Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Presence in Endeavor

The board game Endeavor is one of my wife's favorites, and a favorite of mine as well. It is a very well-balanced game with a moderate playtime and a nice initial random-ness in the setup that leads each game to be pleasantly different.

Recently, we've been exploring the 2 player variant rules published by Jarratt Gray (the author of the game) himself. Although Gray issues several disclaimers for these rules, we've found them to be simple and very playable, and it's renewed our interest in the game.

One thing we've discovered as we play the game some more, however, is that in our initial games we had completely overlooked the crucial concept of presence in Endeavor. We simply weren't using this concept, and so we were playing the game entirely wrong (this is not uncommon with me; in my haste to start playing a game I often read the rules very fast, and miss some fundamental concept until I re-read the rules some time later).

When the game initially starts, the only open region is Europe, and all players automatically have presence (of '0') in that region. Subsequently, as other regions open, a player only has presence in that region if they have placed a player marker there. Presence is a numerically-measured concept: if you have 3 player markers in a region, you have a presence of 3.

Presence affects the game in a number of ways:

  • You cannot occupy a city, nor attack a city, unless you already have presence in that region
  • You cannot draw a card from an open region unless you have a equal or greater presence in that region (for example, to draw a value 2 card from a region, you must first establish 2 or more player markers in that region).

Except for the initial region of Europe, where no shipping occurs, presence must be initially established by shipping to a region, since that is the only action you are allowed to take in a region where you have no presence. In Europe, your presence is established solely by the number of cities you occupy, but in the other regions (once open), your presence counts the number of shipments you have made and the number of cities you have occupied.

The concept of presence explains a number of aspects of Endeavor that are somewhat puzzling without it:

  • The Docks building, which allows you to ship and occupy in the same turn, allows a player who is "late to the party" to establish presence in an already-open region by shipping to it (even though the shipping lane is already complete, you just "over-ship" and place your marker alongside the full shipping lane) and then occupying a city in that region, in a single turn.
  • The more valuable cards in the game are much harder to acquire, since in order to legally draw a value 5 card from a region you must first have established (at least) 5 population markers in that region.
  • The otherwise "poisoned" Slavery cards are much more attractive. Firstly, it will take a while for slavery to be abolished (if at all), because for that to occur, a single player must accumulate (at least) 5 cities in Europe, which is a challenging feat since there are only 10 total cities in Europe, and in most games they will end up split rather evenly. Secondly, since drawing cards requires a superior presence, the low-valued Slavery cards are compelling to players with a lesser presence in Europe.
  • The limit on population markers per player (though we rarely reach it) means that a player will find that they cannot establish presence throughout the board, but will end up having a greater presence in some regions, and a lesser presence in others. This subtle imbalance is crucial to gameplay.

Another rule which we often forget to play in Endeavor involves the re-filing of discarded over-capacity cards, although now that we aren't drawing cards so willy-nilly, it is less common that we end up discarding cards. When a player chooses to discard a card (to get down to their required limit according to the number of Politics tokens they have scored), the player returns the discarded card to the stack where it came, and refiles it in numeric order, unless it is a Slavery card which are always retained, upside down, for negative points at the end of the game.

This means, importantly, that a low-value card may return to the game in an open region late in the game, so if you weren't able to draw that card initially, and are locked out of drawing the higher value card due to insufficient presence, you may find that the lower value card's return provides you that opportunity. Similarly, the return of that lower-valued card may block some other player, who has high presence, from drawing a higher-valued card that they have their eye on (thus the point of the Trade Office, which lets you draw twice from an open region in a single turn.

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