While most people look to Kickstarter or Indiegogo for creativity, there are many other sites out there that are filled with ingenious little designs and devilish little cardboard pieces of fun, frolic, and in the case of our latest Critical Review, fur! Eric and Phuong Le Boillaud have teamed up to bring thw world of 1700's Native America, fur trading, and woodsman runners to a tabletop near you, all through the power of the Game Crafter!
In Columbia, the setting is the 1700s and it's up to you and your rival woodsman, to trap, trade, swap and sell the most beaver, wolf and bear pelts you can, between two rival trading companies, the Northwest Company and the Hudson Bay Company, to be victorious! You'll have to manage a raging river, ensure your base camp is sound and efficient, and succeed in acquiring trading posts along the way!
At first glance, Columbia is everything but familiar or similar. Right from the outset you are treated to a different type of style, artwork, and theme that is both refreshing and quick to pick up. Before we get two far downstream, let's discuss set up.
Columbia is a 2-5 player game that takes about 15 to 20 minutes to play, so yes, we’re talking potential filler game here. It is advertised as 10+ for ages but our 7 year old had no problem with it at all, mostly due to the it being a symbol driven game, and one that is very simple to pick up after a game or two.
To begin a game, each player is given a colored "wave" card and it is placed to their left, starting their Base Camp. The 12 Blue and 12 Red Trading Post cards are shuffled separately in stacks. Starting with Blue, a row of 12 Trading Post Cards are drawn and placed out form left to right in the center of the table, forming a "River" we all will travel down, turn by turn. There is a “turn marker” of a trading post used to track progress down the river as well. This was a nice touch.
Each player then is given 5 cards from the Expedition deck, to populate their 5 card Base Camp. Players may choose the order in which their cards are placed from left to right in their camp, and it is very important as at the end of every turn, the left most card, near you colored wave card, will be discarded from play (even if it has resources on it) so you are immediately posed some strategic questions to manage!
Some of these cards require a payment (in the upper left corner) and as such, each player begins with 10 coins, but must pay for the cards they are dealt in their Base Camp set up. Once this is complete, each player then draws 4 additional cards from the Expedition Deck and it’s down the river and through the woods so to speak!
Columbia’s cards are heavy on symbols, which fits very well with the Native American artwork on them. At the top of every card is a pair of symbols, one blue and one red, that will be anything from a Totem Pole, to a Teepee, to a Dreamcatcher. Each symbol also has a number of slash marks underneath it. These are used for the first part of a round, determining the next Trading Post’s owner.
Each turn, the Turn marker moves one card to the right on the main River of cards made up of the 6 Blue and 6 Red alternating cards that were laid out to begin the game. Players then look at the 5 cards in their base camp, and at the symbols on them, to make up “poker hands” using the symbols. So for example, 5 Totem Poles is the best, followed by 4 of a kind, Full house (3 of one symbol, 2 of another) and so on. IT’s important to note that you only look at the colored symbols on the Expedition Cards in your Base Camp that are the same color as the Trading Post card the turn marker is on. So if it’s on blue, and you have a full house in red symbols but a single Totem Pole in Blues as your best “hand”, then “them’s the breaks” as they say.
Whomever has the best set of symbols then takes that Trading Post card from the center and they place it above their base camp, as a permanent part of their play area. These will provide both abilities that will not go away, but also victory points as noted in the upper right of the card, at the end of the game.
After the Trading Post card is given to a player, each player has the option to perform up to two of their turn actions, in any order. Turn actions consist of:
After all players have taken their turns, they each draw a 5th Expedition Card, discard the left most Expedition Card in their Base Camp, and start a new Round. The difference after the first round, is now your base camp has 4 cards, so everything shifts to the left, and you play a 5th card from your hand, paying its cost, and improving your abilities.
This sounds at first, all too easy. Trap and fill every trap you have, transport to Canoes, respect the “don’t mix pelt colors” rule, and sell to make boat loads of cash right? Wrong. See, first thing to note is that while Trading Post Cards are permanents in your play area, the Expedition Cards will be lost, and quite frequently!
As mentioned, at the end of the round (after all players have taken a turn) the left most card in your base camp of Expedition Cards is discarded from play… yes, even if it’s a trap or canoe with pelts in or on it! Thankfully, this is the only time this happens, meaning there aren’t cards that speed up the currents and make you lose more than one card per turn, but it does mean again, that you’ll be racing against the currents to trap, swap, transport and sell as efficiently as possible, to gain as much money as you can.
Will you lose some pelts? Sure, there is always the “one who got away” as most hunter and trappers will tell you, but the speed at which more options come available will make up for it.
Play continues until all 12 of the River Trading Post cards have been claimed and the last round is complete with all players taking their turns. After that, each coin is worth 1 VP, Trading Post cards are worth their stated VPs and for each pair of pelts in your play area, on canoes or in traps, you get 1 VP. The highest VPs is the winner and best trapper in these parts!
Columbia is fast. Very fast! Once you play a game or two, you both learn the symbols and artwork to denote which card does what quickly but also pick up the “mini game” of poker through the use of the symbols at the top of the cards as well. The true challenge comes in only have two actions per turn, and more often than not, needing to complete three to feel comfortable!
There are a lot of tactical and strategic choices to make. Do I choose to play the best card with symbols to make a high poker set and take the next Trading Post card or do I play the Canoe I know I need from my hand, lose the Trading Post Card, but get a more efficient Base Camp? Do I swap my pelts or hope to draw a Canoe? Do I sell now or wait to possibly swap up to a higher value pelt? They will all make each game of Columbia fast paced, different, and enjoyable.
One downside to the game, is that your decisions, outside of which card to add to your base camp, don’t impact other players very much. Yes, winning the Trading Post card at the start of each round can impede the player who desperately needed it, but after that, it’s very much a game about managing your play area. In fact, there are no cards that affect opponents, so time, and your own hand management are your enemies here.
Columbia’s speed, beautiful artwork, and creative use of theme provide a unique experience, and one that is both fast and enjoyable. I was very impressed with artwork and colors used, as well as the connected theme to the gameplay. You definitely feel as though you’re raging down a river and planning your moves makes you feel just like a woodsman hunter or trapper stalking your prey. The Le Boillaud team have made a game about a subject most would pass over, both inviting and exciting and for that, we’re giving it a Hit of a rating! Whether you plan on making an evening out of it or use it as a Filler Game in between larger sessions, Columbia will provide a great time at the table for all who venture down the river.