Let’s do something from Bezier Games, since I’ve been dragging my feet on Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Suburbia for literally over a year, at this point. Seriously, Castles was going to be like, the fourth or fifth game I reviewed and then I just … haven’t, yet. Still working on that. And Pandemic.
Colony takes place after one of the nanapocalypse, the nanopocalypse, or the ‘nanerpocalype, caused by one of grandmas, small robots going out of control, or, as Gwen Stefani predicted, bananas. Yes, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. I … might not have read the lore all that closely. Regardless of the cause, eighty years later you must rebuild so that life can continue. That said, you also want the best colony for obvious reasons, so you might have to resort to … less-than-scrupulous methods to prevent your opponents from getting the better of you. Can you lead humanity into a grand new age?
So the first thing you’ll notice is that, like Dominion, this game has a fair number of cards:
Also, it has a fair number of dice (in two colors!) and weird circle things called CHIPIs (or Cybernetic Holders of Instant Production Improvment — there will be a test on this):
You’re going to want to set the dice and CHIPIs aside, for now, but keep the grey and white dice separate. White dice are known as stable resources, and grey dice are unstable. Also, set out the scoreboard and have each player start at 0.
Now, some of these cards are starting cards, and each player should get one with the white side up. I’ll talk more about the back / black / 2.0 side later on.
Some are basic cards, and should always be in play:
Those are the GMO Farm, Protein Lab, Fabric Replicator, Fiber Mill, Uranium Mine, and Fallout Shelter. Set those stacks out near the scoreboard.
Now, there are a ton of other cards, and those are Variable cards. I mean there’s a lot of cards, as I’ve said. It’s actually pretty similar to Dominion, in that sense:
You need 7 sets of Variable Cards, so you can pick what you want or use the Colony card selector app, but here’s what I’d generally recommend:
- Don’t use more than one Attack (red) card. You don’t need that kind of hate in your life.
- If you do use an Attack (red) card, use a Defensive (yellow) card as well. It’ll make everyone’s lives better. Chain Link Fence is (for some unknown reason) a bit stronger than the rest (in my opinion), so maybe try something else early on. Production Shield is pretty cool.
- Don’t use a Trade card (purple) with two players. Yes, they give you something to buy and are generally worth slightly more points (more on that later), but they are kind of dead weight since you won’t want to trade with your only opponent. Your mileage may vary on this one, so you do you.
Only use X cards of each Variable card set, where X is the number of players. This is just one of the rules, so it’s not a recommendation. That said, I forget it every time.
Note that if you’re playing more than one game in a row, let every player except the winner swap one of the in-play Variable cards for a set of their choice (from lowest to highest score). It’s a cool way to chain games together so that you don’t have to readjust to a completely new set of Variable cards.
Anyways. Once you’ve done that, have everyone take three stable dice (white) and roll them. The player with the lowest sum goes first, and every player puts the dice they rolled in their warehouse.
If this is the first game you’ve ever played of Colony ever (or it’s someone’s!), flip your Upgrade and Construction cards to their back / black / 2.0 sides. This will also earn you one point, so every player starts at 1 on the scoreboard.
If you are playing with four players, give the fourth player a CHIPI. It’s to make up for them going super last. They only get this once.
Once you’re ready to play, the play area should look like this:
At the very beginning of your turn is the Prepare phase. Apparently, here you’re supposed to take the dice out of your Warehouse and place them in your play area. You can keep them in your Warehouse if you want, though. Some cards have effects that take place during the Prepare phase, so you should know when it is.
Next up is Scavenge. The active player takes three white stable resource dice and rolls them. They can also elect to use up to three CHIPIs to add one grey unstable resource die per CHIPI spent to that roll. You keep all unstable dice rolled and then draft the stable dice a la 7 Wonders, Between Two Cities, or Tides of Time. Note that in a two-player game this means you’ll get one of those dice back, and in a four-player game that means the player to the right of the active player gets nothing. If your Warehouse is full and it’s not your turn, you must either discard the die you draft or swap it out with a die in your Warehouse. Just a quick thing.
So, once you’ve settled your dice, you move on to the Activate phase. In this phase, you can activate any of your cards to use their ability. There are many cards with a lot of abilities, so I’m not going to enumerate over all of them. If you’d like someone to, please consult this rulebook PDF which explains them all.
