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Clans of Caledonia Review

The Industrial Revolution changed the world, and in the 19th century, Scotland transitioned from a simple agricultural nation to a major trading and exporting powerhouse. 

However, the historical Scottish clans did not fade away and adapted to the changes are now competing to be the most influential clan of the north! Produce, trade, and export a variety of Scottish goods, including the product they’re best known for — whiskey!

Brief Overview of Clans of Caledonia 

Clans of Caledonia Board Game Featured Image

Clans of Caledonia is a combination of worker placement and Eurogame genres with an emphasis on actions. It’s comparable to A Feast for Odin or Terra Mystica, but it’s slightly less complex than either of the two games.

For a game that rates fairly high on the complexity scale, Clans of Caledonia takes just 30 minutes per player to complete. It’s playable by 1-4 players and has separate rules for 2-player games and solo mode

If you’re looking for a reasonably complex economic strategy game that will challenge your min-maxing, Clans of Caledonia is a game for you. It combines a lot of great mechanics seen in other games into one well-functioning unit and manages to keep a relatively fast-paced flow for a game of its type.

Unboxing Clans of Caledonia

Inside the box you’ll find: 

  • 67 Wooden Goods Tokens
  • 172 Wooden Clan Components
  • 4 Map Modules 
  • 4 Player Boards & 4 Export Box Tiles
  • 1 Market Board & 1 Export Board
  • 9 Starting Tiles & 9 Scoring Tiles
  • 12 Goods Tiles
  • 50 Export Contract Tiles
  • 9 Port Bonus Tiles & 9 Clan Tiles
  • 4 Glory Tiles & 8 Technology Tiles
  • 70 Coins
  • 1 MacDonald Tile
  • 16 Port Bonus Marker Tiles
  • 6 Transparent Price Markers
  • 2 Dice For Solo Game
  • 4 Player Aids
  • 2 Rulebooks & 1 Score Pad

Despite having a relatively small box, Clans of Caledonia is packed full of components. The box cover features a beautiful illustration of the Scottish landscape. In the forefront, clan folks are tending to their livestock and whiskey, while steamboats and factories can be seen in the distance, signifying the dawn of a new age. 

Lift the cover off, and you’re greeted by a massive bag of bags containing all kinds of wooden pieces. There are no plastic cubes here — each of the goods and clan components has a unique shape that resembles the product in question. 

Whiskey comes in brown barrels, cheese is a yellow triangular slice, milk comes in white glass jugs… Aside from the cube merchant, hexagonal settlement, and round turn order tokens, every clan component is designed as best as possible for such a small item. 

The rulebook, scoring pad, and reference sheets have the yellowed, vintage paper look, but are made quite well. The rulebook spans 12 pages and is well organized without oversized illustrations to make tracking the rules more difficult. 

Aside from a bunch of extra baggies, the two dice for solo games are the only plastic components in the box!

Last, but not least, we’ve got an inch-thick stack of punch-out boards. And like the scoreboard, they’re packed to the brim with tiles and coins. Even the board modules are massive punch-out pieces, surrounded by coins and tiles to make use of some free space. 

There’s an argument to be made that the box is a bit too small for all the components, which isn’t really the case, but the problem is organizing everything in plastic bags after the game is over. A box organizer would have helped, but as is, it’s still fine.

How to Play Clans of Caledonia

Clans of Caledonia 3-Player Board Game

Clans of Caledonia has a lot of rules and mechanics, which aren’t necessarily complicated, but they would make the how-to section way too long. Instead, I’ll give you a brief overview of the mechanics so you can get an idea of how the game is played.

Player Boards

Players pick a color and take all the corresponding tokens. The player board is initially covered completely in tokens, while the technology track is set to the starting position.

Resources

Clans of Caledonia is not played like a conventional worker placement game. Instead of placing a worker on the board to gain resources from a tile and then returning them to your hand, the resources are received from the player boards by uncovering spots.

Starting from the top of the player board, you’ll take a resource token, like cattle or grain, and place it on the board. Each resource has its own set price, which is summed up with the price of the game board tile you want to place it on. The revealed spot will provide you with resources during every production phase.

Merchants

At the beginning of the game, each player gets two merchants to trade with, but that number can be expanded up to seven by buying merchants from the player board. 

Shipping Tracker

The game board represents the landscape of Scotland, with rivers, ponds, and lakes dividing the terrain. To cross a river or a larger body of water, you will have to invest in the shipping tracker route by paying a fee.

Technology Tracker

On the right side of the board, you have your workers — woodcutters and miners. By upgrading their equipment, you’ll increase the amount of money they make during each production phase.

Clans

The name of the game isn’t just a placeholder — players will take control of historical Scottish clans and utilize their strengths to win the game!

There are nine clans in the game with unique abilities and starting resources. Clan Buchanan focuses on exporting goods, clan Cunningham sells milk for a higher profit, clan MacKenzie is all about selling whiskey. 

The clans add a dose of asymmetry to the game and diversify the strategies each of the players will make. Working to the strengths of your clan is important to maximize production and income.

Trade Board

During the game, you’ll consistently buy and sell goods to fulfill orders and objectives. The trading board works on the supply & demand principle — the more you sell in one bulk, the cheaper the goods will become, and once you buy goods, the price will go up. 

Export Board

The export board contains a number of export contracts that can be acquired and fulfilled to gain special resources. The board itself is surrounded by a tracker for cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane. When you complete a contract, you’ll move these trackers, which will later have a significant impact on scoring. 

