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G@mebox author Doug Adams writes about the game :
Endeavor is an empire expansion game, published by Z-MAN GAMES in late 2009. The designers are based in New Zealand, but the game clearly shows its European roots. It is a very clean design, and this combined with the fantastic presentation, means the game should have a wide appeal.
The theme of the game is each player represents a major European colonial power, and must develop their economy to allow efficient expansion across the globe. The game is abstracted to a large degree - the powers themselves aren't named, and players don't enter the gameboard at fixed locations. We're in the realm of Vinci here - you just appear on the board when and where you like.
Underneath the theme we have a growth game. Start with not much, gain stuff that contributes to growth, and gradually accelerate what you can do on each turn. It's one of those games were you always seem to want to do a little more with your available resources. Endeavor is obviously inspired by some of the great games of the past ten years - I can certainly spot the influence of Through The Ages, Puerto Rico, Goa, and others in this design.
Endeavor makes a striking first impression. The box is the standard square box that I usually associate with the Kosmos line of family games. The box art is stunning, designed to appear as a weathered leather satchel containing period maps and charts. The credits for the graphics go to Josh Cappel, who did such a wonderful job bringing Wasabi and 1960: The Making Of The President to life. Endeavor is another wonderful job - not as vibrant as the other two games, but the muted tones match the period very well.
The components inside the box look just as good, and there is a bit in there. The game board features a map of Europe with ten cities. The cities are unnamed, but with a bit of imagination you can spot London, Paris, Lisbon, Rome, etc. Surrounding Europe in boxes are six regions of the globe - Far East, India, North and South America, Africa and the Caribbean. Each of these regions have a number of cities, varying between two (Africa) and five (Far East). Every city on the board has an associated circle that holds a token at the beginning of the game.
You could be forgiven on first glance in thinking someone had upended a bowl of spaghetti in the vicinity of the game. The game board has a myriad of white paths snaking across the board, connecting up the cities. For example, London connects up to Goa and Boston (I'm guessing, they are not named). Some of these pasta strands are quite long, and it reminded me a little of the paths in Pfeffersaecke (aka Medieval Merchants). Most paths are clear, but the ones tracing to the Caribbean and North America get a little difficult to follow. These paths represent cornering the market between two cities, and are bisected by a small token circle.
The other thing you notice about the board is the chain of little token circles in each region, between six and eight spaces long, that end in a deck of cards. These are the shipping lanes that control when the region has been "opened" to Europe, allowing expansion into and exploitation of that region.
If you count up the token circles on the cities, shipping lanes and paths, you should total 95. You then glance at the countersheets to punch out and see 79 trade tokens representing Industry (bricks), Culture (pots), Finance (coins) and Politics (coat of arms). You also get 16 blue tokens that allow special actions during the game. These 95 tokens have to be shuffled up and one placed in every circle on the game board. Yes, it's fiddly and it does take a while. Anybody who has played Knizia's Africa will be right at home here.
Included in the game is a pack of asset 48 cards, broken up into eight decks of six cards each. These decks are sorted by icon and ascending order and placed into each of the six regions on the board, with the last two decks going into Europe. The cards feature icons matching the trade tokens, as well as the Glory icon. Glory is a fancy name for victory points.
At this point we've only talked about the game board. The game also comes with five very large player mats. These mats are around 11 inches square and record the players holdings during the game. Yes, a five player game will take up a lot of table space. The mats are well designed and the information is clearly presented. The top half of the map records the player's current levels of development (the Industry, Finance, Culture and Politics discussed above), while the bottom half holds the player's buildings and asset cards. These mats are so large I won't be able to host a five player game on my table - and my table isn't small! I think it may have been better to cut the mats in two allowing more setup flexibility.
An extra burden on the table space are the 45 building tiles that come with the game. These are sorted into fifteen different building types, further sorted by building level (1 to 5). They are set up on the table, so all players can see what is still available to build. Finally each player receives some markers to record their trade token levels, as well as 30 colonists in their color. In good old Puerto Rico fashion, these sit aside, and get recruited onto a player's mat during their turn.
Endeavor is a very simple game to teach and play. It is so straightforward, you can set up, begin playing, and learn from the rulebook as you go. This is exactly what my wife and I did, and it was a breeze.
Turns are broken into four phases, but the first three phases can be done very, very quickly.
Phase one: build a building. In Endeavor you don't need to provide brick, wood, clay, reeds, whatever, you just take a building and place it on your mat. You are restricted by your current Industry level, so as you collect brick trade tokens you will gradually "level up" your Industry track, and get access to better buildings. Buildings are also the game clock. The game only lasts seven turns, and you know it's about to end when the last building space is taken on your player mat.
Phase two: take population tokens. These are drawn from your off-mat pool, and placed in your harbour on your mat. Your Culture defines how much population you receive each turn, and you can level that up in exactly the same way you level up Industry. Collect more pots, get more population.
Phase three: pay your population. This allows you to take population off your buildings and put them back in your harbour. The amount you can remove from a building is equal to your Finance level, and yes, collect more coins, remove more population. Paying your population is vital as it gives you more tokens to play with, as well as freeing up a building. Buildings typically grant actions by dropping a population marker on it, however you can't use that building again until the population marker is paid off and the building freed up.
The above three phases literally take a minute to perform. The meat of the game is in Phase four...
Phase four: the action phase. Players in turn take an action to influence the game board. Players can take actions in one of two ways. Most common is you pick up an available population from your harbour and drop it on a free building, then perform the action or actions granted by that building. Less common is you hand in a previously collected blue trade token, and perform one of the actions granted on the token. Players continue to take actions in round-the-table order until everyone has passed.
