Full disclosure: A review copy of Discovery: The Era of Voyage was provided by EmperorS4 Games.
Alright, as the Gen Con games continue, so the Essen games must start, as well. As with complex timetable management, I’m going to try to push out reviews of Essen games and Gen Con games for the next few months and through the holidays. What a time to be alive. Either way, reaffirming my commitment to trying to cover games from outside the US / Europe circuit, for the next few weeks I’m going to cover games from various publishers outside of that sphere, starting with EmperorS4 Games, based in Taiwan: Discovery, and Realm of Sand.
In Discovery: The Era of Voyage (not to be confused with Endeavor: Age of Sail), it’s the dawn of a new age. You’ve got boats, you see, and you can finally cross the ocean and see what lies beyond your shores. Discover new islands and invest in them to build influence and gain victory points, but watch out for tariffs your opponents might impose. Will you be able to usher in a new age of discovery? Or will you end up running your ambitions aground?
So, there are 17 Island Cards:
They come in a few types. The Central Island (white) always goes in the center, Production Islands (brown) help you get resources, Commercial Islands (red) help you make some money, and Cultural Islands (purple) help you score points:
Give each player a Ship in a color of their choice, along with the relevant Investment Markers:
Also, set aside the resources and coins:
Add VP to the Cultural Island, according to your player count:
- 2 players: 10 VP
- 3 players: 15 VP
- 4 players: 20 VP
Choose a starting player and give each player a certain number of coins:
- First player: 3 coins
- Second player: 3 coins
- Third player: 4 coins
- Fourth player: 4 coins
Everyone should place their ship markers on the Central island and then you’re ready to start! If you’re playing with two players, place an Investment Marker from the unused players on the Central Island, as well.
So in Discovery: The Era of Voyage, you play as various ship captains seeking glory at sea and finding islands that you can invest in to increase your influence. As you invest, you can do more at each island (as you’re building up its infrastructure). Be warned, your opponents are doing the same, and can even shut you out!
On your turn, you can move in one of two ways:
- Move to / from the Central Island. When you move to the Central Island, gain one money. When you move from the Central Island, you may move to any space on the board and then choose if your ship will face clockwise or counterclockwise. This is the only way to change direction.
- Move around the outer islands. You may move up to three spaces normally. If you would like to move more, then you can use a similar rule to Mystery of the Temples: 1 coin to move four spaces, 3 coins to move five spaces, and 6 coins to move six spaces. When you land on an island, you gain effects equal to your investment:
- 0 Investment Markers: You gain only the leftmost box / effect.
- 1 Investment Marker: You gain the left and middle boxes / effects. You may choose the order you activate them, if it matters.
- 2 / 3 Investment Markers: You gain all boxes and effects. You may choose the order you activate them, if it matters.
If you land on an island occupied by any other player(s), you must pay one coin to each player currently on that island. If you cannot, you cannot go to that island.
Once you’ve performed an island’s action (except for the Central Island), you may spend resources equal to the pictured ones on the top-left of the Island Card to invest in that island. When you do, add one of your Investment Markers to the Island Card. On subsequent turns, you will be able to take the next available action. If you ever have three Investment Markers on an island, no other players can invest. That’s always fun. You cannot invest in an island more than three times (there’s no point, anyways), and you may only invest once per turn.
That’s pretty much the whole game. Play continues until one of three statements is true:
- Someone takes the last VP from the Cultural Island.
- A player runs out of Investment Markers.
- All Islands are unavailable for Investment. I’m not sure how this last one can occur outside of a four-player game, and even then I doubt it will happen all that often, but it’s good that they’re being robust.
When any of these occur, finish the round so that each player gets equal turns, and then do final scoring.
Final scoring is pretty simple, as you add these two things:
- VP Tokens. Each VP token gives you the depicted number of points.
- Island Majorities. For each Island Card, check the number of Investment Markers. The player with the most gains the depicted number of VP, and the player with the second-most gains the smaller depicted number of VP. If there’s a tie for first, all tied players get the second-place VP (and the second-most gets 0 VP). If there’s a tie for second, all tied players gain 0 VP. Rough.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is the two-player variant:
At two, the game behaves slightly differently. After the first player’s turn (but before the second player), the second player may place the two out-of-play Ship Markers on any two unoccupied Island Cards and chooses which direction they are facing. On any subsequent turn, if a player would stop at an Island Card occupied by these pirates, they must pay one coin to the Supply and move that pirate 1 – 2 steps. They will skip over other players / pirates. As with the normal game, if you cannot afford to do that, you can’t move there.
If you’d like, you can also spend a coin or a resource to change the direction of the pirates.
Beyond that, the game plays normally.
Other than that, the game’s pretty similar. There’s more contention for Island Cards at higher player counts, so I hope you enjoy spending money, but I think it kind of cancels out in the long term, as you’re about as likely to pay as get paid. It just can help situationally, so you should be mindful about who you’re paying (and when).
Slight preference for this at three, but not much of one.
- Don’t play catch-up. You don’t want to be consistently moving to occupied spaces; you’ll bleed yourself dry (financially). Instead, focus on trying to be ahead of the pack and forcing other players to move to the space where you are, so they pay you instead.
