Populations: Early Copy Review

Populations is an exploration and worker placement strategy game by Elree Ellis of Trifecta Game Studios, with art by David Baumgart. Players each take power over a developing civilisation, explore the world, collect resources and construct and develop their world. I’ve had a look at an early print and play copy, so what I say here may not reflect the final product.

Players compete against each other in a victory point system, where it’s first to ten or first to another prearranged amount of victory points. Players get to take five actions per turn, including placing or upgrading units, exploring more land, collecting resources, construction/expansion and battle.

Populations will likely be a big box game with its six different tile types, seven different resources, a card deck, player boards, dice and three types of meeples per player. The rules are a bit hard to swallow to start with. There’s a lot of references to things ten pages ahead of where you’re reading that disrupt what you’re trying you learn in that moment; and later on there are too many examples and too much repetition that you don’t really need to read.

That said, everything becomes clear in the end, barring the one or two regular questions in a new game (in this case it was, can you draw more technology cards? Or were they supposed to go back in the box?). However rules are one of the things that change all the time in the lead up to game releases, so I’m hoping they’ll streamline the rulebook before it gets to backers.

Source: BoardGameGeek

Mind you, they also included a QR code on the back of the rulebook giving a supposed link to a video tutorial and strategy guide. At the moment, the link just goes to the Trifecta Games Facebook page without said tutorial, but again, I suspect they’ll include it further down the line. And a video tutorial would likely be an easy way to learn the game.

There are fifteen different actions to take in this game, so it seems a little convoluted when you first start playing. Most are unavailable at the beginning due to a lack of resources however, so you can focus of board control and resource gathering. You’ll be fighting over cities in no time. You’ve got to think about where you put your units to try and block off your opponent’s stealing your land or other resources, unlock technologies, decide when to gather, when to expand and when to explore. You have to balance what unit types you put on the board, what developments to build and what resources to invest in.

I personally felt like the turns were a little tedious and the conflicts lacked tension between players. Perhaps the final version, playing with more than two people, with chances for alliances and feuds would solve a lot of these issues, but maybe getting used to the intricacies through a couple more games would do that as well. I can see the game getting better the more you play it. I had a better time the second than the first, but I don’t think they’ve hit the gameplay balance just yet. A little more refining’ll get them over the line, so I hope they get in with some blind play testing and with new players to streamline the lot before the game gets to backers. The game is very close to being very good.

Source: BoardGameGeek

The art of Populations is hard to judge from a print and play version. Physicality lends so much to the board game experience, and I doubt the fairly low res, hand cut out bits of paper are any real indication of what the final game will look like. That said, the basic tiles looked great. The cultivation and terrain and city tiles were easy to distinguish from one another and to recognise in general. The forests are clearly forests and cities clearly cities, and while we mixed up the oreland and highland tiles the first time, we figured it out every turn after that. The colours are vibrant and symbols for resources are self-explanatory, which is all you really ask for in a game with this many components. Some of the development tiles looked a bit loud at first, with background art like the terrain tiles underneath the image of the development, and the resource production symbols on top. When you started playing though, the background identified where it could be placed, so you forgot about it seeming complicated, as it all served a purpose in the gameplay. And again, I dare say they’ll look better printed on actual tiles in the original resolution, so this observation will likely be void in the final copy.

Overall, I found the game a bit convoluted for my tastes. If you like complicated placement strategy games, then you’ll likely enjoy this more and I did. I enjoy a strategy game now and then but wouldn’t call myself a hard-core enthusiast of the genre so if you’re deep into long form competitive games then you’ll be more at home here. Maybe with a more streamlined set of rules and the physicality of a finished product, it would’ve captured my interest a little more, but I suggest you go to their Kickstarter and give it a look for yourselves.

For more details on Populations and its upcoming Kickstarter, keep an eye on the Trifecta Game Studios Facebook page here. And the Populations Boardgame Geek page here.

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