The Colonists Review - Long Term Storage

Before obtaining a game for review, naturally it's worth doing a bit of research into what other gamers and content creators have to say. You'll usually get a mix of mountain-top praising and horror stories from doing this, but having that information going in can be a great aid. It gives you aspects to look forward to, but also helps to mitigate that sense of disappointment if there's parts you don't like.

Most of what I heard about The Colonists seemed pretty appealling. It looks the business, it's essentially a resource management / civilization game (technically a colony, but same feel), which I tend to like and offered a lot of variety. Sounds pretty sweet so far. Then I noticed a more scary trend among the stories. 3 hours, 6 hours, anywhere up to 9 hours for a potential game length. My reaction to that was basically a homage to The Angry Joe Show....<slo-mo>..UP TO NIIINNNEEE HOOOURRRSS?!?!!

What on earth?! I'm not the biggest fan of games that outstay their welcome and rarely does any game justify more than 3 hours of my time to indulge in it. But six to nine?! I have other committments in life you know, chores, a job, a relationship, etc just like most people, it's not like it's easy to find nearly half a waking day to play a single game and even then that game has to not just be good, it has to be outstanding and keep me engaged the whole time. I hoped that it was simply a case of learning the ropes or maximum player count, which rarely is a good idea in any Euro game anyway (seriously why do some people play Through The Ages with 4 players, are you just insane?), because if these horror stories are true. . . .




Designer: Tim Puls
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Age: 12+
Players: 1-4
Time: Anywhere from 1 to 9 hours!
RRP: £69.99


Description from the publisher:
In The Colonists, a.k.a. Die Kolonisten, each player is a mayor of a village and must develop their environment to gain room for new farmers, craftsmen, and citizens. The main goal of the game is full employment, so players must create new jobs, educate the people, and build new houses to increase their population. But resources are limited, and their storage leads to problems that players must deal with, while also not forgetting to upgrade their buildings. Players select actions by moving their mayor on a central board.
The Colonists is designed in different levels and scenarios, and even includes something akin to a tutorial, with the playing time varying between 30 minutes (for beginners) and 180 minutes (experts).

ONE FOR THE "OCD" AMONG US


Mayfair typically do pretty well in the visual styling of their games and I was pleased to admit that The Colonists does deserve its price tag. You've got a ton of stuff in this box from cardboard resources and buildings to wooden meeples of different colours and types. The artwork on the tiles and cards is colourful and vibrant and very little looks dull with a pretty clear graphic design throughout. I would have liked wooden resources instead of titchy cardboard chits, which are a bit of a pain to use if you have big fingers, but that would have been a big price increase.

But be prepared for a painful introduction as if you try to keep this organised simply by using the bags provided, you're going to go mad. I would go as far to say it's a mandatory requirement for you to go out and purchase some Hobbycraft divider boxes depending what end of the world you're from and spend the time separating out the different buildings, resources and meeples. Trust me, your play experience will be greatly improved. Though the flip side is that if you decide you don't want the game, it's even less fun tipping the stuff out!

You've got several rulebooks to dig through but some are just reference guides, which do a pretty good job of explaining the different colony abilities and buildings. Expect to use these very often though as there's a lot going on here. There's quite a lot of rules to absorb including some fiddly bits on storage and when you can move workers around so I do recommend going through the introductory game first if you can. I chose to just get stuck into a 4 Era game from the get-go and that probably wasn't the best plan from a learning perspective. It's a heavy game and pretty much reserved for heavy gamers but I was expecting it to be much harder to comprehend.




SANDBOX COLONY

There's certainly a lot you can do in The Colonists and to begin with at least you'll never feel like you've got enough actions to achieve it all. When you get to the final Era sometimes you feel like you've done everything you can and nothing you do is that useful, but that depends how your strategy went. A lot of this is down to the map layout and the Colonies themselves. The timing of when the different map tiles appear has a big impact on what you can do and no map will ever be the same from game to game.

