Open negotiations and build coalitions with new species in space.
Garphill Games’s Circadians: Chaos Order has become a bit of a favourite lately, with its intriguing mix of Euro mechanics and thematic planetary conquest, Which is why I had to check out its thematic predecessor, Circadians: First Light, now in a gorgeous second edition.
Apart from the thematic link however, this is a very different game indeed. It’s all about dice and resource management, and like all Garphill Games, you’re presented with a long list of choices in your quest for victory points – far too many to explore and exploit in the game’s snappy run time, so you’ll really have to maximise your strategy. Though it’s not the mechanics that will slow down games here, it’s the agonising decisions players have to make when placing those dice on their research bases and the many planetary locations.
It’s all extremely clever and engaging. Behind a player screen you place your dice on your base’s garages and farms, then you alternately send the dice on your garages out from your research base to locations where you can get more dice, get resources, upgrade your base, and move your harvester around on a planet board. Then you harvest the resources from your farms and your harvester’s location. Beyond all this the primary ways to get victory points are to buy contract cards and fulfil them with your resources, and negotiate with the alien locals, which basically means buying spots on their board with resources – and gaining rewards, suffering setbacks, and using special abilities as you do.
Though all this does scratch a certain gaming itch – you know, that one called resource management – I personally still prefer Circadians: Chaos Order, and the way it mixes those elements with area control and conflict to arrive at a more engaging and thematic blend. First Light can sometimes feel a bit like you’re maximising this year’s tax returns, and apart from the need to grab key spots before your opponents and the race to get points, there’s not a lot of player interaction. Plus – and this is something that doesn’t bother me at all, but some gamers may not like it – since you’re rolling dice, luck is a big factor. In my first game I managed to roll four 1s on my last turn and all my closing strategies went out the window!
But if you’re looking for another clever game with a lot of opportunity for maximising your point scoring as you build your game engine – and a lot of people are – this is an attractive and very well-designed one. There’s also an expansion called Specialists that expands your options even more. First Light certainly looks gorgeous, if like me you love the clean, colourful artwork of Shem Phillips. And I very much appreciate the beautiful insert and individual component containers.
I enjoyed Circadians: First Light, though with its strong emphasis on sending out dice from garages I wonder if the theme couldn’t have just as comfortably been something like running a pizza delivery service in a big city. And for all this talk about peacefully interacting with the locals and respecting the planet, I can’t help getting the impression that the Circadians are a sneaky bunch of slick corporate colonisers; pretending to negotiate while they send their huge mechanical harvesters out over someone else’s planet gobbling up its resources! I can hear those local aliens talking amongst themselves right now: “they’re a good-looking bunch those Circadians – maybe too good-looking…”