To understand a man,
you must know his memories.
is true of a Nation.
What do you get for your money?
You’ll get a Score board, a Progress board, 5 two-sided Player boards, 13 workers and 5 disks in five colours, a War disk, a Round disk, 15 Architect cubes, 296 Progress cards, 48 Event cards, 5 Player order cards, 24 Solo event tiles, 4 Player aid tiles, 60 Food tokens, 60 Stone tokens, 60 Gold tokens, 60 VP tokens, 4 Book tokens, 12 Used action tokens, a Die, a scoring pad and the Rules.
How do you play the game?
In Nations you try to build a civilization. You need to feed your people, build buildings and build a military force. You are responsible for the stability of your civilization and your own heritage. However, you are not alone, other civilizations compete with you for land and resources and that can only mean one thing: War!
Lets take a look at the different boards. We have a score board and here you can spot several different tracks. The heritage track all around the edge, the military track with the war disk, the stability track and the player order track. You can also find the round track here, the player level track, you can see how many architect are available during a round, what the Event of the round is and what kind of War is going on.
Then we have the player boards. On these boards you will find several slots for specific card types. Like colonies, buildings, wonders, armies or advisors. Some slots are empty, others are filled with pre-printed cards. On the lower edge of the board you can find your individual population track, filled with workers at the beginning, but you might recruit some of them in the course of the game. In addition to this you’ll find the name of your Nation, your starting workers and resources here. There are four different resources: food, stone, gold and VPs.
Now we go to another important board of the game, the Progress board. Every round, you must place new cards on the board. The cards belong to a certain age and you can buy these cards to improve your civilization. There are eight different card types and every individual card has multiple icons printed on it.
You can buy building, military, colony, war, battle, wonder, advisor and golden age cards. On these cards you find, as an example, red or black squares or circles. These are effects per worker deployed on that card or permanent effects. You might find how many Victory points you’ll per worker on the card or how much stone you must pay for every worker you put on that card.
During every round there are three phases. First there’s the maintenance phase. During this phase the Progress board is refilled, players take a worker or gold or food or stone, then a new event card is drawn and lastly the architects are placed on the board.
After the maintenance phase, there’s the action phase. In turn order players buy a card, deploy a worker or hire an architect to build a wonder. It goes on until everyone passes.
When you buy a card, you can only place it on the card type’s specific slot on your player board. * If there’s no empty slot, you’ll have to place it on top of another card and move all workers that where on top of that card back to your supply. Immediately adjust your military strength and stability value if you have to. Colonies are handled differently, you have to have a minimal military strength to buy a colony. For instance, if you want to invade Sicily, you’ll have to have a military strength of 12 or more. Then there are war cards. Only one war card can be bought per round. The player who bought the card, places the war token underneath his military strength token. Players that have a lower military strength than this value at the end of the round will suffer the consequences of losing the war. The next card type is the battle card. These cards will give you an amount of resources. How much depends on your raid value, a value that’s on every military card. You can also buy wonder cards, but these wonders have to be built, one at a time, before their effects are activated. Chichen Itza costs two architects to build, but when it’s build you’ll get a victory point every time you buy a war. Advisors, the next card type, give you one or more benefits throughout the game. Genghis Khan, for instance, not only gives you three more military strength, but it also decreases the stability of every player. A golden age, the last card type, gives you a choice. Either gain some resources or exchange some of your resources for one point.
When you deploy a worker on a building or military card, you’ll have to pay the deployment cost, a certain amount of stones. Only the building and military cards with workers on them are active and give you (or use up) resources, stability or strength. The windmill produces three food and one coin per worker. An active horse archer gives you a raid value of five, plus it gives you five military strength and uses up one food per worker.
When you buy an architect you’ll have to pay for it in stones. The amount depends on the wonder you want to build. The first architect that works on the construction of the Notre Dame costs two stones, the second only one. The supply of architects is limited per round.
Everybody done? Now we can go to the resolution phase. First every player gains and loses resources according to their active building, military, colony, wonder and advisor cards. Then the player order is determined, the player with the highest military strength goes first. After that we deal with the war card. Every player who has a lower strength than the war token loses the war and therefore loses one point. The losers also suffer the consequences of that war, but these can be mitigated with their stability value. When you lose the Vandalic War you have to hand in six stones, but if your Nation has a stability of four, you only lose two stones. After the war, we deal with the Event card. ‘The Pilgrims’ reward the player with the most food with one worker and ‘the Dutch Revolt’ punishes the player with the least stability with the last place on the turn order track and minus three gold. Also you’ll have to look if there is a famine value on the event card. If so, players have to hand in that amount of food. Lastly, and only at the end of an age, players gain points for every player that accumulated less books than themselves.
The game ends after eight rounds and then all players score points. Obviously, the VP tokens will score you points, but some colonies and wonders do too. In addition to these VPs, you score points for workers that are on building and military cards and for every ten resources you’ll also get one point. The player with the most points, wins the game.
What is Nations about? Buying cards and adjust your stats, so you can buy better cards, get better stats and protect yourself from increasingly greater setbacks. That’s it really, the basic idea of this game is pretty simple.