A card that I will explain that you can activate is Construction. At its base level (white side), it’ll let you buy one card from the stock for the resource cost that it shows. You can spend stable or unstable resources that you have to purchase that card and then add it to your supply area, but you cannot use / upgrade that card this turn. Generally, that earns you points, so move yourself up the scoreboard. If you upgrade the Construction card or start with it upgraded, you can buy as many cards as you can afford. If you buy nothing this turn, you collect two CHIPIs. (Note that upgrading cards is not building, so if you only upgrade on your turn, take two CHIPIs.) Also, if you upgrade a card that you haven’t activated yet this turn, you use the upgraded ability when you do activate it.
- Green cards are Production. They generally gain you resources. Usually, these are unstable until you upgrade them, at which time they become stable. Word on the street is that one will just gain you CHIPIs, though…
- Blue cards are Exchange. These cards let you exchange your dice / resources for other resources from the Supply. My personal favorite is the Tweaker (lets you “tweak” a die up or down by one pip), but I hear the Transmogrifier (reroll a die) can be pretty handy…
- Purple cards are Trade. While trade and exchange might sound like synonyms, their effects are very different. These cards let you trade resources with another player, and if you do you gain a benefit. Note that you cannot trade the same resource (what we call the “Sheep-for-Sheep” strategy in Catan), which is a huge lame bummer, but oh well.
- Red cards are Attack. These cards are designed to frustrate your opponents and generally steal / ruin their stuff. Mean.
- Yellow cards are Defensive. Why are most of the other card types nouns and this is an adjective? Who knows. You could argue that production is a noun and I’d accept that, but anyways. These cards block Attacks. You should buy one if any player buys an Attack card. For some reason, the Chain Link Fence seems to be a bit stronger than the Force Fields…
- Orange cards are Paragon. These cards just get you lots of points, sometimes for weird reasons. That said, it’s generally good to buy at least one…
- Grey cards are Other. These cards are weird, especially Gambling Den, which I only barely understand. To be honest, I had to look it up.
One last thing that you can do during your turn is essentially a final lunge. If the leader is X points ahead of you on your turn, you can discard one of your cards from the game (permanently, mind you) to gain X stable dice and immediately roll them. If that card you discarded was worth points, you lose those points, but you lose them after you gain the dice. This is a great last-ditch effort to try and win the game, but you can only do this once per turn, for obvious reasons.
Now, Cleanup. During this phase, you just make sure that all your unstable resources are returned to the supply and your stable resources are safe in your Warehouse or some other container card.
After this point, you check if any player has the required number of points. 15 in a 4-player game, 16 in a 3-player game, or 20 in a 2-player game. If any player has reached that, they win! No extra last turns or anything; the game just ends.
Player Count Differences
Generally the major difference is how the drafting works. In a two-player game you might get two dice. In a three-player game you will always get one die. In a four-player game you might get zero dice. That’s life in the colony. Additionally, a fourth player gets a CHIPI to start to compensate for going so late, so … that’s nice.
There’s also a solo mode, but it’s literally just “score the most points” with a slow timer mechanic (you put two of the three dice you roll back in the box each turn). It doesn’t seem as interesting to me as other solo modes for other games (such as Curse You, Robin Hood!; Wordsy; or Valley of the Kings, which are among my preferred solo games at the moment) so if I were playing solo I’d just play two players and fight myself. I do that for Dominion from time to time because, well, I have friends they’re just busy sometimes.
No, I don’t want to talk about it.
Despite it being a dice-heavy game, there are a lot of different strategies / luck mitigation techniques you can do to help yourself, similar to Roll for the Galaxy.
- You’re in great shape if you can produce a 2, 3, and 4 every turn. There’s a whole strategy around always upgrading cards, since that gets you points and CHIPIs. You just need to buy a GMO Farm, Protein Lab, and Fabric Replicator. A bit easier said than done.
- An upgraded Experimental Generator is … really good? Kind of diminishing returns, there, since you can only spend three CHIPIs per turn, but it means each turn after you activate it the first time you can spend two CHIPIs and roll five dice. That’s a lot of extra dice.
- If you buy an Attack card, buy the Defensive cards, too. This deprives your opponent of them, which is incredible if you can have one opponent who can’t defend against attacks. It’ll frustrate them to death, but, hey, free dice for you.
