ANNO 1800: Playthroughs and Review

We’ve been enjoying our recent two player plays of Anno 1800, the new game from famed designer Martin Wallace and published by KOSMOS. In Anno 1800, players harness the sailing ships of the late 19th century to help produce the goods that they need to increase the prestige of their newly discovered island village.

Let’s start with our first impressions. Tonnere mes chiens, there are a lot of tiles in this game!

Get ready to punch out cardboard for days before you will be ready to set the game up. (And yes, I know that probably just juiced up the envie for a lot of faithful readers who love punching out cardboard.)

Once we had all of the tiles sorted and on their appropriate spots, it was time to start producing some goods. That’s the focus of this game: out-and-out-no-apologies-needed-tech-tree-style production.

But Anno 1800 has a different way to approach the resources you need to build upgrades to your colony, or just as importantly, to increase the capabilities of your ship building enterprise. Instead of resources piling up and spilling everywhere, players have cubes representing the production of items off the tiles on their board.

Essentially, players will start with the basic building blocks that every successful venture needs right there on their board, and then move to ever more complicated items in a spider web of upgrades. It’s like playing Age of Mythology, but as a grand industrialist instead of a Greek god.

By focusing on the use of cubes as the citizens to represent the production side of the tile, rather than cubes as what was produced, Wallace has essentially kept the focus on the people that are helping you increase the prestige of your island. Plus, there really is no set way to plan the upgrades. Even though it the tile set of buildings is large, each building’s output is unique and yet you only need generic cubes to represent their production. Ingenious.

But, enough talk about the how, we need to touch on the why. Each player starts out with a small group of nine hardy citizens, represented by cards in each player’s hand. Each of the cards can be played on a player’s turn to the tableau for bonus effects, if you have the right requirements. Matching the right resources on the citizen cards to the buildings in your tableau is the puzzle of the game, and so far, it has not gotten old in the slightest.

The cards not only represent your citizens, waiting to expand and improve the efficiency of the little island outpost, but they also represent the timer in the game. The first player to have zero cards in hand triggers the final round of the game. This will mainly come by playing the cards in hand through the matching-the-resources mechanic we looked at earlier, but there are other ways to get rid of cards. Best keep an eye out on the other player — just because they have two or three cards in hand, doesn’t mean you have a lot of time to waste.

But even more diabolical is the fact that the best way to spin up the efficiency of your island is to counter-intuitively add cards to your hand. Strange? Yes, but juicy and delicious at the same time. Some of the actions actually put cards — i.e. more citizens — into your hand, making your hand larger, pushing the end game potentially farther away, and yet giving you even more citizens to boost up your island’s productivity. Ingenious, part two!

Like any engine builder, knowing when to take a few cards that can help you build a better engine and knowing when to put your tableau into gear and start producing what you need to play all of your cards is that crunchily gumbo-rific decision in the game that makes me think about its processes long after game night wraps up. We’ve gotten a few really good two player games under our belt, and I cannot wait to try it at three players because that would seem to be a sweet spot to playing it.

Some gamers will deride this as yet another euro-solitare game, but that’s not entirely fair. Yes, the game is built on the back of an IP, a very popular PC game from Ubisoft, so at times, it can feel like your only concern should be what is happening on your board, (almost like it is disconnected from the internet and you are playing against an AI.) But, scratch that surface even a bit, and we see that there are lots of little interactions that make it more of a Euro+ in my mind.

For instance, players that don’t have the right resources on their board might want to look at other’s boards with less envy and more guile, and just borrow that resources. That’s not cheating at all, it’s built right into the game. It’s that old adage we see in 50’s prime time sitcoms: good lagoons make good island neighbors.

All that’s required is that the bank provide the borrowed player a coin in remuneration, and with coins being so useful, that’s a juicy tiny little decision that bears some thinking through. Plus, players must keep an eye on the tile board, especially if there is a powerful character in their hand that they want to join their island as a craftsman or worker. If someone else grabs that tile before the player does, they will end up donating a lot of gold the rest of the way.

I’m making this sound like a souped up Gizmos or Splendor or Century: Spice Roads, I know. This is a full throated medium weight game, so obviously there is more to the depth and appeal of Anno 1800 than just figuring out which way to chain up your production to get better buildings to match increasingly more powerful citizen cards. I know, I know. There are the obligatory end game scoring cards that are randomized each game. There are ways to upgrade your island outpost including adding more territory to add even more buildings or build even more impressive shipyards, which generate you more ‘nuggets’ in the form of tokens that can allow you to explore more territory. Interlocking systems built upon integrated actions. It’s all there.

And sure, these are the complexities that make Anno 1800 the interesting puzzle that it is.

But, I’m looking at what attracts me to this game, not just the sum of its parts. What’s funny is that I knew nothing about the PC game or this game other than the design pedigree and the gorgeous sailing ship on the cover before we ever opened the box.

And yet…even without having that built in impression, for good or for bad, I find myself thinking about my recent plays. What could I have done better? How soon should I recruit more citizens to the island? How fast should I upgrade my ability to build bigger and better ships? How many cards is too many, and how many is too little?

That’s the mark of a game that will stay on my “to play” shelf a long time.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ from Board Game Gumbo

A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher.

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