Embark is a game by Philip duBarry, published by Tasty Minstrel Games. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players will be loading boats full of voyagers to explore, colonize and mine newly discovered and uninhabited islands. They’ll be unlocking mysteries, collecting ore and cultivating farms in order to reap all the benefits the islands have to offer. Of course, they’ll have to be careful as warriors from their opponent’s ships will try to take their place on the island and thus reap the benefits themselves. In the end, the player that can accrue the most victory points will be declared the winner.
To begin, the Island boards are shuffled and placed in the middle of the play area on either side. There should only be as many Island boards as there are players and each board is placed in alphabetical order. The Victory Point tokens are placed in a pile near the middle of the play area. The Farm tiles are set aside for the time being. One Key token is placed on each spot marked with a key on the Exploration tracks of each Island board. The Boat cards are shuffled together. A Boat card is then dealt out to each lettered slot below the Island boards. The remaining deck is placed face down nearby. A number of Ore tokens are stacked on each ore space on the island boards. The number of tokens is based on the number on the space. Each player chooses a color and is given a Player board and Player Screen in their player color which will be set up in front of them. Each player is also given 30 Voyager cubes that matches their player color. The first player is chosen and is given the First Player token. The Talent cards are shuffled together and a number of them are revealed to all players. That number is equal to the number of players plus 2. The remaining cards are returned to the box. Beginning with the player to the right of the first player and continuing in reverse turn order, each player will take turns choosing a Talent card to use in the game. Any left over cards are also returned to the box. Once this is done, play now begins.
The game is played over 6 rounds. Each round is divided into 4 stages; Allocation stage, Boarding stage, Landing stage and Island stage. The first stage is the Allocation stage. In this stage, each player will take 5 of their Voyager cubes, along with any cubes in their pub, and place them on their player board, assigning them to the various boats that are available. These cubes can be placed to the same boat or to any combination of boats. Once each player has completed this task, everyone will remove their player screen and move their voyagers to the area beneath each corresponding boat card. This would mean, for example, any cubes on the A space of a player’s board would then go beneath the boat card below the A space on the Island board. It should be noted, if a player placed a cube on the wrong lettered space, that is to say one of the lettered spaces not being used in this game, those cubes are placed in the player’s pub.
The next stage is the Boarding stage. In this stage, players will take turns moving a Voyager from below a boat into an open job space on the boat. This is done in turn order beginning with the first player. Once a boat is filled, any remaining Voyagers below that boat are placed in the respective player’s pub. It should be noted that some Talent cards will grant the ability to move a Voyager to another boat. Once all the Voyagers have been loaded or returned to the player’s pub, play moves to the next stage.
The third stage is the Landing stage. In this stage, completely filled boats will set sail to the island and get unloaded. Filled boats are unloaded from A to K, in alphabetical order. Each boat is unloaded from front to back. Voyagers are moved to the island according to their job. Voyagers can have 1 of 5 jobs. Those jobs are Colonist, Explorer, Miner, Captain and Warrior. Colonists are placed in the farming area in the center of the island. Explorers are placed on the first available space of the Exploration track in the Exploration area. Miners are placed in the Mining area of the island in an empty mining space of the player’s choice. Captains can be placed in either an empty space for a Colonist, Explorer or Miner space. Warriors can remove a previously placed Voyager from their spot, sending them to that player’s pub. It should be noted though that a Warrior can not remove a Colonist that has already built a farm. Once all the Voyagers on a boat have been unloaded, the Boat card is placed at the bottom of the deck. Once all Landings have been completed, any empty boat spaces are refilled with a card from the top of the deck.
The last stage is the Island stage. In this stage, players will use their Voyagers to Explore, Farm and Mine. The player will score 1 victory point for each Explorer they have on each island. For each group of 4 Colonists that a player has on an island, they are able to place a farm tile on top of it and score 15 victory points. These Colonists are then unable to be moved and become immune to Warriors for the rest of the game. The player will collect 1 Ore token from the ore space adjacent to each of their Miners. If the mine is empty, the Miner does nothing. Once Exploration, Farming and Mining are complete, the stage ends. The first player token is passed to the next player in turn order. If this isn’t the end of the 6th round, a new round begins starting with the Allocation Stage. If this is the end of the 6th round, the game ends.
At the end of the 6th round, each player will return all the Voyagers on boats that did not land in the final round to their pub. Players are then awarded end game bonuses for any unlocked Island bonuses and mining bonuses for their ore tokens. Players are also awarded exploration bonuses for the furthest flag reached for each island. The player with the most Colonists on the island scores the 1st place exploration bonus, while the 2nd and 3rd place bonuses go to the next 2 players with the most Colonists. Once all bonuses are awarded, players add up all their victory points and the one with the most is the winner.
