Updated: Jan 7, 2021
East Indiaman is an action selection, worker placement, resource management and set collection game designed by David Wang and published by David Wang Studio. The core game takes 2-4 players but there's an expansion that adds both a fifth player and a solitaire play option.
In most games like this, you would expect a flood of cubes, tokens and coins to pour out of the box, but the ingenious mechanics in East Indiaman make this almost entirely unnecessary. Each player has a collection of wooden boat pieces (with different shapes for each colour), and these fulfil a variety of functions. They are treated like ‘workers’ that can be placed on the board to gain goods but they then represent your goods and they subsequently count as buildings when you establish harbours.
On your turn, you will take two actions from a possible seven. Often it can be difficult to remember all of your options in a game like this, but the player boards and central board do an excellent job of providing clear reminders and indicators of what’s going on (with no language dependence at all) while being aesthetically and thematically pleasing as well.
Having said all of that, this is not a light game. The core mechanic of ships representing everything means that when you spend goods, your ships move from the resource spaces to your pool and you gain actions. Stockpiling therefore means you are missing out on opportunities to do more things. Knowing when to gather goods, trade them, build a harbour, invest in more ships, or spend your goods on fulfilling the orders that will ultimately be your main way of scoring points, is by no means obvious. Doing the wrong thing can seriously stifle your economy, and although there is an interesting catch-up mechanism whereby players passing early in a round will force others to commit more workers to complete further actions, mistakes in early rounds can prove fatal.
There are just five rounds, with all the scoring occurring at the end. Victory points are available in three different ways: some are comparative with other players (most harbours in each area and highest arms level), and some are independent (completed order cards, which score according to your own investment levels). This makes for an exciting final tallying process – though arguably a bit fiddly, it does mean that players are rewarded for all of their achievements in the game.
East Indiaman is a fascinating, elegant, very clever game with very little randomness but it's a game that will play out very differently every time. The game is fairly fast paced, though could be slowed by ‘analysis paralysis’ as players struggle to decide what to do: it is a bit of brain-burner at times! If you’re a fan of ‘Euro games’ and think you’ve played every kind there could be, you should definitely try your hand at this high-quality Taiwanese contribution to the genre.
(Review by Matt Young)