Apparently, the world isn’t going to end through nuclear fire, an asteroid hitting it, or aliens invading and overwhelming us with their cuteness (and deadly plasma weapons that they whip out while we’re all cooing over them).
No, the world is going to end through a nanopocalypse (I think Ted Alspach just likes making up words, and no I’m not going to look it up to prove myself wrong, thank you).
In Colony, you are the leader of a faction who are trying to rebuild the world after all of this nanotech goes awry and wipes most of the people out. You are doing this through rolling dice (isn’t that always the way it is?)
Colony is a dice-tableau-building game designed by Ted Alspach, Toryo Hojo, and N2 with art by Stephanie Gustafsson and Ollin Timm. It was published in 2016 by Bezier Games. It plays 2-4 players.
In the game, players use resource dice to build building cards and amass points as they work to become the best of the worst (meaning that really, establishing a colony in a nanopocalyptic wasteland is never pretty), amassing victory points by building the best buildings.
How does it work?
Let’s take a look.
(You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? One day I’ll throw you a curve ball and say “NO! I’m not going to show you how it works!”)
Each player is given four starting buildings: A warehouse, a construction building, an upgrade building, and a supply exchange that will let you change dice.
In the game, white dice are “stable” resources and grey dice are “unstable” resources. Stable resources can be stored in your Warehouse if you don’t use them on your turn. Unstable ones cannot (they waste away faster than Miley Cyrus’ dignity).
Each player starts the game by rolling three stable resources and putting them in their Warehouse.
Then, on each turn, the active player will take three stable resources and roll them. They will choose one of them, then hand the other two to the next player. That player chooses one and the next player gets the other one.
Thus, on your turn (except the first, where the first and second player will have fewer), you will have six stable resources to work with.
What can you do with these resources?
That’s where the buildings come in.
Each turn, you can activate each of the buildings in your tableau once. Since one of your starting buildings is a construction building, that means you can construct one of the available buildings and add it to your tableau.
To do that, you need the right kinds of resources.
The Pirate, for example, requires two 5s and two 1s be spent. The Stabilizer requires two 4s and a 2.
What does it do when its in your tableau?
On your turn, you can activate it for whatever ability it has.
The Stabilizer will let you turn one grey unstable resource into a white stable resource of the same value. Pretty handy if you can’t use it, since this will let you store it!
See that orange half-circle at the bottom of the card?
That’s the victory point value of it.
You will be keeping a running tally of your score at the end of each of your turns. You can always make sure the tracker is right by counting the orange marks in your tableau, but the score tracker means you don’t have to do that all the time, which is nice.
One of the cards you start with is the Upgrade card. This, if you have the correct resources, will let you upgrade one of your cards.
Upgraded cards have the same abilities as their non-upgraded sides, but even better.
The upgraded Stabilizer will let you stabilize two resources instead of just one. It’s also worth an extra victory point.
If you don’t build a building on your turn, either because you don’t want to or because you don’t have the resources, you store your stable resources and discard your unstable ones, and then you get a CHIPI.
When you are the active player and rolling your three dice, you can spend up to three of these CHIPIs to also roll an unstable resource for each CHIPI spent.
You keep the unstable ones even as you send the two stable ones out for drafting. But remember, they have to be used this turn or they go to waste.
At the end of the day, you’ll have a tableau of building cards that you have constructed, gaining you points towards the inevitable end of the game (because all good things must come to an end).
Turns go around the table in the same manner until somebody has amassed 15 VP. As soon as somebody does, they win!
(None of this “one more round to make everything fair” garbage…)
Is Colony a luxurious palace looking out over the wasteland? Or is it a hovel where people are scraping rocks for food?
I have to admit that I really like Colony. It’s not one of my favourites, but it’s a solid game that went over like a lead balloon apparently (or at least there has never been a lot of buzz about it). I’m not sure why, because it really appealed to me. (Editor – I think it’s quaint how Dave thinks he’s the arbiter of good taste)
Before talking about the rest of the game, though, let’s look at the components.
The dice are really nice, if a bit bland (though that is a necessity given how the game works). Grey and white don’t exactly jump out at you, but that’s ok.
The rest of the game is a little drab too, though. All of the colours are muted, even the reds/blues/greens/oranges. I guess that fits the apocalyptic world, but it doesn’t really pop out on the table or attract people to say “hey, what are you playing?”
That being said, I love the box and the insert! The cards fit perfectly (even sleeved), the dice and CHIPIs fit under the middle card guide and the guide itself snaps into place (as long as you don’t have dice sticking up). If you do it properly, you can carry this on its side without having dice everywhere.
It’s certainly not built for an expansion, though, so it’s probably a good thing that it will probably never get one.
Having the guide is a wonderful way to keep the game organized and really helps with set up. Colour-coded with easily distinguished names, this is the ideal way to do an insert.
How about the game itself?
I love how the dice represent your resources and that you use the numbers you’ve rolled to buy the buildings. They could have easily made “resource” dice rather than numbered dice, but the cost of custom dice (not to mention the readability issue across the table) would make that hard to implement.
Instead, you have basic numbers. Again, it’s a little bland, but it works perfectly for this game.
The buildings can either give you more resources to use during your turn or can help mitigate the dice that you do have. The Exchange Post, for example, will let you turn two dice into one (and upgraded will let you turn one die into another). There are other dice mitigation aspects to some of the cards as well.
This helps with the “oh, it’s dice and too random” complaints that some people have.
There are so many different cards in the game and you only pull out seven non-standard ones (there are some standard cards that are there every game). Thus, the game has a lot of replayability with different card combinations. I still don’t think I’ve played with all of the cards yet.
Bezier Games put out a randomizer app that really helps with setup, though you can just choose buildings if you want to. We always use the randomizer, though.
It’s a lot more fun.
There is a bit of a runaway leader problem, though there is a rule in the game that says that, on your turn, you can discard a card from your colony to gain a number of stable resources equal to the difference between your score and the leader’s score.
This could be of great benefit if you’ve upgraded your Construction building to allow you to build more than one building on your turn. It will cost you a victory point (or two), but may get you a bunch more points instead.
I’ve actually never seen it used, but I’m starting to see the tactical possibilities with it.
Maybe I’ll try it next time. (Editor – That’s Dave’s way of saying that he always loses this game)
Overall, it’s a fun game that takes about an hour (maybe 75 minutes if you have some slow players) so it doesn’t outstay its welcome at all.
The turns become a little rote after a while, but I always find it interesting to try and get the coolest building in my colony and see if I can save up the resources for it. Or get an attack card and have fun (though in my last game, my Robber kept missing because I would roll a number that nobody had, meaning I couldn’t steal anything from anybody).
Which brings to mind one thing that you should be aware of.
There are “take that” cards in the game, though any array of available cards that include an attack card should also include a defense card that you can build to mitigate/prevent the attack. You can certainly play without them, though, so it’s not really a big deal.
If somebody sees you build an attack card and doesn’t immediately build a defense card as soon as possible, that’s really on them, isn’t it?
Colony is not an amazing game, but it is a comfortable one that will allow you to chuck some dice but then provides you with better decisions than you get in most dice games. It’s not a dice-chucker by any means (so those who just LOVE DICE will not feed their thrill with it), but it uses dice in an interesting manner that I really like.
If you get the opportunity, I highly encourage you to give Colony a try. It’s fun, relatively short so you can also play some other good games, and it’s just a pleasant experience.
(This review was written after 5 plays)