When a player takes an action, the common result is they will pick up a trade token or card off the game board. Whenever this occurs, players immediately record their gains in Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics on their player mat. This may advance their current values in these areas across a threshold, thus levelling up that aspect of their empire. As all these tokens and cards are face up during the game, perfect information is available and players can tailor their strategy accordingly.
Taking an action is very quick ... after discarding a blue trade token, or placing a population on a building, perform the granted action. The possible actions are:
Ship - the player simply places a free population marker on a shipping lane in one of the six regions. If a token is still available, it is taken and recorded. If it's the last space in the lane, that region is now open of expansion and the Governorship is awarded. The player with the most "ships" on the lane to that region gets the first card in the deck - the "Governor" card. Governor cards are typically stuffed with juicy symbols and are nice to get - the value of the cards decay after the Governor is awarded, and it can take a while to tunnel down and get to the good cards again.
Occupy - the player takes a free population marker and places is on a free city on the board. This could be in Europe, or a city in a region that had previously been opened via ship actions. The token on the city is taken and recorded. If the city is connected via pasta strand to another city and that player controls cities at each end, they get the trade token on the mid-point of the strand.
Attack - now we're talking! One warlord at the table will quickly build a Barracks or Fortress and begin attacking. It's basically the Occupy action, but instead you occupy a city of another player, kicking them out. It does cost an additional population, but may give you control of a connection and the associated trade token. As any city could be connected to two other cities, it's likely someone will be gunning for you to complete their own connection.
Payment - this is a rare action, only available via a couple of blue trade tokens, or the rarified level 5 buildings. These allow a player to pay off a building, returning the population marker to the harbour and allowing the building to be used again this round. It is a very powerful action, but not often seen. We find level five buildings difficult to obtain, and even if they do appear, it's not until late in the game. Payment is not often seen.
Draw - this is the final available action allows players to draw a card off the deck of a region they have a presence in. Cards have a level number, between 0 and 5, which is the number of population markers a player must have in a region to be able to take the card. Cards are always useful and get stronger as you go deeper into each deck. They grant Industry, Culture, Finance and Politics, as well as victory points if retained until the end of the game.
As you invest in your Industry, better buildings become available to you. These allow a choice of actions, or even multiple actions. As mentioned, the level five buildings allow the payment action to use a building again. Brick seems very scarce in this game, so even getting to level four in Industry feels like an achievement. However, you can always resort to slavery...
Slavery... yes, it's here in this game in the form of the slavery deck. There are two decks of cards available for the Draw action in Europe. The squeaky clean deck full of Culture and Politics, or the shady slavery deck stuffed full of Industry and Finance. If you want lots of brick to get to those juicy buildings, become a slaver. If you do get into slavery, it may come back to bite you, as the final card of the clean European deck is the abolition card - it grants three Culture and three victory points, but forces all Slavery cards held by all players to be flipped over! Players have to lose their brick and coin granted by those cards, and incur a victory point penalty at the end of the game for resorting to slavery.
At the end of each turn, players simply check to see if they are holding too many cards. The player boards nicely summarise how may cards a player can hold - it's controlled via the Politics track, with one free slot for a Slavery card and a Governor card. If you want to employ a card strategy, you have to get into Politics to level up your card capacity.
The game ends after seven turns, easily tracked as the building spaces on the player mats get filled in. Glory points are scored for a variety of things - the rules go through an elaborate method of calculating and awarding points, but it's much simpler just to grab some paper and jot them down. Cities and controlled connections between cities are worth points, as well as your scores in Industry, Finance, Culture and Politics. Every time you level up, you also gain some victory points in these four areas. Points are also awarded via the cards, as well as the University building. A few extra points are available if you have unused colonists, and if you didn't use your free space for a Governor card. Finally, points are deduced if you've had to discard Slavery cards. Obviously, the most glory points wins the game.
Endeavor is a quick game. We are playing two player games in 30 minutes (via a very good two player variant posted by the designers). Given how easy this game is to teach, I can't see five player games taking any longer than 75 minutes. The only thing that may influence that is play style - information is totally open, and ponderers may bog the game down as they calculate and maximise their game play. The game seems to offer good replayability - the random distribution of the trade tokens, and the fifteen different buildings (you can only build seven during a game) offer much to explore.
Endeavor does draw on great games of the past, and doesn't feel original. However, the designers have done a great job in cutting excess fat off their game. You're not collecting rock or spices to invest in better upgrades - you're simply awarded a new building, etc. When I first read the rules online, I admit I dismissed the game - the way the rules read, it almost seemed too light. However, I happily admit I was wrong - the rules are light, but the decisions are quite deep and subtle. The more I play the game, the more impressed with how well it has been designed and developed. We have a fast playing game that rewards good play, and doesn't bog down. You are not fighting the rules and game systems, they are easily mastered. You're fighting your opponents. It's an excellent piece of game design.
So, is there anything bad about the game? Not much - the game board looks a little busy when trying to trace the spaghetti strands. It isn't that thematically engaging - I have begun in "London" in a couple of games and expanded to North America and India. But it didn't mean much to me - I wasn't fighting the French and Indian Wars, or creating the Raj, I was simply placing wood and collecting symbols. The theme could have been applied to anything here. And despite the title, the game has nothing to do with the James Cook, the transit of Venus, or a headache in the Sandwich Islands.
In closing, despite initial doubts, I've been won over. An attractive, fast playing, "growth" game. Excellent.
Note: In Germany the game is sold under the title Magister Navis.
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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany