In the not too distant past was Essen Spiel, the board gamers holy land. The holy grail of all things cardboard and nerdy in Europe. I was tremendously lucky that despite not being able to go myself, I knew a few people that were going and managed to send them with a shopping list. Now, I like to think of myself as a pragmatic kind of guy, and I am by no means a rich person, and so the shopping list would have to be sensible… ish.
No word of a lie, my shopping list started at 54 games. At this point, I knew that sacrifices would have to be made, otherwise I was going to have to ship a whole container of games home, and as previously mentioned I am not a rich guy.
So, I had to go through the list several times, whittling it down to something which I would not have to rob a bank to purchase, or make my credit card company fall in love with me for. One of the games which narrowly missed out on the final list was Colony. It got down to the final 2 drafts, but fell at the last hurdle. Not through any fault of the game, but because it came down to the fact that I wanted other games more.
Since Colony made it so close to needing a passport to wing its way to my humble abode, I kept a very close eye out for it when it hit the shelves over here and now have a copy which I’d love to share my thoughts about.
If you’re interested in what I ended up with from Essen though, (even if you’re not, I’m going to tell you anyway since you’re pretty close to a captive audience) I got a great selection of small box games for a pretty sensible amount of money. I got Squirrel Rush, Not Alone, Kanagawa and Doodle China. None of which I regret in the slightest. I did try and get Terraforming Mars and a tower defense game called Portal of Morth, but both had sold out- more’s the pity. Still, if I manage to get either of those you could see a review for them in the future too!
If you’ve read any of my reviews before then you will know that I love a game with something unusual about it. Be it a theme or a mechanic, if it’s something out of the ordinary it will tick the right boxes for me straight off of the bat. If you haven’t read any of my reviews before, then why not? They’re really good. Go on ahead, I’ll wait.
The unusual thing about Colony is what it brings together. The aim of Colony is to build up your post-apocalyptic colony (not just a clever title right?) to be better and more useful than everyone else’s. To do this, you need to purchase and build new buildings, food farms, defenses and other such necessities. I appreciate this is nothing new, but what Colony does differently is that you have to use drafted dice to do all of your purchasing. This too is nothing new, but I have never seen both mechanics coupled together, or used as seamlessly.
More organised than Martha Stewart with OCD
For my last couple of reviews, I have been spoiled with how neat the components and box inserts are. In Dream Home for example, the box is a lesson in clever and neat looking storage. This was reinforced when I recently went back to have a look at Dead of Winter: The Long Night and realised that it looked like someone had put a banger in a box and just set it off to see what would happen.
This being said, the organisation inside the Colony box blasts every game I have ever seen completely out of the water. I appreciate that organisation doesn’t improve the way a game plays or anything like that, but if you can get it set up even a few minutes quicker, then that’s more time for playing games, and who doesn’t want that?
The box actually has a section for each card in the game which is labelled down the middle, and what you will not be able to see from the picture below is that all of the dice, and CHIPI’s (more on those later) are stored under the cardboard inventory list in the middle. Mind. Blown. I have never seen anything like it!
Also, in the interest of being a good reviewer, and in the name of science and lots of other really patriotic sounding things, I had to see how well organised the box stayed once you mess with it. Because… reasons. So, the first time I organised the box and put the dice in, I did what any explorer of new frontiers should do… shook it like a man possessed. Hey, don’t judge me. I’m just the kind of guy that’s willing to admit to it instead of doing it in private. You will be pleased to know, that even if you shake the box like a crazy person, everything stays in place. Yay!
Whilst talking about organisation I feel that there’s a necessary shout out to the quality of the components too. Nothing feels flimsy, and you can feel the quality of the cards and tokens as soon as you pick them up or punch them out. Coupled with that, the dice are of a really nice quality. They’re not cheap and nasty dice which you’d get in something like Steampunk Rally (Sorry Roxley Games, but we both know it’s true), and considering you handle them a lot, this was a wise decision on Bezier’s part. The white dice are well balanced and feel really good to handle, and the frosted dice are the same. Also despite being plain, they look really good and fit in with the theme really well.
