In 1995, Klaus Teuber released Settlers of Catan, a Euro game that revolutionized the board gaming world. The game is almost 20 years old and already played by most board gamers worldwide and had once become one of the obvious choice for Christmas present by a lot of families over the world. Many other board games were inspired by it and take some mechanics of the game and also improve it more and more. The game itself applies the core mechanic of dice rolling with hand management, networking and also trading. This is a new and fresh approach to the game system that everyone know about at the time (looking at Monopoly, Game of Life and Risk). It gives a more friendly approach with interesting play for families and friends. Roll and move had become boring and stale at the time, creating a mindset that player’s actions dictate by the result of the dice. Direct conflict has become more and more responsible for conflicts in relationship. Settlers of Catan offers an interesting decision factor in more friendly situation for casual gamers (at the time). In 2011, Henri Kermarrec released Wiraqocha, a board game with the similar aspects found in Settlers of Catan. I found the game from boardgamegeek and don’t know why I just hooked. I ordered the game aside from the game’s rank on boardgamegeek and users’ feedback. I like the presentation of the game. So what kind of game is this? A Settlers of Catan copycat? Not a chance.
1. The Theme
I do not know how to classify the game, into Euro or AT but it has both styles in it. It surely has a good portion of theme and background story to give the game a good sense of flavor. The game takes place in an alternate world where England found a new and secret entrance to the long lost realm of Wiraqocha. It’s like Atlantis but it’s Wiraqocha. In this game, the Queen of England delegates several conglomerates to share the land and reap the benefits for her. So player will be those conglomerates and compete to be the first that complete one of the three objectives given. So it’s basically a race game, the first one to complete an objective win, simple. There are three objectives within the game, by collecting 4 relics throughout the land you will unlock the secret treasure of Wiraqocha, which I bet gonna make the queen very, very happy. The second objective is the collect a number of Somnium crystals that prove to be very powerful energy that can affect matter and even time. The third one is to acquire enough scientific knowledge to build Leviathan, a war machine based on the ancient and lost technology of Wiraqocha’s civilization.
2. The Artworks
The game has nice looking arts that really popped out throughout the game. The arts on the land tiles, cards and sticker tokens really show it nicely and perfectly integrated with the time and style of the theme. The artist that made this work of art was Yuio, a great artist who also behind the artworks of Karnag, Rockwell and Takenoko. Artworks in Wiraqocha has a strong conceptual feeling and not particularly set for main stream audiences, the design concept of the buildings and inventions are unique, different from common sense and also strange and alien from the normal idea of them, which can be found easily on the Juggernaut, Flying Fortress, Transport Tunneler, Android Explorer, Battle Exoskeleton, Mechanical Miner and more.
3. The Components
The game comes in sturdy box with 12x9x2 inches dimension, which was chosen perfectly by the publisher to store all the game components nicely, no extra space issue (I still think the expansion would also fit into the base game box, but I don’t have it so not much a reliable info). The game comes with wooden discs and punch-board tiles, 11 6-sided wooden dice, some cards, some cubes and crystals, 22 hex tiles and stickers for the wooden discs. The game components are top notch, good quality card stock material for the cards (it’s okay not to sleeve the cards, because you won’t get to shuffle the cards often in a game). My copy of the game had bad production wooden discs (some of them were cracked) but replacements were quickly sent by the publisher, thumbs for Sit Down! Games. The stickers could be better in color contrast aspect and paper material, it’s in matte finish, glossy should be better but can’t complain it’s still good. The rulebook is printed on a fine paper stock material, one of the best rulebook quality I have ever seen. The dice material could have been better, instead they’re using wood for it (I know it suppress the cost) which really lack the feeling of accomplishment when rolling them (maybe it’s just me).
4. The Game Play
To play the game, players need to assemble the hex tiles to form the land (you can choose to form it randomly or using predetermined setup from the rules. The designer suggests to use the predetermined setup for first time play (the friendly landscape for new players). Shuffle the cards and draw 4 cards face up. The game starts from the first player clockwise. Each player chooses a color and take all wooden tokens (units) with his corresponding color. These wooden tokens / discs are player’s units, there are 7 unit discs in total per player, 1 Base Camp, 2 Zeppelins, 2 Drills and 2 Explorers.
