Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery
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It is the late 15th century and a new age is dawning. While searching for a new trade route to India, explorers have discovered a new land. The first reports tell of strange creatures, exotic people, and fabulous wealth. Captains and dventurers flock to these new lands in search of gold. They are quickly followed by colonists, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries all seeking wealth of one kind or another. Colonies begin to spring up, and soon competition among the great nations of Europe begins.
Take the role of one of Europe's colonial powers and stake your claim in the New World. As the leader of your nation, there are many paths that lead to victory: Discover and colonize new lands; acquire trade goods that will build your economy; develop new technologies and infrastructure in your home country; build your merchant fleet to dominate the trade routes; and build your army to defend what is rightfully yours!
The triumphant revel in riches and glory, while the vanquished become a footnote in the history books. It is an Age of Discovery... it is an Age of Empires!
- Explore the New World, discovering and claiming new lands for your empire
- Gather resources to develop your economic infrastructure
- Build structures that give you advantages in resources or victory points
- Use specialists to give you the strategic advantage over your opponents
- Go to war to defend what is yours or take what is not
Players: 2 - 5
Weight: 2,009 grams
Average Rating: 4.9 in 4 reviews
Our gaming group is addicted to this game. I will highlight a current strategy I am working on concerning being a warmonger. However, the best strategy I have had so far that has amassed the most VP's is the total Merchant/trader strategy. This game requires complete focus of will and strategy. If you try to do to many things you will be average at best. Invent your own strategy and execute it and do not waver from doing the same things until they make an impact.
Here are my current thoughts on focusing on being a total warmonger in this game.
- warmonger needs extra soldiers via tiles and specialist box.
- needs some money via trade and merchant work or a sweet $ tile early.
- needs to get people to support his soldiers in the new world.
- needs some $ to buy extra soldiers/missionaries sometimes.
- needs tiles at the end that will support his # of people in the new world or recognize wealth etc
I rarely play prototypes, mostly because there are so many finished games to try! But I was intrigued when I got the chance to try out the prototype of Age of Empires III (Tropical Games, 2007 – Glenn Drover) last year at Origins. Oddly enough, it was, even in prototype form – the best game of the convention for me. I eagerly looked forward to the full-blown game, although the troubles of the Eagle company delayed that for quite a while. Finally, one year later, at Origins 2007, I was able to play the finished product.
And my opinion is unchanged – I feel that not only is this Glenn’s best game; it’s in serious contention for game of the year – a great game. Fans of the PC game will be likely disappointed; for while Age of Empires III is a great game, there is a notable difference in styles. There are a few component issues, although they pale beside the sheer overwhelming beauty of the game. With a plethora of decisions and multiple strategies and tactics, this thematic game is one of the best of the year.
Let’s talk about some of the features of the game…
- Components: Just like most Eagle Games (yes, I know this is a
Tropical game release, but it’s the same thing, really), this game
comes with a myriad of plastic pieces. However, unlike other Eagle
games, this may be the best board yet – with a lot of room for
everything and clear places to place the different colonists. The
only, yet glaring, problem is that the scoring track is quite small
and even covered up in some places, to the point where I simply record
the score on paper. Each player gets sixty pieces of each color: ten
colonists, five captains, five merchants, ten missionaries, and ten
soldiers. Again, I think these pieces are fantastic, but it is a bit
of trouble sometimes (especially in poor lighting) to tell the
difference between the soldiers and captains, and merchants and
colonists. This isn’t a big deal – I’m thinking of using paint to
differentiate, and I think it’s offset by the fact that the different
molds help promote the theme. The board itself is beautiful, showing
the Americas during the colonization, with good artwork by Paul E. Niemeyer. The coins are shaped to mimic Spanish doubloons and really
add to the game with their look and feel. The cards and tokens are
good quality, and easily understood and read. Everything fits in the
very large box easily, although you’ll need to bag it all.
