Age of Empires III Review

Age of Empires III game in play

One of the worker placement games that I have kept in my collection for a while now is Age of Empires III. (Just as a note, Age of Empires III has absolutely nothing in common with the computer game except for the picture on the front cover. I'm guessing that they branded it this way to try to pull in more players, but it actually made me avoid the game for quite some time.)

Age of Empires III is played in 3 different Ages. At the end of each Age, the players will score points based on how many colonists they have in the new world (and the available buildings will change and go up in price). On any given turn, the players will take turns placing colonists or specialists (if they have any) in order to gain the most victory points. They can use them to gather trade goods, improve their turn order, send them to the new world, discover new locations, and a few other things. The specialists can be placed just like colonists, but if utilized in certain places, they will give extra bonuses (for example, if a Merchant goes to the new world, the player who controls him will get $5). After all of the units have been placed, the board is resolved from top to bottom. Play continues like this for 8 turns (which is 3 Ages), and then the players add any bonus victory points they have from discoveries, buildings, etc, and the player with the most victory points is the winner.

Glenn Drover's Empires features specialists
Getting specialists for next turn.
The first thing that I really like about Age of Empires III is how the specialists work. First of all, there are two ways of getting specialists - you can either purchase a building that gives you specialists, or you can place a colonist on one of the spots on the board, which will give you a specialist for the next round. When I first read through the rules of this game, I didn't really think that specialists would be very important - but after playing, I have realized that careful placement of specialists may be the most important aspect of the game. Captains can help you discover or get a "merchant ship" (which helps you with income). Merchants can get money or help with the "merchant ship". Soldiers can shoot opponents in the new world, or (when discovering) can earn money. Missionaries bring extra people to the new world. Understanding when and how to use these (and how your opponent will use them) is critical to the game.

The next thing that I like about Age of Empires III is how the placement works. (This is related to the specialists.) In Age, players take turns placing units (colonists or specialists) until they run out. This allows a player with a large number of specialists to get several placements in a row after the other players have all run out of units; this can be a very powerful thing to do. Whereas some places on the board reward the first player to place there (such as trade goods and purchasing buildings, because the first person there gets to pick first), other places reward the person with the most units. If you are the only person placing units at the end of the turn, it allows you to easily take over all of these places.

Age of Empires 3 ships
Fighting for a merchant ship
The final pro that I will mention about Age of Empires is the different paths to victory. It is always nice in a game when you can try out completely different strategies and still have a chance at victory - and Age falls into this category. Players can really score a lot of points through the collection of trade goods. They can also score tons of points through settling the new world (and potentially shooting other players out of it). Finally, discoveries can also be worth a lot of victory points. I like that Age allows a player a chance to win by doing any of these strategies, or by balancing them through the course of the game.

My cons to Age of Empires are fairly minor. The first one that is almost too trivial to mention is that the box is too big. The board folds up quite nicely, and then fits in about 3/4 of the box. This is one of those things that you don't realize that you miss until it's gone; I really like my board fitting snugly inside the box.

The next con with Age of Empires is that the buildings aren't all balanced. Now, this may be on purpose to encourage players to want to be the first one in the building area (thus getting first pick), but it can really punish players for going last at the beginning of the game. And one specific building seems especially overpowered - it is an Age I building (thus costing $10, which is the amount you start with), and it gives you $20... so basically, it allows you to purchase 2 more buildings on the turn you buy it. None of these buildings are single-handedly so powerful that you cannot win without them, but they are powerful enough that you feel that you have a disadvantage by not purchasing them.

Overall, I give Age of Empires III a 9.0/10. As I said at the beginning, I was very reluctant about the game because board games based off of video games are often atrocious, but this game pleasantly surprised me - I plan to keep it in my collection for years to come.

Other worker placement games that you may be interested in include Caylus, Stone Age, and (not completely "worker placement", but still very good) Princes of Florence.

1 comment:

  1. I love this game. I'm glad to see that it's being rebranded - I've always thought that the video game license didn't really do anything for it to begin with, and now it appears that it's been holding up the expansion for some time now. Great review.