Friday, July 4, 2014

Nations - Building a house of cards, one card at a time

I've only managed to play Nations once previously and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. My first game was with 5 players and took us 3 plus hours. But during which I was very engrossed and taken by the game and it most certainly did not feel like 3 hours. Well, I managed to get another game of it in, and this time it was also with 5 players! Was it another 3 hours? YES. Hahaha

Now, if you know me, Nations is the type of game that I don't normally enjoy. It takes too long, has too many flowing phases/parts in the game, and it requires players of similar "levels" to fully enjoy a competitive experience. So I guess it was quite a shock to Eric and the others when I suggested we play Nations with 5 right after dinner - it was already 8 close to 9pm by then.

All set up and ready to roll ! ( Book markers were adjusted later. Haha )

Nations is a game whereby each player controls a nation - haha - and battle for supremacy through the ages. At the end of 4 ages, whoever comes out with the most victory points will be the winner.
I definitely won't explain everything that you can do in Nations, but I'll just touch on the stuff that I think are important and that make up the game experience for me.

Firstly, each nation is represented by an individual player board with 2 sides. Side A is similar for all, whereas side B ensures the gameplay is asymmetrical, with each Nation starting with different resources and even different buildings or spots for potential buildings.
Throughout the game, players are trying to amass resources to upkeep their nation and in the process, earn precious victory points from accumulation of knowledge or through various wonders and buildings.

The breakdown of resources and their usefulness are below
1) Knowledge / Books - VP generation at the end of each age ( 4 ages in the game )
2) Military - Invoke war causing players to lose resources and 1 VP
3) Stability - Help to reduce threat from war and also brings rewards from events + pay for more workers
4) Money - Buy cards
5) Ore - Assign workers to buildings for benefits + build wonders
6) Food - Maintain military + pay famine + hire more workers
* At the end of the game, every 10 of each resource combined will net the player 1 VP

My Wonders and Stability plan falling into place in early stages of the game

As much as Nations is a heavy style game with difficult decisions, its flow of gameplay is actually very straightforward. There is an admin phase at the start and end of each round ( mainly taking free resources, setting event, adjusting player order, upkeep, etc ), but the meat of the round where players take actions couldn't be simpler. On a player's turn, he/she may do any of the following one player at a time till everyone has passed.

1) Buy a card
2) Assign a worker to a building
3) Hire Architect
4) Take a special action

In essence actually, that is only 3 actions as the special actions are rather few and far between as these are only granted via some of the cards. So with only 3 actions, how does the game provide meaningful and exciting choices for the players? Well, the answer lies in the cards that are on display. It's kinda like walking into a bakery and seeing all sorts of glorious cakes lined up end to end. You kinda want to buy all, but you only have room in your stomach for some. Yeah, I love cakes, so that's my analogy. Haha

The cards really make Nations the game it is. You have a variety of choices from buying the likes of advisors that give you production benefits and/or special actions, to better buildings that replace your original board buildings that are simply bare bones. Reserving a wonder before others can get to them is also very important as this is one of the big ways to score multiple points; and without having a wonder on your board, the hire architects action is not open to you. ( Hiring architects basically means paying up some ore to take one and be on your way to completing your wonder. There are very limited architects per turn so you have to act fast! )
Other things up for grabs are one off cards that give you more resources based on your raid value ( a sub value of military ), golden age cards that benefit anyone regardless of military value, also you may conquer colonies if you have sufficient power and even declare war for the round ( only one war may be "bought" each round ).

All my eventual wonders. Love the one that let me have an additional advisor slot

War in Nations is not as annoying as it sounds. Very simply put, once a war is bought, its value is calculated based on the purchaser's military strength. Everyone who meets or exceeds the strength by the end of the round will win the war and suffer no consequence. Everyone below that will lose 1 VP and whatever other resources is listed on the war card ( after deducting their protection value from stability ). Simple as that. So you kind of get to decide whether you want to win or lose the war ( of course it could be mathematically impossible for you to win a war of high value then perhaps you should blame yourself for not buying it in the first place ). 

So that is roughly the types of cards that you get to peruse through during your turn in Nations.
That brings me to the next action you may do, which is assign a worker to any of your buildings. Assigning a worker comes at a cost of varying amounts of ore. Generally, a better benefit will cost you more ore compared to a lesser benefit. That being said, the better benefit building generally gives you more VPs per worker you leave on your building at the end of the game. Each building has no limit on the number of workers you may assign, but it does have a limit on the maximum number of VP you can gain from having workers on it. The later age buildings may give you 5-6 VPs in total whereby the early age buildings only give you 2-3 VPs.

The frustrating part of the buildings is that, if you ever displace a worker from the building, you lose the benefit immediately. This means that, to maintain your current level of say stability or military, you must leave your workers on the building and instead hire new ones for you to execute other actions. This means that you need to have some fine balancing skills on your end. The way to counteract this is by buying better buildings that let you achieve more with less workers, but that also means you must pay the cost of the ore again as once you displace workers, to place them again you need to pay the ore all over again. Buying a building to replace an old building with workers also means all your workers get taken off the card and all benefits lost. Choose your path wisely!!

Main board markers at start of Age III

More cards to buy with 5. Very nice, but time consuming to read and play

So that is Nations in the simplest form that I can describe it on the blog.
It has very straightforward mechanisms but they interact in so many ways that it can get confusing trying to trace what each track does and how it benefits you or helps you to progress in certain areas of the game.
But once you have had a game or two under your belt, I think future plays would certainly not be a problem. In fact, for the game we played recently, we got about 99% of the rules right - which to me is fantastic!

