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Archipelago - delta_november

Nov. 16th, 2014

03:55 pm - Archipelago

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I played the board game Archipelago last night, and I still feel dirty.  I'm going to attempt a quick review here, and explain why I find it so awful.

Archipelago is a worker placement and exploration game, reminiscent of a fusion between Puerto Rico and Seafarers of Catan.  The artwork and production values are high.  Painted wooden meeples and cubes represent people and various trade goods.  Large hexagonal tiles make up the geography, and they are beautifully and individually illustrated.

The game starts with a single hexagonal tile of water.  Players explore, adding tiles to the board.  Discovered tiles have resource markers on them (stone, wood, fruit, etc).  They also have illustrations of small grass huts.  For every hut discovered, a grey meeple is moved on the "unassigned worker" track.

Each player has their own colour of meeple (blue, green, red, yellow, purple).  A white meeple is moved on the population track, counting the total number of player's meeples.  This count can be increased by reproduction, or by recruiting unassigned workers.

A black meeple on the population track records the number of "rebels".  The black meeple is advanced in a number of circumstances: for example, too great an "unassigned worker" count, or players choosing the "taxation" action.  Players can mitigate this by building churches, and purchasing cards such as "archibishop" and "pope".  If the black meeple catches up to the white meeple the game is over and all of the players lose.

The artwork clearly shows what white, grey and black people look like.  Whites are Europeans wearing tricorn hats.  Blacks have the moko tatoo and tongue gesture that I would associate with the Maori (and possibly other Polynesians -- my expectations may be coloured by having spent some time in New Zealand).  Greys have ponytails, and I'm not sure what, if any, ethnicity is being portrayed.

This game seems to be a colonialism simulator with no acknowledgement of the embedded attitudes or horrors.  Newly contacted people are idle, and must be assigned to work the resources that have always been in their neighborhoods.  The colonists compete with each other to extract the most resources and money, which produces rebels.  But there is a delicate balance to be struck, because if there are more black people than white all of the players lose.  This is the semi-cooperate aspect of the game: to delicately opress your subjects until they are just on the edge of rebellion and hold them there while you reap the profits.  Churches will help you tax them more.

I'm not actually adverse to some games as evil-simulators.  Many D&D characters have been accurately described as murder-hobos.  But I'd like some warning that an evening that I had expected to involve tea, cake and Carcassonne is about to turn into such brutality.

To possibly restore some faith in humanity, this is what happens in real life when you mix white Europeans and Maori, shake vigorously, and let settle for a dozen generations.