The Base Camp token
Imagine this token as the main camp or headquarter for your expedition. You need this unit presents on the game board in order to take other actions. The unit’s sticker has a 5 value pips symbol that referring to the natural protection of the Base Camp. This means, the unit has a natural protection with a value of 5. During the first turn, players must firstly place this unit onto the game board before taking any other actions. On the next turns, player then can place another units onto an adjacent tile (conquering a tile) and / or move the existing unit (including the Base Camp) to any tiles on the board.
Each player has 2 Zeppelin tokens at their disposal. This Zeppelin units are used to enter a Mountain tile (white), the other units cannot enter / conquer mountain tiles. So the only way to place a unit / conquer a mountain tile is by using Zeppelins. Of course, thematically, Zeppelins are airborne units, and thus it can only be attacked by another Zeppelins, but it can attack ground unit as well (think of Zeppelin unload bombs and such). And another crucial advantage of this unit is that this is the only unit that can deploy other units into mountains. Players may “disgorge” one or more of their Zeppelin(s) during the preparation phase to deploy a unit either from a supply or from the game board onto the tile where a Zeppelin exist.
These units also called miner, because they extract / harvest Somnium for players. For each miner / drill unit that exist on the board, players will get one extraction points. For each two extraction points, players receive 1 Somnium crystal. If a drill unit is on a tile with Somnium veins, it generates 2 extraction points instead the normal one.
Explorers main use is to collect Relic tokens from Ruin tiles (there are 4 Relic as well as there are 4 Ruin tiles on the board). Each Relic token are placed on a Ruin tile matches the corresponding color. One of the three objectives is to collect all the Relics in order to win the game. This Relic can only be taken by Explorers, if a player has an Explorer token on the Ruin tile with a Relic token, he may take the Relic token immediately (without cost).
Players take turn in clockwise order, where in each turn players will follow these 3 phases:
A. Preparation Phase
In this phase, players harvest resources based on the tile they control (there are tiles that generates one or two resources). They take the resource cubes from general supply to their personal supply. They can also activate some cards that can be activate during this phase. The important part of this phase is players have the chance to “disgorging” their Zeppelins out from the game board, which players oft to forget, and if they already pass this phase and continue to the next phase, it would be too late to do it. The last thing is players prepare the dice to roll in the next phase. At first, players receive 3 dice by default (the minimum number that players are allowed to roll) and possible to get extra dice from hex tiles.
B. Action Phase
In this phase, the active player roll his already prepared dice and then take some actions. There are several things that a player can do for their actions, one of them is conquering a tile. Players can conquer a tile by allocating their die/dice. The dice allocation is based on the type of the tiles, either by the dice value or by dice pips. If a tile requires a dice value to conquer, the player must spend a die or a combination of dice with the exact value of the cost. (so in order to conquer a tile with the value of 7 or higher, a player must use at least two dice). But if a tile requires a set of dice with specific numbers of pips on each die, then the player must spend the set with the exact same pips. If the tile that he conquered is adjacent to his own controlled tile(s) then he can place one of his unit tokens from the supply (minding the type of the tile, hill or mountain) or any unit from the board. If it’s not adjacent, then he may only place one of his units that already on the board, not from the supply. This regulation means to limit player’s movement, so players cannot easily place units from the supply into the board. If there is an opposition unit on the tile, the active player conquer the tile as normal (considering there is no protection dice on the unit) and place the opponent unit to the graveyard (except if it’s a Base Camp).
Players can modify their dice by spending 2 resource cubes to adjust a die value by one, higher or lower (without limit) and also buy an additional die with a Somnium crystal (limit to one).
Players can also buy one available technology cards from the row, the cost to purchase is listed on each card (the cost are resources and Somnium crystal). There are two kinds of technology, an Invention or a Building. Inventions can be stolen, while Buildings cannot. These technology cards have various uses and effects that can be used to help players gain benefit during the game and also complete the Leviathan.
