Clash of Cultures is a 4x (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) game for up to four players. The players each started in their own corner of the board on a revealed “Region” of four hexes – Yellow (Peter) in the SW, Green (Chuck) in the NW, Red (Wil) in the NE, and Blue (Doug) in the SE. The remaining regions are placed randomly facedown and are revealed as they are explored, which can include coming across barbarians. The basic mechanics of the game are fairly straightforward, once you complete a couple turns, and the player aid clearly shows the steps. However, the challenge is more in how you track the effects and benefits received from the technologies you research and keep remembering some of the more detailed rules (which more experienced players would probably not have found to be a problem). We made a few mistakes during the game, but pushed through.
There are three action turns in each round during which players can move, found cities, activate cities to build city districts (Fortresses, Academies, Temples, and Ports) or collect resources such as ore, wood, food, and gold (larger cities can collect from more of the surrounding hexes) or raise units (settlers, armies, and ships – larger cities can raise more units with a single action), complete civic improvements (improve a city’s mood), and influence other cultures (you can change the color of other player’s city districts to your own – it does not change how they are used by the original players, but gives you the VP for the district at the end of the game). Combat is a fairly simply matter of rolling one dice for each army in a combat to get a total CV (Combat Value), dividing the result by 5, rounding down, and scoring that many hits. Battles continue until the attacker decides to withdraws or one side is eliminated. Players have the ability to play Action Cards before each round of a battle, giving such advantages as a pre-combat roll, bonus CV, etc.
A huge part of the game is the tech tree, not just for the techs you discover but for how researching certain tech increases your “Mood” and “Culture” points. Mood helps improve the attitude of your cities, culture helps with purchasing Wonders (something we failed to do during the game), and both can help you deal with certain event cards or use your tech abilities. It also moves your mood and culture indicator up the track, triggering events at certain points along the way. Events can be good or bad (generally bad) and can spawn the growth of, and attacks by, barbarians.
As most of these games do, it started quietly. Doug managed to stumble across a barbarian tribe with his first exploration, but otherwise the barbarians were fairly quiet in the beginning. Since barbarians can be triggered by Event Cards, he slowed his tech growth in certain categories until the forces to deal with a possible attack were in place. Wil pushed south along the eastern edge of the board and became the first (and only) player to build a ship. He also test ran the trade route tech, impressing everyone with his merchant skills. Peter grew his technology rapidly and pushed north, founding a city a few hexes from his capital. He had a bit of a scare when he triggered an event and a barbarian horde that had been menacing Chuck noticed he existed and pushed south, destroying his city. Chuck pushed east from his capital founding a couple cities, building a solid tech base, and an army to deal with the barbarians. Threats from the previously mentioned barbarians kept him busy and blocked movement south.
Having destroyed the local barbarians, Doug pushed his recently battle-tested army out to the edges and built a city near Wil’s border, making Wil a little nervous. He and Wil settled into a border battle between proxies, hiring mercenaries (barbarians spawned by Event Cards can be placed up to two hexes from your cities, so closely located border towns can find themselves surrounded by barbarians) to harass each other. Peter pushed back north with a large army and re-established his northern city. Both Chuck and Peter worked to build large cities, giving them impressive resources. Due to the way the regions were revealed and the hexes placed (there are rules for how to orient the 4-hex regions when they are revealed), the map became split by water hexes between the eastern and the western empires with only a small strip of land connecting them. This siloed the game into a pair of two-on-two competitions, which impacted how the game was played (especially with Wil being the only seafaring culture). Rules note: Your maximum city size is the number of cities you have on the board. So, if you only have 3 cities, you can only have a maximum of 3 city pieces in a city (when the city piece is built, you do not lose pieces as you lose cities).
In the west, the two empires prepared to crush the barbarian horde that separated them. The barbarians were quickly destroyed and their former lands became a battleground between Peter and Chuck. In the end, Peter’s massive resource based allowed him to prevail and push further north to threaten Chuck’s capital city. In the east, Wil launched an attack against some of the border barbarians and crushed them. Unfortunately, this left him a little weaker and Doug quickly took advantage of the situation, attacking Wil’s army. An amphibious counterattack failed and Doug was soon positioned to rapidly push north and grabbed some of Wil’s smaller cities.
You score victory points for the number of city districts (1 VP) of your color on the board, tech advances (1/2 VP), wonders (5VP), and objective cards (2VP – there are two options to score on each card, peaceful and not-so-peaceful). In the end, Peter’s strong tech (it seemed during the game that he had run away with the tech, but he, Chuck, and Wil were very closely grouped) and large civilization won him the day. Wil’s strong tech base and Objective VP put him in 2nd place (only 3 points behind Peter), despite Doug managing to grab a number of small cities from him just before the end of the game. Wil’s score was bolstered by Objective card VP, thanks in part to the long proxy war between him and Doug (the not-so-peaceful way to gain VP noted above). Though strong in Tech, Chuck came in third place (just 2 points behind Wil), suffering in the end from a close-run, if losing, war effort against Peter. No one managed to build a Wonder, though both Chuck and Peter were on the verge of doing so before the “Great War” absorbed all of their carefully hoarded resources. Doug’s failure to score his Objective cards in a timely manner left him in last place (he was technically tied for 2nd place, but only if allowed to score objective cards after the fact).
This game received a coveted 4 out of 4, “Yeah, I guess I would play it again” rating, however that was based on giving the game the benefit of the doubt on this first play-through due to the learning curve and how the map fell. This rating could change based on the results of another play. We played 4.5 hours, including the teach, and we managed to make it through 6 of the 7 Rounds. So, with more experience, the group should have easily made it through the entire game in one sitting.