This is a really light hearted and fun looking game that’s full of cardboard pieces. There are victory point tokens that are numbered red flags. There are farm tiles that look like rows of corn and tomatoes. There are key/unlock tokens that have a key on one side and an open lock on the other. There are ore tokens that look like gold and coal. There’s the first player token that looks like the wooden helm of a ship. There are player screens that when assembled have what looks like wooden sides on them. The side facing the other players is the player’s color with the game’s logo, while the side facing the player has an end game scoring reference. All these pieces are pretty good quality and quite thick cardboard. I think as far as cardboard pieces go, they’re pretty cool looking. I especially like the first player marker and the player screens. Speaking of player colors, there are wooden cubes in 5 player colors, enough for each player to have 30 cubes. That’s 150 cubes total. I will say that I wish these had been meeples instead of cubes. I just think it would have been more fun to place meeples instead of cubes. Finally there are the cards and the island boards. There are 2 types of cards, Boat cards and Talent cards. The Boat cards are just that, boats with spaces for cubes to be placed. Each colored space indicates a job type. The Talent cards are more reminiscent of Harbour and have the same type of look and feel as the artwork in that game. I really like the Talent cards artwork, especially since I really enjoy the art from Harbour. The island boards are pretty cool too. They have different section on them for each type of voyager. I do wish these were a little more sturdy but as they don’t get moved around too much, they get the job done. All in all, this is a pretty cool looking game. The box is a bit bigger than the one for Harbour but it’s not so large that it’s going to take up a ton of room on the shelf. That said, I feel I do need to mention a couple of negatives. Since the box isn’t all that big, it’s a bit of a pain to put everything back into the box. Basically you have to assemble the player screens to play the game and then disassemble them to put them back in the box. I realize that you’d have had to have a huge box to not need to do this, so I get it. Still it’s a bit of a pain. Of course the biggest pain is that the game came with nothing to keep all those tokens in. A couple of ziplock baggies of some kind would have been nice. Instead I had to supply my own to keep everything from going all over the place and getting mixed together. Before you ask, yes I was one of those kids that couldn’t have my food touching on the plate. Who wants bean juice in their mashed potatoes? Nobody! Ok, rant over. Overall the game looks good. Harbour fans will enjoy the artistic designs here.
8 out of 10
The rulebook for this game is pretty good as well. There are plenty of pictures throughout the book. However there really weren’t any gameplay examples anywhere to be found. Not that the game is difficult to understand, because it’s not. I just like to see an example or two in every rulebook just to be clear on a possible misunderstood rule or two. The book isn’t that big so it’s not like it takes a whole lot of time to read through. Everything seemed fairly easy to understand, so I didn’t see any problems there. Everything seemed fairly streamlined and step by step, apart from maybe the setup. That was a bit of a jumble but nothing that couldn’t be figured out. I will say that I’m glad that the player screens have a scoring reference on them. It makes things a lot easier for the end of the game and help players understand what they need to be shooting for to get the most points. Overall I think the book does a good job of conveying the rules in precise and concise way. I’m fairly pleased with it.
8 out of 10
This is a really fun game full of adventure and exploration. As a fan of the designer’s previous game Harbour, I went into this one with high hopes. I liked the hidden action selection of the Allocation stage. Trying to determine what your opponents will choose versus what you think they will think you chose, all while trying to get the best options for yourself can be quite enjoyable. Many times I found myself overthinking things and realized that some players simply go for what they think they can get. Of course others will simply try to take every option away from you so that you don’t have a really good choice. Once you’ve got your cubes out there, you’re moving into the actual selection process. If you made some good choices, then you have plenty of spaces to put your voyager cubes in order to get lots of points. If not, you may have to choose what you think will garner you the most points on the boat that you’re loading up. Choosing the right job can be crucial. Speaking of jobs, I found that I was overly fond of the warrior role. In 2 player games, it simply feels like you’re going back and forth. One minute I’m taking your spot on the board, the next minute you’re taking mine. The back and forth with this player count wasn’t all that fun. Of course you add another player or two and that changes. With our games, we found ourselves making alliances and cutting deals so that we could minimize the damage to ourselves from those warriors. Ideally, that’s the way to play if you ask me. The more players, the more fun this game is. I will say that I’ve never played anything quite like this before, although it does remind me of a game I saw on Kickstarter that I really wanted to try. The same mechanic of hidden action selection is present in it as well. That game is Guild Master. I think players that enjoy the mechanics of that one, may enjoy this one as well. This is a game that I would recommend, as long as you’re not looking to play it simply as a 2 player game. That’s where it falls flat in my opinion. Otherwise is a good solid game that you can negotiate and bargain while exploring, farming and mining on uncharted islands. It’s a good game that’s family friendly and is easy to learn. I can say that I like this one rather well.
8 out of 10
Embark is a game of exploration, farming, mining and take that in the same world as the game, Harbour. The game doesn’t take too long. Most game sessions last around 45 minutes to an hour. The components are really good. I love the artwork for the cards and all the tokens. I do wish there had been some baggies or someway to store the pieces better inside the box. I also wish that the player screens didn’t have to be taken apart after every game. The rulebook is also quite good. Everything is stream lined and easy to read and understand. I do wish there had been a few examples of gameplay however. The game itself is fun, as long as you’re not planning on playing with only 2 players. The back and forth take that aspect of the warriors is a bit annoying. With 3 or more players though, the game takes on a whole new life. The negotiations, alliances and down right begging make for a very fun dynamic for using the warriors. This is a fun family friendly game that is enjoyed best with more players. Fans of hidden action selection games like Guild Master or others of that nature may enjoy this one as well. This is a game that I would recommend for playing with more than 2 players. Set sail on a game full of fun.
8 out of 10
For more information about this and other great games, please check out Tasty Minstrel Games at their site.