At the end of it all, I really REALLY love Nations. Haha. Shocker!!
I remember when I first played it, when the game was barely into the second age, I was like, "why did I agree to play this game! Its taking forever!". But when the game ended I was like, "wow, that was great!"
My second time playing this game was no different. Barely midway I was again going, "shit, why did we start". But near the end, I was like "shit, I love this game". Haha. I think the reason for the change in opinion mid game is cause your engine takes awhile to build up, and thus the excitement of your plan only seems to come together near the midway point of the game.

Admittedly, Nations takes a long time to play; I would say about 40mins per player. But I can honestly say that each time I play it, I am fully captivated by it. My attention is up there with no lull period. I want to know who bought what and why, and how their plans have changed mine. I want to go first, but I want to pass last. I want this cheaper, and I want that ability now. There's just so many things I wish I could do but I just can't - the world won't let me. And it's these tough choices on how to spend my little resources that keep me on my toes and puts a smile on my face, even when my plans were abruptly ruined.

Egypt after 4 Ages. Live long and prosper! Also, repent everybody!

Another thing I love about Nations is how you can scale the difficulty level at the start of the game. So if you have more experience, you may handicap yourself to ensure that the experience remains meaningful for all. Now, I have not tried this handicapped experience, but from seeing the difference in resources that the handicap player may obtain, I can imagine the difference it would make after 8 rounds. Just to describe briefly, by right at the start of each round, players may obtain 3 of one type of resource ( or take a new worker ), but the handicap player gets a disadvantage of taking 2 ( or even 1 ) of one type of resource ( or take a new worker ). This slight handicap can be huge through the course of the game. There were times when I needed more food and that was my only recourse.

Nations also seems to have a lot of replayability due to the huge selection of cards in each deck and how they are not all used per game. The advisors I bought in my first game was not present in this second game at all - they did not even turn up. So that was surprising, but nice. Being able to not rely on something you want coming up makes the game unpredictable and exciting ( and fair ).

There are some down sides to Nations though. I am not certain about the balance of the nations' asymmetrical ability. I loved playing Egypt. The free wonder and the free architect was fantabulous. My previous nation Greece was merely ok. China's pass first ability seems weak - very, though it's additional worker could be huge but I haven't tried so no comments. Starting with military also seemed very meh to me. So I think if I could choose I would take Egypt again any day.
Another complaint is the lack of variety in the age cards. It seemed like the later age cards ( Age II II ) consists of mainly colonies and battle cards. I was playing wonders and stability so in the last age I had nothing much to buy. I went through the deck to be sure and it did have buildings and all but it seemed like mostly colonies and battles. So that was something that was a bit of a bummer for me.

My last complaint, the box is way WAY too huge for the game. It is mostly cards, some tokens and 2 boards ( plus 5 flimsy player boards ). That's very superficial I know, but I really do HATE terribly large box sized games. I have no place for them in my shelves, I have no desire to lug them around. If someone could resize it in a friendlier box with printed and pasted on art, I would buy it from you! Email me. PM me. Anything. Haha

Winner Winner! *pats self on back* Hahaha

In case I didn't mention it earlier. I won the game! Haha. Could it be the reason I like it so? Don't know, don't think so. But there, living proof of my victory. It was placed so prominently in the middle of the table that I couldn't resist taking a photo of it. After all, I am the winning nation, I can do whatever I please! Hahaha.

I do think about how the game would play with less than 5 players though ( I've only played it 5 players ). The lesser number of cards being available might be a problem for me, but I have thought that if I were to play say 3 players, I might add in all the cards and make the cards on the 4 and 5 player columns cost 1 extra dollar to buy. Not sure if that might work but the big draw of the game is the multiple types of cards available, so in a lesser player game that might suck some of the fun out. One day I have to give it a 3 player shot to see if the lack of cards diminish my thoughts on the game. 

Anyway, just a quick session run through of our play, Eric went war crazy. That was his way of telling us how much he missed us. He wanted to pillage our nation and destroy our resources. Being the friend I am I let him. Haha. I went full steam ahead on stability ( except for the last round ), wonder crazy, and accumulated the most knowledge for the end of age points. I wasn't sure what the rest were focusing on but they all kinda zoned in on military ( fueled by the impending threat of Eric's war rage ). So that was how Egypt's neighbors looked like - red eyed blood lust evil warmongers. :P
My first play was a golden age and building combination strategy, while using military to stave off the war threat. This second play was more fun with the wonders and stability. Those wonders just look so cool on my player board. Haha.
So, that can only mean next time, it will be..... WAR. War is coming. If I ever get a third play of this gem. 

** For those who are wondering, I have not played Through the Ages, so I won't be able to compare it to that. But if it is what they say it is - much heavier than Nations, then I don't think that I will like it. Nations is about as heavy as I would like to invest my 3 hours on. Any more than that and I think it would just be way too tiring and bothersome for me to enjoy the game.



  1. I'm equally surprised the you like Nation! Any you beat Eric by a whopping 20 points! Woah!

    1. Well, it's cos he focused only on military and nothing else. Seems like military doesn't give you much benefits except the opportunity to be annoying.
      I think he should have done less military and some actual points scoring. :P

  2. lol yea i kinda just wanted to get military and see what happens. The effect actually created a panic in the other players (except Jon) and they started switching to military to match me. This is an interesting thing because Jon figured out with enough stability, war is avoided/paid for and so he can concentrate on scoring.