Indonesia

I like Roads & Boats a fair amount. It’s a niche game, but rather clever, and if you don’t mind multi-player solitaire or want a nice semi-competitive two-player empire-building game, it’s a nice game. But everything else I’ve played from Splotter subsequently has been disappointing, so they’re a try-before-you-buy label for me personally. So I didn’t buy Indonesia, but I was willing to try.

Indonesia is vaguely (very vaguely) a hybrid of Roads and Boats and Ur: 1830 BC. Players buy either production companies (Rice, Spices, Rubber, etc.) or transport companies (in this case, boats). Production companies build plantations; shipping companies bring them to market. Each commodity brought to market earns a flat fee, of which the shipping company take a portion based on how far it was carried. There are no holding corporations as in 1830, however; everything is done with personal cash, and at the end of the game all that matters is personal cash – not owned plantations or shipping lines.

So far, not much of a game. The whole game here is tied up with mergers. Each turn, players can nominate pairings of companies, with all the players then bidding on the combined entity, with the eventual purchase price being split amongst the current owners of the two companies based on how many assets they brought to the table (so if the combined company has 9 ships, and I bring 5 and you bring 4, I get 5/9 of the purchase price and you get 4/9. This means bids have to be a multiple of 9). You have to do mergers because companies are small but there are lots of them, and the number of companies you can hold is limited.

I found Indonesia to be OK, but not much better. The game is all tied up in the bidding for merged companies, but I found the evaluation process to be not sufficiently interesting (the revenue potential of the various companies is not complicated to see). I also found the merger rules to be wonky. There are no limits on who can merge what with whom (other than the fact that only like-type companies can merge), so things can get weird with completely regionally disparate companies being merged somewhat maliciously by a third party with no current interest in either. I found this to be painful and a bit arbitrary. I also found the tactical game to be overly fiddly for what you got out of it, which is not a lot. It’s also rather long, figure 3-4 hours.

This is a game that could have been done as “Indonesia: The Card Game” in a much smaller and more manageable package without losing much, but I fear that if you boiled it down to its essentials, you would discover that there isn’t much of a game there beyond pushing around the counters. After having played, I was comfortable with my decision not to buy.

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