25 April 2015

Board Game Review: Clans

I normally try to follow a pattern of two-weeks-of-random-topics-then-a-board-game-review, but I'm going to change it up a little bit this week and next; I'm going to do two board game reviews in a row.

This week, I'm going to review Clans. Next week, I'm going to review Asphodel. This is a game that a very good friend of mine has created, and last night, I got to playtest it for the first time. He gave me a protoype copy for myself, and I'm going to take this to the board game club I attend on Tuesdays to get other people to playtest it as well. After I've had a few good playtest sessions with it, I will write a review here.

But I want to wait until I've had a few chances to play through it before I do that, so I'm going to stick to my normal schedule for this week. That means that I'm going to review one of my favourite board games (and honestly, I can't believe I haven't reviewed it here before): Clans.

First, the numbers:
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take.
Strategy: 5
Randomness: 1
Complexity: 2
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Useful
Expected Length of Gameplay: 30 - 45 minutes

Clans takes place in the late Pleistocene era, when early humans were beginning to settle together in villages. Each player represents a tribe, and is trying to score the most points by ensuring that their tribal people are involved in forming the most prosperous villages.

The board represents a series of terrain spaces, with a few small lakes scattered throughout. The game begins with each space occupied by a hut in one of five colours: blue, red, black, green, and yellow. The colours are relatively evenly spread across the board, but not always completely uniformly (this is accomplished by dividing the board into sections of five spaces each, with each section having exactly one of each colour within it, but placement within the sections is random. After setup, once gameplay begins, the divisions between sections no longer affects the game in any way).
the board for Clans: a series of terrain types (yellow steppes, green forests, light green grasslands, and grey mountains, along with blue lakes). and the scoring track/epoch track on the right side of the board. Each terrain has one small wooden hut in one of five colours: red, green, yellow, black, and blue. There is a small wooden disk for each of these five colours sitting at the beginning of the scoring track, and each of the five spaces on the epoch track has a yellow wooden token. Around the board are the coloured hut tiles, with the green and yellow ones face up and the others face down. Behind the board is the box, showing the attractive and colourful design on the cover.

Each player draws one of the coloured hut tiles to randomly determine which colour they are playing. This information is kept secret; as there are five colours but a maximum of four players, there will always be at least one colour that is not being played. Thus, you are trying to score as many points for you colour as you can, whilst trying to prevent the other players from knowing which colour you have, so that they are less likely to work against you directly. If you can succeed in getting the players to think that your colour is (one of) the unplayed one(s), they may let you score that colour more points than they would otherwise.

Each player's turn consists of moving all of the huts from one space to an adjacent space. The huts do not need to be in your colour, especially since often, the huts in a space will be of many different colours. It doesn't matter how many huts are in the space you move from, as long as:
  1. There are fewer than 7 huts in the space you're moving from, and
  2. There is at least one hut in the space you're moving to. You cannot move into a vacant space.
This means that once a group of huts (or sometimes, a single hut) is completely surrounded by empty spaces, it can no longer move. This is a village.

Once a village has been formed, by having a single occupied space completely surrounded by empty spaces, the colours represented in that village score points. Scoring may sound complicated at first, but it really boils down to two steps:
  1. The player who formed the village takes the next token from the epoch track on the right edge of the board.
  2. The scoring track tokens for the colours represented in the village are moved the appropriate number of spaces along the scoring track, which is also on the right edge of the board.
Whoever forms the village gets a token from the epoch track (more on the epoch track in a moment): at the end of the game, after everyone has revealed their colours, each token is worth an additional point. Even if every hut in the village is destroyed (by strife or unfavoured terrain; more on this soon), the player that formed the village still gets the point.

Then the village is scored. The village is worth a base value equal to the number of huts in that village. A village with five huts is worth five points. Every colour in that village gets that many points, regardless of how many huts that colour has in the village. So, for example, if a village is made up of five black huts, two yellow huts, and a blue hut, then black, yellow, and blue each get eight points. It doesn't matter that black has twice as many huts in the village as yellow, or five times as many as blue; they all get the same number of points.

There are three additional factors involved in scoring: favoured terrain, unfavoured terrain, and strife.

Favoured terrain: I mentioned the epoch track previously. You can see it in the photo above, along the right edge of the board. It's the strip surrounded by the dark reddish-brown dots, with numbers running down the right side. This is where the village tokens are arranged at the beginning of the game. The next token is always taken from the top of the track, so that they indicate which epoch is current. The first four villages formed (represented by the four highest tokens on the track) are the first epoch. The next three villages to be formed are created in the second epoch, followed by two villages in the third and fourth epochs, and the twelfth and final village of the game is the fifth epoch.

Each epoch has a favoured terrain, indicated by the terrain texture on the left side of the epoch track, which has a number on it. Whenever a village is formed in the favoured terrain for the current epoch, it is worth a number of bonus points equal to the number of the current epoch. Thus, the villages in the first epoch (whose favoured terrain is forests) are worth one bonus point if formed in the forest, and villages formed in the mountains are worth two bonus points if they are created in the second epoch, and so on. Add the bonus points to to the total value of the village before scoring each represented colour.

In other words, using our sample village from above (five black, two yellow, one blue), it would normally be worth eight points, but it would be worth nine points if formed in the forests in the first epoch, ten points if formed in the mountains during the second epoch, eleven points if formed in the steppes in the third epoch, and twelve points if formed in the grasslands during the fourth epoch. All colours which have at least one hut in this village get the same number of points.

The fifth epoch is wild: all terrain types are favoured. Thus, the twelfth and final village of the game is always worth five bonus points.

Unfavoured terrain: You may have noticed that the epoch track has a second terrain type shown on the right side of the tokens, along with a crumbling hut. This represents the unfavoured terrain. If a village is formed in the unfavoured terrain for the current epoch, then all huts are removed and no colours score any points for that village (although the player who formed the village still takes the next village token, moving the game one step further along the epoch track).

Strife: Obviously, if all five colours are represented in a village, then everyone in the game (even the colour(s) not being played) is getting the same number of points. Since this kind of defeats the purpose, they have created the mechanic known as Strife. This says that whenever a village is formed that has all five colours in it (and only if all five colours are present in a village), that village undergoes Strife. When strife occurs, all the colours represented by a single hut are removed. So if someone forms a village made up of three blue, two black, two yellow, one red, and one green, then the resulting Strife would remove the red and green huts, because there are only one of each of those two colours. The blue, black, and yellow are not affected, because there are at least two of each of those colours. 

Afterwards, you continue to score normally: this sample village would be worth seven points (plus the favoured terrain bonus, if applicable) for blue, black, and yellow.

After scoring the twelfth village, players reveal their colours, all colours not being played are removed from the scoring track (the series of dark reddish-brown dots around the epoch track), points are awarded for village tokens, and the winner is the player whose colour has the most points.

I love this game. It's very much a strategy game, with the only randomness being the slight variation in the placement of colours within a section at the beginning of the game. Not only are you looking for ways to score points for your colour, but trying to find out which colours the other players have so you can try to avoid scoring points for their colours, whilst simultaneously trying to prevent the other players from discerning which colour is yours. I kind of like to describe this game as packing all the strategy from a game of chess into about half an hour. If strategy is your thing, then you will probably love this game. I know I do.

So that's it for this week. Remember to check back next week when I tell you all about the playtests of Asphodel. Until then,

Game on!


  1. Do you know what the price is for Clans, I'd like to try it with my little folk

  2. Oh, goodness, it's been so long since I bought that game, I really don't remember. I want to say it was something like $20 or $30 dollars...


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