Can You Survive on the High Seas? A Review of 7 Wonders Armada

The new Armada expansion to 7 Wonders has been released! Now you can take your empire building to the high seas. Armada promises to increase the strategic nature of your 7 Wonders games while also adding more fun.

Does Armada live up to the hype? We gave Armada a spin, so read on my faithful followers and find out what we thought about it!

What Does Armada Add?

Armada adds a brand near board for each player that tracks their naval accomplishments. True to 7 Wonders game play, the new naval board tracks a player’s fleet in the four areas of development: military (red), commerce (yellow), diplomacy (blue) and science/exploration (green).

— the new naval board. Note the four columns, each devoted to progress in a different color.

Each time a player plays a card, they can in addition pay the cost on the naval board–in the same color as the card played (ie play a yellow card, you can pay the next cost in the yellow naval column)–in order to move the corresponding boat up one space. In the photo above, all boats start on the bottom space of each column. If the player plays a yellow card, they can in addition to paying for the card, pay one wood to move the yellow boat to the next space up the yellow column. Also, each board has one column that has a pyramid symbol. When the player builds a stage of their wonder, they can also build in the column with the pyramid.

— in this photo, the player has advanced three boats one space, and the yellow boat two spaces

As the boats advance, the player gets a bonus. Red advancement gains naval shields (which work like land warfare but are a separate naval warfare at the end of each Age). Yellow gains coins. Blue gains victory points. Green leads to exploration of islands, which produce bonuses (eg resources) on special island cards.

The basic idea is that players can choose to use resources as they build normal cards to also advance their naval fleets. As such, the Armada expansion adds a second “play” each turn, if a player has the resources to pay for it. The naval board goes next to the player’s Wonder so that it is easy for each player to see what naval advancements are available.

— the naval board next to my wonder

Another twist is that at the end of each Age, there is naval combat. The naval board generates naval shields. Combat is global, so players are ranked from strongest to weakest. The weakest player gets a marker with negative victory points, and the stronger players get positive victory points based on order and Age (ie the strongest player gets more points, points are greater as the Ages move from I to II to III).

Armada also includes cards for each age that are themed to the new Armada expansion. This increases the fun as players must now contend with new and different cards with some unique twists (I won’t give any of it away, you need to buy Armada to find out).

Game Play

The Armada expansion significantly lengthens game play. Each turn, players can effectively make two “plays”: a card and naval advancement. The effect of this is multiple-fold (is that a real word? I don’t know, but I will use it anyway): 1) each turn takes almost twice as long, 2) players will be buying more resources from each other, and 3) you gotta watch each other because honest mistakes (or dishonest ones) are much more likely to happen (especially in Age III).

— here is what the table looked like at the end of our game!

More ships, more strategies!

We discovered that the Armada naval boards now allowed for more strategies. In the game in the photo above, I went for naval shields and domination of both ground/naval warfare (I am in the bottom left); Lee (top right) went for a Boston Harbour (his term for it) strategy of advancing all his boats; Stew (bottom right) went for scientific achievement and advancing his green boat to explore; and Bob (top left) went for diplomatic/governmental victory points.

These differing strategies led to all of us scoring lots and lots of points.

— the score sheet at the end of the game. I won by 6 points!

The Verdict

Armada turns 7 Wonders from a quick, simple game into a much longer highly strategic contest. We had a good time with it and would play it again. The downside is that the game was twice as long and man, we needed Bob’s entire dining room table PLUS the extra leaf we put into the table!

As such, this expansion seems like a welcome addition to those who want more complexity and a longer, more strategic game. If you are looking for a short, enjoyable game of 7 Wonders, Armada might not be for you.

Oh….and Armada is much, much better than Babel. We played the Babel expansion about a dozen times and nobody ever really liked it. I can tell you hands down that Armada is way better than Babel. The naval boards, plastic ships, naval combat, and island exploration both add a good deal of strategy and also are themed very well. It does feel like you are sailing ships and building ships. Armada fits the 7 Wonders theme very well in a way that Babel never did. In fact, I am thinking of listing Babel on Boardgamegeek to get rid of it.

Okay you landlubbers, get out your sailors and set sail!

Raiders of the North Sea: Fields of Fame

— Fields of Fame expansion for Raiders of the North Sea

Fields of Fame

I am sure that you have heard of the worker placement game Raiders of the North Sea. It’s a pretty good game, but it can get stale after many plays. So…how about adding an expansion?

Fields of Fame adds a new board so that there are more places to raid. It also adds Jarls! At the start of the game you mix Jarl tokens into the plunder bag. Each time you sack a settlement and take a Jarl token, your crew has to face a Jarl. You can choose to 1) kill the Jarl, gaining Fame that will produce victory points, 2) subdue the Jarl and add it to your crew, or 3) flee the Jarl. Each Jarl card has fighting 5 or 6, so they are beefcakes–tough to kill or subdue, but great in your crew.

Play through

We got in a game with the new expansion…and it was super fun!

— the board with the new expansion components (the new board is attached on the right). Jarl tokens are light blue.

