CONQUEST of PARADISE (second edition) 2017/2016 @ $57.00
GMT Games. A Strategy game of Empire Building in Polynesia designed by Kevin McPartland
I cannot remember playing the first edition (but I am 67 now and my memory flits in and out depending on whether the brain cell is charged or not) so I approached this version as being new to me. I find it difficult to get my wife, Fran, to play GMT Games as she is not a fan of wargames with small cardboard counters, she has problems reading them across the table and spends so much time having to pick up pieces to see what they are, that games take a long time to complete. When Fran saw that this was a strategy game with large hex tiles to represent ocean spaces and islands and that there were but a few, easily interpreted, not-so-fiddly, small counters, she was still apprehensive but agreed to give it a go; that was many games ago.
The game uses quite simple but efficient mechanics, including a single die-roll per battle engagement, plus a roughly accurate geographical map of the Paradise Islands of the Pacific Ocean. The map cleverly shows and boldly names the major islands such as Wake Island (even though it is just a tiny green speck in a sea of blue), Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz, and also the game-strategic islands of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, the first two of these being starting points for all games, 2 players, 3 players (add Hiva of the Marquesas Islands) or 4 players (include Hiva and Raiatea - West Society Islands). During play the confusion of islands will often appear in the ocean at coordinates different from reality but that is part and parcel of the play that rearranges geography as we know it.
The CONQUEST of PARADISE is a game of Exploration, Discovery, Battles and Buildings, and like all good games its tactics and strategies alter depending on the number of players. After two games with four players we all agreed that it was probably better as a two-player game, especially as the main starting islands for players are Samoa and Tonga, both of which are adjacent/attached to the known Independent Island Group which include the aforementioned islands as well as Kiribati, Marshall Islands, New Hebrides etc, many of these islands have permanent defenders (shown as Warriors) and some also show a Mosquito, which only comes into play when using the MALARIA advanced rule - there are several advanced rules that can be implemented either one at a time or however you wish, but only once you have the basic game rules under your belt. In full disclosure I have only played once using Malaria (it makes the game more edgy) and once with Random Events (although CONQUEST of PARADISE isn't strictly historical adding these extra cards is unnecessary, in our opinion, as they do nothing to make the game more pleasing to play, it just does what it says - adds random chaos); neither have I played CONQUEST of PARADISE solitaire yet. This review is about the games I have played, 2-player and 4-player.
To get the history, atmosphere and flavour of CONQUEST of PARADISE the author has included a 20 page booklet of notes on the islands with some usefully interesting information about each of them, though nothing that will actually assist you in the game. I, for one, had no idea that the STARBUCKS coffee chain was named after a character in Melville's "Moby Dick" (the first mate) or that the Starbuck island was named after a Captain Starbuck, a whaler from Nantucket - it's amazing what you can learn from boardgames, even when you are not playing them.
The rules booklet itself is only 16 pages and these include the Front Page, Back Page Index, Inside Back Page Credits and the Page 2 Introduction and Components, as well as the 2 pages of Advanced rules and 2 pages of Solitaire rules, leaving just 8 pages for the actual rules; so few for a GMT (or other) wargame, making it one of the least daunting GMT Game rule books I have encountered. I have mostly enjoyed 2-player games as these lead to some superb variations on play after the first game where both players (will probably do as we do) follow what looks like the obvious paths to victory (victory being won by the first player to move their score marker to or past the game-determined indicator on the score track. One of the Advanced rules involves the South Island (Te Waka Maui) of New Zealand (Aotearoa). This tile is left to one side until New Zealand is discovered and then the player who does so also takes the South Island tile. This, as is conveniently pointed out in the rules makes for either a great asset or a giant target as together there are 6 Improved Agriculture spaces and one brown space (7 in total).
Two players begin on Samoa and Tonga, each of which have three green fields of Improved Agriculture on which Villages may be built and one field (brown) which needs to be converted to Improved Agricultural land before a Village can be built. Building anything costs Build Points and Build Points are gained through Villages, one Village = one Build Point, thus players begin with 2 BPs as they have 2 Villages at the beginning of the game (2 of the three Green spaces on their island have freely built Villages + 2 Warrior Bands on them during setup). Once you have good knowledge of the rules, which should be about 15-20 minutes into your first game, a 2-player game can be played to a satisfactory conclusion within an hour without rushing. Read the rules through carefully and aloud at least twice so that all players understand the nuances within them. The rules say that this is for players aged 14+ and I agree, as I personally wouldn't think that younger players would be that attentive in the theme unless they were specifically interested in the South Pacific islands.
