Conquest of Paradise: a soloable 4X

Moderator Level 1

 So,  has Roland's Rambling Reviews,  has Brian's Battery reviews, I decided I must needs name mine something as well. I do plan to continue incorporating the Brian's Battery format. But, I do quite enjoy exploring some of the more discursive aspects of these games. I really enjoy trying to write a little bit about stories that games tell or about simulation vs gameplay, too mention two recent reviews. Only problem is, I don't know what to name my reviews.... Maybe they are just rambling batteries...

There are many sorts of games that really don't translate well to solo play. For instance, the idea of a social deduction style game is incongruous at best. Now, I'm a gamer, primarily a solo gamer, but I love highly interactive, even aggressive games. Many of these have been sorta out of the question for years. However Richard Wilkins (AKA Ricky Royal) and many others have been doing great work in translating these more aggressive and interactive styles of games into compelling solo experiences. Wilkins' works, particularly I might mention his solo mode for #Pax Porfiriana and his automata for #Pax Pamir (Second Edition) edition, are shining examples of highly interactive games that now shine solo. However, a true 4x style of game that plays well solo has proven elusive to me. Now, a 4x style of game, for those who may not know or remember, are those games that display the 4 ex's: EXplore, EXpand, EXterminate, and EXploit. These elements are, apparently, pretty difficult to incorporate into a solo game.

It's not just that I haven't run into these sorts of games. The first game I ever bought specifically for the solo mode was #Scythe. I was sucked in by the art, production, and general design sensibility. But what really drew my attention was the promise that it was a 4x game, and I could play it solo. Learning the multiplayer game was easy. Learning the included ai was tough. It was the first ai I had ever learned. But, that didn't disguise the fact that it was manifestly NOT a 4x game. I started picking up other random solo games, however, they didn't include any that really felt like a 4x. About a year ago I started researching specifically what I should pick up for a solo 4x game. A number of titles were mentioned, I remember 3 in particular, #Hellenica: Story of Greece, #March of the Ants, and #Conquest of Paradise. Of those three, as you may have gathered, I picked up Conquest of Paradise.

Some Expanding and Exploiting is happening.

#Conquest of Paradise is, what I would characterize as a empire building 4x game set in the South Pacific cerca 500 A. D. It's designed by Kevin McPartland and has been published by GMT games since it's release in 2007. The rulebook states that this is a game, "Depicting the great Polynesian maritime empires in the Pacific that existed well before European discovery." It further promises that, "Players experience the same unknowns as their historic counterparts as they send out explorers to discover new island paradises. They settle islands, build canoes for commerce or conquest, train warriors, invest resources in cultural achievements, and organize colonists to expand, defend, and develop their burgeoning island empires." These are grandiose claims, the whole question is whether or not this game can uphold those claims.

Yellow is building up some serious firepower.

The game is played in rounds. Each round consists of players taking turns taking certain actions.

The first step in a round is to determine turn order. The player who is last on the vp track gets to determine who goes first, and in which direction the turn order goes.

The next step is exploration. There is a neat little push-your-luck mini game with the explore action. Basically you send your explorer out and in each unexplored hex you explore you draw a chit from a bowl. The back of the chit shows from 0-3 knots on a rope. If you have revealed 0-4 knots on your explore action, thus far, you may keep on exploring, or you may choose to go home. If you have shown 5 knots, you must return home. If you have shown 6 knots, then your explorer is lost. This basically means you can't use him the next round. This is can be a real problem, so you do want to avoid that. The front of the chit shows whether you have discovered empty ocean, an atoll, an island, or whether you've been blown off course. All the players take a turn exploring.

The next step is to move. Every player gets a chance to move things along established routes which they control. These things can include colonists, warbands, vessels, and the like. These moves can be more or less peaceful in nature. Or they can be with the means of attacking your neighbors. So, these move actions will can include battle and accompanying retreat for one side or the other.

Next, everyone, in turn, has the opportunity to build. The catalog of things to build is pretty large, and quite tempting.

Lastly, everyone determines how many victory points they currently have, adjust their markers on the track, rinse and repeat.

The solo game is a "normal" two player game, except for the fact that your opponent is controlled by a quite simple chit-pull system. The chits are double-sided. Basically, one side has you giving the ai some resources, maybe a village, culture card, or something like that. The other side has an action, attack, explore, or build, etc. In practice, it works quite smoothly. But, I'll discuss it's suitability more later on.

I'll proceed to the Brian's Battery review portion.

Components +
The components are great. I know that GMT has really stepped up their game in the last ten years or so, indeed I think that the first edition of this game came with a paper map. But, in this box, everything is just great. My only complaint is that the counters and chits don't have pre-rounded corners. Other than that, the cards are thick and heavy. The cardboard feels really good. Of special note I've been becoming more and more of a fan of the paper that GMT used in their rulebooks. A lot of rulebooks are a pretty glossy paper, and, that looks nice. However, my rulebooks from GMT, are printed on some sort of matte stock. It feels nice, and in practice, it's much nicer to use. You never get any glare or anything like that.

Art +-
I found the art to be a mixed bag. There's some stuff that's great, and some that's quite poor. Perhaps the worse thing is the art direction is inconsistent.

When set up, it's mostly blue....

Storage solution -
The storage solution is a cardboard well with a bunch of baggies. That is OK with some games. I have played quite a lot of games in which that is the storage solution, and, I've found it fine. However, it does not get a pass here. I might let it go, except for the cardboard well is too small and shallow. I ended up pulling the insert out and flipping it upside down. This gave me two wells, and it works perfectly. That being said, I love the box size, and I love that they make the rulebooks and the board small enough that they don't take up all the interior footprint of the box. Games where I have trouble reaching in and grabbing the board or a rulebook are pet peeves of mine.

