Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
These days a universally accepted truth is that dwarves are Scottish. And, as memory serves, they’ve only been featured prominently in one hardcore Eurogame. This preview explores one game that couldn’t afford the dwarf license* (*not a real license) and has opted to represent the real people behind the accent. Juma Al-Joujou, who is not dwarven or Scottish, is bringing to Kickstarter a new game of resource and land management that aims to please the Euro-hungry.
Clans of Caledonia is a game of area control, resource management, and set collection for 1-4 players that takes about 30 minutes per player. It plays best with 3 or 4 players if you like more direct interaction. With 2 players, the game is slightly less confrontational, but plays equally well.
Players take the role of Scottish clans in the 19th century adjusting to the onset of industrialization. A major component of the game is expanding to acquire huge tracts of land and producing resources in the form of wool, milk, and wheat. These are used to produce finished goods such as bread, whiskey, and cheese. From these activities, they can fulfill export contracts that bring in imports such as cotton, tobacco, hops, and sugar cane. Through a variety of different scoring opportunities, players can acquire points with the aim to have the most at the end.
How to Play:
The main board for the game represents a generic area of Scotland. The board comes in four pieces and each piece can be flipped resulting in 16 different possible board layouts.
The first strategy comes from selecting a clan. There are eight in the box, but one more than the number of players for selection. Evaluating the diversity of clan special abilities starts the strategic process. Once players have selected Clans (in reverse player order), players set out initial workers onto the main board from their player boards.
The game then proceeds through five rounds with four phases: Preparation, Actions, Production, and Scoring.
This reset-style phase returns merchants to player areas and replaces any taken contracts on the scoring board.
The action phase is the meat of the game. Each player, in turn order, takes one action. They can do so repeatedly until they take a pass action which drops them out of the round, and they then take the next earliest position (and money reward) in turn order for the next round. The actions in general are:
- Trade – Use the market board to buy or sell goods. Players cannot do both for the same good in the same round.
- Expand – Place a worker, factory, or animal on the board and pay the cost of the land and the unit. During the Production phase, these units will provide resources. This placement is also complicated by the presence of water spaces on the map. To move across or past these, a sufficient naval technology level is needed. Some contracts require beef or mutton. To provide these, players might need to slaughter an animal and remove it from the board.
- Hire/Upgrade – Pay a cost to upgrade naval technology, worker efficiency, or hire an additional merchant for more Trade actions.
- Acquire an Export Contract – Pay a cost (depending on the round) to receive a new contract to fulfill. Players can only have one contract at a time, so choosing the right contract is imperative.
- Fulfill an Export Contract – Players return the required goods (processed goods or wool from sheep) to the supply. Rewards can come in the form of free or discounted upgrades, a discounted Expand action, or money. Besides these, contracts also reward players with an imported good such as Hops, Cotton, Tobacco, or Sugar Cane. These will be worth points at the end of the game. In addition, the total number of these imported goods is tracked on the score track.
Players receive money for workers as well as raw goods such as Milk, Wheat, and Wool. If they have any factories, they can also choose to refine these goods into processed goods which are valuable for fulfilling contracts.
This phase changes each round based on the scoring tile for the round. Points might be granted from resources on hand, placement of units on the board, or number of units. There’s enough variety that it’s unlikely any game gets a duplicate set as a previous game.
At the completion of the fifth round, a wide variety of points are awarded. Goods on hand and a money conversion are a direct source of points. Players will also compete to see who has completed the most contracts and who has placed the most distinct settlements (groupings of units) on the map. This is slightly complex because it depends on the division of units by water spaces and whether the player’s Naval technology keeps units in range.
Probably the most significant and unique source of points comes from a variable scoring mechanism around the imported goods represented on contracts. Hops are scored linearly on a one-for-one basis. Other goods scale based on how many have been acquired in total. The score track should show the most common good, which is then scored for three points each. The second most common is worth four points each, and the rarest good is worth five points each.
First, let’s talk about the art. Any gamers out there who are fans of Klemenz Franz and his work with Isle of Skye will find more to leer at in this game. His skill has returned to the highlands, and his flair for subtle detail is all over the visuals for Clans of Caledonia. The player boards and main boards are both visually exceptional while the iconography is easy to grok.
The other easily laudable aspect is that the number and type of economic levers to manipulate the game feels just right. The most basic challenge, and one of the most exciting, is placing units (factories, workers, or animals) in the most optimal way for the cheapest cost and to be sure to stay competitive for scoring settlements.
The mechanism for the variable scoring for imported goods is also impressive leading to potential feelings of missed opportunities or focus on acquiring crucial contracts for the biggest points. Knowing the best way to use the market is also mandatory because sometimes building up to producing goods is more costly for completion of a contract. With so much to think about, it easily delivers the potential for multiple engaging plays.
Unmentioned in the description of play above are the various player abilities. Each Clan’s special ability provides a very unique and thematic adjustment to the game that makes sure that each game feels different. The power of these abilities feels near game breaking yet looking at other players’ powers will also make players feel jealous.
For those interested in theme, there is some to be had here from the descriptions of the Clans in the rules and the connection to their abilities, but likely, there’s not enough to draw in players interested in theme first. Also, the industrialization of Scotland isn’t exactly a period with fodder for epic stories so players will have to make up new ones through play.
Clans of Caledonia may seem like a perfunctory, staid design, but, for this previewer, this is strikingly competitive economic game. The direct and indirect competition is palpable with each action. Each round is filled with tension and considerations of strategy versus the opportunities to execute that plan for the most significant points. That’s the crux of the best game designs.
Clans of Caledonia is a wonderful game. The presented veneer may not scream excitement, but if you’re a fan of games such as Terra Mystica, Clans of Caledonia offers something equally fulfilling in an equal or shorter playtime. Any gamers out there looking for a game of heavy management and economics should be focusing their attention here.
It’s easy to recommend Clans of Caledonia due to the variety of scoring mechanisms and the variability of the game board. This reviewer is eager to see the success of the Kickstarter with the expectation that the final game is as exciting if not better than the preview copy.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here