Wee Jock Poo Pong McPlop…the only true Gaelic I know and that is stolen from Mr Curtis & Co.
(Press play for a spot of ambient music to aid your reading)
…but what does that have to do with the price of timber? Indeed nothing other than I am sporting my favourite tartan bagpipe with air-conditioned sporran and ocean-going haggis skin shin protectors. Why don the national dress of the Scottish folk of old? I sense you asking, in the most subtle of thought transferance….I shall indeed endeavour to enlighten you forthwith.
It is 1698 and I have just enlisted with The Company. A rash and rather bold move, I know, but if ever you have spent any length of time in the Highlands, you’ll know it is a damp and soggy place (beautiful, breathtaking, spectacularly scenic…but bloddy soggy) so I thought I would do my bit and assist the good folk of Scotland to introduce a trading colony in the harshest of deep, central Panama. No easy task but the rewards will benefit us all…
…How little we underestimated the forces of nature…and the biblically referenced jockeys of world demise…
…How did I fair? Read on and I shall recant my tale of woe.
What’s All the Fuss About?
This is the second Quantum game from the Ragnar Brothers. A what? A game involving four parallel worlds accessible by all players which ordinarily act independently of each other.
Darien Apocalypse is loosely based on the rather tragic narrative of the Scottish nation’s ill-fated misadventure as the populous attempted to establish a trading colony in the harsh environment of Central Panama we, the soloist, take the role of The Company’s leader, tasked with orchestrating ships, resources, scouts and habitation whilst constantly tested by the chaotic powers of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
As there are four parallel worlds to explore, the notion that in some reality we may yet succeed where history shows us the Scots tragically failed.
Immersion or Subversion?
The Ragnar Brothers have a distinct style about their games not just in looks but in the way they approach their game mechanics and layout. There are elements found in them that bare similarities to others in the genre but are always approached with that little something different.
What I am ineffectually trying to say is that I think people either like or loath the games…no, loath is far too strong. Find less appealing. The game in question, for me, looks great but the style I know doesn’t sit well with some gamers (more loss to them, I say) It is no Ameritrash glossy venere. It is something of substance.
There is a great backstory with factual historical reference but the way the game has actually been created, has a more abstract fantasy element. There are four parallel worlds, each populated with random land hex tiles for variability but we, as the soloist live in Scotland…which exists in all four worlds. A difficult concept to visualise in ones mind. As such, we can set sail from “South” world Scotland to the ‘South” Caribbean sea and access the Panama world accordingly…similarly, if not thrown into Chaos, we can do the same for all other points of the compas. As a theme, this is where it becomes a little more abstracted/fantasy but he way the game plays, the mechanics governing the Horsemen and our goals within the game, I think we have us an immersive game. The mechanics support the backstory and as a CIV type of game it is quite easy to find oneself deeply invested in our company…not the individual meeples or ships, but as a colonising company, we want to succeed. I suppose the more abstract nature of the Four World system may not suit some but I don’t think it can be argued that the Ragnar Brothers have a deeply engaging and entertaining game here.
In essence the game is quite simple. We can send our wee Scots out into the wilds of Panama, to establish resources, develop buildings, generate resources and trade them for great wodges of cash. Within these actions there are limits, constraints if you will. To further hamper our colonisation, the game comes with a deck of cards that randomly distribute the Horsemen to the four corners of the world where they turn the place into utter chaos. There are many subtleties in the relationship between all the actions and I am not about to bore you to tears with the details but it has to be said the really enjoyable mechanic for me is the AI control system for the Horsemen.
Between one and three are set out into the world as each turn an action card is revealed. This card also dictates the number of actions we have available.when a Horseman visits a world it leaves a shadow which blocks a potential action in that world (these can be lifted) When the AI scores at the end of the round, it advances a marker on the score track.
When passing a Calamity token located on the score track, the token is revealed and placed on a world (players’s choice) This does nothing unless a Horseman of the corresponding colour drops by for tea…then all manner of negative effects can befall all worlds. A handy art informs us what does what to whom and where. So, in not so brief, I really like what has been done with the AI control system in the game.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
There is a distinct style to the Ragnar games which I find really appealing. The style of art and graphic layout is clean and accessible. The components (tokens, tiles and gameboard) are all of sturdy construction with accurate printing. The player dashboards, building array and enhancement array are on stiff card, which,
although perfectly adequate for the job, might have been nice on cardboard…but that is not always a practical option when costs and weight have to be factored in. (They would add a significant size and weight to the game if made from the same materials as the tokens). They are printed well and do their job admirably. My only two points of minor “niggl” are the ‘1’ silver coins, which are incredibly dinky…but tricky to get hold of with my chunky fingers and the stickers for the Upgrade discs which were slightly oversized so I had to trim them down to avoid snagging. But both these are minor issues in the big picture, neither affecting the overall gaming experience.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Steve Kendall, Phil Kendall & Gary Dicken
- Artist: Marco Primo
- Rules: Denise Nishikawa
- Game Publisher: Ragnar Brothers
- Playtime : 120 mins
- Gangs of one: 1-4
- Age of Consent: 14+
- DOB: 2018
Fundamentally a competitive exploratory colonisation against the wits of the game its self, there is also a solo mode (and a similar cooperative mode) which plays almost identically to the multiplayer but with a small number of solo specific changes to the rules. These refer mainly to the endgame scoring where we have to beat the score of the Four Horsemen but also to the actions we take. The AI cards that drive the Horsemen dictate the number of actions made available to us…In multiplayer it will be a large number for the lead and a smaller number for all subsequent players…in solo Odd numbered rounds we, the only player, take the lead actions and in Even numbered rounds we take the follower actions.
