In June of 2020 allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment emerged from Ubisoft. Since then there has been some ‘restructuring’ and some higher ups have made their departures from the company (keeping their shares in the process). However, it was reported in May of 2021, that things have not actually changed. With that in mind, there will be no final score on this review as I refuse to score anything with a Ubisoft license tied to it.
About a year ago, I heard someone give a summary of a new board game that was, at the time, only available in German. Very deep, very crunchy. A fascinating engine builder for 2-4 players, that was worth picking up and downloading the fan translated manual (everything else is just icons so no need for a reprint of the board or components). I stuck it on my wishlist until someone else pointed out that it’s fundamentally about colonialism (the plague of the board gaming world) and then it was gone.
No worries, one less thing to find shelf space for.
However, If you follow my YouTube channel, you’ll know that I get the Zatu New Release Box every month (it’s been pretty good so far). Consequently, as of this Saturday, I’m now in possession of a copy of Anno 1800.
Anno 1800 the board game is a 2-4 player engine building game that plays in about 2 hours (though your first game may take considerably longer) and is based on the Ubisoft (who I mentioned earlier, with the allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment that went on for years and who employees say have done little to change or improve on that) published game of the same name.
The two part game board is held together like the world’s most simple jigsaw puzzle and features spaces for the 120 construction tokens in 44 different types and four different decks of cards (three types of population and the expedition cards). Next to the board, you’ll need to create a stack of New World expansion tiles, Old World expansion tiles, trade tokens, exploration tokens, gold, and population cubes (divided into five colours). Players then get a home island board each, a starting population (cubes and their matching cards), a couple of trade tokens, and a game aid. All in, you could be looking at 10 minutes set up, especially the first time, as those construction tiles require a lot of sorting.
The game largely consists of picking a construction tile you want to build on your home island, placing workers on spaces on your board in order to generate the required resources (or trading with other players if they have a resource you don’t have access to) and placing the construction somewhere on your board to make it available for generating a new resource in future.
In addition, players can expand their workforce in the same manner, allowing them to do more before they run out of available workers, open up more of their home island to construction, explore the New World (potentially giving access to otherwise unavailable resources like sugar cane, tobacco, rubber, cocoa, cotton, and coffee) complete population cards (to earn victory points), or celebrate a festival (making workers and sea vessels available to use again).
The game ends when any player has no more cards in their hand. That said, it can be very difficult to tell if ending the game is the best idea for you since victory points are mostly based on what population cards you’ve completed. With Farmer/Worker cards being worth 3 for each completed card, Artisan/Engineer/Investor cards are worth 8, and New World cards worth 5 each.
Lastly, there’s points based on expeditions and objectives. 5 objective cards are randomly laid out at the beginning of the game, these will either allow once per turn bonuses, or end game bonuses based on things like who has the highest numbers of engineers or how many New World tiles a player has taken. Expedition cards are a bit different, these show an animal on the left, and an artifact on the right. Each is on a coloured background, which defines which type of population cube you will have to assign to it during scoring in order to gain points. There are a couple of objective cards, the zoo and museum, which will give you points for each covered animal and artifact respectively.
I’ve simplified as much as possible because otherwise we’ll be here all day on rules explanation. So moving on.
“I’m making a cool game based on a tech tree, lots of things that require other things, a little peaceful Euro game style interaction with other players, gathering of resources, interlocking systems?”
Cool idea, tell me about the setting.
“Well, it’s called Anno 1800, so we’re giving the vibe of the industrial age.“
Machines, cool. Go on.
“There’s also some colonial era trade stuff.”
“Not to worry, we’re going to obfuscate it by naming your home island as the Old World and other places the New World. We’re also keeping the art on the board and New World tiles completely free of people, that way people don’t have to think about the exploitation.”
*silently blinking in a shocked manner*
“Most of the New World cards will feature people of colour, in fact, there’s only two white people in this whole deck (one who looks like a british explorer and the other is a missionary nun). Oh, and to get to explore the New World you’ll need exploration tokens.”
Uh-huh, and so that token would be represented by, like, a compass or a ship or something?
“Nah, it’s crossed swords.”
*sounds of screaming followed by sending this person to learn some fucking history and how not to be gross*
Look, I agree, there’s something majestic about a big ole ship sailing the ocean, there’s a magic to exploring the world in which you live (personally I love finding a bit of woodland I’ve never walked through before). There’s fun to be had in solving the puzzle of a tech tree.
However, white European history is full of atrocities carried out on people from other parts of the world. You can’t just make a fun game about the exploitation of indigenous people and resources and try and smooth off the edges by not directly tying people to their land and hoping we don’t notice.
If you want the basic concepts of this type of game to work, you probably need to set it in space and make it about establishing mutually beneficial, non-exploitative trade with the indigenous peoples you encounter (although, too often when someone tries this, they love getting stuck in with a slave race or something from one of the planets they visit).
Okay, last points, let’s wrap up.
The cards are super flimsy (think Terraforming Mars levels of thin), the game aid sheets are printed on glossy paper and feel super fragile, if you’re someone with obsessive issues, you will spend much of the game straightening the tiles on the game board as they will get knocked all the time.
- Ubisoft license means you’re giving money to a company who are rife with allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment, who have done seemingly nothing of any real consequence to atone for this or help those who were victims
- Components are flimsy
- Chock full of colonialism, with the corners rounded off