Rulebooks/player aids ++-
The rulebook is great. They are clearly written and illustrated. All the components are laid out nicely. It's one of those rare rulebooks that works great, both for learning the game and for looking things up. The second book is mostly historical background, it's quite well done and very readable. There is a player aid for each player. They are well done, they are even individualised which is totally unnecessary, but quite a nice touch. The only place I feel some criticism is warrented is the solo rules. I don't really know what was wrong with them, but somehow I had a harder time parsing it then I did the rest of the rules.

Front and back of a player aid.

Solo play +
The solo ai is very simple to run, once you parse the rules. Furthermore, it is quite aggressive, it attacked me often, and cost me a number of victories. So, in that way it feels like a highly interactive ai. My biggest concern has to do with the variability of the solo game. If you are playing solo, you have to always start on the same island, and the ai always starts on the same island. Of course, there is considerable variability in the tiles that are explored and the chits that are pulled, but I wonder if, with time, the same starting positions will pall just a bit. Also, it does bear mentioning that the solo game is not present in the first edition of the game. I do think that it was printed in a Ci3 magazing a few years after the game was first published.

Readability +
So, this is a very easy game to read. It's super easy to parse the game state. It's easy to tell what counters are what.

Variability ?? 
I am a little concerned by the amount of of variabilty in the solo game. You and the AI opponent always will start at the exact same place on the board. Also, while the AI will play their actions out in different order every game, so, in that way it will feel different. Add that to the fact that the tiles that are revealed during exploration are random, and it seems like there should be a fair amount of variability. And, indeed there is. But, I do feel like it will, after a while, start to feel a little samey. I really don't know if my suspicions will be borne out or not.

The event deck and culture cards can also serve to add a modicum of variety to the game, as do some of the other game modes.

Playing a 4x game always raises all sorts of moral questions. Essentially these games glorify things that we recognize to have been great and real problems in world history. The first question that I always have to think about with this sort of game is whethere or not there is a problem inherent with playing 4x games. And, the second question is related to the first, if there is a problem, wherein does it lie? Does it lie in the fact that real people suffered, and the we are, in a sense, participating in causing those real people to suffer? Or does it lie in the fact that we, as players, are fomenting in our own lives, the attitudes that caused these evils to happen in the first place? How we answer these questions will greatly inform how we view this sort of game.

If we believe that the problem lies in the fact that real people were hurt and we are trivializing that by playing a game about it, then that allows us to play, with our consciences intact, sci-fi or fantastical 4x games. 

If we believe that the problem lies in the fact that many of the people who suffered under the real imperialistic 4x life of the last 500 years are still negatively affected by the practice of empire, than that allows us to play games like Conquest of Paradise with our conscience unstained. After all, the people who suffer in Conquest of Paradise are not knowingly suffering for what happened 1500 years ago.

If we believe that the problem in 4x games lies in the fact that they encourage the attitudes that led to to these practices being perpetrated throughout history, than that affects how we view any 4x game, be it based in a real historical setting, sci-fi, or fantasy.

The thing is, that as humans, nobody is really free from the ugly fact colonialism in their past. This 4x thing seems to be part of human nature. We like to think that this is the sort of rotten things that our ancestors did. And all of our ancestors did it. But, this is the sort of thing that we are all capable of perpetrating today. Indeed, it may be what we are all perpetrating today. I believe that this sort game has value inasmuch as it causes us to consider our lives and where we may be perpetrating such practices in this world today.

I reject that by playing this game one is necessarily glorifying the practices depicted in the game. We, as nerds, have seen this sort of argument in all sorts of situations. We remember the great Christian backlash against D'n'D. We remember all sorts of societal backlash against all sorts of books, games, and hobbies. We have seen where society has stated that by playing something we are glorifying it. Like all misdirection this contains a small kernel of truth. But, we recognize, on a basic level, that lying in #Sheriff of Nottingham is not the same as lying on a tax return. But, we also recognize that for some people, people who love lying and regularly do so, games like #Sheriff of Nottingham might be especially appealing. My question for all of us is, why do we like 4x games? Does it cause is to examine our own lives? Or do we like it, because it confirms our biases and our way of life. I don't think I would ever criticize you for playing a 4x game, but, I may criticize you for the reasons that you play that game.

So, I like #Conquest of Paradise. I think it is a potential overlooked gem. It is a game with a little explored theme. It is a game with a fairly light ruleset and still remains fairly engaging. It is a game that plays quite nicely solo, and I believe will play well multiplayer as well. And, it is a game that has all 4 of the x's that you can play solo. I don't know if any of that is appealing to you or not. But, if it is appealing to you, please check it out.


Like| 4 comments | report | subscribe

Please log in or make an account to post a comment.

Supporter2 months ago

Thanks for the review Chris. Excellent work as always. 

I am definitely intrigued by this one. 

Premium User2 months ago

Good review!

 I would definitely like a good solo 4x game but I don't think this one is for me.  I really prefer multiple players for my solo games.  I like the ensuing chaotic situation. Two players tends to feel too much like a chess match. 

As for your review about Marsh's Magnificient Muster? :)

Moderator Level 12 months ago

Hey.... I like your idea, if everyone else is cool with it. I was thinking more along the lines of Marshes Mumbling Mendacities. LOL

Premium User2 months ago

That works too! :)

The alliterative tradition continues!

Linked Games
Conquest of Paradise