Players also can place a protecting die on one of his units. This protecting die is used to give protection for a unit to make it more difficult to be attacked by other opponents. The protecting die is work just like a die cost in a hex tile, players who want to conquer a tile occupied by a unit with a protecting die must spend an additional die which is higher than the protecting die. In which a protecting die with the value of 6 can only be conquered by spending extra die with a value of 6 and 2 resources to modify it into 7. The restriction of using a protecting die is each unit is limited with only 1 protecting die at any time. A player Base Camp has a natural 5-value protecting die (you can see the Base Camp token’s sticker shows a die image with 5-pips). So using a protecting die to protect a Base Camp is really useable when the protecting die value is 6, better than the natural protection from the Base Camp. Strictly from the rules, that a unit cannot have more than 1 protecting die, so if the Base Camp is only reasonable if the natural protecting die is replaced by a 6-value die.
Players can also modify their dice result by paying 2 resources for 1 value modifier. This modifier is only limited to a value of six. Players may only modify up to 7 if they want to defeat a protecting die with a value of 6. There is no limit how many times a player can spend resources to modify his dice. Modifier is essential, since it’s a dice allocation, the dice roll results are usually need adjustment (if they cannot, it would be very frustrating).
Players can also sacrifice 1 of his Somniums per turn to get an extra die to roll. Once per round players can also recover a unit from the graveyard (this is the only way to get units back) by paying 3 resources.
Players can steal a Somnium crystal, an Invention or a Relic from an opponent. This works precisely the same for conquering another hex tile controlled by the opponent’s Base Camp, the only difference is the Base Camp token is not destroyed (since you’re only stealing). Movement restrictions are applied as normal for this action.
C. End of Turn Phase
After a player had taken all of his actions, he must take End of Turn phase, where a player harvest Somnium with his Drilling units. Each Drilling unit on the board provides 1 extraction points in any hex without the Somnium symbol, if there’s a Somnium symbol, the unit provides 2 extraction points instead of 1. For each 2 extraction points, the player receives 1 Somnium crystal. As mentioned above, players can use these crystals during action phase or to fulfill two of the three winning conditions. After this, a player must discard excessive resources from his supply. Player can only keep 3 resources by the end of this phase, the rest are returned to the general supply.
The game immediately ends when one player fulfill one of the winning conditions and that player wins the game.
The game also offers one expansion and a mini expansion. The expansion’s title is The Way of The Feathered Serpent which adds several new units and new cards for specific winning condition, new hex tiles and also player screens. It’s not considered as a big expansion but packs a bunch of elements that really improve the game in some way. The stickers give players optional units to start the game which is good and provide new gaming experiences.
The mini expansion gives 4 tokens that can be achieved by controlling a ruin tile. This token can be used to counter a protective die with a specific value.
5. Replay Value
It’s definitely has a great replay value. Playing with different people gives different experiences. Not mention the modular board during setup can provide different challenge and situation. The game is quite quick in general, it could last 45-60 minutes with experienced players and has a medium learning curve. It’s basically a racing game in disguise, and more to, it sounds Euro but Ameritrash at heart with three winning conditions. Unlike Euro games, this game doesn’t have programmable choice of actions and players are freely to take available actions to win the game. Playing with different number of players also gives huge impact on the game. Playing with two players will definitely brings tactical elements very crucial with only a single opponent to fight off. When playing with 3 and 4 players, negotiation and table talks would surfacing the game experience while players need to carefully plan their actions against not one but 2 or 3 enemies at once. The game comes with predetermined game board, but since it’s modular, you can use different kind of setup which really-really enhance your experience. You can set it randomly or maybe determine different combinations of terrain tiles.
My Thoughts of The Game
My fondness towards the game has been growing since the first time it entered my wishlist. I love the game, it’s not perfect but love this more than other good games because it has values in my opinion. The rich theme and nice artwork really do the game some good. Some players might get fooled to think it is an exploration game, when in real it’s not. Players need to find one spot that they think the best place to put base camp and conquer some spaces that give them resources and defend it. Once players get the best place, they can focus to reach one of the objectives to win the game. In my opinion this game have a Euro feel while it’s really an Ameritrash from the core. If you like direct conflict and ever changing board situation, instant win and stuff, this game might be perfectly fit for you. But if not, you might as well pass the chance to try the game, since the dice roll and other players picking on you are what you will get for the entirety of the game. I love it and it’s definitely has managed to get privilege spot on my collection.
Note: Images are courtesy of BGG users