You know those games that really confuse you because you’re not quite sure what they are or what they’re trying to be. Having never played a game from Polish publisher G3 I didn’t know what to expect and the startling lack of prepositions in the game manual, errors in translation I assume, did not fill me with confidence. Enclave is one of those games that, from the unboxing and reading of the rules, I had no idea what to make of it or how I would feel playing it.
However, despite my misgivings I eagerly gave Enclave a try, and despite some clear flaws in the game I had a really good time playing it and I think its a solid example of its genre.
Post Unboxing – So What is this Game?
The first real confusion came from what I think is a major clash between theme and mechanics, the theme is very post-apocalyptic action style, with the goal of the game being to invade a special realm and skilfully avoid traps to steal pryzes and knowledge which you can trade in for cash and victory points. The mechanics however are all worker placement and number optimisation, so while you play you hardly feel the “edge of your seat” tension you think you would when what you’re doing in-game is putting your physical and mental well-being on the line in the dreaded realm of the masters.
So You’re Telling Me There’s a Tree?
Let me try and breakdown the theme of this game. You’re a Snatcher and it’s your job to ‘jump’ into the upper dimension, where the masters of brilliance went after causing the apocalypse. You do this by using special machines and you steal knowledge and precious artefacts from their realm to try and improve your life in the ruined world. That all makes sense, but the goal of the game, as the rulebook itself tells you, is to become the chosen of the sacred tree, ‘oooooo’. Why you ask ?
What the tree is, and why you should care, is not explained, at all, not even a little bit. The problem is that Enclave is based on a novel. I have no problem with games based on books, but Enclave chooses to use the exact same plot as the novel, but then not explain it at all. So since nothing in the game really tells you why you should care about the tree, its very hard to… well… care about what you’re doing on any thematic level.
There’s not even any nods to the book by way of flavour text on cards, or anything so there’s nothing really extra there for those who have read the book, other than some card names, and there’s a lot of confused people who haven’t read it.
So there’s a bit of an immersion problem, but hey it’s a worker placement game, they’re not usually the most immersive games but if the mechanics are solid then I’m willing to let that go and I would say Enclave has some very solid mechanics that make it interesting to play.
The Road to Victory – Climbing up the Tree
To win at Enclave you need the most victory points. There is an alternate route to victory, but its very clunky and personally I think its pretty pointless and the game would be better without it.
To get victory points you have to go to the tree (still don’t know why) to trade in knowledge tokens. Knowledge tokens are acquired by completing missions, as are pryze cards which can be upgrades to you or your machine or can be sold for money to spend at the shops. You usually buy upgrades but can also get healing items. The harder the mission the more knowledge and pryzes you get.
Mission difficulty is based on how much damage it does and how many trap cards you have to draw; the more trap cards then the more potential damage you have to avoid by spending items in your hand.
As I said earlier, its a worker placement game but not quite as you might know it. In most worker placement games there are several spots to go to. Each spot lets you obtain different resources, spend or trade resources for items/other resources, or acquire victory points. Usually, each space can only have a limited number of players, in the form of workers, on it at any given time, often only one, however that’s not true of Enclave. Each player can use every space each round if they so choose. This makes it very hard to stop other players getting access to what they want each round. The key then in Enclave is to force the other players to go to spaces before they’re ready or not at all. I’ll explain how shortly but first a quick rundown of the spaces on the game board.
The Spaces & the Turn
Shaman– gets you a small amount of money with no risk.
Oracle – sets order of play for the next round and lets you peek and rearrange the tops of game decks.
Maggot’s Outlet – lets you buy healing items and upgrades for your body.
Knives Square – lets you buy trap dodging cards and upgrades for both your body and your machine.
Boarding into the enclave – where you go to attempt missions for knowledge and pryzes, the most important spot.
The tree– always resolved last and where you trade in knowledge for victory points and has different special actions each game and even every round.
Each player gets to choose 4 areas to use each round one area at a time and if you choose to use an area before someone else does you get to use it before they do, but importantly you can’t stop someone using an area, they will always get to, even if it is after you have used it, but you get better bonuses for using it first.
The Best Thing about Enclave – Why You Should Play this Game
Enclave’s big win for me is that each round, the order in which areas resolve is decided anew by the players. There are 5 spots, and 5 order tokens. At the start of each round the players, in turn order, take it in turns to select a numbered order token (1-5), and then take it in turns to place them next to areas, which then dictates the order in which areas resolve.
