Colony review

22 February 2017
colony-93568.jpg Colony
Oh no, the nanopocalypse is here! Luckily, we’ve stashed this dice-driven deckbuilder in our fallout shelter

“Eighty years after the nanopocalypse, Earth is mostly ruins.”

Colony sets out its stricken post-apocalyptic universe by coining perhaps one of the most ridiculous phrases ever printed. Yet the dice-powered card game quickly overcomes its thematic stumble out of the gate to offer one of the most original deckbuilding titles around.

Players are colony leaders attempting to build up their settlements and earn a pre-set amount of victory points, obtained by constructing and upgrading particular buildings before their rivals. What do victory points count for in a world devastated by whatever a nanopocalypse is, you ask? Shut up and roll your dice already.

Colony’s dice come in two forms, with standard white cubes depicting ‘stable’ resources and grey D6 symbolising ‘unstable’ materials that return to the central pool at the end of a player’s turn if left unspent. It’s a fun way of introducing some extra strategy into each decision and encouraging players to swap up to three of their ‘CHIPI’ tokens for unstable dice when attempting to roll for something specific.

At the beginning of each round, the first player rolls three dice from the supply and selects one die to keep stored in their ‘warehouse’ – where unused stable resources are kept between rounds with their faces unchanged. The remaining dice are then passed around the rest of the players, each choosing one to keep (in four-player games, the final player gets a CHIPI in place of a die). The unique mechanic results in a dice game that acts to somewhat counteract a purely luck-based focus while also introducing social elements between players that aim to pop the often self-contained individual bubble of many deckbuilding titles.

Warehouse dice are cashed in for a variety of buildings, contacts and abilities, from scrap shacks and robbers to barricades and even uranium mines. Each card is added to the player’s initial starting colony of four cards (providing the basic abilities to build, upgrade and so on) and can be activated on following turns by spending the corresponding dice results, allowing the acquisition of extra dice and cards, performing attacks on rival towns and various other actions.

Basic cards, which are used to acquired unstable dice of a specific face, remain constantly available in every game, while the seven variable cards up for purchase differ between matches and are decided upon during setup, introducing a nice spread of variety and replayability.

Each of the variable cards is also colour-coded to reflect a different play style – conflict, economy, defence, resource production and so on – meaning games can be handily tweaked with little effort to suit the group’s preferences. We’ll add here that the box inlay is exactly as you’d want it to be, offering a Dominion-like set of rows to separate each type of card and a cardboard runner to easily identify specific cards.

Improving cards is performed by cashing in the correct run of dice to match the upgrade card, which itself can be upgraded. Upgrading normally results in each card offering more victory points, as well as improving its action – offering permanent stable resources instead of unstable resources, for instance.

Although upgrading is key to receiving more dice each turn – and therefore having more resources to spend – the artwork for each card’s improved side is often laughably minor compared to its basic appearance, dampening the excitement of building up your settlement. The robot shown on the upgrade card itself simply holds two spanners instead of one, while the pirate gains a serrated bayonet – but loses an eye, presumably ruining his depth perception.

In general, the components are of a fine quality – although the same cannot be said of the art direction. Every card prominently features artwork depicting the structures of the wasteland, but the graphics resemble the computer-rendered backgrounds of 1980s and ‘90s FMV video games and roundly look a bit naff – though there are a couple of more artistic exceptions. The CHIPI tokens, which are essentially miniature cardboard CDs, similarly look a tad rubbish in their neo-retro appearance; it’s hard to tell if the outdated sci-fi aesthetic was a deliberate choice but, regardless, it just didn’t work for us.

Oddly, some cards depict the futuristic tech of mechs, personal forcefields and clinically white protein labs while others show dilapidated shacks, boarded windows and – in one case – literally just a pile of cardboard boxes. It’s a disparate mix that undermines the otherwise strong link between the title's mechanics and its solid post-apocalyptic theme (even if nanopocalypse is a silly attempt to make it sound more original). 

The design fares better, with clear fonts and symbols to communicate the dice needed and text instructions that are easy to understand.
As the game progresses, players receive and roll more and more dice, trading matching results and other combinations for specific dice results and an engaging mixture of card-specific abilities – in one example, dice can be stored in the prize safe to convert the lowest value stored to victory points. Another key card is the expensive fallout shelter, which – like a run of Monopoly stations – is worth more with every matching building you construct – and becomes even more valuable when upgraded.

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One particularly intriguing rule is that a player can choose to discard one of their constructed buildings (and lose the associated victory points) in order to receive a number of stable resource dice equal to the difference between their score and that of the current leader – allowing the potential to close the gap later in the game by risking victory points for additional dice rolls. It’s a deliberate effort to counteract the potential for big gaps in the scoring and avoid lower-scoring players losing faith and throwing in the towel with a rule that works both thematically and mechanically – something not seen enough in games.

It may fall down in the visuals department, but Colony has enough going for it to offer a distinctive and enjoyable combination of dice rolling and deckbuilding. There are enough cards to provide plenty of variety for future matches (publisher Bezier Games also offers a fantastic free mobile app to randomise variable card selections with a generous handful of customisation options) and the core engine chugs along at a consistent enough pace to keep players engaged and rolling until another nanopocalypse arrives.


Buy a copy here


The style and artwork may be a tad inconsistent and often downright disappointing, but Colony’s core gameplay substance and solid concept allow it to stand out as a unique and smartly-designed dicebuilder with plenty of tactical options, the right balance of luck and strategy, and loads of replayability thanks to the diverse range of cards and the brilliant companion app.

Publisher: Bezier Games

Genre: Dicebuilder

Players: 1-4

Time: 60 minutes

Age: 13+



This review originally appeared in the February issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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