- Rules: The fourteen-page full color rulebook has tons of
illustrations and explanations, as well as historical background and
quite a few charts. All the card and building information is also
included, so that players can get a grasp of what may be coming next;
and it’s an invaluable tool for when discovering, as a player can
better determine their odds. The game looks complex but only takes me
about ten minutes to explain, and everything flows so well that I’ve
yet to see anyone who has a problem with it. Compared to “heavy”
designer games such as Caylus and Goa, this one is actually more
- Specialists: One of the neatest features of Age of Empires is the
specialist figures – colonists that have unique abilities. All four
of them have different abilities, and it’s often difficult to
determine which is the best. I tend to find the Captain weakest (he
counts as two colonists in the Merchant Shipping or Discovery box),
but others have used him to great advantage – especially considering
how powerful ships can be. The Merchant is a tremendous asset at the
beginning of the game, as he can help bring in some much-needed income
(when he arrives in America as a colonist, the player receives 5
doubloons) and still remains fairly useful by counting for two
colonists in the Merchant Shipping area. The missionary may be my
favorite, simply because when he lands in the New World, another
colonist is immediately added, making him effectively a “double”
colonist. Even better, a player can get the Cathedral building,
allowing them to send out what we call “super missionaries”, who add
two colonists. Soldiers are fascinating, because they can add money
in the Discovery box but also can be used aggressively in battles and
- Colonists and Choices: Each turn, a player receives five
colonists that they are going to place in different spaces. There are
only a limited number of places to put them, so players must choose
- Initiative: Who goes first next time? Getting the first pick is a big deal. Interestingly enough, the initiative spaces also provide income, but choosing to go first gives a smaller amount.
- Colonist Dock: There are many spaces here, but never enough. In order, the colonists will travel to discovered spaces in the New World. This is important, as many of the points in the game come from controlling the nine different regions.
- Trade Goods: Four spaces here allow players to pick amongst the four available trade goods each turn. Ignoring these will hurt a player’s income.
- Merchant Shipping: The player with the most colonists here wins a Ship each turn, which is basically a “wild” trade good.
- Capital Buildings: There are five spots here, with the players, in order, allowed to buy one of five available capital buildings, which provide a wealth of benefits.
- Discover: This is the only place that a player can “store” colonists, sending them out to discover new worlds.
- Specialists: A player can place a colonist on different places to gain the matching specialist for the following round – only one of each type, although one box allows a player to receive a specialist of their choice for $5.
- War: A player can place a colonist here to fight a battle or declare a war on another player.
- Buildings: The idea here is nothing new; as having buildings,
which grant special abilities, was made famous in the wonderful game
Puerto Rico. But in Age of Empires, the buildings only come out five
per turn. Some of the buildings are much better than others: the
Trade Routes (+ 1 Merchant each turn) are better than Settlers (+ 1
Colonist each turn.) The game is divided into three ages, and the
buildings get progressively better, with the third age buildings being
rather invaluable. Some of the final buildings give large point
bonuses at the end, such as the Navy, which awards four victory points
per ship owned. Working towards these buildings is a viable strategy.
I think that you can avoid buying many buildings, but the other
strategies you pick better cover for it!
- Resources: There are eleven different types of trade goods: gold,
silver, cattle, cocoa, fish, sugar, fur, coffee, tobacco, rice, and
indigo. There is a different amount of each one, from three to six –
indicated on the tokens. Since a player needs three of the same type
to get any kind of decent income, collecting Rice (of which there is
only three) is harder than collecting Sugar (of which there are six).
And since there is only three of four of the different resources, it
makes ships that much more valuable. I’ve played games in which I’ve
ignored collecting resources and ships, and the lack of finances was
too strong for me to do well. Some players may hunt down resources
more than others, but it’s too important to disregard altogether.
- Discovery: There is luck in the game with the random pulling of
resources and buildings, but it’s minimal. A higher luck value,
however, is found in the discovery areas. At the beginning of the
game, eight of the regions in the New World have a discovery counter
placed in them, and players cannot send colonists to them unless they
are discovered. At the end of each phase, a player can send any or
all of the colonists, captains, and soldiers in the Discovery Box to
discover a new area. The player decides how many they will send – all
of which will be discarded, no matter what. The counter is flipped
over, and the number of Native Americans on it (one to five) is
compared to the number of pieces sent. If the player sent an equal or
greater amount of forces, they receive points and money indicated on
the counter (and more money if they sent any soldiers), as well as a
free colonist in that region. If they sent too few forces, however,
then they get nothing, and the tile is flipped back over. Obviously,
a player could send five figures and instantly conquer anywhere but
then feel silly when the tile shows only one Native American. Others
may tempt fate by sending out only two or three, hoping they don’t
draw the less common tiles with four or five natives. This is luck,
but it is manageable; a player can simply decide to send the maximum
amount or use what they consider to be appropriate force. Once all
the areas have been discovered, a deck of Discovery cards is used,
which can have up to six natives, but are also worth more money and
points. It’s a risky strategy to solely concentrate on the Discovery
area, but it can be fairly profitable.