Round Breakdown

The game is played over the course of five rounds. Each round consists of four phases:

  1. Preparation Phase
  2. Action Phase
  3. Production Phase
  4. Scoring Phase

During the preparation phase, the export board is restocked, players take merchants back from the market, and the scoring tile of the previous round is flipped. 

The action phase allows players to take one of eight possible actions. The phase continues in established turn order until all the players pass. The available actions are:

  1. Trade
  2. Gain an export contract
  3. Expand
  4. Upgrade shipping
  5. Upgrade technology
  6. Hire a merchant
  7. Complete an export contract
  8. Pass

Once everyone has passed, the production phase can begin. Every player receives income and goods based on the empty slots of their board. You can choose to turn milk into cheese, grain into bread, or grain into whiskey.

The scoring phase takes place at the end of each round and involves every resource you can gain.

Scoring & Game End

Once five full rounds of the game have been completed, you will begin the final scoring. Victory points are earned from the basic goods, processed goods, money, hops, and export contracts. 

Cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane are scored depending on the export tracker, with the rarest product being the most valuable. Settlements on the map are also worth points and are scored based on the settlement cluster. As with any game, the player with the most points is declared the winner, with spare coins used as tie-breakers. 

Your First Game of Clans of Caledonia

Clans of Caledonia Board Game Clan Cards

There’s not a lot I can tell you that won’t sound confusing right now. For some strategy tips, you’d have to play the game a few times, but as this is your first, I’ll keep it simple. 

You’ll get the most points by utilizing the strengths of your clan. If you’re playing with clan Cunningham that can sell milk for a fixed cost, you’d never want to make cheese and your primary focus should be maximizing the cattle production. 

Export contracts are worth a lot of points, so keep an eye on the other players and try to match the number of contracts they’re fulfilling. Start working on your contracts as soon as you can — first with the smaller orders, and then fulfill the larger orders as you gain more resources.

The game makes it clear that the settlement scoring is not about expanding the most spaces nor is it about making the largest settlements. Make sure you understand the rules before you develop your strategy.

Clans of Caledonia comes with a number of simplification rules that are great for first-time players

You can set the export goods to a fixed value of 4 VP each, which eliminates the goods’ rarity and makes that part of the game easier. You can also ignore the scoring and port tiles, something I haven’t even mentioned in the how-to section because it’s adding complexity.

In a 23-player game, you can shrink the map to make it tighter and easier to navigate. Lastly, you can even get rid of the clans and make the game symmetric as everyone will have to follow a similar strategy. I do not recommend this method as it really takes the essence out of the game.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Amazing Blend of Mechanics
  • Fast-paced Gameplay

I don’t know how they did it, but the designers of Clans of Caledonia managed to combine a variety of mechanics into a single game and make it work well. It could have been a simple worker placement game and fall into the sea of mediocre titles, but instead, it brings something different to the table that really makes it exceptional.

The pace of the game and the complexity are one of the most difficult aspects to balance. The more complex a game is, the longer the players will take to act, and that can really slow the game down. Clans of Caledonia keeps the tempo up despite all the actions and mechanics, and a four-player game can be completed in just 2 hours!

Cons:

  • The Box Is Too Small
  • Lack Of Resource Tokens

The only real complaints I have relate to the physical components of the game. The box can barely fit the components when they’re tightly packed from the factory and with all punch-out pieces in place. If you’re anything but meticulous, you’ll find it hard to close the box and you shouldn’t store it vertically.

The lack of box organizers means that the pack-up process will be lengthy and tiresome. You’ll have to sort components, stack them well and place them in individual bags. I’m sure there was a better and easier way to organize the box.

Another minor complaint is that there are not enough wooden resources in the game. Yes, they’re substituted by multiplier tiles, but it’s doesn’t feel the same as stacking all those whiskey barrels.

Clans of Caledonia Review (TL;DR)

It’s hard to find a distinct economy game, but Clans of Caledonia manages to create a unique experience with a perfect blend of a variety of mechanics. It’s too complex of a game to be your first experience of the Eurogame genre, but once you’ve played a few lighter games, you’ll be ready to pick up Clans of Caledonia and enjoy it to the fullest!

Conclusion: Verdict?

Let’s be honest, board games are not cheap, and most enthusiasts can’t afford more than a few games a year, so every purchase counts. The Clans of Caledonia is one of the games you simply have to try, especially if you’re a fan of the economy/Euro/worker placement genre. 

I’ve played a lot of Eurogames in the last year of varying complexity and difficulty, but Clans of Caledonia still managed to impress and keep me interested. 

Despite a lot of available actions, the game flow is surprisingly quick as everyone can only take one action per turn and they’re quite intuitive. There’s also no need to plan 5 steps ahead — you work towards the strengths of your clan and produce goods one step at a time.

I really like the addition of market values and how you can affect them through trading. If you hoard too much, someone else might swoop in and sell, crashing the value of your goods. However, the price will stabilize again as players take advantage of the cheap price to increase their stock. 

The only mechanic that can really make you rack your brain is the value of the export goods. As you complete export tasks, you earn export goods and simultaneously move them on their tracker. However, the one that is lowest on the track is worth the most points, so it’s actually a very complicated mechanic. However, using the simplified rule to make all goods have equal values sorts that problem.

Clans of Caledonia
  • Board games.
  • Publishing house: Karma Games.
  • Subject area: Clans of Caledonia.

We hope you enjoyed our Clans of Caledonia review! Have you tried playing it or any other economic Eurogame? Let us know in the comments what you thought about the mechanics! We’d love to hear from you.

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Stats at a glance

Players: 1-4

Ages: 12 +

Hard

30-120 Mins

Publisher: Karma Games

Published: 2017