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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Rondel Games

I've now played three of Mac Gerdt's Rondel games, and I wanted to talk about my impressions and thoughts about them. I have played Antike, Imperial, and Navegador. I will probably give Hamburgum (the second one in the series) a try at some point, since my friend Andy (yet another Andy different from any mentioned in previous posts) has a copy and wants to play it more. I'll talk about them in their chronological order of publication. I don't personally own any of them, but I am considering purchasing two of them, as you will soon find out.

For those of you who haven't played any of these games, the rondel is a mechanism for selection of actions that limits your choices each turn. Typically the actions you can perform are short and sweet, so all of these games have a nice flow to them, which is a big plus. The basic idea is that there are 8 spaces in a circular track, and you have a pawn that travels clockwise along the track. You can move your pawn one to three spaces, then do the action there. The games generally provide some mechanism for paying a cost to move further if you would like to, which generally happens in the end game. The big differences in the games are the themes (civilization, war profiteering, or navigating/market manipulation). It's also of note that there is zero luck in any of these games! Here are the three rondels to give you the idea.

I played this one last year at our now annual tradition of traveling down to D.C. to my college roommate's place for a long weekend of games. The rondel is applied to building civilizations in this game, and you build up fortifications, armies, technology and leaders through the actions on the rondel. This was the first game that I have won my first play of and then didn't want to play it again! Despite the elegance of the rondel, there was something lacking. I was able to build up a few temples, get a VP lead, and turtle my way to victory. Maybe there is more there, but I am not seeing it - so I'd rather play another rondel game instead.

I bought this game for a friend, and we've only had the chance to play it twice. The nature of winning in Imperial is very counter-intuitive, so it didn't blow me away at first, but I'm sure that is just me needing more plays. I'm really looking forward to giving it more of a chance. The main notion in Imperial is that you can buy stocks in countries during World War I - England, France, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy; and the pawns on the rondel belong to the countries rather than the players! Whoever has the most stock in a country gets to manage that countries turn, which could including building factories, building units (armies or fleets), moving their units, or collecting taxes. The interesting and strange thing about this game is that despite its wargame trappings such as an area map with units who fight it out, you don't really care about conquering territory or winning wars all of the time. Sometimes you just want to have two countries you are investing in fight so that you can collect more profits. I definitely need to play this again soon, especially since it exists on BSW. It's also worth mentioning that they have released a sequel game called Imperial 2030, which features a map of the entire world.

I played this twice at TotalConfusion, an annual gaming convention that's not too far from here and whose gaming room is run by some friends of mine. I highly recommend the convention for anyone who lives in the New England region. I finally played this again yesterday, and really enjoyed it. Unlike Antike, I won this game and felt like it was a worthwhile victory. I was able to find a strategy niche that avoided what other players were doing, and made it pay off. In Navegador, the board is a map of sea zones that lead in a pretty linear fashion from Portugal to Nagasaki. The rondel options include building ships and hiring workers, buying buildings (two of which can let you buy ships or workers more efficiently), sailing your ships, and selling a worker for a victory point multiplier. The rules to this game are incredibly elegant, and I like how there are a variety of seemingly legitimate strategies. When you sail two ships into an unexplored zone, you reveal some colonies that can be later acquired through one of the other rondel spaces (Colony), and you receive an exploration token. There is also a market for the three types of goods that a colony may provide - sugar, gold, and coffee. One of the really interesting aspects is that the market can be pushed in either direction by the players. When you go to the Market space on the rondel, you can choose for each good whether to sell (based on how many colonies of that type you have) or to process (based on how many factories you have of that type - which are the other buildings you can buy in the Building action). The processing has a different payout that the selling. The victory point multipliers you can buy are based on number of: colonies, factories, exploration tokens, cathedrals (the worker building), and shipyards (the ship building). The game ends when all of the buildings are built, or someone gets to Nagasaki. This game feels like a 9 to me - at this point, I can't imagine saying no to it when someone proposed it to play, but I wouldn't choose it 100% of the time. The playtime also seems to be a bit shorter than Imperial, but you get a very satisfying experience for the time invested. I'm very impressed and would strongly consider buying it.

The rondel games are getting better and better, as Mac Gerdts is seeming to become a stronger game designer. Imperial currently sits at 33 on BoardGameGeek, and Navegador is at 77. Antike is at 198 and Hamburgum is at 248. Apparently the theme of Hamburgum is city building and sounds like a more typical euro than Imperial or Navegador, so I might like that as well. These games all seem to be worth at least trying out to see if you like them.



  1. I was in that last game of Navegador. Its a very good game. Chris has left out one important rondel game: Shipyard. It has a plethora of different rondels all spinning at once. The theme is a little wacky, but it is also a fun game. Not as tightly designed as Navegador, but, in my opinion, the game closest to it in fun.
    I've only played Imperial a few times and lost interest when my son won a game without ever taking control of a country or even stopping to look at the pieces on the board while he handled a school situation on his phone and computer. He's that good, but a game shouldn't work that way (only my opinion). Many people love the game's system and the new version has gotten many good comments and favorable reviews.
    Hamburgum was fun, but I don't think it is as good as Navegador, though the new map for Hamburgum is supposed to be better.

  2. I left out Shipyard because I was focusing on the game designed by Mac Gerdts. I would love to learn Shipyard at some point - I saw a number of groups playing it at WBC last year but haven't seen a copy of the game in person since. It sounds intruiging and heavy.

    I somewhat agree with you about the weirdness in Imperial. The mechanic in the game that gives any person without ownership of a company the ability to invest is supposed to help there, but you can continue to invest in countries without taking them over. I guess the point is that the game is about the investing, and the manipulation of the countries just serves to prop that up. I've played twice more (both online) and still have no clue what I'm doing. The second game I got smashed by people who clearly knew what they were doing.