Portsmouth On Board is my local haven for board-gaming. Always a place where I’m guaranteed to get one of my new games to the table. Especially when it’s the new hotness in the Cult of the New.
This is good news for myself, who has been on a bit of a binge-buying rampage lately. Trying to catch up on the gaming hobby, while filling up my new EXPEDIT shelf. A good Civilization game was missing from my collection so I grabbed Nations based on BGG recommendations. Didn’t take long to get more than the maximum number of players interested, but eventually it was whittled down to myself, my friend Jim, Nigel from GamesQuest (despite best efforts :-P) and Jez.
So what did I think of Nations… After Playing One Game?
Quick Guide to Nations Rules – This game plays much in a similar way to Through the Ages, another game I’ve recently acquired, but yet to try out, but incorporates a simple worker placement mechanic. Everyone starts off with a basic Nation ranging from Greece to Persia to China and receives a player board depicting starting buildings, workers and available spaces for future upgrades. Players can opt to instead use the reverse side, which differentiates each nation with alternative buildings, special abilities and even a difference in the number of available upgrade spaces and workers.
The game plays through four ages with two rounds in each age. During each round, every player takes actions in turn which include:
- Putting a worker to use on a building or military space to improve military strength/civil stability or gain resources
- Constructing a stage of a Wonder using architects (a resource in short supply issued each round)
- Purchasing a Progress card
The Power…Of the Progress Cards!!
The bulk of Nations revolves around a board where rows of Progress cards are laid out, much like in Through the Ages. These come in a wide variety of types, from historical advisors, battles, colonies, building upgrades, military upgrades, Wonders and more. Players will purchase these cards using gold, depending on how they wish to develop their Nation and each one will produce a different effect. A few for example’s sake are:
- Buildings (upgrade an existing building for your workers to use)
- Battles (gain resources based on the level of military technology you have, such as food, stone and books which is like heritage points)
- Advisors (grants a special action or resources for your Nation, but you’re limited to one)
- Wonders (a multi-stage building that has to be constructed after which you gain a special bonus)
As each round plays out, players are seeking to acquire resources to allow their Nation to flourish, but also to maintain a level of military strength and/or civil stability, So that they are not penalised by wars that can break out (another type of Progress card). Events occur each round that act as objectives for players to achieve, to gain points or to avoid losing resources.
By the end of the game the winner is (you’ve guessed it) the player with the most victory points by having the most prosperous Nation.
Nations Components…Colourful and Artistic!!
In general, Nations is very colourful and artistic, but we’re not talking top grade here. The artwork is of the “hand-painted” kind and while I think it’s perfectly functional and nice to look at, it gets a few divisive opinions from other gamers. It does the job of showing the player what it does, but it’s not going to win any graphic design awards.
Everyone gets a player board . . . . well when I say board, it’s actually thick flexible cardboard. It would have been nice to have had a proper solid wooden board, but it’s not liable to damage, so it does the job I guess. The cards themselves are adequate, but because you only have to shuffle the decks at the start of the game and they’re mostly laid out on a board during the game, sleeving isn’t a major concern, which coming from me is saying something, as I’m usually a compulsive sleever.
Gameplay…Smooth and Variable as Ruling a Nation!!!
The game runs very smoothly as each action is played out in turn, so the downtime is kept reasonably low for a Euro game, although players with AP can hold things up still. Our four player game, not including rules explanations didn’t take any longer than most Euro games at around 3 hours, taking AP into account. It’s certainly not a short game by any means, but then find me a proper Civilization game that is, with four players. Reduce the player count and the game flies by. You try playing Through The Ages with 3+ players in that time, I dare you!
The sheer variety is where this game excels. There are a LOT of Progress cards that are laid out in round but you have a separate deck for each Age – the same applies to the Event cards to which only two appear in each Age. Even in a four player game (as the number of cards used is player-dependent) we only used half a deck per Age, meaning no game is ever going to play out the same.
Adjust to reflect your Gaming Experience
Everybody’s starting Nations board game is unique. If you use the “B” side and as the game plays on, you really do feel that your Nation is unique to the others and it’s amusing to watch when some civilizations struggle, mean as that can be (sorry Jez!). What’s really cool, is that you can even adjust the difficulty settings for individual players that have had more or less experience in gaming – a concept that is not seen enough in games, but really should be particularly in Euro’s.
The game is slightly solitaire-ish as you can’t directly attack someone else’s Nation, but with the War cards you can affect the other players who haven’t managed to obtain enough strength or stability to handle the effects of the war. The Progress cards are also limited (no more than 1 copy of ANY card in this game) so naturally there’s a lot of “Arrgg you took the card I wanted” banter going around.
It’s going to burn the brain at times though, with the amount of decisions you need to make every round. Do I get more resources, do I improve my military units, should I grab that Advisor before Jim steals him, Oh No a war has started – should I increase my civil stability to compensate, do I have enough food to sustain additional workers, can I grab some bonuses on the Event this round . . . . . the list goes on and on, and that’s one of the things I like best so far. You have a plethora of options to consider and you can never get them all done fast enough, so you have to pick your battles and be as efficient as possible with your resource management, of which no resource is taken lightly, they’re all essential.
Verdict…You Won’t Regret having Nations in Your Collection!!
I’ve yet to try out the Solitaire variant (yes you can play against a shadow player in this game!), but as a group game based on first impressions, I don’t regret buying this at all. Nations is detailed and streamlined game that doesn’t take an eternity to play like TTA, but provides a great deal of replay-ability, multiple decisions every turn and feels like a solid Civilization game for my collection that ticks all the boxes. . . . minus a map, but you can’t have everything!!).
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.