A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries—elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere.
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The path of a nation’s progress does not move forward in a straight line, but meanders, backtracks, and occasionally speeds ahead. As a nation makes magnificent cultural and technological achievements and gradually expands its borders, it may be set back by plagues and famines, wars and natural disasters. What benefits one nation may prove catastrophic for another. There may be dramatic global events that pave the way for golden ages in multiple civilizations or spell disaster for humanity as a whole.
In Nations, a board game of deep, rich strategy for one to five players, you develop a great civilization of your own. You’ll build famous wonders, grow your military, take on the world’s greatest minds as your advisors, and establish colonies throughout the known world over the course of four ages: Antiquity, the Medieval era, the Renaissance, and the Industrial era. Your goal is to prove your nation and your leadership superior to your competitors’ by earning the most victory points, which you can gain through buildings, martial exploits, events, and resources. Finding the right balance for your nation is essential in deciding whether it will slowly fade or brilliantly thrive.
A Nation’s Strength
A game of Nations takes place over eight rounds, each round offering you as many opportunities for action as you like. You begin by choosing one of five nations to guide through history, and start off with a small population, a few useful buildings, a small military, with some food, stone, and gold. At this time you may also choose to grow your population, which will decrease your nation’s stability and increase the demand for resources, or take food, stone, or gold beyond what you already have.
Next, an Event card is drawn, introducing two events that will affect every players' nation at the end of the round. Events often bring on famines, indicated in the upper right-hand corner of the card. If a famine occurs, every nation will have to sacrifice a certain amount of food. However, you can plan ahead in order to benefit from good events and weather the hardships you may encounter. To earn gold in the California Gold Rush, for example, you must have more Military Strength than any other nation. To avoid falling victim to the Irish Potato Blight and losing food, you need to have good stability. The Rigveda offers every nation a number of books equal to the wars and battles during a round. (These books grant victory points at the end of every age).
Your population in a game of Nations is represented by worker meeples, five starting in your Resource area and others waiting on your Population track. Whenever you take a worker from your Population track you either immediately lose stability or increase how much food you must pay at the end of the round. Once in your Resource area, a worker can be deployed to your buildings and military, which give you resources and victory points based on how many workers are deployed on the card. Because you chiefly depend on them to gain resources, your workers are the real strength of your nation, the fuel of its progress.
Growing a Nation
The heart of gameplay in Nations lies in the actions you take to grow your nation. Purchasing a Progress card is an action, as is deploying a worker. Players take turns performing one action each and continue doing so until all players have chosen to pass. Each age introduces a different deck of Progress cards, which grow more powerful as history moves forward. Every round you’ll have eighteen to choose from and purchase by paying gold. Eight different categories of Progress cards exist. Five of them—buildings, military, advisors, colonies, and wonders — occupy places on your player board and enable you to gain resources or victory points regularly over multiple rounds.
The most fundamental and necessary Progress cards are buildings and military. Both require workers, with every worker costing a certain amount of resources the moment it is deployed. (Workers on Military cards also consume resources at the end of the round.) Both also give you victory points for the workers you've deployed. Buildings give you resources at the end of the round; Military cards immediately enhance your Military Strength, which is cumulative across the ages. Military cards also feature a Raid value, which determines how many resources you gain in a battle.
Colonies also give you resources and victory points, but don't need workers. Instead, to buy a colony you must have enough Military Strength. Advisors offer resources without workers, but some have certain conditions that you must meet to gain those resources. The Celtic Queen Boudicca, for example, only contributes to your nation if you have workers deployed on Military cards.
Wonders are long-term investments that grant sizable benefits. Ordinary workers are not involved in constructing these massive edifices. Instead, you need experienced architects to complete each stage of your wonder. Hiring an architect constitutes an action, and most architects also need resources for constructing your wonder. Three architects are needed, for instance, to build the Moai Statues of Easter Island, and one stone must be spent at each stage. When completed, a wonder gives you instantaneous or recurring benefits, although some may tax your Resources. The Moai Statues offer a one-time benefit of twelve stone, but cost one food at the end of every round.
Military Conflicts and Golden Ages
Of course, history is much more than magnificent monuments and legendary thinkers, and conflicts are more than a show of force. Among the Progress cards available to you across the ages are battles and wars, which can test your nation’s Military Strength and pit you in a contest against others. When you buy a battle, you immediately gain either books, food, or stone. The amount you gain depends on the Raid value of your best Military card with at least one worker on it. So, if you have at least one worker deployed on your Samurai card, you would gain five resources.
Battles may happen frequently, but only one war can occur per round. Whoever purchases the War card places it on the scoring board, and matches the War marker to his or her Military Strength. Then, at the end of the round, any nation with less Military Strength than the War marker suffers defeat and must forfeit resources. The nation that started the war gains no resources, and if that nation’s Military Strength decreases over the round, it may lose the war as well. Wars in Nations harm more people than they benefit, and sometimes they benefit no one at all.
The eighth type of Progress card is the Golden Age, which offers you a choice. You can either immediately gain the resources it offers, or immediately sacrifice some resources in order to gain victory points. Golden Ages are neither frequent nor long-lasting, however. Once you have bought and resolved a Golden Age, it disappears from the game.
At the end of a round, all nations simultaneously collect the resources produced by their buildings, wonders, and other forms of progress. If a war has been started during the round, it will then be finished, causing nations to either lose resources or escape unscathed. The events drawn at the beginning of the round take effect, and food is lost if there is a famine. Finally, each nation gains a victory point for every nation that has fewer books than itself.
Balance and Diversity
Nations makes tangible the fact that all aspects of civilization are interconnected. The workers who build your Pagoda may be fed by a colony in Greenland. The books produced in your University may be consumed when sending your Longships into battle. The gold earned from your Forum is spent in purchasing numerous Progress cards. Because no aspect of your nation is fully separate from the others, and nearly all aspects contribute to your victory, you must maintain balance between all of them and allow none of them to become too weak or too strong.
In addition, Nations encourages and enables you to create balance at the gaming table. At the beginning of the game, each player can choose their own level, independent of the others. The player boards have two sides with the A-side offering a more difficult game than the reverse. The Progress cards can also be sorted for basic, advanced, or expert games. Guidelines are also included for making the game shorter or easier, and for playing it solo.
No matter what your skill level or strategic bent, Nations offers an intriguing and challenging game that allows you to experience the path of a nation’s progress as it gradually unfolds. Your nation is uniquely yours: while it may be named Persia, China, or Greece, the combination of wonders, buildings, battles, and advisors that you create will be unprecedented in history. Whether or not that nation proves to be the greatest in the game, you can nevertheless savor the unpredictable journey of developing it.
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