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Archipelago recounts the great Age of Discovery, an era of intensive exploration and colonization of the world by European explorers. The game covers the period from 1492 (discovery of the Antilles by Christopher Columbus) to 1797 (colonization of Tahiti).

Each player portrays an explorer and his team commissioned by a European nation to discover, colonize, and exploit islands. The mission is intended to be one of peace: to meet the needs of the local population while providing commercial returns to the continent. The archipelago and its natives must be treated fairly or they will rebel, potentially leading to an all-out war of independence.
A balance must be found between expansionism and humanism, between commercial goals and respect for local values, between knowledge sharing and unbridled industrialization. Such balance can only be achieved through each player’s commitment to make the archipelago a happy and productive colony. If not, the reckless exploitation of the islands’ resources and their inhabitants will ultimately lead to chaos and revolt.

To complicate matters, a separatist or pacifist may hide among the players. One or the other will attempt to use his influence to tilt the balance away from equilibrium and towards his respective goal of chaos and uprising or absolute peace.
Are you ready to take on your discovery mission to the archipelago?
The first thing you need to know about ARCHIPELAGO is that you need quite a large playing area. Our Kitchen table (where we play most of our games) can handle 6 people comfortably, yet it isn't large enough for us to have nibbles and drinks (like normal gamers do) and the game.
There is no actual board, even though this is a board game, because the "board" builds up as you play - in fact because of the way it builds there is very little chance that you will play on the same "board" twice. The hexagonal tiles that are placed to expand the Archipelago by the players are double-sided, very different on each side, and the player gets the choice of which side they place - though the rules of placement will often determine how the tile is laid.
Archipelago is a game about choices and options. To begin with each player has 3 Action phases per turn, taken one at a time according to the Turn order. Thus player 1 takes an action, then player 2, 3, 4 and 5 and then player 1 takes their second action, continuing as before until all players have had their 3 actions. As the game progresses the number of actions per turn for each player changes from 3 to 4 and eventually to 5.
This is a semi-cooperative game. The players need to keep the Rebellion at bay (unless they have the Separatist card as their personal goal) for if the number of Rebels is greater than the number of Colonists then the game ends and all the players lose (of course if the game ends this way then the Separatist player wins - note there will not be a Separatist in every game). Each player has their own objective which must remain secret at all times from the other players. Aside from involving this goal players are free to make (almost) any deals and trades with each other. Each objective has the player's Victory conditions plus the way the scores will be determined for everyone. There are three decks of Objective cards, one for a shorter game, one for a medium length game and one that will make the game last up to 4 hours. There are the same number of cards in each deck so it is what is on them not the number of cards that help determine the game length.
I sort of lied about there being no board because there are actually several boards, each of which has a specific purpose. There is the Round board which shows some of the Actions players can take in their turn - coloured circles and multi-coloured circles determine how many players can take some of these actions - not every action is available to every player each turn. The Home (Domestic) and Export boards show the availability of resources, the Colony board shows the stability of Citizens against rebels and the Surplus Workers board shows the number of additional workers there are available. Each of these last mentioned four boards also have minor events that are triggered when certain lines are crossed.
Evolution cards are available - these are like Action cards - at a cost. When someone buys an Evolution card they turn another Evolution card 90 degrees, thus reducing its cost. If the player doesn't buy a card they turn 2 cards. The costs change each time a card is turned until after the 3rd turning the card is discarded and a new card takes its place on the display - there are always 5 cards in the display. Evolution cards may be very helpful in several different ways. These cards either are in two parts or they have a character on them. Players begin on a central sea area hex with just one ship each and from there they can lay other hex tiles and sail into them. Tiles must always be laid so that any sides adjacent to previously laid tiles must match terrain exactly.  On the tiles there may be huts. The number of all the huts counted on all the laid tiles equals the number of Surplus workers - it is understood that each hut contains an able bodied worker.
Archipelago is a game for 2-5 players aged from 14 upwards. It is a fairly long game, running up to 4 hours, but offers a good variety of options to the players each turn, thus keeping it interesting through to the end of play. Many long games end up with a through the motions gameplay whereby the participants cannot wait for someone (anyone) to reach the winning condition(s). Archipelago isn't that game. 
© Chris Baylis 2011-2015