The best aspect I really like are the Colonies though. With 4 to start the game with out of a wide selection, the replay value here is high and every colony has very different special abilities to take advantage of. You really do have to decide between focusing on one all the way or spreading the love because you simply won't have time to maximise them all, but I love how utilising them can help define your path to victory. It's not that there's many ways to win exactly, but how you get there can vary a lot. One game a colony is allowing me to get a ton of storage space, in another I'm able to freely convert resources. I haven't had anywhere near enough games to ascertain if they are balanced, but certainly on first glance, some abilities seem much easier to take advantage of then others. Being able to freely convert between clay and wood as the Alchemist I'll vouch is far more user-friendly then being able to pop a Citizen into a farmer building on rare occasions with the Labourer.

I would have perhaps liked a bit more variety in the building types though. Most do pretty much the same thing, either producing a type of resource or generating money (which oddly you don't actually spend, it's just for victory points). Aside from a few unique ones on top, you just get a bunch of different embassy buildings which serve no purpose other than to show that you're using that ability level from a colony. They could have saved on production by not bothering with them really.

As sadly is the case with a lot of these kind of games, the player interaction is minimal. There are literally only two changes to the game for having more than 1 player. A couple of colony abilities key off another player's Steward and if you go to a tile with another player you have to pay a small resource fee. That's it. No really, that's it. Aside from that your opponents might as well not even be there at the table. You can't even trade with other players and this seemed like such a perfect opportunity to incorporate that.......but nope, just add another 1-2 hours to the game length per player.


STORAGE ISSUES. . . OTHER THAN THE GAME ITSELF!


Most resource management games will require you to think about what you need and when you need it, but The Colonists takes this to the next level with its storage system. Usually a game doesn't have a limit on how much you can store in resources or if it does, it's not too tricky to manage. The Colonists is unique in that it makes storage the whole crux of the game and I think it oversteps the mark in that regard, to the point where I'm not even convinced it's entirely keeping to theme, or if it is, it's going too far down that road to where it doesn't need to be.

Storage space is so limited to begin with and unless you focus a lot of your early efforts on improving this, you're going to suffer........a lot! There's so little room, yet everything costs so much to build and it's very fiddly having to re-arrange what's in your storage shed, what's in your warehouses and where your production lies constntly to the point of frustration. For some bizarre reason you're only allowed to spend resources from your storage, not your warehouses/buffers (production spaces). This is really limiting and doesn't even make any sense. Why can't I go grab some clay from that pit over there if I'm short, why do I have to have everything ready in advance in a shed like I'm James May organising my tools before I can build anything? Is it locked away and guarded by wild dogs? Constantly you'll be fighting the game because you want to build a cool theater and yet you don't have enough storage space to house every resource you need at one point in time. I'm pretty sure most construction that happens these days brings the resources in gradually over time. I'm pretty sure bricks can be stored outside if need be especially given as your entire house is made of bricks, it's just plain weird and feels like a forced restriction.

And because it's such a big deal, you're forced to spend time to get your storage space to as high as you possibly can regardless of what your strategy is and I don't like being pigeon-holed into things like that in what is meant to be a sandbox game. Try to survive with just a couple of basic storage sheds, I double dare you!! This aspect nearly drove me out of the game, it was that annoying and if you think it's going to tick you off also, stay well away. Some people are going to love this though as an extra aspect to manage well, but it doesn't make enough logical sense to operate like this for me.



YOU'RE PLAYING FOR A LITERAL ERA


Now the big elephant in the room. The Colonists is long........I mean REALLY long. To play your first game even on solo mode is going to take you into the region of 3-4 hours with the setup, rules checking, etc. Add more players and it just gets ridiculous. I've had reports from recent conventions where 4 players have played this game for 9 hours straight. That's an average of 2.25 hours per Era. In no reality would I say that's acceptable.

