Clans of Caledonia - The Safe Word is Hwiskey
No, my title is not a typo. I'm sorry if you don't get the joke in my header. You've obviously never seen the movie Hot Rod and that in and of itself is a travesty. Here, just watch this.
Publisher: Karma Games
Designer: Juma Al Jou-Jou
Time: 30-120 min
The Bottom Line
Clans of Caledonia is a strategic economic game set in 19th Century Scotland.
In the Box
My first impression with Clans of Caledonia is that the box is small! This isn’t a big deal, but I was honestly surprised when I first opened it and noticed how compact everything was. The box holds all the components nicely and doesn’t have an overabundance of empty space. The game components are well made and the various boards are sturdy, and thick. The game’s custom Sheep, Cow, Bread, Milk, Cheese, Grain, Wool, and Whiskey barrel meeples are fantastic! I love them. The market board, with its transparent price markers is easily read and is an eye-catching component. I was skeptical when I heard the price markers were transparent, but 5 games in and I've yet to encounter an issue reading the current prices for goods throughout the game. The 4 modular boards are a welcome addition and the map layout and overall design is wonderful. The game includes a TON of components, including but not limited to; 50 varying contracts, 9 of each scoring tile, clan, starting tile, and port bonus tile.
Clans of Caledonia has been likened to Terra Mystica, and Juma himself noted he took inspiration from it, and other strategic Euro games as he brought Clans of Caledonia to life. Before playing and after reading the rulebook, I was a bit worried about the overall complexity level but thankfully, upon playing, all of my fears were alleviated. Is this one 2017s must own board games? Find out for yourself below!
How to Play
If you’re already familiar with how to play Clans of Caledonia, you can skip this section. Of course, if you’re reading this I will assume you are ready to learn, so carry on!
I’m not going to describe every part of set-up as it’s usually quite boring, and mundane but I will highlight the 3 most important parts.
- The first round turn order is selected randomly, which is important to note, because the turn order in rounds 2-5 can, and likely will, change.
- Each player will select a clan. To select a clan, you will draw clans equal to the players +1 and draw 1 starting tile for each of them. Starting with the last player and going in reverse turn order, players will take turns selecting one.
- After each player has selected a clan, starting with the first player and continuing clockwise, each player places 1 worker. This can be either a woodsman or a miner, but each can only be placed into an empty hex on the map and a woodsman must go in a space with a forest and a miner in a space with a mountain. Then, in reverse order (think snake drafting), players will place a second worker following the same rules. The second worker does not need to be adjacent to the first and each time a worker is placed, you must pay the unit cost, £6 for Woodsman and £10 for Miners and the associated land cost of the hex space where they were played.
4th Wall Break: It is recommended, for new players, to play without clans. This is also a good way to level the playing field with more symmetric playing conditions.
Clans of Caledonia is played over 5 rounds and each round consists of 4 phases (except the first, which skips the Preparation phase).
- Phase 1: Preparation
- Phase 2: Action
- Phase 3: Production
- Phase 4: Scoring
Flip the previous round’s Scoring tile face-down. If needed, refill any empty contract boxes on the Export board. Players also retrieve their merchants from the market.
This is the heart of the game. Through the actions you take, you will build your clan’s engine for production. During this phase, players take one action per turn, in turn order. Play continues until all players have passed. There are 8 possible actions to choose from and each, except for passing, may be chosen multiple times per round.
Merchants in your stock, not player board, may be used to trade, buy or sell, on the Market board. You may place as many merchants on the buy/sell area of a single good as you wish to buy or sell, i.e., 2 merchants placed on a good would allow you to buy/sell two of that good. You then pay for or receive the good’s current price multiplied by the number of goods bought or sold. Then, adjust the market price for that good by moving it up as many steps as the number traded, either down when selling or up when purchasing.
4th Wall Break: This isn’t Wall Street. You cannot buy and sell from the same Good in a round.