Each player has a chosen colour for identification with several markers, wooden huts (Villages) and various counters in that colour - these pieces (counters) represent Transport Canoes, Colonies, Rumours, Local Warriors, War Canoes and Warrior Bands (Battle pieces are also marked with a Star in the top left corner for speedy reference). Each player has only one Explorer, a rectangular counter showing a single-sail boat that is supposed to be a stand-up in plastic bases, shown on the game rules in the box but not in the component list on the GMT Games website. Round wood markers are used to mark each players Home island.
The map shows not only the specifically named islands and island groups in its overlaid hexes but also some outer clear blue open sea hexes and many sea hexes with a pale blue square printed in them. Hexes with this light blue square are known throughout the game as Unknown Hexes and some of these have the (almost) exact position of certain island groups lightly printed on them; the actual island group doesn't have to be placed on these specific spaces but it adds a touch of realism if it occurs. There are Discovery Markers to be placed on these light blue squares when a player's Explorer Ship enters, it is ideal if you have a drawstring bag or similar in which to keep these tiles so that they can be well shuffled and randomly drawn. Each Explorer Ship has been historically named for atmosphere and flavour. As the Island Group Tiles are drawn randomly actual geography will almost certainly go out the window, but if you think of the islands as they were prior to discovery and naming then every time you play, you (and the other players) have the exciting prospect of being the first explorers and discoverers of the islands of paradise.
The Explorer Ship moves onto the empty sea hex and the player draws a Discovery Marker (from the suggested bag). This will be one of three - an Island Group, Open Ocean or Off Course - each of these has a blue back with the design of a piece of ROPE across it. This is where the players have to choose a strategy, play carefully or go for it being two of the most common tactics. Each KNOT in the rope means that the player has spent one time unit and the Explorer Ship can keep moving depending on those knots as long as it doesn't surpass 6 units. For each hex you sail through you draw a counter from the bag and react to its effect. If you draw an Open Sea counter you place it face down, in fact you always place the tiles face down until you stop exploring so that you can see the knots in the ropes. You leave the open sea marker in place and sail on. If you draw an Off Course Marker then one of the other players moves your Exploration Ship and if you draw an Island Group Marker you take a random Island hex tile and have the decision of whether to place it face up or face down after looking at it. If I am running out of movement units then I generally placed the hex tile face down so I gave the impression it was important and would be heading back to it. Of course if it was important and I presented it face up it would give other players the incentive to sail there before I got back and claim it themselves, but if it was open sea or a nothing tile then it might make another player waste their turn going to it, leaving me free to move where I wanted to on my next turn; Bluffing is often a good strategy.
So back to the Ropes for a moment, and you do have to know your ropes in CONQUEST of PARADISE. If you have sailed for 4 knots you may return to your Home base and suffer no consequences or you could push it and explore another area. If you have sailed for 5 knots then youu MUST return to your Home base. If you pushed it and have travelled for 6 or more knots then you must place your Explorer Ship in the "LOST" box on the board after finishing your current (now also final) exploration - next Turn you may not Explore. To get an extra Build point instead of exploring on your turn you may voluntarily place your Explorer Ship in the LOST box, you won't be able to explore but you get a most useful bonus Build Point which early on in the game is often most necessary. Just a player's note but instead of throwing the Island Hex Tiles into the lid of the box and drawing them from there, we shuffle them face down and make 8 or 9 small stacks to draw from, this gives a good base for a random draw and is a lot tidier as long as you have the table space.