At the beginning of each game, every player will receive their coloured starter Colony cards to enable them to build, exchange dice, upgrade and store their dice between turns. There are also 6 sets of cards to purchase for your Colony which are always the same in every game. There’s enough of each card for every player to have one. Once bought, these will generate a frosted die with a specific face when used. However, you also need to put out 7 other decks of cards to purchase and these can be chosen randomly or by choice and have a multitude of different effects.
Cards are purchased with the indicated pattern of dice shown on the top of the card. For example, to buy a GMO farm (which generates a 2 on a frosted dice) it will “cost” you 3 3’s and 2 2’s. Or to upgrade one of your purchased or pre-built buildings, you will need a 1, 2, 3 and 4. This will improve the effects of whichever building you choose. If for some reason you’re unable to purchase and build something for your Colony on your turn, you can trade your build action for a C.H.I.P.I (Cybernetic Holder of Instant Production Improvement in case you were wondering) which can be stored and traded in for a frosted die later on.
Once chosen or built, most of these Colony buildings will also generate victory points for you and the first person to a set amount wins. The amount of which is handily shown on the score tracker. There are many, many ways to get to the desired victory point limit, but most will include expanding your Colony in one way or another.
One important thing to mention is the difference between the 2 sets of dice. Thematically speaking, they are actually resources. They’re not resources as we’d know them because let’s not forget that this is the future, and because Science! The white dice are stable resources, and assuming you have the room for them, you can keep them between turns by putting them in your Warehouse. The frosted grey dice are unstable resources. These are the temporary “use ‘em or lose ‘em” resources.
One book to rule them all…
I am very reluctant to get too into the rules here as although they’re quite simple, I’m sure you’d much rather like to know what I think of the game than how to play it. You can check out the rules here. For the TL;DR of you: Draft dice, buy stuff, score points, make decisions, win*, rub it in the other players faces*.
Despite my slightly jaded TL;DR breakdown above, there is a lot to Colony. It has many layers of strategy and genuinely good gameplay. Even playing with the suggested starter set of cards to purchase, it opens up a lot of interesting choices; do I start off on the attack by buying a pirate and messing with the other players? After all, ransom is a legitimate strategy right? Do I upgrade my starter buildings early to try and make my life easier in the long run, saving dice and rewarding me with better things? Do I just wing it and see what Lady Luck throws in my direction? So many decisions! Not only that, the rule book also offers suggestions on how to tailor the kind of game you can have with changes to starter cards. You want to mercilessly mess with each other? We’re cool with that. Check out this list and see how you do. You want to be peaceful and hoard dice like a dragon hoards treasure? That’s cool too. Check these out. It is a real breath of fresh air to feel the love that the designers have put into it.
I won’t lie though. I was pretty worried when I played my first game that I’d suffer with other player down time and whilst it’s not too bad with 2 players, it is a small issue with a full player count. However, because these other people are out to get you, you need to be always checking on their strategy to see if it’s going to hurt you soon. There is a defense for each tactic of course, and is a lot of fun just finding out what it is.
There’s also sometimes a small amount of analysis paralysis because of the amount of decisions (or sometimes lack of decisions) you have to make for your Colony, and you’re not always able to see the options which are available to you from the offset. Also, despite the amount of manipulation you can do, it’s not always obvious what your dice can do for you and I have missed some good opportunities because of this.
Colony or Colon-y
See what I did there?
For me, I think there is a lot of strategy to Colony. It’s not your simple dice drafting and then building affair. There’s strategy to each and every different decision you make when setting the game up, and that right away gives you a tremendous amount of replay value. Couple that with the fact that you’re at the whim of several cuboids of evil and it’s going to force you to make split decisions and can often need throw the strategy you were hoping for out of the window.
Colony feels to me like a thinking man’s Yahtzee. At the end of the day, you’re still aiming to draft dice that work and will ultimately score you points, but you have to be really clever about it. I finished my first game feeling mentally exhausted because of the thinking I’d had to do; and whilst I didn’t win the next game, I trod a completely different path to the end, despite using the same cards. I think Colony is a great game and with the right bunch of people will see lots of table time. I give it a thoroughly deserved 7.5 upgraded Transmogrifiers out of 10.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.