Obtain a Contract
Pay the current cost to take any Export from the available contracts and place it in your empty cargo hold. The cost is round dependent but keep in mind that you’re paid £5 to take an export in the first round.
4th Wall Break: Don’t feel like fulfilling your export? TOO BAD. You made a contract and you can’t break it. You must fulfill your current export contract before taking a new one.
Place one unit (any meeple from your player board) from the top of its column on your player board onto any empty space of the map that is adjacent or within shipping reach of any of your units. Pay the cost for the unit (the coin cost at the top of the column) and the land cost of the hex where it was placed.
There are land restrictions for your units. Sheep, Cows, Cheese, Bakeries, Fields and Distilleries may only be placed onto a hex with grassland. Woodsman can only be placed onto a hex that contains forests and miners can only be placed onto a hex that contains mountains.
There’s a neat bonus for placing units into a space adjacent (with no river between) to your opponents, called the Neighborhood Bonus. You may immediately perform an additional trade action and buy that type of good produced by the neighboring unit. You cannot buy more than 3 pieces of the same good per turn. The price for basic goods (Wool, Milk, and Grain) is reduced by £2. The price of processed goods (Bread, Cheese, and Whiskey) is reduced by £3. You must have merchants available to utilize this bonus, and the rules of the Trade action apply. This bonus can only be used immediately after expanding.
Players can pay £4 to move your shipping marker forward one space. The first time you take this action, it will allow you to expand over rivers. Each subsequent upgrade will allow you to travel over greater distances of lochs (water).
Players can increase the income of their workers, woodsman and miners, by paying £10 to upgrade their equipment. Upgraded workers produce +£2 more during the production phase. When you upgrade a worker, flip over the Technology tile on your player board.
Hire a Merchant
Players begin the game with 2 Merchants. To hire a new merchant, players may pay £4 and take one merchant from their stock on their player board.
Fulfill a Contract
To fulfill a contract, pay the goods listed on the left of the export contract and receive the benefits shown on the right. These benefits may include Hops, Cotton, Tobacco, Sugar Cane or direct bonuses such as Money, Free land expansion (you must still pay for the unit cost but not the land) or a Bonus Upgrade action. When a player completes a contract with the import goods Cotton, Tobacco, or Sugar Cane, that player moves the respective token on the Export board as many steps as the number of import received. Completed export contracts are placed face-up next to their export box, which is now open again for a new contract.
On your turn, if you cannot or do not want to take any further actions, you must pass. After passing, move your turn order marker to the leftmost available position for the next round and receive the bonus money indicated.
Port Bonus Tiles
These are free actions that a player may utilize when the tile is neighboring or within shipping reach of any of that player’s units. This action may be used immediately or on any future turn. When you use a port bonus, put a port tile of your color on the port indicating you’ve used it.
During this phase, players produce goods and receive income! All your hard work might work out after all! The amount of money and goods produced is indicated by the empty slots on the player board where those units were removed. The production phase follows this order:
- Each deployed worker earns you money. If you've upgraded a woodsman or miner, they will earn income based on the right track, otherwise, they earn income from the left track.
- Produce basic goods
- Sheep = Wool
- Cow = Milk
- Field = 2 Grain
- Product processed goods
- Cheese Dairy = Processes 1 Milk into 1 Cheese.
- Bakery = Processes 1 Grain into 1 Bread.
- Distillery = Processes 1 Grain into 1 Whiskey.
In this phase, players earn the Glory bonus on the bottom half of the Scoring tile, if they have fulfilled the top half requirement. Glory is tracked on the Export board. After rounds 2-4, players will then move from scoring to the next round's Preparation phase. After round 5, players move to Final Scoring.
Final Scoring and How to Win
Final scoring takes place after the fifth round’s production phase.
Note, the scoring I've outlined below is used in a 3-4 player game. Scoring is modified for 2 players.