Now already I hear the keyboards typing the usual "our select Mensa group played this with 4 players in 10 minutes" argument, but let's be realistic here chaps. For a large proportion of players, this is going to be a 3+ hour game at minimum and with 3-4 especially if there is someone new, it's going to be go even further. If you're comfortable with that kind of length, that's great, you've got no worries. But any flaws that you find in a game will only amplify themselves in a lengthy game.

And it's not like you're fully engaged either for that time. Each player takes his 3 actions all at once so you might be sitting there a fair while before it's your turn and any remote amount of AP will make things worse, which given the pleathora of options here is easily triggered. The lack of significant player interaction is only made worse when playing for an extended time. Why would you want to play this for 7-9 hours when you could get the exact same experience for 2-3?

Now you can choose to play only 1-3 Era's instead of the full 4, which will certainly lower the time, but there's a catch. Playing one Era really doesn't give you much of a game in the overall context. So instead you would likely choose between Era's 1-2 and Era's 3-4. The first will be the quicker game, but you don't really build up to anything particularly epic. By that point you're lucky if you have a few farms, a couple pubs and a storage shed or two. In fact by the end of Era 1, you've pretty much grabbed some wood and clay. . . . whoo. . . . Now try the other option and you'll have a more involved game, but you lose that fun feeling of building up from scratch as your starting lineup is reduced to a "point-buy" system. The whole point of a fun civilization/farm building style game is to see yourself progress from start to finish, so naturally the more fun experience is to play all 4 Era's, but then you're going to be stuck there for a long, long time.

The Colonists is therefore one that needs to be tailored to your group. I doubt I would ever get it to the table frequently enough and for me, there's better competition out there for a similar style of game, but in a much shorter time frame. Caverna, Le Havre and Fields of Arle I can whip out and finish much quicker and get the same sandbox style game. The Colonists has more options than both of them I agree, but there's a limit to how long I want to spend trying out each one.



VERDICT ON THE COLONISTS


The Colonists is certainly a beast, but it's a great addition for those who really enjoy long-term based strategy games. Next to no luck and with plenty of potential options from the Colony abilities, which are easily the best aspect of the game, there's a solid amount of replay value to keep those gamers happy. The art/component quality is solid and colourful in typical Mayfair style, but be warned that you need a good organiser system to reduce setup time unless you want to literally go insane.

The emphasis on storage can also be not only really fiddly from a rules perspective, but also plain frustrating from an enjoyment take. In fact even though it's not the hardest game to learn, there's a lot of fiddly little rule nuances you have to keep reminding yourself of that you will more than likely get wrong constantly in your first game, which have game-changing implications.

Its biggest problem however is the time investment. This is a long game, and I mean LONG. Playing through 4 eras will take hours and hours even in solo mode and you'd have to be plain crazy to even attempt this in 3-4 player mode where games can surpass 6-7 hours yet there's next to no interesting player interaction. Any issues a player may have with the game will simply be amplified because you have to keep playing for longer. Other games in this style take far less time and offer a decent amount of variety already. Playing with less era's helps but that also removes a lot of the sense of build up or scale from the whole affair.

There's definitely a lot going for The Colonists and it's easy to see that there is genuinely a fairly decent game here. I like its look and feel, I like the variety it offers and over a full game there's a good sense of progression. But I'm never going to play it again. It's just far too long for what it is and the storage/interaction issues I have only get worse over time. Just because a game spans over generations, doesn't mean it has to take a generation to play. I certainly recommend you give it a try if this is your genre, but book some time off.





BROKEN RATING - 6 INADEQUATE STORAGE SHEDS





YOU WILL LIKE THE COLONISTS IF:


You want a game that rewards long term planning - in a 4 era game that is.


You like having a variety of setups and abilities at your disposal.


It looks visually appealing from the sheer amount of decent quality components.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THE COLONISTS IF:


You don't want a long game - this is too lengthy even on solo mode.


The constant hassle with storage will put you off - it can get very frustrating.


You don't like multiplayer solitaire - there's very little player interaction.


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