There is one element of the game missing for us soloist in the form of interaction with other players. When not the lead player, player action choices are dictated in a small way by the lead player (making some planning more tricky) and restrictions on building apply.
For the solo game it is just us against the game. We can use any of the four worlds for scouting, building etc as we see fit (within legal parameters) but when using the buildings we must pay for the privilege (not in multiplayer)
It makes for a complex (in a positive way) strategy in order to just stay in sight of the AI score. The Horsemen appear randomly, dependant on the action card drawn, often in great numbers…by that I don’t mean a thousand Death and Pestilence show up…I mean Death, Pestilence and Famine or war could all show up in various regions. This can greatly restrict our options so being able to thing on our feet and adapt accordingly is paramount. The game score increases rapidly as Shadows and Calamity tokens become increasingly more present in each world.
This is a definite medium brain busting puzzler for the soloist and no pushover to succeed.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: By gosh this is not easy…no, I correct that. the game is very simple, straight forward and user friendly. What is not simple is the multitude of decisions that have to be made and the sacrifices that will inevitably ensue. The game, its AI will score with increasing speed round for round and trying to keep up in such a hostile environment tests the strongest willed Scot. Out of the numerous games I played before the review, I managed one very slim victory so it is doable…but it will test you.
- Rules is Rules Is Rules: Interestingly the rule book is only twelve pages long, two of which are reference pages and the st page is credits. So the rules are condensed into eight and a half pages for the main game and half a page for Solo specifics. the rules are pretty simple, easily ead with reference tables and game points. As simple as the rules are written and as simple as the game plays, absorbing the rules is a little more tricky. By this I mean that the rules are written to reflect turn sequence so reference to the Horsmen’s action is up first. Some elements of the early sections have reference to the latter and vice versa so the whole book needs to be read almost as a whole. I make it sound overly complicated and it isn’t but the first read/play using the rules and game together helps.
- Lucky Buggers: There is an unpredictable randomness to the distribution of chaos as a result of the Action deck governing the horsemen. Their shadows and calamities can be predicted to a degree and can be acted against but without this element of suspense, the game would lack tension. So over all there really isn’t any random “luck” except certain die rolls for production of resources in the mines. The Prayer action requires a die roll but as coins can be spent to better the roll, any lick can be mitigated by the rich.
- Highs and Lows: Historically this was not the best of times and the folks involved didn’t fair well and, although the game reflects the hardships experienced by the Scots of the time, the abstracted nature of the game dissociates us from the stark nature of historical events. As a gaming experience it is very tense, thrilling, catastrophic, at times, but overall leaves us with a high, positive experience.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: The size of the board is as would be expected from a game, in that it is a standard size) but as we need player action board, Building Array and Upgrade Array you may need a playing space of at least 80cm x 90cm..or there abouts.
- Build It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: As there is quite a vast array of tokens, tiles, meeples and the like, one would imagine a fair set up time…and it is not far from the truth. Time is mostly consumed randomising the hex tiles and locating them all to each of the four worlds but populating the building boards is also a lengthy task until we become familiar with the location of each structure token. Sorting out the soloist player board is quick and bunging the Four Horsemen with their mi ions, as it were, takes little effort but all in all it could be a good fifteen minute set up until we become more familiar with the game. That said, this is time well spent for the following (potential) two hours of gameplay. Obviously packing up is a much quicker job and, providing items are bagged separately, a careful five or six minutes will save time next game.
Me, Myself and I:
I was a little unsure when I started the game. I am not normally a CIV game fan but as I got underway, I soon found myself warming to this particular system very quickly. It plays rapidly from round to round and actually has a relatively simple gameplay. What makes it interesting is the tricky decisions that need to be made. This is further hampered by those pesky Riders of the Apocalyptic Horsemen causing chaos around the place and dropping off their shadow riders on their Shetland ponies…and the Calamities…oh the Calamity of it all. It is clear almost from the off that we need to have a multiple pronged attack strategy here. We cannot rely on just one world as this can be thrown into chaos at any moment. Choices of where to scout and where to build, buying selling and all manner of economic decisions need to be made. Add the fact that the AI score will increase from round to round exponentially adding further pressure…it becomes a very tense, thrilling ride and it is not until the final endgame tally that we can truly know just how badly the horsemen have defeated us…I mean how well we have won.
I did get a whopping on my first game as a result of not reading the end game scoring correctly. I missed the fact that I would score -2 for each unexplored land tile in my Governance…so there was a whopping -22 straight away. So as well as building, gathering resources, trading and the like, we have to find time to fully explore our worlds too. This really does test how thin we can spread our metaphoric buttery skills over the equally metaphoric toast of this New Caledonia.
This is definitely one I will be revisiting regularly and think it a good title to be on any soloist’s shelf
Yay or Nay?
Clippity clop go the annoying hooves of the Apocalyptic Horsemen, wreaking chaos everywhere they go. Through misadventure and calamity they score a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7) Entertaining, challenging and, certainly for me, a pleasant variation of the CIV theme. Try before you buy (and the chaps are very accommodating if you see them at conventions)…but I would say Buy!
…as much as I am patriotic as the next Scot to bonnie Prince whoever was on the throne in the 1600’s (although my ancestors have only migrated two counties north from Worcester since the Doomsday records began…thanks to some extensive research by my mother) I find the wind doesn’t half get in the sides of these new fangled kilts…not a place one welcomes the biting sea breeze of a winter at the docks…
…still, am sure the weather will improve as we get closer to the Caribbean…what could possibly go wrong?
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
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