Caledea: A Hidden Gem

I found this game at Gen Con 2009.  Initially I walked past it, giving it only a glance.  The artwork was bad.  It looked like something I could have hand drawn (and I can not draw worth a lick). The components looked extremely simple and cheap.  All around, it was not very aesthetically pleasing.  I however, was trolling for small game companies, and thought “what the heck, I have nothing to lose but a few minutes”, so I stopped and inquired about the game.  What I found was a brilliant war game unlike any other that I had encountered.

The part of the game that I had disdain for, the cheap components, is actually something I began to become fond of.  The troops are marked with colored dice with different,very simple, symbols on them, rather then expensive plastic figures, and this works out splendidly.  It made the pieces easier to move, and easier to upgrade to different troop types.  Rather than digging through bags to find the correct piece upgrade, you just rotate the dice to the proper face.

The copy I received of this game was their brand new, hot off the presses, “Professional” version.  It does sound a lot better than the pizza box and foam core board variety that they were apparently selling previously.  I was disappointed with one change that I read was made, the money in game use to be plastic pirate gold, and now are merely card board punch outs.  The card board punch outs are a bit hard to handle.  Perhaps in the “Super Deluxe Professional” version they will go to something more substantial.

But enough about the components, the game play is what makes this game special.  It’s a war game, and there are lots of tough choices each turn, but turns only take a couple of moments.  There is no sitting for fifteen minutes waiting for your turn to come back around.  Each player gets a certain number of actions they can perform each turn and once those actions are spent, turns up.  Plus there are no complicated upkeep phases: Money is handled very simply, and so are troops.

This game is remarkably short for a war game.  Unlike Risk or Axis and Allies, Caledea only takes about 30 minutes to play.  Only once did the hubby and I have a particularly intense game that creeped closer to an hour in length, but that was an outlier during play.  Regardless of the short play time, I felt quite satisfied with my gaming, and even eager to try again.

There are multiple ways to win Caledea, although they all make good logical sense and help keep the game from continuing forever.  You win by:

  • Wiping out all of your opponents troops
  • Completing a fortified city
  • Or by over taking your opponent’s capital city.

If any of these take place, it was probably pretty obvious who the dominant player in that game was.  Not once have I sat there after a game and gone, “Oh! I should have won!  I had ____ advantage over you!”  Each time there was a clear winner, no argument about it.

Caledea, despite other reviewers descriptions, is not an abstract logic game however.  While there is perfect knowledge about all pieces and elements on the board, dice rolling is a part of combat, and thus crazy things can occur.  For example in one game a single infantry unit (which only receives one die) managed to out roll a general (which receives three dice).  To make matters worse the general had a terrain bonus of 1 die. A roll of a single die took down a roll of 4 dice.  Crazy crazy stuff.

That brings me nicely around to combat, and how elegantly it works.  Each troop type gets a certain number of dice in combat.  If the terrain the battle is taking place on contains your resource type, you receive an additional die per troop, and if there are defensive structures (castles or towers) you receive additional dice as well.  Each player rolls, the highest die pairs off against the highest die.  The bigger number wins and the other troop dies.  Combat continues against each troop until only one team has any men left on that space.  So simple, so elegant, yet has many thought provoking elements that allow for players to tweak the odds in their favor.

One of my larger standing complaints about the game is with the ambiguity present in some elements of the rules.  As always, I appreciate simple rules, and this game only came with four small pages of rules.  Easy to learn and quick to get running. But, those nice concise rules do not address certain issues that arise during game play, leaving the players to try to decide what was intended and make fair rulings of their own.  A more detailed set of rules is the first thing I would update in new versions.

This is an excellent small game.  It has some issues common to small games, but I have to give a big kudos to the designers.  The game play is solid, the ideas and mechanics are very well done and show lots of polish.  The un-polished look of the game should not fool, this game is truly a gem.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Friday, August 21st, 2009 at 8:00 am and is filed under Board Game Reviews, War Games . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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