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Archipelago - Board Game Box Shot


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In Archipelago, players are Renaissance European powers competing in the exploration of a Carribean archipelago. They will explore territories, harvest resources, use those resources in markets both internal (for their use and that of the natives) and foreign (to sell it in Europe), build markets, harbors, cities and temples, and negotiate among themselves (and maybe betray each other) – all this to complete their secret objectives. They will also need to guess the secret objective of the other players to be able to benefit from them.

But players also need to be careful of the natives; if they make them too unhappy or if too many of them are unoccupied, they could revolt and declare independence. Then everyone will lose!

The game tells the tale of the majestic era of global discovery from 1492 (with the discoveries of Christopher Columbus) up to 1797 (the colonization of Tahiti). Each player is an explorer commissioned by a European nation who will, with the help of his team, explore, colonize and exploit the archipelagos. These colonial vanguards will be expected to carry themselves with diplomacy, meeting the needs of the locals while reaping the fruits of the New World. They must respect the archipelagos and their indigenous peoples because otherwise, the natives will revolt – and this could lead to a war of independence.

The boundaries between expansionism and humanism, between economy and respect for local values, between knowledge and industrialization, are not always obvious. The final balance of the archipelago depends on the will of the explorers, who will choose to make these island colonies happy and productive, or outrageously exploit the resources and drive the natives to chaos and rebellion. Additional care must be taken, for hiding among the players may be a separatist and a pacifist, both of whom will try to tip the scales toward either revolt or peace. You must be prepared to take on this task and explore the islands.

User Reviews (6)

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Intermediate Reviewer
Mask of Agamemnon
Novice Advisor
41 of 43 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“There's Nothing Cooperative About this "Semi-Cooperative" Game”

Oh boy, Another Cooperative Game! …Isn’t It?

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Archipelago claims to be a cooperative game, where the players try to achieve one of several hidden goals before all Heck breaks loose and the natives rebel, bringing ruin to your carefully-constructed island society.

In the rules, bribes to determine turn order are encouraged. Player point-scoring goals are kept secret. The fact that each player scores his own set of victory points makes this a clearly competitive game. Sure, you’re all competing against the increasing unhappiness of your, er … “native workers”, but you’re also trying to outscore your “teammates”.

Everything about Archipelago is competitive.

But if you like competitive games, and go into this one knowing that you’ll be trying to outscore your allies — and maybe even playing against a secret native sympathizer — then this game is great!

Your Objective, Should You Choose to Accept It

While the gameplay of Archipelago is anything but simple, the end game goal is simple enough to understand: Everyone has a different goal, but also the same goal.

Okay, that’s confusing.

At the start of the turn, you’ll receive a card that tells you a condition that ends the game. If the natives haven’t rebelled when any one of those conditions are met, the players all technically win the game. As a team. Yeah, right.

Oh, and if the natives rebel, based on how hard you work them and other factors, you all lose.

The real victory conditions, and competitive play, come from point-scoring conditions on the same cards. Did you gather the most ore? Build the most towns? Points! Whoever ends the game with the most points, unless those pesky natives rise up against you all, is the not-really-the-winner-because-we’re-claiming-this-is-a-cooperative-game. Whew, long title.

There’s a Lot of Pieces in Here. Do We Have a Few Hours?

The very first time you play this game, you will crawl through the setup if nobody has ever played before. You will read sections of rules several times over, take back actions, and throw your arms into the air, frantically pacing the room and sweating bullets.

Calm down. That’s part of the game.

Archipelago is not a casual gamer’s game; it’s one of those animals that you break out on a Saturday afternoon and commit to a few plays together, with all the laughs, tears, and bodily threats that come with a civilization-building board game.

Player turns vary in order from round to round. There are at least half a dozen boards to track triggered events on, and the number of available player actions will give the most seasoned of power gamers analysis paralysis. Once you get rolling, though, all of the population and exploration and resource-gathering options come together for a really fun gaming experience.

It’s Like Christmas Every Time We Play

There are so many cards, land tiles, and other punchboard goodies in the Archipelago box, you’ll be finding new surprises every time you play. Unless you’re one of those gamers that feels the need to read every card in the box before or after the game. If you’re that player, you’re probably not interested in surprises, anyway.

Lots of laser-cut wooden pieces include meeples, boats, settlements, and scoring/event trackers. There’s also more cardboard tokens than you can shake a bamboo pole, or whatever your native islander equivalent of a stick might be, at.

Should You Buy It?

Friends, I included this in the first paragraph, and in the title for goodness sakes. But I’m going to reiterate: Don’t pick this up expecting a traditional cooperative experience.

Aside from the deceptive play style of Archipelago, I really think that this is a deep-thinking and strategic game. It requires foresight, planning, and more than a bit of luck and tenacity to achieve success, whether you’re “competing” or not.