- War: I’ve seen many games in which war is rarely, if ever taken.
It’s usually only done by players who seek control of the new
regions. And even when I have seen it, it’s almost always a “battle”
– something that occurs in each region. What happens is that when a
player puts a colonist in the Battle box, they choose a region, and
every soldier in that region from that player and from their opponent
kills one other piece. A “war” can also be done for 10 doubloons,
which is basically a battle in every region, but this isn’t usually
cost effective. This isn’t a terribly effective strategy, unless a
player manages to get a large number of soldiers to the New World. At
this point, they can become deadly, killing off large numbers of their
rivals, and control the New World. I haven’t seen a player win using
this strategy, but I myself came close at one point. It’s rather
confrontational but not terribly destructive.
- Fun Factor: The game isn’t about combat, or collecting resources,
or advancing technology. However, the game is about discovery,
critical decisions, and tactical choices based on what your opponents
do. For me, the difficult decisions are what makes the game fun –
there are so many different paths to victory that I can play a
different way each game. I haven’t discovered any one dominating
strategy, and every game that I’ve played has been close (with a few
exceptions –usually from new players). The game, thanks to its theme,
is remarkably intuitive; and while it may last upwards of two hours,
it goes by extremely quickly with no downtime. A six-player game,
which can be done by purchasing an extra set of pieces, works
extremely well; and even though it may take close to three hours (less
once everyone is experienced), the options and competition are tense
Age of Empires III is a heavier strategy game than most, although it doesn’t require too much thought to get into. However, it may be the best strategy game I’ve ever played with six players (Dune may be an exception) and certainly has no downtime and a good, flowing feel. Glenn Drover has produced some good games in the past, although he has certainly taken flak for his earlier games. He won’t receive much for this one, however; as it is a fantastic game of discovery, marrying theme with good mechanics for a tremendously solid, fun game.
“Real men play board games”
I am familiar with all of Glenn Drover's games (the games designer) of which there are many, including Age of Mythology, Civilization and Railroad Tycoon. These have all been published through Eagle Games, while his latest, is published thorugh Tropical Games.
I purchased the game the first day it hit the shelves. I've played it several times. In summary, this is Glenn's best game design to date. Not only that, its really great game in its own right.
Hey, I am no Tom Vasel... I play a lot of games, but, I don't fall in love with every game that hits the store shelves. In fact, one of my friends, Bryan Johnson is fond of telling me "I hate everything." Thats not true. But, I am not easily impressed.
Age of Empires 3 is a great game. It clocks in at 2 hours, so its longer than most Euro's. But then, again, its the shortest game Glenn has designed to date. More importantly, its fun.
Here's the scoop:
Each player takes turns placing 1 of his 5 Colonists on the board in event boxs that correspond to an action players want to take. With your Colonists you can so some fun stuff. For example you can:
- Ship a Colonist to the New World
- Become first in the turn order
- Acquire trade goods which generate income each turn
- Defeat Natives and discover new territories
- Battle other players in the New World
- Train Specialists for use next turn
- Construct new buildings in your Capitol City
Shipping Colonists to the New World is key, because players score 6 points for having the most Colonitists in a territoriy. Having the second most Colonists in a territory only scores 2 points. So, this is very much a standard area control game (aka, El Grande). Boat cargo space is very limited, so, you need to get your colonists on the boat before it fills up with other player's Colonists. Thats fun.
Players cannot colonize the New World until its territories are first discovered. At game start, only 1 of 9 territories is discovered. So, to uncover more, you can place one of your 5 precious Colonists in the Exploration Box. This sends them over to Discover territory/Defeat Natives. Defeating natives in one territory takes 1 - 5 Colonits. You are not sure how many until you flip the Discovery card. If successful, you get money and VPs and that territory is open for EVERYONE to colonize.
Place 1 Colonist in the Specialist area. You then get 1 specialist.