- Identify the choke points early. Some builds will have low yields of a certain resource type. If that’s the case, make sure that’s where you start investing early, otherwise you run the risk of your opponents shutting you out with three Investment Markers (and making it hard for you to progress in other areas without extra work).
- Invest intelligently. There are many ways to do this. You can place a third marker and guarantee you get the high VP yield on the high-scoring Island Cards; you can spread your Investment Markers around so that you’ll at least get something on most islands; or you can even just try to rush the end of the game and hope that your opponents are caught off-guard. Just make sure you’re doing something with them.
- Build an engine. There are some obvious engines in the first-game cards, so try for those (cycling to get fruits / upgrade via fruits / upgrade the thing that gives you more fruits, etc.). Beyond that, you should be working to identify an easy cycle that will help you ramp up. You’ll need to invest gradually to start building it up, though, so do that.
- To build an engine, you need to have a plan (and some backup plans). If you’re making your cycle too obvious you might get some players that “accidentally” block you. If that happens, don’t give them the satisfaction! Skip around and come back to complete your engine later, if you can.
- Also, this engine-building game is shorter than you expect. Don’t put off until tomorrow the engine that you can start today. All it takes is one player investing 8 times for you to be in the last round, and you can only invest once per turn. You don’t want to be the player who suddenly realizes that they need to invest but still has four Investment Markers left. Resources and money are worth nothing at the end of the game; you should try your best to have none of them left (because you spent them all).
- Going back to the Central Island is usually a mistake. That means that you can’t do something more useful, and there are a lot of things more useful than earning one coin. That said, it might be useful if you can use this to shift positions to where your rival will be in two turns; that means they’ll land on the same space as you and have to pay you money, the dream.
- At two players, get aggressive with the pirates. Force your opponent to pay one of you by setting it up such that the next three spaces after them are all blocked. Is it rude? Yes. But is it funny? Absolutely.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I think I love rondels. I just really like moving in circles, in games. It’s a peaceful sort of motion.
- The art is really great! I love that all the Island Cards have unique art. It’s a nice touch that adds a lot to the game. For shuffling reasons, it would be nice if they had the same backs (within their types) but that’s hardly a big enough thing to actually complain about.
- The ability to reverse your direction around the rondel for strategy reasons is really neat. It’s kind of funny because Dreams of Tomorrow (which I’m covering next week) has a similar mechanic, and it’s just humorously odd to be covering the same fairly-unique mechanic across two very different games so close together in time.
- The extra cards add a lot more complexity and some more fun ways to play. It’s definitely like Most Wanted’s secret in-box expansion in that it adds a lot of extra value. That said, without it, it’d almost be a wallet game in size, so it’s good to have that extra.
- Surprisingly easy to set up and teach. Like I said, it’s pretty similar in complexity to a wallet game, just with a few more bits to track resources. You could honestly have done that with a few tracking bits on the cards (and some cubes). It’s fine that it’s not; just an interesting thing.
- I appreciate that the game could have had a much worse colonization slant (given the timeliness of the subject matter) but it focuses instead on exploration and discovery. Honestly, that’s just me being relieved more than anything else.
- The spices do not look like spices. I originally thought the only currencies in the game were pears, grapes, and gold, and was confused, but what do I know about the era of voyage? Literally nothing. So, I kinda rolled with it. You can imagine my surprise when I re-read the rulebook and realized these people weren’t just thirsty for pears; they loved fruit in general. That was a major revelation that defined who I am as a person.
- It would be nice to have a good place to put Investment Markers. I guess above the cards is fine, but it’s nice to put them on the cards. I feel like a reprint of the game that’s a bit more expensive with tarot-size cards would be pretty awesome, for me.
- I don’t really see people using the Cultural Islands that often. I think it might just be a like, specific playstyle, but maybe we need more experience before we can work that in. I’m not sure, but I’ve only ever seen like, 5VP total get removed, I think, which isn’t a lot.
- I wish the boats were a bit bigger. This is mostly a nitpick.
- This is weird, coming from me, but I wish it were longer? The game hits its stride about 80% of the way through and then it’s basically done. I’d like a longer opportunity to hit the engine parts of the engine-building (via the investments). I feel like two more Investment Markers would do it? Ironically, there are rules for how to make the game shorter, which is humorous. It’s possible to make it longer by making it harder to gain some resources, but that’s not longer in the way that I mean; that’s just slowing the game down. I’d just like a few more turns to try and leverage the engine I built.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Discovery: The Era of Voyage is pretty fun! I think I kind of would like it better if it had a smaller footprint (and did something similar to Ahead in the Clouds for tracking resources), but in either case it’s fairly Euro-y, which is nice and all but I’m not the biggest Euro fan in town. What it does do that appeals to me is it shows up with some great art, pretty low-effort setup, and some straightforward gameplay, which are all things that I really like. Plus, it essentially comes with a mini-expansion straight out of the gate with all new Island Cards for you to try and build up an engine through, which is pretty interesting. If you’re looking for a light euro or if you just love rondels or if you’ve always wanted to captain a vessel, it’s worth checking out Discovery: The Era of Voyage, especially if you’re going to be at Essen!