Monday, October 08, 2007

1492/Ocean Blue

Here in the good ol' US of A, it's Columbus Day, which for a number of years has been a great excuse to celebrate the life & accomplishments of a man who didn't actually manage to set foot on any part of American territory (unless you count protectorates). It's worth your time to read the extensive chapter on the mythology that's developed around Christopher Columbus in the excellent book, Lies My Teacher Told Me (by James W. Loewen).

Personally, I think Columbus has become a pawn for a variety of communities - an icon of immigrant pride on one hand and an effigy to burn for those who (rightly) deplore the way Native Americans were treated by those who colonized the Americas on the other. But that's a political discussion for another day.

1992 was the 400th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage... and an occasion for a lot of themed merchandising. Even the German game industry got on board: there were at least two "Columbus" games from Essen 1991.

The first (and better-known) is Wolfgang Kramer's Columbus... and if you want to know more about it, you'll have to follow the link. See, I haven't ever played it. I'm not even sure I've seen a copy of the game.

The second is Marius Meyer's Columbus (yes, the games have the same name), which is the subject of this review.

Historical accuracy is not the primary focus here - unless the Atlantic Ocean is full of reefs & rocky outcroppings, sailors can control the weather for malevolent purposes, and the worst thing that can happen to a ship is that it loses a single mast. Instead, the game is a delightful romp - a game that uses luck management (via the position you leave yourself in & the judicious use of provisions for re-rolls) and "take that" elements to fashion a fast-moving & truly "fluffy" game.

It's simple enough - players begin with their ships in Europe. Each turn, you roll 4 custom dice that generate both movement for your ships & some other special abilities (moving storms, strong winds, taking on provisions, and acquiring action cards). You can use provisions to reroll one or more of the dice.

Ships take damage (loss their main mast) in a variety of ways - running aground, colliding with another ship, being caught by a storm at sea. You can repair your ship by rolling a "sail" - or by using a particular action card.

You'll either be charmed or repulsed by this next bit - when you reach the western section of the mapboard, you use a small telescope to peer at discs to see if you've found inhabited land or not. Once you find this, of course, you must race back across the Atlantic to Europe to announce your discovery.

The game is not, by any stretch of the imagination, rocket science. A few simple tactical hints:
  • Make sure you have provisions.
  • Try not to stop where it's easy to run aground.
  • Try to stay away from the storms.
Like I said, this game isn't going to threaten Torres or Twilight Struggle for the title of "Think-y Boardgame." Heck, it barely threatens to eclipse the difficult decision-making (ha!) involved in Die Oster Insel or Project: CIA.

What it does have, by the barrel full, is fun. It moves fast enough that being targeted as a leader isn't terribly discouraging - you'd do the same thing if you were behind. The wild swings of luck (esp. when a hurricane blows every boat in the game into a reef!) make for big laughs - while a short playing time (20-40 minutes, depending on the number of players) keeps those laughs from turning into yawns of irritation. And there's the spectacular bits (see the picture above from BGG).

All in all, a worthy addition to my collection - and to yours, if you can scare up a copy. (It took me five years.)


jbryant said...

I found you!!! Does Shari still play the french horn?! How about "corner of the market!" (as Kim would say)? Do you still play "Broadway?" I've looked everywhere for that game, but to no avail. Glad to hear you and your family are doing well. We still think of you often. AND, why are Kim and I not listed in the Fordyce section of your history?
Jeff Bryant Jonesboro, AR

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Shari does NOT still play the french horn, we haven't played Pit ("corner of the market" - gosh, I do miss Miss Brickfest) in a long time, but Broadway still comes out every once in a while. (I'll see if I can track down another copy for you.)

We think of y'all often as well - telling stories about our "wonderful" duplex... and I have NO IDEA why you guys didn't end up in the Fordyce stuff, except that it was written (originally) for churches that I was sending my resume to...

You're in Jonesboro, eh? You MUST catch us up on your life!

My e-mail address is fluffdaddy at gmail dot com. Drop me a line!

For those of you reading these comments & wondering what's going on, Jeff & Kim were our duplex-mates during our first couple of years of marriage... and we haven't seen them in over 10 years!