Facing a Jarl always wounds your crew members, but subduing a Jarl and adding it to your crew is a big bonus. And the VP gained from Jarl Fame adds a new way to get victory points, which adds to the strategic depth of the game.

Our game was quite spirited with Lee subduing Jarls early and often. Stew went for sacking settlements. Bob and I tried a mixed strategy of getting victory points from many different areas of the game (e.g. I was maxed on Armor).

In the end, Stew won by a single VP over me!

— Stew (yellow) with 43 VP, and me (red) with 42

Verdict

Fields of Fame is a must for any serious fans of Raiders of the North Sea. It extends the game by about 15 minutes, adds more strategy, and continues the basic ideas of the main game (do I sacrifice crew to kill/subdue a Jarl? Do I avoid Jarls and give up the VP to other players? etc). Get it…you are going to like it.

Star Realms: Frontiers and Beyond!

When I got back from Gen Con there was a huge package waiting for me. Guess what was in it?

— Wow, that’s a lot of Star Realms

I got my shipment of the latest expansion to Star Realms–Frontiers….and more. A year or so ago I added Star Realms into our Tuesday night rotation. It’s a fairly simple deck building game that combines the easy to learn/play dynamics of a CCG/TCG like Magic: the Gathering. Basically draft ships and bases, then unleash them on your opponent. Last player standing is the winner. I have recently been teaching my oldest boy to play it. Star Realms is simple and lighthearted with only a small degree of strategy (basically buy cards that combo together) plus lots of luck. A great game when you don’t want to think too much and have a boatload of fun.

Anyway, now I have every published expansion plus a wild amount of promos…and a great big box to put all the cards in!

Yee-haw!

Why Australia is the Best Power Grid Map

Okay, I really like board games that 1) have a lot of expansions and 2) have solid play testing. Power Grid is such a game. It is a classic (is is fair to call a game from the early 2000s a classic?) game that holds up well to this day. It also has multiple expansion boards that represent different parts of the globe. Expansion board rules seem well play tested for clarity, balance, and excitement.

I own all of the expansion maps, and today I am going to tell you why the Australia map is my favorite…and why it should be yours too.

— the Australia Power Grid board. In this particular game of 4 players, we omitted the yellow, central region.

The Ability to Place a House Anywhere

In classic Power Grid, to expand your network you have to place new houses close to your already placed houses due to the connect costs. Because there is no single, connected network of cities on the Australia map, you can put a house anywhere by paying a 20-Point connection cost. This mechanism allows players to strategically jump across the board on Step 2, Step 3, or any other time in order to cut off opponent networks.

The Uranium Mines

In Australia there are no nuclear power plants. Those plants are instead uranium mines. Players don’t buy resources for the mines and the mines do not power cities.

— those are not nuclear power plants, they are uranium mines!

Instead, during the bureaucracy phase the mines make money by selling on the international uranium market. The mines do not count toward a player’s power plant limit, and a player can possess any number of mines. This is a great addition to the game as it allows for a separate way to generate money (Elektros).

— the international uranium market. Players receive Elektros equal to the first uncovered space multiplied by the production of their uranium mines. In the last two photos, this player would get 20 Elektros (market price of 4 times the 5 production of the two mines).

The Carbon Tax

When Step 3 begins, Australia imposes a Carbon Tax. All prices in the energy market go up by 2 Elektros. This makes energy costs quite expensive!

— the 9 and 10 cost spaces for when the Carbon Tax goes into effect.

The Carbon Tax slows down the final progression to the game end. By making energy costs higher, it makes it more expensive to operate non-ecological power plants. It also makes those uranium mines more valuable, as they are a cheap renewable source of Elektros if a player can’t add new cities on a given turn.

The Auctions are Different

With the uranium mines being very good to get early, and the Carbon Tax looming at Step 3, bidding for ecological power plants and mines is intense! At the same time, a shrewd player can grab an efficient coal, oil, or garbage plant if other players have run out of Elektros bidding on the mines and wind turbines.

The Overall Game Play

The overall impact of the rules is to create a truly new Power Grid experience. While the victory conditions remain the same (ie power the most cities) the route to winning seems to have multiple paths. Players can opt for a traditional coal/oil/garbage efficiency route, but they better be ready for that rough Carbon Tax. Players can also try to monopolize the uranium mines. This slows down placing houses because buying a mine means that you didn’t buy a power plant with that money, but it leads to plenty of cheap Elektros that can later in the game be plowed back into power plants. Also, with the game going longer for a few turns (mainly because of the Carbon Tax), those ecological plants pay off more than in a regular game of Power Grid. In our last game by the end, two players had almost 100% resource-free power production. When do you see that in a game of Power Grid?

–Games on the Australian map can be surprisingly close. Here is the end of our recent game. My brother and I both finished with 17 cities powered. But I had only 1 Elektro in my possession and he had 6. He won, I lost. It could hardly have been any closer. Note: I was black and he was red. Can you see how he jumped from Western Australia over to the east coast? Also note the high price for resources because of the Carbon Tax. Gotta love the Australian rules!

If you have played Power Grid, or even if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy of The Australian map (the Indian sub-continent) is on the back. Trust me, you will be glad that you did.