The economy of Scotland in the 19th Century is known for the improvement of the steam engine by James Watt, and becoming an international center for the development of railway and locomotive technology. The development of steam power and the dawn Industrial Revolution tend to overshadow the fact that most of the economy of Scotland was agrarian, with clans living off the land, specializing in their particular wares.
Clans of Caledonia puts you in charge of one of the various clans of Scotland, attempting to fulfill contracts by creating an infrastructure to produce a range of agrarian goods. Does Clans of Caledonia meet the production quota, or does the ship sail without its cargo? Read ahead to find out.
Clans of Caledonia is an economic game for 2-4 players, with variant rules for solo play. It plays well at all player counts.
At the beginning of the game, each player drafts a clan, each with their own particular special power. These include being able to sell milk, aged whiskey in barrels to sell for more money, expand over sea spaces, and so on.
During a game round, each player performs their choice of an action, in player order, until all players pass. While there are some nuances and special circumstances, the actions are described briefly as follows:
- Build: You build animal herds that produce wool or milk, fields that produce grain, or specialty buildings that convert those basic goods into refined goods (whiskey, cheese or bread). Workers can also be placed to increase coin collected each round. There is a building cost and a terrain cost to build a unit on the board.
- Trade: You can buy and sell basic and processed goods, based on how many merchants you can deploy. Purchases drive the market prices up, while sales bring prices down.
- Acquire a Contract: You can select a new contract to fulfill, paying costs based on the round.
- Fulfill a Contract: You transfer the specified number of processed goods and meat from your supply to earn points and other rewards.
- Upgrade technology: You pay to increase the amount of coin you earn per turn, the number of merchants you can deploy, or range you can build.
At the end of each round, players produce basic goods based on the units deployed, can convert basic goods into processed goods if corresponding buildings are built, and collect gold based on number and type of deployed workers. A scoring phase ends the round, with victory points earned based on the scoring criteria for that round.
After 5 rounds of play, a round of final scoring occurs. The three reward goods (tobacco, cotton, and sugar) earn increasing point values based on their rarity in fulfilled contracts. Players earn points for having the most fulfilled contracts and most settlements. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins!
When explaining the rules on our first play, we were admittedly both excited and daunted by the apparent complexity of the rules. However, as soon as we started playing, we found the game to be relatively straightforward from a rules point of view. After the first round, we picked up the rhythm and flow of the gameplay; this extended to when we taught the game to new players.
Do not mistake ease of play with mastery of Clans of Caledonia. While our plays might have shown the rules were easy to learn, our early games were clear evidence that we were not playing as efficiently and effectively as we should have been. Only after at least three playthroughs did we feel comfortable stating that we had a moderate grasp of the strategy.
Replay value from game to game is one of the greatest strengths of Clans of Caledonia. Each clan has its own powers that lend to different strategies throughout the course of the game. In addition, there are port tiles that provide one-time powers to players that also change from game to game based on random selection. Scoring criteria also change from game to game, forcing players to concentrate on different factors from round to round, and providing some structure for future planning within each game. All that is added to many contracts with varying fulfillment needs and rewards and each game ends up being a completely different experience.
We have played quite a few games with two, three and four players, and have found while strategy is different from player to player, each experience is satisfying in its own right. For our plays, we found that the market sees less use in two-player games due to players having the room to expand to their needs. When the board becomes cramped and free space is at a premium due to higher player count, the market becomes an important means of gaining required goods.
While the game is seemingly perfect to us, there are a few slight issues. Counting up settlements, being distinct unit groups separated by water, becomes a bit of a chore and can be somewhat confusing based on the rules as written, which takes away from the elegant nature of the flow of the game. The other concern is that some clans appear to be more powerful than others at first glance. While repeated plays reveal that this is not necessarily the case, it can be difficult for new players if they draft a clan that is difficult to pilot.
That said, neither of those two issues takes away from the fact that Clans of Caledonia is an absolute pleasure to play. The rules and gameplay support a fun theme, putting you in charge of expanding your clan holdings and producing goods for export. We have a double-digit count for plays, and each game has provided our group with a rewarding and engaging experience.
Clans of Caledonia is a game that appears complex at first glance, but is the epitome of “easy to learn and difficult to master.” Straightforward rules belie a game with a great deal of depth and variation between plays. Each game played provides players a completely different, yet rewarding game experience, making Clans of Caledonia a title that will grace our gaming table for years to come.
Final Score: 5 Stars – Amazing. Easily in the running for best of 2017. This belongs on the shelf of every player who calls themselves a Euro-gamer.
• Endgame settlement scoring can be complicated at first
• Some clans appear more powerful than others (on the surface)
Alex’s fun historical note: Caledonia is the name that Scotland is referred to in modern poetry, based on the Latin name for the land back in Roman times; it is analogous to referring to Ireland as Hibernia. Where the actual province began was not quite solidified until Hadrian’s Wall established that everything north of the wall was considered Caledonia. The name is used to this day for various businesses and organizations and makes quite a few appearances in pop culture. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.