- Look at all of your cards each turn. As you build a larger tableau, it’ll become a bit harder to remember what cards and abilities you have access to, and it’s possible you’ll miss one. If you do, that might be a disaster, so take a second each turn to just remind yourself which cards you own. I’ve seen this cost people the game.
- Certain types of cards favor certain strategies. For instance, Transmogrifier rewards having lots of dice, since you can reroll them and get new dice out of the mix. Stabilizer rewards you for not upgrading your Production cards (since it can stabilize them for you), but Infrastructure rewards you for upgrading cards. Using Scrap Shack + an upgraded Investment Bank can get you at least a point every turn. Generally, try to find these synergies.
- Sometimes your best move is just to buy what you can. Remember, you’re after points. If you can buy a Time Lock Vault, that’s an extra point, and that might win you the game.
- If you’re going to burn a card for those extra dice, it’s generally best to burn your Warehouse. You can’t hold any more dice, but you’re trying to win the game this turn or bust, and that won’t cost you any points to lose (unless it’s upgraded, I think?). Try to make sure you’re not burning points for dice.
- Generally, sixes are pretty good. That’s about it, yeah. You just kinda want sixes. Lots of the Paragon (higher point) cards require sixes.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pretty simple to learn. Yeah, you have to digest what all the cards do, but outside of Gambling Den the symbols all kind of make sense, so it works out. Could be a lot more complicated for what it is, but it manages not to be.
- I enjoy tableau-builders and dice games. That’s probably why I like Roll for the Galaxy so much and why I like this game a lot as well. If you like either of those things, I’d give it a chance.
- I also like modular games. My love for Dominion and Burgle Bros. probably proves this for me, but I like that you can pull out different card sets for different types of games. I especially like the rules for subsequent games. I haven’t seen many games make accommodations for playing more than one game in a sitting, and I feel like it’s a nice touch. I think it also adds some potential for expansions + high replay value, so all-around a nice touch.
- Has a good competitive feeling to it. I think the catch-up mechanism is a bit strong, but it definitely lets people who are towards the back of the score pack feel like they’re still in the game. Even moreso if they’re trailing by a large amount. Rolling 6+ extra dice on your turn can close some gaps.
- Some of the cards are really cool. I really like some of the concepts, like increasing or decreasing a die by one pip (Tweaker) or “splitting” a dice into two dice whose values sum to that value (Black Market). It seems like they really tried to come up with dice effects that might be cool or useful, albeit sometimes situational, and it paid off.
- Good rulebook. It’s thorough and has a lot of first-time instructions and succinct card descriptions where possible and needed. It’s a solid rulebook.
- The dice are a bit small. I think that’s just to keep costs down, but they make me feel like a giant sometimes.
- Gambling Den is confusing. That’s just been bothering me for a while. I’ve read a bit to try and understand what it does, but I ended up having to watch a video to be sure.
- Some of the cards feel objectively better than other cards. I think that it’s definitely highly contextual, but it seems like there are entire board layouts where there’s a dominant strategy. Especially with cards like the Experimental Generator. But that might just be my experience. Do you have preferred card setups? Let me know in the comments!
- You don’t always have a lot of options. Sometimes you get behind the 8-ball and you just have to buy whatever card you can afford rather than getting to plan out a strategy. I think that might just be bad dice management, but I’ve seen it happen in games. Just try to make sure you’re using the Supply Exchange well and hoping for the best.
- Trading is weird. I think I just generally dislike trading in games, though. Didn’t like it in Above and Below, hate it in Catan, but it’s solid in Curse You, Robin Hood! (probably because there’s no real negotiation). I think it was a lot better when I thought you could trade the same value dice, because then it at least became comical and a bit tongue-in-cheek. That said, the Trade cards are cheap and worth a fair number of points, so they might be worth checking out.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I enjoy Colony a lot! There are some things I don’t like as much (attacks, generally), but I have the same issues with other modular games and just opt to play without them. I like the dice throwing, I like the tableau building, and I like the variety of strategies you can utilize to get you there. At $60, it’s kind of expensive, but it’s a game I’ve enjoyed and would recommend to others to check out. Plus, given its modularity, I’d hope for an expansion sometime in the near future. Would love to see what’s next for Colony.