With every age, the building, military, advisor and wonder cards become better or worse, it depends how you want to look at it. On the one hand, you’ll get more resources and more points. On the other hand, the deployment cost, the upkeep and the building cost increases too. The wars are more destructive, countries are harder to invade, the golden ages are less golden and the famines hit harder. The trick is to keep up.
Nations is not only a game of buying better cards, but also knowing when you need to buy these cards. A card can potentially give you more gold than the card that’s already on your board, but when you buy this ‘better’ card you have to remove the workers from that card and if you don’t own the stone to put these workers on your new card, you actually get lesser gold in the production phase than before. You’ll have to manage your resources well and the timing of your upgrades is also very important.
That’s the interesting part of the game, the constant balancing. I need more gold, but if I exchange the Lighthouse (2 gold, 1 stone) with the Ball Court (3 gold, 1 food), I’ll get one extra gold, but I’ll also lose one stone. But, then again, I’ll gain a food. Can I get stone from another building? Invade the Hindu Kush maybe? Interesting decisions.
The competition for the cards does make that you’ll have to plan your turns ahead. You can only do one of three things on a turn, but you’ll have to look at what other players might want to do or buy in order to judge for yourself what to do first and what later. What’s important and what can wait.
A major plus is the fact there’s quite a lot of variety. In a four player game you use up to thirty progress cards per age of the seventy cards that are available per age. In addition, you use only two of the twelve events every age and you can change nations every time you play. So, every game will be different.
Another plus is the addition of the different difficulty levels. Per player and per progress card. You can handicap yourself when playing with less experienced players and that’s cool.
One thing I don’t like or like less is the fact you can be screwed over by the cards big time. I do think this is more apparent when you use the B-side, the asymmetrical side of the player board. For instance, you are Egypt and on the B-side of their board there is no spot for military cards, so either you have gain military strength through advisors or wonders or just don’t focus on military at all. That’s fine, but if, during the first two or three rounds, only war, military, golden age, colonies cards and only a few buildings are drawn, you are pretty much out of the game. Other players can buy military cards, they will be first or second player because they are stronger than you are and then they can also buy the buildings you need first, because they know you can’t buy any military cards, so they can wait to buy these cards. This has nothing to do with strategy, just pure luck. *
One aspect of the game, war, could have been more interactive. In this game it’s very abstract. I don’t know how they could’ve done it better, Nations is a numbers game anyway, but it just feels like something that has to be done. When you haven’t bought the war card yourself, there’s no real choice, you’ll have to go and deal with it. Some then have to hand in resources other don’t because they are very stable. War! sounds exciting, in Nations it’s not.
I’ve also played the game solo with the solo event tiles. It’s nice, the feel doesn’t differ that much from a multi-player game. Nations is not a very interactive game anyway, but I do miss the only things that make Nations a bit interactive; the competition for the cards and event bonuses. So, I look at it as practice, nothing more.
Do I find the game thematic. No I don’t. Not really, I give a five or a six, somewhere in between.
It’s supposed to be a civilization game, but I never really feel I’m building, improving and expanding my civilization. During a large part of the game you are only concerned with yourself and your own resource engine. You fight battles on your own. You can’t conquer lands that are already taken. Historically that’s not how the rise and fall of many nations looked like.
The building ‘upgrades’ don’t make any sense. I’m pretty sure if I lived a couple of thousand years ago and they replaced our farm with a forge or a sawmill, I would be pretty mad. Here they look at it as something good. They love eating sawdust instead of grain, much healthier.
The individual cards are pretty thematic, at least half of them have abilities that sort of match their function, but it’s just not enough. The cards add flavour to the game. It’s fun to look at places, people and events you’ve probably heard of at some point in your life. That’s also important.
It’s a nice looking game. Yes OK, it’s just cards all over the place, but the illustrations are quite nice. The buildings do look a little better than the people they have drawn. The player boards all have a different background, a nice touch. The different tokens are fine too, so all in all very decent.
Quality of the game parts:
The box is the only thing that I do not like. Too big, too bulky. The cards are OK, the tokens are fine and the board are very decent too. Pretty good.
Yes, Nations is fun. It’s always a challenge to make your nation thrive and deal with the cards that are available to you. But it’s also very frustrating sometimes when you really can’t do anything useful during one or more rounds.
The last round feels a bit anticlimactic, because everyone is just trying to place their workers on cards that will get them as much points as possible. This is not very exciting and AP lurks around the famous corner.
The game also feels very multiplayer-solitaire, this is not per definition a bad thing, it’s just not that thematic. I’m OK with it playing my own game for the most part, but some people might want a lot more interaction between the nations.
I think it plays very well with two. The only real difference with two, three or four is the playing time. The gameplay doesn’t change very much.
Managing your resources, your workers and buying the right cards at the right time requires a lot of thought and that is very fun. I do think that Nations is a bit dry for it’s theme and that’s maybe because your development isn’t as obvious. It’s there in the numbers, not in the big picture. You do not see your Nation grow. Heck, it’s fun, go play..
One of the designers pointed out to me that I misinterpreted a rule. When you buy a card, you have to put it in a slot that has the same border colour. However, military and building cards, although they have different border colours, can be placed on top of each other. While you still can be screwed over by the cards, this does give you a lot more possibilities. I’ve made the game too difficult for myself. 😉