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Board Game Review: Anno 1800

Whenever Martin Wallace designs a new game, I am all over it. This is because I absolutely love Brass Birmingham (another MW designed game); in fact Brass Birmingham is my #1 board game of all time. Over the years, his other games I've tried have been pretty good, but not necessarily amazing must-buys. Still, I keep trying each new release of his, searching for that next star performer. That's why I'm excited to report that Anno 1800 is, in fact, a star performer, and an amazing must-buy board game.

Anno 1800 was adapted by the publisher (Kosmos) from a Ubisoft video game of the same name. In the board game, players take on the role of industrialists, charged with developing their island economies and exploring other islands. Each player begins the game with a personal industry board with trade & exploration ships, a shipyard, and industrial goods tiles printed on the board.

A starting collection of workers (wooden cubes) of various types to produce the goods is also provided to each player. A specific type of worker must be placed on a goods tile on a player’s personal industry board to produce the good, and it remains there until an action is taken (the festival action) to move all the workers back to their unused (“residential”) area. Each player is also dealt a hand of population cards and a couple of trade and exploration tokens. The population cards have a requirement that must be met (depicted on the face of the card; typically the production of a good, or the relinquishment of trade or exploration tokens) before they can be played. The trade tokens are a prerequisite for using an opponent’s goods and the exploration tokens are a prerequisite for sailing to other islands.

In the center of the play area, there is a common industries board, with a limited number of each type of goods tile stacked in little piles for the taking, as well as shipyard and ship tiles. If you’re familiar with Brass Birmingham, the layout on the central board in Anno 1800 is somewhat akin to how the industry tiles are stacked on your personal playing board before you remove them to place on the central board in Brass.

To round out the setup, there are stacks of population cards (sorted by the type of worker each card is associated with), new world cards (basically a twist on population cards; given out as a benefit when you explore new world islands), expedition cards (provide opportunities for additional end game scoring; these are given out as a benefit by population or new world cards but can also be purchased with exploration tokens), and a handful of common objective cards (each one provides end game scoring bonuses for players who meet the objective).    

During a player’s turn, a player chooses from among several actions:

  • Expand industry by adding the ability to produce new goods to their island (construct new industry). To do so, a player will take a goods tile from the central board, flip it over, and place it onto a free space (or over top an existing goods tile they are willing to lose the ability to produce going forward). Some goods tiles have prerequisites that must be met in order to construct them on a personal industry board. For example, to gain the ability to produce soap, a player must place the required type of workers on their personal industry board to produce pig fat and coal. Once they’ve done so, they may take the soap tile from the common industries board.
  • Expand industry by adding a new shipyard to their island (construct a new shipyard). To do so, players will take a shipyard tile from the central board, flip it over, and place it onto a free space along the coast of their island (or over top an existing shipyard tile they are willing to lose the ability to produce ships from going forward). There are level 1, 2, and 3 shipyards, corresponding to the type of ship they can produce. Like goods tiles, shipyards have prerequisites that must be met in order to construct them on a personal industry board.
  • Expand industry by adding new ships to their island (construct one or more new ships).  To do so, players will take as many ship tiles  as they’d like to build from the central board, flip them over, and place them onto free spaces in the harbor of their island (or over top an existing ship tiles they are willing to lose). There are level 1, 2, and 3 ships, corresponding to the type of shipyards that produced them. Like goods tiles, ships have prerequisites that must be met in order to construct them on a personal industry board. Additionally, ship production is limited to 1 ship per established shipyard on a player’s personal industry board.
  • Increase the workforce by up to three new workers by meeting the prerequisites for recruiting each worker. When this action is taken, a player takes the worker cubes from the central supply that they have met the recruiting prerequisites for and adds those workers to their home island, placing them in the residential area. Note that each type of worker taken also requires the player to draw a population card corresponding to that worker type from the central card stacks. This card is added to the player’s existing hand of population cards.
  • Upgrade up to three workers by meeting the prerequisites for upgrading each worker. When this action is taken, a player takes the worker cubes from the central supply that they have met the upgrade prerequisites for and adds those workers to their home island, placing them in the same general area that the worker they are replacing was located. This means if a player upgrades a worker from the residential area on their personal industry board, the upgraded worker should be placed in the residential area as well. But if the player upgrades a worker that was already in place on a goods tile, the upgraded worker should likewise be placed back on that same goods tile.
  • Play a population card from their hand and fulfill the card’s requirement to receive a one time benefit (more workers or worker upgrades, gold, trade or exploration tokens, expedition cards, an extra turn,  new world resources,  or the ability to discard cards in hand without otherwise playing them first). Most of these benefits can be redeemed (“activated”) at any time after playing the card – on the current turn or on a future turn – and these activations are bonus actions, so you can do as many of them on a turn as you wish. Once they are activated, they are turned face down and kept in a player’s personal area. Playing a population card also amasses victory points (called influence points in Anno 1800) to be scored at the end of the game; these will make up the bulk of a player’s influence points when the game is concluded. 
  • Swap up to three population cards from their hand with the same number of cards from the communal population decks. This might be done if a player didn’t find the cards in their hand useful and wanted to gamble for better cards from the central decks.
  • Sail and explore an old world or new world island by expending exploration tokens.  Exploring old world islands extends the manufacturing spaces of a player’s personal industry board and provides an immediate one time bonus as depicted on the old world island drawn. Exploring new world islands provides access to three new raw materials (such as cotton, coffee beans, or tobacco) per island that can be obtained using trade tokens. These materials are accessible only by the player who drew the island (a private relationship with the island natives). If a new world island is explored, the player must also draw three new world cards from the central stacks and add them to their hand.
  • Take an expedition and draw up to three expedition cards by expending exploration tokens. Each of these cards show an animal and an artifact discovered on the expedition. At the end of the game, assuming the player holding the expedition cards has the requisite workers in their supply to oversee the animals and artifacts depicted, they will receive influence points for the specimens.

