Inside the Box: Conquest of Paradise

December 5, 2009

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Conquest of Paradise is a light game of civilization building in the Pacific Ocean circa 500 A.D. I first played it at the 2009 WBC, when the designer, Kevin McPartland, introduced it to a small group of us. I really enjoy this game’s exploration mechanics, and managed to pick it up for $16.00.

The contents of the game.

The box is sturdy and appealing, boasting a textured linen finish very different from GMT‘s usual high-gloss finish, and a beautiful painting of a Polynesian canoe. The back of the box shows off a few of the counters and boasts that you can “learn in 15 minutes and play in 60-90.” Now I learned how to play this game in 15 minutes, but that because the designer was teaching me.

The box is crammed with items, including a short rulebook and designer’s notebook, both printed in black-and-white. In my opinion, the rules are rather poorly written and organized. For instance:

A player’s Movement and Battle Step may begin with a Transit pre-move. If you have a Transport Canoe Chain, you may move as many of your Playing Pieces (Colonies, Warrior Bands, Transport Canoes, War Canoes, and Rumors) along it as far as you wish. Transport Canoe Chains have an unlimited capacity during Transit. However, any Transport Canoes serving as part of the Chain may not themselves move during this stage. A Transport Canoe Chain is simply a line of FACE UP Transport Canoes, with one Canoe in EVERY hex..(p. 5).

In the example above, the term “Transport Canoe Chain” is used before it is defined, which leaves the reader wondering, “Um, is this going to get defined?” Only a few sentences later do we learn what the heck it is. The designer’s handbook is pretty neat, however; it gives a concise explanation of every island and event in the game and how they are important to Polynesian history.  One thing sorely lacking in all this is an extended example of play, though.

The four player aids are printed on thick paper in black-and-white. They’re functional, but don’t draw the eye at all. Last, it seems there were a few items left out in the original print run because GMT’s Web site includes updated PDF copies.

27 “Arts and Culture” cards come with the game. These are standard GMT fare: an eye-catching, glossy back and clean text with functional illustrations on the front. I immediately put them in protective sleeves, as the glossy finish tends to get nicked and start to come off after a few shuffles.

Sample cards.

The game comes with two sheets of square cardboard counters (310 counters in all), and two sheets of large hexagonal cardboard map tiles. The map tiles are easy to punch out, hanging loose like Settlers of Catan tiles, but the square ones require more care. In my copy, they did not punch out easily, requiring the use of a thin box cutting blade and a nailclipper to cut off hanging corners. It was a pain, but I’ve had similar problems with some other GMT games. The art on the counters themselves is adequate, but not beautiful. One gripe I have is that the green and yellow players’ chits are so light in tone as to be almost indistinguishable except under bright direct light. This will cause problems for players with poor eyesight (like myself).

One half of the game's counters.

The map itself is thick cardstock along the lines of the original Twilight Struggle or Commands and Colors: Ancients board; it’s functional, but won’t grab someone’s attention from across the room. It requires the use of Plexi-glass or a poster frame, with the hexagonal map tiles laid on top.

Overall, I’d say the components are pretty middle of the road for a war game, and that Euro gamers will be a little disappointed with them. All the colors on the pieces and map are slightly washed out, when you’d think that a game about the Polynesian islands would be full of lush vegetative greens and deep ocean blues.

For $16.00, I can’t complain too much, however! The rules are short (though a bit difficult to read) and the game itself is pretty simple. Whatever small complaints I have with the components, I’m looking forward to sending out my canoes full of colonists and warriors and conquering paradise.

WBC, Day 5 continued: John’s Perspective

August 7, 2009

Well, it is 11:00 and I am sitting on the bed in our hotel room, chomping on a few Wheat Thins and looking back over the day. It was great fun! After Here I Stand, I bought the guys from my semifinals game a round of beer (oh, I will miss Yuengling back in MN), and then some of us settled in for a quick demo/pickup game of Conquest of Paradise. The designer, Kevin McPartland, came over and introduced us all to it, which was gracious of him. He has an immense enthusiasm for what the Polynesian people have done throughout history. This is a two to four-player game. It’s published by GMT, which is odd; it feels like a civilization-building type game, which is very out of character for them. After one play, I am impressed by the marriage of theme and mechanics, though the game feels a bit too short to me. Just as you are done exploring and are busy building up an army, it ends!

After we wrapped up, I got in a three-player game of Small World with Ted from the Here I Stand semi-finals and Tim, a random guy we met in the open gaming room. This was followed by another game with Russ and Noah. And this is when I snapped my eleven game losing streak! I don’t care if Russ had never played the game before and if Noah was ten years old. It doesn’t matter. I won.

I also managed to get in a demo of Dominion: Intrigue, a nifty little card game that feels collectible, but isn’t. It’s a fun brain-puzzler sort of game. You have to purchase cards and build a deck to amass victory points.

Later in the afternoon, Russ and I headed over to a conference room for a one-hour look at Virgin Queen, the “sequel” to Here I Stand. I’ll have a whole post on this in the near future, but suffice to say that it looks like it’s coming along nicely and will (once again) set a new standard for what can be done with card-driven games.

In the evening, we met up with Dennis from the Here I Stand tournament and Battlestar Galactica demo and created a team for the Wits & Wagers game show. I’d guess about 60+ people showed up, and there was a lot of good-natured heckling. I appreciated the chance to blow off a little steam and learn insane bits of trivia like…how many US states allow marriage between first cousins. (That’s sixteen, by the way. Land of the free and home of the…shrinking gene pool?) That got out around 9:30 PM, so we headed to open gaming for one! last! game! It ended up being…Small World. It’s a fun, light little game that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower. And after 12 hours of gaming, you’re no good for anything else.

Today went so well that we decided to essentially end on a high note. We’re sleeping in tomorrow, and will be taking one last lap around the vendors’ hall before heading out. More reflections on the WBC as a whole later on.