If you’re just looking for a quick-playing family game, or a friendly cooperative, give this one a pass. If you enjoy the rush of economic power and a rewarding pat on the back that comes with deciphering a complicated, but well-designed set of rules, give this one a shot.

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Critic - Level 1
33 of 36 gamers found this helpful
“Much more fun the second time around.”

Our first game of Archipelago was confusing, frustrating, and left me completely unsatisfied. We had a 4 player game going, which according to the rules, should have taken less than 2 hours – – This was not the case. After about 3 hours (with no end in sight) we decided to just stop and score what we had. Three of us tied for first place, which made it seem like as long as you just played your own objective, would happen every time.

Let me briefly pause and explain these objectives. In the beginning of the game, each player receives a secret objective card which lists both how the game will end (i.e. if a player builds 4 ports) and how victory points are scored (Whomever has the most towns gets 3 points, 2nd most gets 2 points, 3rd most gets 1 point). Each player only knows about their own secret objective, plus the one trend card (another point scoring card) that is face up on the table for everyone.

Without really knowing why, our group of friends decided to give the game another try about a week later. This time the game went great from start to finish. We finally understood the rules (after reading through many pages of FAQs) and MOST IMPORTANTLY, learned how to watch each other to see what potential objectives people were going for. If I saw someone collecting ore, I immediately began collecting ore in hopes of scoring points in the end. If my objective was to collect progress cards, I tried to do it in a way that prevented others from seeing through my plans. This time, the game ended in about 90 minutes, and no one tied for anything (though we were all within 1 point of another).

The 2nd time around went much better than the first. There was still some confusion with rules (and the rulebook isn’t particularly clear in a few parts), but we would figure it out and continue play pretty quickly.

For anyone interested in getting or playing this game, I suggest you play one trial run with the expectations of getting very frustrated. Don’t let this stop you though!! If you can push through the anger 🙂 then try to play once more and see how it goes!

I was ready to rip this game apart, but it really is very unique and fun if you can get the right people to play with and patience to play it through multiple times.

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Plaid Hat Games fan
AEG fan
Tasty Minstrel Games Fan
36 of 42 gamers found this helpful
“Messy mechanics...”

Archipelago is a semi cooperative game for 2-5 players. You can also buy the solo expansion which comes with 20+ solo scenarios to enjoy alone.

I was really looking forward to trying this game and bought the solo expansion with it. The thing I really liked was that part of the scoring and end condition is known for all, but each player has as set of scoring and end condition they are working towards that’s hidden from the other players.

I played it mostly solo (6-7 times) and a few times with 3 player (2-3 times).

The components are good, but the different trays in the box doesn’t fit it’s respective resource/coin or token. Ie. the explorer tokens are supposed to be stacked with 8 pcs a stack, but there’s only room for 6 or 7. There’s also no room for the player screens.

Game setup:
Game setup is quite easy; just follow the game rules. This far it looks and feels like any other game.
The game comes with 2 market boards (domestic (I) and export(I)), 1 colony stability board (tracks population and rebels(III)) and surplus worker board(IV). There’s an action wheel where you can place your action discs to do stuff, there’s an evolution track to track play order and cards, and there’s a lot of region hexes.

Round 1:
In a normal game each player start with 3 action discs (AD), 2 citizens, 1 ship, 10 florins (coin), one player order marker and a player screen.

The “open sea” hexagon is placed on the table and each player put his/her ship on it.
Each player draws 3 region hexagons which are 2-sided and in turn order place one adjacent to the “open sea” one and disembark his/her 2 citizens on the land, draws a exploration token, moves the “surplus worker” meeple equal to the number of huts on the regional hex (1-5) and take one of the resources on the tile to him-/herself and puts the other one on the domestic market tiles.

After everyone has done this 5 evolution card are drawn, a trend card is drawn (states end condition and scoring) and is turn face up on the table for all to see and each player draws an objective card(also states end condition and scoring. The objective card is only known to you and can’t under any circumstances be shown to other players.

Then you can star the game.

1. Disengagement (skipped during first turn)
All citizens and ships are moved away from the resource icon the was on last turn and “rebel citizens (the ones that lay on the side) are stood up.

2. Order of play
Everyone bid florins(coins) to determine the player order (secretly put florins in your hand before bid). The player that bid most decide play order.

3. Population effects
Adjust surplus workers and rebels according to the boards (I-IV).
If the rebellion marker passed the population marker, everyone loose the game.

4. Balance of the archipelago (skipped during first turn)
The back side of each evolution card is divided in two; a. domestic consumption crisis and b. export consumption crisis. This is done by giving away your resources (from behind your screen) or (only for domestic) discarding from the domestic market. You have to solve both these or the rebellion marker will go up.
You can instead of either of these two, get an event. IF one of the halves of the card is red, do not solve it!

