back in the general supply, take the card and put it in front of you. Easy. You’ve just built a Uranium Mine, or a Fallout Shelter or some other weird building. Congratulations. You’re not as daft as you look.

So what exactly can you build? At the start of the game six stacks of basic cards will be laid out on the table. These are available every time you play and mostly serve to generate new resources in the form of unstable die every turn. Unstable die? These dice are a smoky grey color and represent elements that breakdown at the end of the turn, thus when you get an unstable die or dice you have to spend them on that turn or they are gone, unless you happen to have picked up a card that lets you convert them into stable white die. Exactly how scrap metal can be unstable is beyond me. Or you could always upgrade them by activating the upgrader  card and spending a one, two, three and four to flip it over to its advanced side which produces stable die every turn instead.

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Unstable dice is where the CHIPI tokens come in, too. You gain a token for not adding any cards to your colony this turn, or two tokens if you happen to have upgraded your construction card. Speaking of which, importantly upgrading cards does not count as construction. These tokens can be exchanged at the scavenging stage for roll unstable dice as well, which you get to keep.

Below the six starting stacks  go seven piles of cards randomly drawn from the box so that every game is different. In each pile is as many cards as there are players, so if there’s three people playing that each pile will have three cards. Importantly, though, there is no limit on how many of these cards players can actually build, so if you want you could buy all three Tweakers for yourself you can. You dick.

Cards do a few different things, but almost of all them give you one or two victory points simply for being built. Others, such as the Fallout Shelter give you a single victory point, but if you build a second one they’ll give you three points, and so on. Plus there’s an Investment Bank where a single die is placed on it which increases in value every turn up to a maximum of six points. And then there are a number of cards that can be used to tweak die results as well, such as one that lets you increase or decrease a die by one point which can be quite handy. It also happens to turn unstable resources into stable ones in the process.

In fact there is quite a few cards that let you exchange dice or alter existing ones in a bid to get what you actually need. A transmogrifier, for example, let’s you re-roll a dice, while its upgraded form lets you re-roll as many as you want. Meanwhile, the exchange post acts as another supply exchange in that you can swap two dice for one stable die of your choice. All in all there are five sets of cards that let you re-roll, alter or somehow change your available resources. This plus the fact that during the scavenging phase you get to roll three dice and thus have a reasonable chance of getting something useful are obviously attempts to combat the fact that this is a very luck heavy game, and for the most part it works.

Other cards offer the ability to trade and even attack the opposing players, bringing some extra player interactivity into a game that could otherwise be in danger of encouraging people to disappear into their own little worlds. The Guest Quarters are a good example, letting any player initiate a trade with someone else, and then also allowing both parties to gain one stable resource, adding another way to get the resources you want rather than having to wait for them. On the flipside offensive cards such as the pirate gives you the chance to steal from other players. To combat this there are some defensive cards like chain link fences and production shields to pick from that let you block incoming attacks.

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Finding effective combinations is important, then. There’s a reasonable amount of engine building in Colony, which is to say picking cards that will work together well and hopefully lead to victory.  Of course, the emphasis on building up a colony that has good synergy means initial setup is very important. The game therefore suggests that you actually balance the variable cards by choosing one set from each of the categories of card type rather than just randomly picking what to include, otherwise you may end up with cards that have no synergy at all. It’s because of this that there’s also  a free app that will generate randomized but balanced setups, and you can even go into the options and make certain cards more or less likely to appear. It works really well, and I’d highly recommend you use it.

The problem for me, though, is that building the engine takes very little thought. The cards that will work together are obvious, and because there aren’t that many of them there typically is not many paths to victory. I witnessed many players attempting to really consider their moves in advance, but frankly they did no better than those who just played it turn by turn, simply buying whatever was available for the dice they had at hand.

It’s not exactly a pretty game to look at thanks to its predominantly black and white color scheme. There’s the occasional splash of something more vibrant, mainly a garish orange, but it’s not enough to liven it up. Nor is the artwork exactly inspiring stuff. The same goes for the dice which could really have been improved with custom icons to match the resources rather than plain numbers. Toss in a point track that’s a bit small and you’ve got a game that feels a bit cheap.

With a roughly 45-minute playtime Colony doesn’t overstay its welcome, expertly judging the right amount of time it takes to finish a match. However..I found it be completely boring, to be honest. I feel somewhat bad for saying it because it seems there are plenty of people who really enjoy Colony, as a quick browse of the Board Game Geek forums will tell you.. But to me it’s a pretty standard dice drafting game, and waiting around to roll the right results is tiresome. Yes, there are cards that help mitigate the luck factor, but regardless it’s still less about strategy and more about simply using whatever results you rolled. There are few important choices, either, because very rarely will the dice you have allow you to buy more than one or two things on the table. Out of the six or so games I played there were only a couple of times when I had to really think about what to purchase. The rest of the time there was only one option and patiently waiting to get the right numbers in order to get something else was rarely worth it.

Does that mean I think Colony is a bad game? Nah. Mechanically it’s solid enough, but I just didn’t enjoy it. Maybe it isn’t for me. Personally, then, I’d recommend saving your money for something else.

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