For those who remember life before Google, Wikipedia and the internet, the encyclopedia was the general font of all knowledge. Encyclopedia Britannica was the best known and arguably the pre-eminent example: a compilation of entries and articles contributed by scholarly experts in the various fields, organised alphabetically and over a multitude of volumes. You might pick up an encyclopedia to look up an entry on etymology and your eye would wander across the page to an account of the Etruscan alphabet, a short biography of the portrait artist William Etty and a description of the history and geography of the Greek island of Euboea: you could learn a lot through happy accident.
Tho’ there have been encyclopedic works for the past 2000 years, the modern encyclopedia originated in the 18th Century in the wake of the first dictionaries. Holy Grail’s Encyclopedia takes us back to that time and the creation by Georges-Louis Leclerc (the Comte de Buffon) in 1749 of the first encyclopedia of natural history. In this game, designed by Eric Dubus and Olivier Melison, the 2-4 players (plus there’s a solitaire option too) are naturalists contributing to Buffon’s planned encyclopedia. Over six rounds, players will be choosing between a myriad of different actions include the recruitment of experts, conducting expeditions to observe animals in their natural habitats, researching animals and ‘publishing’ your research.
There’s a lot going on in this game and there are several stages to go through before you can rack up victory points from publishing. Encyclopedia is essentially a worker placement game using dice for action selection. At the start of a round, players each draw four six-sided dice from a bag, roll them and place them out on their individual player boards. It’s these dice that you’ll place out at the various locations on the board to determine the actions you’ll take. For some locations the colour and number on the die are unimportant but for most actions, you’ll need a die of a particular colour and you’ll need sufficient pips on the dice. You’re not at the mercy of random bag draws and dice rolls, however. You can collect tokens that allow you to treat a die as any colour or to add to a die’s value. Indeed, there are some actions that require more pips than it’s possible to generate on a d6, so you’ll need to make use of tokens and the abilities of experts to boost your dice values.
This is a set collection game where you’ll be selecting animals from a display that ideally have similarities of type, habitat, diet etc. Tho’ players are mostly doing their own thing, there’s likely to be competition for some cards in the animal and expert displays. The other area of interaction is the neat device of allowing players to make use of the dice on other players’ boards. When you draw and roll your dice, you place them out on four spots on your individual board. If I want to take and use one of your dice instead of one of my own, I can do so but you earn the bonus that’s indicated at that spot. There’ll be one spot giving you no reward (so that’s where you’ll want to place your least desirable die: typically a low number roll) but the other spots can earn you money, victory points or reputation points. The latter are scored on a track on each player’s board: as you advance your marker along the track you earn additional rewards…
Tho’ it’s played on a busy main board and with a plethora of available actions, Encyclopedia isn’t overly complicated. From our plays at Board’s Eye View, we’d rate it as an accessibly medium-weight euro game. It benefits from the evocative art of Joelle Drans, Jérémie Prugneaux and Ronan Toulhoat but its greatest strength is its climactic build up as you take actions that capitalise on those you’ve taken before. It’s especially satisfying when you’ve assembled just the right experts that trigger a cascade of rewards for your research. Who knew contributing entries to an encyclopedia could be so exciting?
(Review by Selwyn Ward)
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