There are two types of canoes for each player's tribe, War and Transport. The Transport canoes can be used to make TCCs (Transport Canoe Chains) between islands and once a complete chain is formed any number of pieces can be moved along it, though naturally any Transport Canoe in the chain cannot be used for movement whilst it is part of said chain.You can move as many of your playing pieces from one island - the one they are on - as far along the chain as required. Playing the 2-player game it is generally a good tactic, once you consider yourself to be strong enough, to move into the pre-marked islands to the West, entering Battle with the natural and human defences of the island. You can also Battle against opposing players in 2, 3 or 4 player games with both sides setting out their counters in two rows, front and back with the main (starred) combat counters in the front row. To take an undefended island, one without Local Warriors (printed on it) you simply march or sail in with a combat piece, no Battle is required, otherwise the attacking player rolls the D6 and checks the result on the Battle Result Table on the reference sheet, basically it's a 50-50 chance of one side being affected, 1-3 the Attacker is affected 4-6 the Defender is affected. Die rolling continues until a player is victorious, there is no surrender and no stopping once the Battle has commenced; this makes players think before starting a fight. Battles have to occur if you ever move a War Canoe into an opposition controlled hex, neither War or Transit/Transport canoes may move through an enemy controlled hex. Note: The number on the "starred" battle pieces is for movement and is not a combat issue.
Combat is specifically simplistic so as to not waste ages determining its resolution. Too many games make combat a 5-6 page affair, complex charts and cross referencing whereas CONQUEST of PARADISE has more in common with a Euro game than a GMT (or any) war game. The main enjoyment for me, and the majority of the people I play with, are the exploring, discovery and building phases. You must expand but, with luck (yes there is an amount of luck other than the combat die roll) you can do this safely if you think clearly and keep risk taking to a minimum, but do take the occasional risk, such as going the extra tile when exploring, it can really be worthwhile. I guess what I am trying to convey is Don't go Gung Ho! but don't sail too slow.
Despite there being just 8 pages of rules (actually 7 if you don't count the pieces description page #3) the game is still moderately complex, with enough options for every player each turn so that their plans are not always obvious. With 2-players I have suggested that you gain some exploration strength and then move East but there is a lot of empty sea North, West and South, all of which are open sea. However because the start islands, Tonga and Samoa, are right next to each other, it is also a probability that conflict between them may occur sooner rather than later (no matter the number of players). If you play 3 or 4 players then two players still get to start on Tonga and Samoa whilst the other one or two has/have to start on islands, Hiva and Raiatea, to the East(ish) of these two and thus have a slight disadvantage for traveling West, although this could be said to be countered advantageously by the better opportunity for North, East and Southern movement, in our 4 player games the player with the better strategy from one of the not Tonga and not Samoa islands has generally won in the end, possibly because they didn't feel like they were being drawn Eastwards, and of course they are fairly safe from immediate conflict, but I reiterate "fairly safe" as there are no set moves for players to make.
The Turn Order is determined by the Victory Point Track, the player in last place gets to choose who goes first (and then clockwise). Exploring is the most entertaining part of the game especially after you have built up a chain of friendly islands or canoes because there is a pre-move that allows your Explorer Ship to move as far as you wish to the beginning of the "unknown"; this being before the actual exploration, as previously mentioned, takes place. The game is about what you have to do and what you must do. You must build Villages to gain additional Building Points and you must build Canoe Chains to move your pieces swiftly. You cannot build villages unless you have explored the hex, found an Island Group Marker, flipped the drawn Island Tile and been lucky to find it is available for building on. You can explore any distance away from your Home island that you can get to but this is generally an ill-advised move, though it can be a challenge to an experienced, competent, cunning and inventive player. When placing an Island Group tile the rules require that you orient it towards your Home Island so we take it as read that should you take control of a tile from another player you rotate the captured tile towards your Home island. I am not sure if this is a correct move (as obviously islands cannot turn around) but seeing as it appears the rotation is to help with knowledge of control it makes sense if not logic.
There are very good mechanics during each phase. For instance during the exploration phase you get a free, Pre-move which allows you to sail your Exploration Ship as far as you wish through islands you control - the requirement for control being at least one Village of yours on each island journeyed through.To build villages you first have to have discovered the island (not an Atoll), then sailed a Colony (tile) to it which is then removed/replaced when you are ready to build the Village. For so few pages of rules there are more options available than often found in games with three times that number of pages. Actions can often be planned in advance but it is generally a good idea that you also have a back up, just incase an opponent makes a move you hadn't foreseen.
On my first game, when we all like to buck the trend and each try something different, I spent my first 2 Build Points to buy an ARTS & CULTURE Card which the rules booklet suggests can be an investment. I cannot remember the card I drew but it was quite disappointing and thus having spent my BPs and not built I found myself playing catch-up for the remainder of the game. The Arts & Culture cards seem to only be part of our games when the end is close and extra VPs are required either to overtake an opponent and clutch victory from their grasp. Even now in 2-player games we often see them as more of a chance taken than an opportunity earned, but a lucky draw can provide an effect that stays in play and may give their owner a Bonus in Battle. Victory Points are gained in several ways, controlling Villages possibly being the best of them, but Island Groups and Art and Culture Cards are also very useful.