5. Actions
These are the actions; harvest, tax (get coin, but gain rebellion), transaction with the two markets(buy or sell), explore, recruit (cost are given on the surplus worker board), reproduce, migrate (move), construct. Or you can put your AD at your own or another players evolution card to do other stuff.

6. Evolution card purchase
Either buy one of the five evolution cards, or rotate 2 different cards.
All cards can be rotated 4 times and the fourth it is discarded. Every time a card is rotated, it’s price goes either up or down (shon on the card). If a card is discarded, draw a new one. If the backside of the top card in the draw pile is red, resolve that immediately.

Then you repeat until A. the end condition on the trend card is met OR the end condition on any of the players hidden objective card is met (you then have to show the card), of B. the rebellion marker passes the population marker and everyone loses.

My overall impression is that the maker of the game started by making a mechanic and rules that where quite simple, but had to add stuff to make the game interesting and make sense, but unfortunately failed. For me this game feels like a mess!
The only thing i find my self doing is to try to survive the Balance of the Archipelago phase by getting resources. If I try to do stuff that gives me VP at the end of the game, I’m punished when this phase comes, because I can’t pay up. Even when trying to work together (not semi coop, but full coop) the outcome is the same.

In solo it’s even worse as you HAVE to buy 1 card every Evolution card phase or lose! To be able to do this you have to use one of your 3 actions to sell a resource (if you have one – if not you have to use another action to get one) to get enough coin. And then you might not have enough resources to get past the Balance phase….

I have a couple of other resource/settler/worker placement games in my collection. Archipelago is the last I wanna pick up and play.

Unfortunately the 100$ (or so) I used on the base game and the solo expansion was a waste for me….

+ production quality
+ the art is very good
+ good explanation of the rules (rule book)

– tokens wont fit in the box as supposed to
– game mechanics are a mess
– feels like a struggle and I (at least) haven’t enjoyed playing it – shouldn’t playing games be fun????

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Gamer - Level 1
13 of 21 gamers found this helpful
“Under rated game of exploration.”

So… it is true, seemingly difficult to learn (not so much supplemented by video play through online)with aggravating and difficult game mechanics. Recently I played with my family, after learning and playing through multiple times with my good friend and fellow avid gamer. At first everyone seemed to want to cash it in and never speak of the experience, at points even desiring to upturn the table in a fit of rage. Regardless of first impressions, by the end of the night we were all having a blast. Harvesting, selling and shipping resources, exploring unknown lands ever keeping in mind the option of failure, and quelling inevitable uprisings of the locals. YES! set-up can seem like a mess. YES! there is a learning curve. YES! there is a stab in the back illusion of “semi co-op”. YES! failure is ALWAYS an option, but yet if you prevail in patience and are an avid resource management/strategic gamer you will want to play the game again and again. Test different styles of play, plan your actions ahead to steal from or co-operate with your “teammates” as long as its convenient to you – side note… hence the term “SEMI cooperative”, SEMI! – and steal their hard earned ability cards… That being said, of the family I previously mentioned, my 10 year old niece played with us, she had a blast! Even scored some VP, she then requested I come over again for another game night and bring archipelago!

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11 of 21 gamers found this helpful
“A fascinating game - different every time. ”

I can’t get enough of this game. It has variable victory conditions and hidden agendas that will leave you guessing and second guessing yourself and your opponents (with a variant for more open play, if you want it). It has an absorbing (and somewhat controversial) theme whose mechanics interact with the theme quite effectively and subversively. It has a modular board whose map develops differently every time you play. It has bidding, rule-bending power-up cards, semi-cooperation and pineapples. It’s one of those games that throws a lot of interesting ideas into the blender and comes out with an amazing unique experience every time. Because the rules, map and victory conditions are modular, and the cards you can acquire can steer your strategy in a variety of directions, no game unfolds quite the same way.

I recommend playing through once to get a feel for how it plays then again to really dive in to the strategy and savor the wildness of the rules. The game is a slow-burner whose quirky and subversive combination systems creep up on you. A special game indeed.


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3 of 10 gamers found this helpful
“A new experience every time”

I love this game so much.
The elegant map always different thanks to the hex-tiles is the perfect frame to a challenging and fascinating game.
It needs to be played with the right group of friends because every time I played it I’ve noticed that you love it or you just don’t like it: there are not half – measures. I just would play that more often: it’s way underrated.
It’s meant to be played as a semi-cooperative with secret objectives, but the rules allow you to play it even without the (possible) traitor.
The always changing map forces the players to adapt to it and to find a strategy which is OK for that particular game.


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