The tree is the exception and is always resolved last, but… the tree has different action spots and you can only go to the one that corresponds to the current round – unless you have special tree tokens, another mission reward. This means that timing when you go to the tree is very important because each spot can only give out 10 points total over the course of the game and the extra action that the tree gives you changes each round!
As a result, and with clever timing, you can screw over everyone else in the game at once by forcing other players to use an area before they get to visit anywhere else. They may even end up skipping it altogether if they’re not ready, meaning you can steal the advantage on any turn! The reordering of everything means you really start to think about the player order, the order in which you want to visit areas, and what order you think other people will visit them. It really all becomes about timing when you want to move up the player order, and when you want to time your area use vs what you think other players area use will be.
It becomes tenser and more exciting wondering what moves the other players will force you to make and what moves you can force them to make. Enclave is worker placement with a lot of clever action manoeuvring, instead of just fighting over a couple of spots.
Trimming the Branches…
Look guys, I know the tree stuff is getting a bit wooden but trust me the jokes are as sturdy as an Oak.
At its core, Enclave plays well but there are some extra frills and tassels that honestly they just shouldn’t have bothered with. The worst offender is the alternate win condition. If you get 4 tree tokens, you win instantly. As mentioned earlier you get tree tokens as mission rewards, really only from the hardest missions, and usually only one mission a round has one available as a reward, and the more tree tokens you have the more spots on the tree you can visit so the more points you have access too. Basically if you’re getting tree tokens you’re winning normally anyway, so there’s no point.
All the extra rule does is make players aim for something they might not get and play in unexpected ways, a real hassle when a lot of the game revolves around predicting what your opponents are going to do. There’s already a lot of options in how you play each round, there doesn’t need to be options in how you win.
Other examples of unnecessary guff in the game is how missions become harder if you have really low health (they’re already incredibly hard at this point) and how they become easier is you have really high health (already a lot easier at this point), there’s one spot on the tree, that might not even turn up in setup since the tree has different options each game, that can let you go on missions with other players which sounds fine but its actually really really complicated. That should have either been a constant easy rule or not included at all.
With these little, unneeded, extras – It feels like they were trying to do a bit too much and they could have made it a bit smoother and simpler to understand by not bothering with some of them… That said, underneath it all the turns do play out consistently well and the game is fun to play!
What Does Enclave Need to Grow? – Player Powers
If you asked me what I wanted in an expansion for Enclave I’d tell you my first thought when I looked at the character cards ‘oh so they’re all the same then…’
There’s absolutely no difference mechanically between the 4 character cards, which is a bit of a shame really. I’m someone who really enjoys asymmetric player powers and I think that it would really spice up the gameplay. Without them it could get to the point where you and your playgroup keep going for the same strategy and play patterns. Player powers would force you to do things differently to everyone else.
I Enjoyed Enclave – But Should You Get This Game?
At the end of the day, Enclave is a game for people who like strategic timing in their games. Its all about timing when you use areas, when you move up the player order so you can control what areas happen when. The theme is pretty weak if you ask me, I didn’t really get it and although I think the art and the novel its based on look and sound cool, the game doesn’t really get them across well due to lack of explanation and flavour text.
Ultimately, Enclave plays well! There’s some tension in what cards will appear in the shops and what traps you’ll draw on a mission. The traps are all varying damage amounts, no special events or anything, so there’s only so much tension.
If you like worker placement games, I would certainly recommend Enclave but advise that if you find a rule a bit too much of a pain to deal with… Just don’t bother… just do missions normally, get knowledge, then get points… It plays perfectly fine just like that and even the recommended first play set up is plenty deep – strategically speaking.
If you’ve never played the genre before then I’d say its best to start with a crisper worker placement game with a little bit less going on, for example Stone Age. All in all though, I would say Enclave is a solid worker placement game with some interesting mechanisms that are different to the norm. It’s worth playing and owning despite its flaws. (Seriously… Why is there a tree? Honestly I don’t get it!)
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I’m Dan and I spend my life gaming. When I’m not writing about games or recording the Order of the Dan Podcast I’m either working with games, demonstrating games to people, competing in Magic the Gathering Tournaments or just playing board / card / video and role play games with friends. Originally hailing from Teesside I now live in Leeds but often find myself about the country attending tournaments and conventions and gaming at them so if you see me around please do come and say hi.