original English language edition of Magister Navis
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In this game of world exploration and empire building, players represent European empires seeking to colonize the Mediterranean and devise trade routes to ship their wares to all parts of the world in their quest to increase their empire's glory and status in Industry, Culture, Finance, and Politics.
It is a time when the maps of the world are still being filled in. Seagoing empires expand their frontiers by sending ships to the farthest reaches of the globe in search of new lands, new alliances, and new conquests. The wealth of the newly-discovered worlds abroad is a tempting prize for those with the strength and the cunning to seize it... and to hold it!
You represent a growing empire engaged in a glorious endeavor to expand your influence and status at home and across the great oceans of the world. Through exploration and shipping, colonization and war, you will struggle with the other great powers to control the resources and the regions that unfold before you. You must strike a balance between cultural, political, industrial and financial gains, making all of the right decisions to ensure your empire's eventual dominance. The paths you take, the battles you wage, and the choices you make will determine the ultimate shape of the new world...
I first played this Carl de Visser and Jarratt Gray design a few years ago at the Spiel in Essen. The game had not yet been published, and I recall having a few issues with the game that prevented me from enjoying it. However, due to the passage of time, I cannot recall what those issues were. The passage of time since I played had a bright side – I forgot what I didn't care for about the game and desired to play it again. Much to my pleasure, I enjoyed the published version considerably more, and am happy to continue playing it.
While the game has the theme of nations expanding their empires across the globe, in reality the game is quite abstract. The rules attempt to set the atmosphere by spinning tales of advancing one's civilization in the areas of culture, finance, industry and politics, while controlling vital trade routes between worldwide cities. In reality, however, the flavor is mostly absent, as players are simply placing tokens and collecting cardboard chits, tracking their collection on their player boards. The buildings players purchase simply enhance this collection process or allow a player to be more aggressive militarily. Sadly, while the game paints an intriguing thematic picture, in reality the theme is little more than a ghostly presence. That being said, the game itself is quite engaging and challenging. There are numerous options and decisions to be made each turn, and a wary eye must be kept on one's opponents.
The board depicts portions of seven continents and world regions, with most regions having 2 – 5 land spaces and 6 – 8 sea spaces onto which players will place their control tokens. The starting region of Europe and Northern Africa contains ten city spaces, but no sea spaces as the land has already been discovered and inhabited. Routes connect cities to one or more other cities, and controlling the two cities on either end of a route allows the player to also claim the trade token located along that route. Each space on the map receives a trade token, and it is these tokens that the players will be collecting. Most trade tokens depict a symbol representing the four advances listed above, but there is also a selection of special tokens that can be used when needed to obtain extra advances or take special or additional actions. In addition to the spaces for these tokens, each region also has space for a unique six-card asset deck.
Each player receives a player board upon which they will track the progress they are making in the four advances. Each time a player collects a trade token, he advances the marker on the corresponding track. The further along a player advances, the more benefits he will receive. For example, increasing one's industry allows the player to construct more valuable buildings, while advancing in politics allows the player to collect more asset cards. Player boards also provide space for these asset cards, as well as the buildings a player constructs.
The game is played over the course of seven turns, with four phases per turn.
Build Phase. Each player MUST construct a building from the available supply. Each building requires the player to have reached a specific industry level in order be constructed. The more advanced buildings provide greater benefits. Buildings generally provide the player with advancements, actions, victory points or military capabilities. The idea is to construct a variety of buildings to help pursue your strategy and achieve your goals. Players advance in industry by collecting industry tokens, so there is a strong incentive to collect these tokens in order to construct buildings a player desires.
Growth Phase. Players gain new population markers from their supply. The number gained is dependent upon how far along the culture track a player has advanced. For example, if a player has only advanced one space, he collects two new population markers. If, however, he has advanced ten or more spaces, he gains six new markers. The more population markers a player has in his possession, the more options he will have at his disposal.
Salary Phase. Players return population markers from their buildings (which would have been placed during the action phase, explained next) to their harbor. A building's power can only be used when a marker is placed upon it, so a player should try to remove the markers so the buildings can be used again on the next turn. The number of markers that can be removed is based on the player's advancement on the finance track. In addition, a player receives income based on his progress on the same track.
Action Phase. Here is where most of the actions occur – and the most time elapses. Most actions are performed by activating a building by placing an available population marker on it. The actions granted by the building can then be performed. Thus, the actions a player can perform are limited by the buildings he has constructed. These actions are specific to the building, and include:
Ship: The player places a marker on one of the shipping routes, collecting the trade token located on the space. If a route becomes filled, that region becomes open for settlement, and the player who has the most population markers on the ship route receives the governor card for that region. Governor cards generally grant the owner advancements and/or victory points. They are quite valuable, so there is usually keen competition to have the most markers on a sea route.
Occupy: The player may place a population marker onto a land space in a region that has been opened, taking the trade marker located on that space. However, in order to move into a region, the player must have at least one marker on the shipping route to that region. So, it is wise for players to place at least one population marker on each shipping track, unless they plan to completely ignore a region.
Attack: The player replaces an opponent's population marker in one of the cities with one of their own. They must also discard a population marker, so this actually costs three markers: one to activate the building, one to replace an opponent's marker, and one to discard. A few buildings allow this militaristic action, and usually as soon as an opponent acquires one, all players will usually attempt to also construct one.
Payment: The player removes a marker from one of their buildings and returns it to their harbor. The building and marker are now available for use.
Draw: The player may draw the top asset card from a region where he has a presence. Cards are numbered 1 – 5, and in order to take the top card, the player must have at least the same number of population markers present in that region. Cards generally grant players advancements and/or victory points, so collecting them is certainly advantageous. However, each player may only possess a certain number of cards, the amount being determined by the player's advancement on political track.
Once all players have completed their actions, the turn concludes and the process is repeated until seven full turns are completed. This is easy to track as each player will possess seven buildings. Players tally their glory (victory) points, earning points in the following manners:
Additional points are earned in numerous other fashions, but the above are the main methods. The player with the most glory points is victorious.
As mentioned, players are faced with numerous choices throughout the game, and there are multiple strategies to pursue. Players should target specific buildings that will assist in their overall strategy, and should also concentrate on certain trade tokens. Trying to collect an even amount of type may seem wise, but it is difficult to accomplish. However, concentrating on just one or two types of trade tokens will leave a person sorely deficient in other areas. Plus, sometimes the desired goods are simply not available. So, while concentrating on certain areas can be beneficial, a player cannot completely ignore the other areas.
Territorial gains can be tentative, however, as players possessing the barracks and/or fortress can displace opponents' tokens and gain control of cities. This can cause a sudden shift in glory points. So, it is wise to prepare an adequate counterstrike threat by also acquiring these buildings. The cost of pursuing a military strategy is steep, however, as it costs several tokens to launch a successful attack.
Asset cards also cannot be overlooked. These cards provide important benefits, and have spelled the difference between victory and defeat in several games I've played. The wise player will try to secure at least one or two governorships and several asset cards.
As mentioned, I cannot recall the exact reasons why my initial playing of the game wasn't favorable. I can say that all subsequent playings have been tense, challenging and fun. The game is quite fluid, giving players numerous options and strategies to pursue. The games biggest drawback for me is its abstract feel, but fortunately the tense game play overcomes the lack of a tight theme. While I don't think the game will set the gaming world afire, it still offers an engaging time for the contestants vying for the most advanced civilization.