Mindwarrior Games is a new Finnish board game development house and Atlantic Triangle is their first game, done in cooperation with Tactic. It’s a sleek-looking game on the topic of triangular trade, which means the players are actually slave traders! Not a very politically correct theme, but it’s fairly abstract. However, there are actual slave tokens, and no talk about colonists or anything… Finnish folks might want to read my Atlantic Triangle review at Lautapeliopas.
Looks good, with usability issues
The game looks pretty good, but has some usability issues. I’d say the designer hasn’t done lots of board games. At certain points form has won over function. Nothing dramatic and the game is fairly easy to play, but some things could be done better. The rulebook is pretty bad for such a simple game.
It’s a dicefest. Ships move by rolling dice and moving from point to point. Collect stuff from Europe, take it to Africa, exchange for slaves or ivory. Take slaves to the New World, exchange for local goods, bring them back to Europe for money. Ivory can go straight to Europe from Africa while guns from Europe can skip Africa and go straight to New World.
Supply, demand and pirates
There’s a simple simulation of supply and demand. Each port in Africa and New World can take two goods, before it’s full and stops trading until it’s emptied with an action card. Europe has a table for goods, so that first good sold of each type sells for 4, the next for 3 and the last for 2. This can also be emptied with a card.
There are pirates, too, who block movement and may sink ships. If you arm your ships with cannons, you can go hunting for pirates and score points that way. The main way to score, however, is to build fortresses on Atlantic islands and the ports.
Victory points come in form of cards. Each is worth one point in itself and belongs to a nation, and you also score one point for each nation you have. So, the required 10 points takes 5-8 cards. A bit of luck there, but it’s not bad, I think it’s a decent element of surprise.
It’s not very good. The beginning of the game had us all filled with excitement and happily moving our ships along the sea routes, but it turned out the game is very slow. I was kind of expecting the game to take about 45 minutes, maybe an hour, but after 30 minutes we all had one victory point card, maybe two.
I think the problem is the slow flow of money. A complete loop on the trading triangle nets you 2-4 gold. You need 5 to build a fortress (and 10 to buy a victory card straight away, which is madness, because almost every fortress you build gets you a victory card). Even after you build an extra ship or two, money still doesn’t come rolling in, because when the ports start to fill up with goods, trading gets slower. Also, bad luck with dice and the increasing pirates make things slow. I spent many turns without getting any money at all.
With more money in the game — perhaps higher prices for the goods in Europe or other ways to make money — the game would advance much faster and be a lot more enjoyable. As it is, it’s just not worth playing. We had to quit our game after an hour or so, and nobody complained. At that point we had six or seven points and easily 30 minutes left in the game.
It’s not completely hopeless, though, and I know I fall flat out of their target demographic anyway. For someone who doesn’t mind long games that are light and luck-heavy and who gets a kick out of the excitement provided by dice (and for whom the excitement doesn’t completely dilute after first 30 minutes or so) this one’s a pretty good game. I’m fairly sure those folks exist in rather large numbers, too.