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[Review] Clippers

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Joined: 03/23/2011

While at Origins 2004, I had the opportunity to pick up Clippers (Eurogames, 2002 - Alan Moon) for a very inexpensive price. A few folk there told me that the game wasn’t really worth even the fairly low number I shelled out for it, so I had a few misgivings about the game even that early. Still, the name of Alan Moon reassured me, as my opinions of his games, up to this point, had been quite high. When I opened the box, the game sure looked awfully pretty; and the theme seemed fairly unique - one I hadn’t seen in games up to this point: transporting things between islands.

After playing the game, I found it excellent - a superb connection game (think: trains) with no luck. The options were tremendous, game play was quick, and the board looked fantastic when all the pieces were laid out. There was only one problem; some of the components were worse than substandard, making the game fairly annoying to play. Despite these component aggravations, I still would gladly play the game again with a few piece modifications. I’m usually not a fan of games of pure strategy, but this is a good one; and with three or more players, the tactical choices are high.

The theme of the game involves players trying to get different shipping companies to visit islands in the South Pacific where they have ports. A large board depicting the South Pacific with thirty-eight islands on it is placed in the middle of the board. Each island has places for two to five ports and is connected to at least two other islands via routes printed on the board. Routes can handle either one or two shipping companies and are made up of one to four parts. Each player receives a departure card (randomly shuffled) that depicts one of five countries (France, England, America, Germany, and Japanese. Each player then takes twelve port markers of that country and places seven of them at the locations mentioned on their card, keeping the other five in front of them. Six option cards are placed next to the board (one less 2x card with 3 or 4 players): three 2x cards, one 3x card, one 5x card, and one Port card. Piles of route segments in six colors are sorted and placed near the board. There are five starting locations on the board - starting locations for each shipping company (except purple) next to each of these a clipper ship is placed. The remainder of the ships is placed near the board, along with a pile of money (of which $2 is given to each player.) One player is given the First Player marker, and the first round begins.

Each round is composed of four phases - each of which starts with the first player, and then passes clockwise around the board. During Phase 1, players have the choice to either place one of their port markers on any empty port on the board, take one of the available option cards (paying the cost of it, if necessary), or passing. Players also can buy a clipper ship if they want, regardless of what they do (the bought ship must be used this turn.)

In Phase 2, a player may place a route segment on the board. (Phase 3 is identical to Phase 2). They take one of the colored sticks of any available route, place it at the end of that colored line (indicated by the ship), and then move the ship to the end of the line. Some routes have arrows, showing that a route can run in one direction only. Other routes allow two different colors to transverse them simultaneously. Once a route reaches the American Samoa islands, the purple route can be started. The purple route is unique in that it can branch off and go in any direction. The other color routes cannot branch; unless a player buys a ship of that color, placing it somewhere along the route during that turn. New segments for that route may be placed at either end from this point on. If a player is the first person to connect any line to an island, they receive a bonus of $2. If another route is already connected to that island, but this is the first time that the connecting color has reached the island, the player merely receives a bonus of $1.

The option cards allow the player to modify what they do in Phases 2 and 3.
- 2x Cards: These allow players to place one or two segments in both phases, and the player receives double bonuses. Cost: $2
- 3x Card: This allows a player to place one, two, or three segments in both phases, but the player receives no bonuses. Cost: $0
- 5x Card: This allows a player to place one, two, three, four, or five segments in Phase 2 OR Phase 3 with normal bonuses. Cost: $1
- Port: This allows a player to move one of their port markers in either phase. Cost: $4.

In Phase 4, all players return their option cards, and the first player marker is passed to the player on the left. The next round then begins, and play continues until no more routes can be built. This means either all the segments are on the board, or the routes have all run into dead ends. Final scoring then begins. Each $1 a player has is worth 1 point, and each port marker is worth the value of the port (from three to eight) multiplied times the number of different colored companies connected to that island. The player with the most points is the winner, with ties broken by who has the most money!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Good Components: The board is very beautiful and looks to be a fairly accurate map of the South Pacific. The wooden bits, both the sticks for the route segments (which are identical to the roads from Settlers of Catan), and the clipper ships are really nice and sharply outline against the backdrop of the board. The Option cards are thick cardboard tokens, and are easy to see and handle. All components fit well into the big, sturdy, square box with beautiful ship artwork on it.

2.) Bad Components: The board, while beautiful, causes some problems. The shipping lines are printed in a faint light blue upon a dark blue. This makes them fairly difficult to see. In a bright light I can see them, and it’s not a big deal; but it’s still kind of annoying. Even more annoying are the double route lines. When a stick segment is laid on top of them, it easily covers both lines, causing players to constantly having to adjust the sticks. The worst component, by far, however, are the port markers. They are miniscule cardboard markers with the flags of the country on it; and they are easily lost, dropped, and hard to move around. The ports on the board are REALLY hard to see, since they are printed in that same light blue but with thinner lines. Moving the port markers around can be a fairly exhausting experience. Setting them up is a pain, too, I would have preferred to have them imprinted on the board to expedite this.

3.) Fixing Components: I suppose I could draw lines on the board to fix the faint lines, but I hate desecrating a board like that. I am going to substitute cubes or some other more manageable token for the port tokens. These will make the game more manageable to play, because I am determined to play it again; since it is tremendously interesting and fun.

4.) Option Cards: Knowing which option card to take (and if to take one) is a crucial decision each turn. Sometimes it’s valuable, especially in the beginning of the game, to get those extra double bonuses that are provided by the 2x card. Other times it important to get as many route segments out as possible, especially if you’re worried that the route is going to head a different direction than you’d like. Getting money can be the deciding factor when counting up the points; but at the same time, if you concentrate too much on it, you won’t get your important islands hooked up.

5.) Ports: A player has only five ports to place on the board, and it’s crucial that all five make it. But when should you put them out? Too early, and you alert the other players to where you want the routes to go. Too late, and you might not get the port into that important plate. I won the first game I played because I managed to get three ports at an “8” island that had four different companies connected to it. That one island got me 96 points, winning me the game. Knowing when to place those port markers was definitely a key decision.

6.) Fun Factor and Time: The game can run about sixty or ninety minutes, as long as players are quick to place their sticks on the board. The game is a lot of fun in that regard, as it’s fun to watch routes unfold and even more fun to turn a route away from someone’s island where they have several port markers. The game definitely has a lot of interaction, as all the players are dealing with the same six routes. The route is rarely going to move exactly where you want it to go, so the extra clipper ships are important and crucial decisions to buy. Making these decisions is a lot of fun.

Very, very enjoyable game - but it’s unbelievable to me that the producers actually expected that people would like many of these unmanageable components. The overall package looks good, but who in their right mind thought that people would want to have to use a microscope to see all the pieces. Looking beyond that, though, the game is tremendous and well-designed. It’s a fun connection game, with a lot of interaction between the players and absolutely no luck. Player’s decisions solely rest on what the other players do, and the theme actually works well. Since the game is so inexpensive and easy to find right now, I recommend picking it up, although you may want to modify the components just a tad.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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