Does CONQUEST of PARADISE actually give a good representation of the beautiful Pacific Ocean Islands ? The answer is yes. Is there a feeling of adventure and excitement amongst the players when playing CONQUEST of PARADISE? again the answer is yes. Should you let the fact that the box cover looks quite dark put you off because it makes the game look more complex than it is? No, definitely not. However, you should also not be led astray by the quality and brevity of the rules. This isn't a light game despite the colourful hues and blues of the components and the quality of them, especially the heavy, large folding board/map but it isn't as foreboding as the single catamaran on the deep dark blue waters of the ocean would have you think. This isn't a family game but it doesn't have to be a core-gamers game either. 14 year olds and upwards should easily understand and find enjoyment in the possibilities offered to them through the excellent gameplay which is provided by the clarity and sparseness of the rules. Every part of the game runs smoothly with barely a rules clarification required, maybe a card or two needs some additional thought, at least the first time it/they are encountered.
I do believe that the author's use of "archeological simulation" as a game style is stretching any definition of "archeological" that I can find, but I suppose one's imagination could be prolongated to accept the Art & Cultures cards as offering some intent and/or content of archeology. Whether you accept the archeological thesis or not CONQUEST of PARADISE is a great, thoroughly entertaining and generally enjoyable boardgame with an otherwise well designed theme. If you have ever thought of trying a GMT game and have been put off by the complexity chart or the number of components etc then seriously think about making CONQUEST of PARADISE your first GMT purchase, and then I promise you it will not be your last.
A prime example (found on the internet) of an Island Group Chain - I kept forgetting to take photographs during play and realised whilst writing this I didn't have such a good shot as this.
COMPONENTS: The components noted in my version of the second edition game are slightly different from these found on the GMT Games site. Now before I list the few changes I will state clearly that I haven't been made aware of any changes. I note this because one of my recent GMT Game reviews got me into a little drop of hot water because I mentioned what I believed to be an error. In fact it actually was an error but it had been discovered and rectified and I didn't know and of course one cannot research every game in case there have been changes made. However my mentioning the error was not to bring either the designer or GMT into any disrepute but rather explain the problem and offer a solution - obviously my quick-fix wasn't as good as GMTs response. Below I have noted the changes (note I am not saying "errors") in bracketed bold text.
- One 34" x 22" color game map of the Pacific Ocean, spanning from Australia to America
- 176 colorful 5/8" game pieces depicting Polynesian warriors, canoes, and colonists
- 140 additional 1/2" game markers, representing Polynesian villages, intensive agriculture, and discovered islands
- 50 Wood village markers (72 wood Villages)
- 28 Discovery Tiles, depicting Polynesian island groups (30 large hex tiles)
- 28 illustrated cultural innovations cards
- 27 illustrated random event cards
- One full-color Rule Book with examples of play, advanced rules, historic references, and only seven pages of rules.
- One Designer’s Notes book with twenty pages of Polynesian history, geography and mythology, player’s notes and designer’s notes.
- Four full-color 8 1/2" x 5 1/2” player reference cards
- One six-sided die.
- 4 Plastic Explorer Boat Stands
- Living Rules, Playbook and Player Charts
- Official FAQ[1.61 Mb pdf]
- Solitaire Rules
- ERRATA, as of 10/19/07
- Korean Rules
- Italian Rules
- French Rules
- Solitaire Counters
Articles on Conquest of Paradise in Inside GMT:
- Random Event Cards for the 2nd Edition of Conquest of Paradise, by Kevin McPartland
- Conquest of Paradise: Solitaire Rules, by Kevin McPartland
- 2nd Ed. changes to cards and counters
- Solitaire Rules
DESIGNER Kevin McPartland
DEVELOPERS Fred Shachter & Tony Nardo
ART DIRECTOR Rodger B. MacGowan
COMPONENT ART Leland Myrick
COVER PAINTING Herb Kawainui Kane © 2007
PRODUCERS Mark Simonitch, Andy Lewis, Tony Curtis, Rodger MacGowan, & Gene Billingsley