Soldier - Embark a soldier onto the Colonist ship (instead of a Colonist) and then you get the ability to kill pesky enemy Colonists in the same territory where your soldiers are.
Merchant - Embark a Merchant onto the Colonist Ship (instead of a Colonist) and you get $5 as soon as you land your Merchant in the New World.
There are also missionaries and Captains... Fun, fun, fun.
Collecting trade goods generates income. To get a Trade Good, simply place a Colonist in the Trade Area. One Colonist entitles you to collect one face-up Trade Good. If you eventually collect a set of 3 identical goods and you get $3 income per turn. $6 for a set of 4. Its first come first serve, here, so, you need to get your colonist(s) into the Trade Area first, to get first pick of the face-up Trade Goods. There are only 4 available per turn.
Capitol Buildings provide you special bonuses. Place 1 Colonist in this area to build 1 of these buildings. Some buildings give you a free extra Soldier, or Colonist every turn. Others give you 1 extra slot in the Colonist Ship which only you can use every turn. Others give you money, or VPs.
Warfare is handled in good, solid Euro-style fashion. Combat is not too powerful, but, it can still STING. To attack another player place 1 Colonist in the War Area. Then, pick 1 territory in the New World where you have a soldier. The enemy removes 1 Colonist for each Soldier you have there. And, vice versa, since combat is simultaneous. Whats fun is you can place more than 1 Colonits in the War area which means you can make several attacks on the same turn. You can also pay an extra $10 and attack 1 player in every province you and he share. Thats fun too!
So, go buy it.
I was disappointed when I learned of the demise of Eagle Games. While I was a critic of his earlier efforts, designer Glenn Drover’s later creations were much more developed and polished. Further, I had heard that his latest project – Age of Empires III – was under development, and promised to be his best effort yet. I was hoping it would eventually be published.
Fortunately, Drover has bounced back with a new company – Tropical Games – and the much anticipated release of Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery. Based on the popular computer game, Age of Empires III concentrates on the discovery of the New World, and the accompanying settlement and plundering of its resources. It is decidedly “European” in terms of its mechanisms and play, which reflects the influences that genre has had on the evolution of Drover’s designs.
Carrying on the tradition established with Eagle Games, this new release contains visually stunning components. An abundance of plastic miniatures depict colonists, captains, merchants, soldiers, missionaries and merchant ships in five different colors. Additional pieces are available to expand the game in order to accommodate six players, but I honestly feel the six player version takes too long to complete. The board is large, but not nearly as humongous as many of the old Eagle boards, which is a good thing. It depicts a section of the New World, including a swath of North, Central and South America. Nine boxes will house the units placed by the players and keep track of the turn order, while a victory point track rings the board’s edge. Completing the components are a healthy assortment of attractive plastic coins, a deck of “Discover” cards, and a stack of cardboard “Capital Building” and “Discovery” tiles. What’s missing is a storage tray to house all of these components and player aid cards to help facilitate play.
Players receive a supply of five colonists each turn, plus any additional colonists and specialists they may receive due to event boxes and/or capital buildings. Each turn in player order, players will alternate placing these colonists and specialists into the eight event boxes. The event boxes are then resolved in order, with players executing the actions or reaping the rewards granted. Eight turns are conducted in this fashion, after which final points are tallied and a winner determined.
The event boxes are the heart of the game, and the players’ strategies will be pursued by choosing the ones in which to place one’s units on each turn. As such, let’s examine these boxes.
Initiative. Placing early into this box garners greater income, and allows the player to move earlier on the following turn.
Colonist Dock. Up to eleven colonists may be placed here –two more with the aid of the appropriate capital buildings – and they will be moved in placement order to the New World. Colonists may be moved to any of the nine regions in the New World that have been previously discovered. Settling the New World is important as it yields a resource to the first player to accumulate three colonists in the region, as well as victory points at various points during the game for majority and secondary control.
Trade Goods. Each turn, four trade goods are revealed. The four players who place colonists in this box are able to select one of those trade goods. It is possible for one player to obtain multiple trade goods if he placed more than one unit in this box. Collecting trade goods in sets of three or four will earn $1 - $6 of income each turn, as well as victory points at game’s end.