For any of the above actions that require a prerequisite good that the player cannot or does not want to produce, the good can be obtained from an opponent by trading the required number of trade tokens in exchange for the production of the good. Likewise, for actions that require a worker that the player cannot currently supply because it has been exhausted already, the necessary worker can be returned to its residential district before the action by paying the required amount of gold to entice them home. 

  • Celebrate a festival to reset all workers and replenish trade and exploration tokens. When this action is taken, a player moves all of their workers back to the residential area of their personal industry board and refills each of their ships with the type and number of token specified.   

The game continues, turn after turn, action after action, until a player plays or discards their final population card. Once that happens, that player gains the 7 VP fireworks token, and the rest of the players are allowed to complete their turns in the current round and one additional round, prior to final scoring. Scoring is detailed in the rulebook, but to summarize, it consists of points from population cards, expedition cards, gold, the fireworks token, and the objective cards. Note that scorepads are not included in the game, but can be downloaded from the publisher’s website.

It’s suddenly clear to me that when I really really REALLY love a game, I get so excited about it that I take the time to explain in detail all of the rules of gameplay like I’ve done here for Anno 1800. For most games outside my top 10, I stick to my opinions on the game overall and simply comment on the rulebook (which is well written in this case, by the way) and advise you to read it yourself if you want details on all the gameplay.

Let’s talk components. Highlights of the Anno 1800 component artwork include the box cover and the reproduction of the box cover art on the back of the player boards. The rest of the artwork across the components I’d classify as adequate; it does its job to reinforce the theme without being overly distracting. The component construction and durability are adequate also, and should hold up fine over several plays, except for the population cards. We’ve played less than 10 times and the cards are already bending at the edges. They don’t seem to be high quality I know it’s a little unfair to compare the quality of cardstock used in the high end Kickstarter games I’ve gotten used to with that of the cardstock used in a retail edition of a board game like this one, but it’s really an area that Kosmos could have put a little more care into. You might want to sleeve your population cards to prevent damage if you play this game frequently.

Getting into the gameplay, there’s lots of strategy to explore, game after game. Reading over strategy forums online, I see a lot of discussion on trying to win the game by hoarding all the red workers, getting architect workers first to build ships, creating a strong feedback loop of acquiring new workers and 8 point population cards, etc, etc. Everyone thinks they’ve devised the very best strategy to ensure victory and there is much debate. And of course, the effectiveness of any given strategy varies across different player counts. What works exceedingly well in a 4 player game may not work at all in a 2 player game.

I didn’t face a lot of analysis paralysis in my plays of Anno 1800, and since I’m prone to AP more than most, that bodes well for the rest of you. There just isn’t the complexity here to induce a brain freeze and because you must consume all resources in the same turn that you produced them, long term resource planning isn’t a possibility.

The one drawback in the mechanics of the game is that a player can hijack the entire spirit of the game by attempting to rush the end conditions by disposing of their cards as soon as possible after the game starts. All they need to do is go out first, and if they can do that before any other player has laid down many of their population cards, they can easily come out ahead if no one else is paying attention, given they’ll also be awarded the 7 point fireworks token. What I want to say about this is that if you pay attention when you spot a player trying to do that, you can switch your strategy to focus on completing the 3 and 5 point population cards before they go out instead of the 8 pointers you might otherwise be prioritizing and you should still be able to come out ahead of them when they bring an early end to the game. Alternatively, you can just stop inviting over the friend who sucks the fun out of the game by rushing the ending.

Just as with Brass Birmingham, what we have here in Anno 1800 is a well themed (love me some industrial action) board game with mechanics that are easy to learn, yet in their interoperability, provide depth to the game, especially when combined with the scarcity of certain resources like the red workers. There’s also  a highly addictive quality to Wallace’s games like this one, wherein you construct a thing that produces things, and then you produce those things, and then you use the things you produced as input to construct another thing or produce more things. I love that resource chaining in Brass and I love it here!

Anno 1800 is a strong buy recommendation from me; pick up the game online or from your FLGS (shout out to mine: https://www.geek-city.com/) and get it on the table. I’d love to know what you think of it also – you can comment here or tag me on IG @thatswhatjennisaid .

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Publisher: Kosmos
Players: 2-4 (We played with 2 and 4)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 2 hours per game
Game type: worker placement, hand management, card games
Retail Price: $69.95 direct from the publisher https://store.thamesandkosmos.com/products/anno-1800

Rating:

review-OUIOUIOUI

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

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