Victory Points are tallied on the game’s scoresheet as below:
- Glory: 1 VP for each step on the Export track.
- Basic Goods: 1 VP per Basic Good in your stock.
- Processed Goods: 2 VP per Processed Good in your stock.
- Money: £10 = 1 VP. Money breaks ties.
- Hops: 1 VP for each Hops imported on your fulfilled contracts.
- Cotton, Tobacco, and Sugar Cane: 3, 4 or 5 VP each according to their rarity. Rarity is determined by the imported goods current location on the Export track. The most common imported Good is worth 3 VP per imported good, second most Imported Good is worth 4 VP each and the least imported Good is worth 5 VP each.
- Export Scoring: The player who exported the most contracts scores 12 VP and second scores 6.
- Settlement Scoring: Each player counts the number of their settlements within shipping reach of each other. A settlement is a cluster of neighboring units of one color (adjacent and no river in between). The player with the most Settlements within shipping reach scores 18 VP; second scores 12 VP; third scores 6 VP.
The player with the most Victory Points at the end of Final Scoring, wins!
Positives and Negatives
- Modular board creates variety and enhances re-playability, offering 16 different map set-ups.
- Asymmetric clans provide unique and interesting variable abilities for players. Each clan at the table will provide players options and various deep, strategic decisions to make in how to interact with them.
- Resource speculation and economic manipulation is practical, logical, and tight.
- Graphic Design includes meticulous detail and the icons are easily distinguished. Additionally, Klemens Franz's art is fantastic.
- Many paths to victory allow for various strategies and a lot of experimentation.
- Variants included in the game are brilliant and help customize the experience to a group (if needed).
- Plays incredibly well at all player counts but most importantly offers a tight and enjoyable experience for 2.
- Perfect balance of table time and overall feeling of accomplishment.
- Set-up and tear down can be a little lengthy, but for its weight and complexity, I wouldn’t expect it to be much shorter.
- Variable Clan powers can be difficult for new players to balance along with learning the game.
- Text on player boards and player aids is tiny and could be difficult for some gamers to read.
- Feels like larger components and box were sacrificed for smaller components and overall look. The game plays and feels like a grandiose Euro but it’s overall table presence is underwhelming.
Clans of Caledonia is easily one of the best Euro’s released in 2017. Don’t let this small box deceive you. Inside, it packs a punch that is just as strong as Terra Mystica and other similar classics but provides a quicker and streamlined game experience.
Though Clans of Caledonia shares similarities with Terra Mystica, it also provides enough unique characteristics to feel different. Juma and his team have pieced together the best parts of classic Euros, added in their own flair, and created a dynamic, strategic economic experience.
One of the most important aspects of Clans of Caledonia is the streamlined gameplay. Not only does it play extremely well at all player counts, it does so in a time effective manner.
The variable starting setup sets this apart from Terra Mystica in my opinion. It will give players a ton of re-playability, and mix in the various clans, numerous export contacts, Port tiles and Scoring tiles, and players have a ton of strategy to digest.
Overall, Clans of Caledonia is a remarkable economic game of money and commodity management and will provide longevity for years to come.
You will like this game if: you enjoy skill based Euro games, farming, whiskey and roleplaying each clan in the game while you play. (Wait, I can’t be the only one who does that…)
I GIVE Clans of Caledonia 5 Glory out of 5 and it receives the board game spotlight seal of approval
Also, you can watch our overview video with James Hudson and the FunAgain Games Liveplay below!
A quick note on my rating scale:
- 5: This game is nearly perfect in every way and the Positives far outweigh any Negatives.
- 4: This game is outstanding and the Positives outweigh the Negatives.
- 3: This game is fun but feels average and the Positives and Negatives are nearly equal.
- 2: This game falls below average and the Negatives outweigh the Positives.
- 1: This game is bad and the Negatives far outweigh any Positives.
A copy of the game was provided by FunAgain Games.