Merchant Shipping. The player who placed the most units in this box receives a merchant ship, which can be assigned to a trade goods set in order to complete that set and increase one’s income. It serves as a “wild card” in terms of trade goods.
Capital Buildings. Each turn, five capital buildings are revealed. Players who place units in this box may purchase one of these buildings for each unit placed. The cost of the buildings ranges from $10 - $20, depending upon the “age” of the building.
Capital buildings can be quite powerful, and can grant extra units, specialists, income, victory points, and many other benefits. The cost, however, is significant, so players must conserve money in order to acquire them. Ignore their acquisition at your own peril!
Discovery. In order for a region to be settled, it must first be discovered. Each region has a face down tile that lists the strength of the native population, the money received from plundering, victory points received, and extra plunder received if conquistadors (soldiers) are involved in the conquest. The strength of the natives range from 1 – 5, with the more difficult to conquer regions yielding greater rewards.
Players place units in the Discovery box over the course of several turns. This is the only box wherein placed units remain from turn-to-turn. In order to attempt a discovery, a player must specify the number and type of units he is sending on the voyage, as well as its destination. The tile is then revealed, and if the player committed an amount of units equal to or greater than the native population level, the voyage is successful. The player receives the indicated amount of money, plus the bonus amount for EACH soldier he committed to the expedition. As a reward, he places one of the units into the territory, but the remainder is returned to his general supply.
If the expedition fails, all involved units are returned to the player’s general supply. This can be disastrous, as it often takes several turns to accumulate a strong enough force to successfully pacify a region. So, players must decide the level of risk they wish to take. Do they send out an expedition that has a chance of failure, or wait until they can send forth a force that is assured of victory?
Once all regions have been discovered, “off-board” regions – represented by a deck of discovery cards – can be discovered. This works in the same manner as on-board locations, but the native value ranges from 3 – 6, and no units are placed.
Specialists. Players may acquire a missionary, merchant, soldier or captain by placing a unit in the appropriate location. Only one of each is available each turn, but there is one additional space wherein one player can pay five coins to acquire a specialist of his choice. These specialists are quite powerful, and grant unique powers. For example, when a missionary arrives in the New World, the owning player gets to place an additional colonist from his supply into that region. Soldiers help in warfare, and give an additional plundering bonus when discovering a region. Captains count as two colonists in the Merchant and Discovery boxes, while merchants count as two colonists in the Merchant box and give an immediate bonus of five coins when arriving in the New World.
Obtaining and properly using the appropriate specialists should be a vital cog in a player’s strategy. For example, pursuing a wealth strategy is enhanced by acquiring merchants and promptly shipping them to the New World. A player seeking to gain control of numerous regions is well advised to acquire numerous soldiers and missionaries. There are numerous possible to strategies to pursue, which certainly adds to the game’s appeal.
Warfare. If a player places a unit in this box, he may either launch a single attack in one region against an opponent, or pay 10 coins and declare war against a specific opponent, attacking that player in every region where both players have units. Battles are quite simple, with each soldier present eliminating an opponent’s unit. The purpose, of course, is to sway control of a region in one’s favor.
After all units are placed and event boxes resolved, players receive income based on the trade good sets and capital buildings they possess. The board is refreshed, and players receive five new colonists and any specialists they have gained, plus additional units granted by capital buildings they possess. New rounds are conducted, with “New World” scorings conducted after the third and sixth rounds. Players possessing the majority of units in a region score six points, while the player in the secondary position scores two points. At the conclusion of the eighth and final round, in addition to the New World scoring, points are earned for Discovery tiles possessed, certain capital buildings, and trade good sets. The player with the greatest cumulative total of victory points is victorious.
While not a difficult game to learn, Age of Empires III is filled with important decisions and offers numerous strategic options. It doesn’t appear that one strategy is omnipotent, and astute players should be able to counteract efforts to dominate play with a linear strategy. Like the theme of the game, there appears to be quite a bit to explore and discover here.
What impresses me equally is that the game is “finished”. There doesn’t appear to be many – if any – rules ambiguities or gaffes, and there is an absence of design flaws or mechanisms that just don’t work properly. The game plays smoothly, is filled with tough choices and tension, and is polished. This is a fine design, one that can be played over and over again and still offer a fresh feel and new options to explore. Age of Empires III is clearly Drover’s best design, which hopefully bodes will for his new company.