01st Aug2018

’1500′ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

1500-box

1500 is a relatively new game from Dan Verssen of DVG (Dan Verssen Games) and it represents a fairly rare foray into the world of lighter games for this esteemed design and publishing house, which is well known for making exceptional war games that can be enjoyed by one or several players. DVG tend to focus on specific theatres of war, certain individual battles or on systems that allow players to recreate conflicts of their own imagining (such as in Modern Land Battles, which we reviewed here previously.)

Now, 1500 isn’t a war game and it isn’t really about conflict. Instead, it uses a very lightweight card based system to drive a victory point focused, area control game set in South and Central America during the age of the conquistadors. Although I’ve been reviewing board games for a couple of years now (and video games much longer) I haven’t had to deal with this rather questionable theme until now and I have to admit, it did make me feel a little uneasy. The focus in 1500 is on outright exploitation of the local regions – of that there can be no doubt – and to be honest I think it would have been a better game had a more generic theme (unoccupied alien planets, for example) been used.

The aim of the game is to place colonies across the fifteen regions of the board, whilst at the same time reducing those of your opponents either completely, or to a struggling state that will actively reduce their points. Players can maximise the points they score by controlling geographic regions or through trade monopoly, if they can control all three resources of a specific kind. One aspect of the theme that I do think is extremely fitting is linked to the turns, of which there are six per game. 1500 takes place over a period of almost 200 years, so the fact that colony control and success (or lack of) changes often and rapidly is a product of the amount of time between turns and the tumultuous nature of the time and place.

The turn begins with the first player placing a token of their colour at the top of the Royal Support track and the others (depending on how many) following on further down the track one or two at a time. Whilst being higher on the track allows a player to act first, it also indicates that they have less Royal Support, which manifests as a lower hand size, which generally means fewer options. When play begins, the active player will use cards one by one to either resolve the stated text (such as removing or reducing colonies as the result of a revolt) or discard a card to take one of the following four actions, as follows:

  • Build, which allows the player to place a colony
  • Blockade, in order to reduce or remove an enemy colony
  • Repair, to return a struggling colony to its healthy state
  • Royal Favour, which can increase or decrease Royal Support for the active player or an opponent respectively, depending on a number shown in the top corner of the card used to take the action

Resolving each action is very quick, but with a possible eight cards in hand, a player can make sweeping changes to the board. Honestly, there are cards in the deck that could remove all colonies for one player, or multiple colonies from several players. In 1500, the board state changes almost entirely from one turn to another and whilst some cards can be held and played in response to other player actions, there are relatively few in the deck and you’ll never have enough to defend yourself entirely.

The more I played, the more I found it odd that each player takes all of their card actions at once, rather than using an alternating approach. Based on the manual (which I have to admit is not brilliant) and the text printed on the board, I am certain that I’ve played the game correctly, but it did feel odd. In fact, as some of you will already know, I do like to test house rules out and when I introduced alternating turns, the game felt much tighter and more competitive – although that’s only over the course of a couple of games at the end of an evening.

My copy of the game also came with two of the five nation expansions (I received England and France, but Portugal, Spain and The Netherlands are also available) which introduce new, alternative card powers and nuances, as well as a complete AI deck for each nation. These AI decks can be used to either create a more compelling solo game, or to enhance a multiplayer game. Driving the AI decks is very simple and whilst I don’t commonly play solo games unless I am learning rules for a big game, I found the speed of 1500 made it quite fun and uncommonly easy to follow.

In terms of component quality, I’d say that 1500 is on a par with DVG’s standard offering, which is fairly high. The mounted board is suitably “olde-world” in presentation, with a kind of sepia colouration that makes it look like an old map. The tokens are thick and bright which makes them impossible to mistake with one another, whilst the cards from the bulk of what you’ll actually be staring at for most of the game. The artwork, whilst occasionally a bit controversial (there are lots of Native American’s chopping down colonists etc) is decent and the cards are clearly laid out.

On the down side, I’m not delighted with the manual because it leaves a number of rules unclear. I’m still not absolutely sure that Board Game Geek has sorted out whether or not each space can hold a colony from each player, or just one single colony, and there are a few other problems. Some of the card rules are a bit flippant and could do with more explanation. There are a couple of pages of the manual dedicated to explaining card outcomes, but it isn’t much more useful to refer to than the cards themselves.

In conclusion, 1500 is a quick, light, easy to teach area control game that uses a questionable theme to explain its rather chaotic game play. I think if I play it again (which I reckon I will) I will continue to play with my own interpretation of how cards should be used, at least until I learn why Dan Verssen (who is a much, much, much better game designer than me) didn’t make the game that way in the first place. One place where this game does shine through a bit more brightly is in the solo mode, which is only available with one or more expansions, thanks to the extra personality they bring. These AI country packs also add a little something in lower player count games as well, because there is no doubt that 1500 is better with more people to spice things up.

A solid but unremarkable effort, but one that shows enough promise that I hope DVG decide to explore lighter games in the future.

*** 3/5

A copy of 1500 was provided by Dan Verssen Games for review.

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