Clans of Caledonia Review

Clans of Caledonia Review

Whenever I visited my gran’s house, she always had a ropey old tea towel in her kitchen, presumably from around the time when Robert the Bruce was a lad, depicting hairy “coos”, big red-headed strapping men in kilts and the odd wild Haggis. It is this romantic image of Scotland that stuck with me through my life until I lived there and found that it’s actually an accurate depiction of the place and the image on the tea towel was presumably a photograph, much like the image above.

There is a certain charm about Scotland and you’ll see it on pretty much everything that comes out of the country; from tins of Shortbread to furry toys, they all have a look about them. This is captured rather whimsically in the artwork of Clans of Caledonia (and, incidentally Isle of Skye, which it looks eerily reminiscent of) which I had the pleasure of going through before its release at Essen following its Kickstarter campaign.

Clans of Caledonia Review Board

Clans of Caledonia is a Euro in the purest form. There’s no dice, little randomness and it’s all strategy. Your task is straightforward – sell your clan’s goods overseas for money and imported goods in order to score points to win the game. Of course, Clans isn’t that simple and there’s a myriad of other aspects to the game to earn its classification of medium euro. It’s certainly nowhere near as hefty as Ave Roma, but there’s more to it than Cavern Tavern. But Clans isn’t a worker placement – it’s actually an economic game with a couple of other elements chucked in.

You take charge of one of the Clans, each possessing their own unique talent, which you’ll form your strategy around. Some make butter, others age Whisky and so on. All players have the capability to create “facilities” that then provide a resource – either basic or processed (processed goods require basic goods – for example, cheese requires milk). Players place their facilities on the hex-based board to represent a resource production – sheep make wool, cows make milk and fields make grain from which bread and whisky can be made. And it is here that Steve came up with one of the most apt descriptions of the game: Terraforming Scotland. Placing your meeples onto the board feels very much like setting down on the Red Planet, though without the worry of low temperature or lack of oxygen.

Clans of Caledonia Review Player Board

Production then permits the players to take contracts which allows them to sell or trade their goods. The contracts are randomly drawn to a small market from which they can be selected. Other than the round scoring, this is the only random element during the game as they are taken from a pile at the start of each round. Players may only hold a single contract at a time so they much choose wisely – a poor selection can cripple your strategy for a couple of turns if you’re not careful as Steve found out to his misery and my delight. Contracts get you foreign products like tobacco and cotton, the ability to upgrade for a heavy discount or a free placement. All go towards building your VP engine.

Clans of Caledonia Review Contracts

You can also flog your gear like Del Boy in Peckham market, although without the imminent threat of arrest. Selling and buying affects the market price, a nice touch, so you can’t flood the market with too much product or the price bombs. Again, as Steve found out to his cost. And no, he didn’t win that game in case you were wondering.

Money is the ever-flexible resource in the game which allows players to place facilities, upgrade elements or buy product so it’s very important you maintain your cash flow or you’ll fall well behind like a drunk in a sprint to the kebab shop. There’s only 5 rounds in the game so it’s over within about 60-90 mins depending on player count (so you need to get a shift on strategically) and mechanically it’s smoother than a freshly-planed door frame.

Clans of Caledonia Review Market

But to the Yin must come the Yang. To the delight of ice cream must come the brain freeze. For it has been said here at Collider Towers that a truly great game requires a good link between mechanics and theme and unfortunately there is absolutely no such marriage in Clans. You could quite literally play with an entirely blank board with no artwork and the game wouldn’t change one iota. Whilst that may not bother the hardcore euro fans (and I am a big fan of the Euros, believe me) it seems a little…lacking for Clans.

Why is this important? Because it means I can use my imagination about how the fields grow, the animals move, the contracts are filled and so on. Without that link, the game feels a little flat and unabsorbing – much more mandraulic. Now, don’t get me wrong, mechanically the game is absolutely spot on. Steve and I got through our first game in 75 mins, including teaching so it rattles on really well and there’s nothing out of place.

Clans of Caledonia Review Main Board

So take this review for what it is; a man with an active imagination liking the way the game plays, but not too impressed with the lack of link to the intended theme. The game has a setting close to my heart, but that’s not as good as a well-integrated theme. If you’re a fan of Euros, then you’re going to like Clans, there’s no doubt about it. If you want a bit more story linked with your actions, then you may be a little disappointed.


This review is based on a Prototype copy of the game provided by the publisher; the final product may look, play or smell different to that used in this article.
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