Clippers is an earlier game of Alan Moon, more famous for Ticket To Ride and Airlines Europe among many others. With Clippers, Alan started down a path that would lead to Ticket To Ride (TTR), yet there are many differences in this game with TTR, some which I feel are better if you like different strategies. As a developement, Clippers is a reworked earlier game of Alan’s, Santa Fe.
Clippers is set in the mid-1800’s, developing trade routes through the central and South Pacific, driven by the major colonial powers who would shape the region.
Enough with the history, lets explore the game.
Aim Of The Game
Each player represents a major colonial faction, Great Britain, USA, France, Germany, Japan, who must develop trade routes across the Pacific to travel through their ports. Each port destination has different scoring potential and differing potential to develop. Players must balance development of ports with expansion of trade routes to score the highest total points.
Inside The Box
When you open the box the first thing that strikes you is the board, it is a larger board and has quite an eye-catching look, dominated by the blue of the Pacific. You notice the marked direction of routes which will connect islands and such.
There is also a large pile of coloured wood matchsticks and matching ship tokens. There are also plastic gold coins in two sizes, some reference cards, national starting cards, starting player token, small flag tokens for ports, plus some play option cards (like role selection cards in some games), a nice set of rules and a player aid sheet with examples. Lastly a cloth bag to hold all the small components (I separated some into small plastic bags for ease setting up game).
Overall everything is nice, with just one exception, the flag tokens. These are just too small, not so much to read, it is just they are so small to handle and easily lost (which I have done).
Setup is relatively simple, you place a ship token of the appropriate colour on the starting position on the board. Each player randomly chooses a national identity, then places the flag tokens on the starting ports for that nation. Each player has some starting money and the starting player is decided.
The Option Cards are placed beside the table as are all the wooden components, ideally in coloured stacks as this will make it easier for players to gauge how many track segments remain.
Playing The Game
Play goes through 4 phases, each player in turn order resolves each phase before the next is started. The phases are:
Phase 1 – Place a port marker or take an Option Card or Pass, and in addition buy a ship token.
Phase 2 – Place Trade Route segments.
Phase 3 – Place Trade Route segments.
Phase 4 – Admin.
Although this seems very straightforward, there are many choices to make. In Phase 1 you have a multitude of choices, starting with if you should place a port to score more points at the end before the port locations fill up, or should you take an Option Card of which there are 4 different and useful types which may cost money, or should you pass and save money and gain no bonus when a route section is completed?
It keeps going because in Phases 2 & 3 you are building routes, so the choices you made their will have an impact, and each player before you will influence your placements as to which shipping route is built, when and where to split routes, and if you should start a route that someone else might be able to finish.
Building routes is also limited in that it must build forward and may not double back over itself. Ship tokens are placed at the front of the route and all expansions of that route must be to the front of that, where upon the ship token is moved to the new front of the line. Routes can be split by a player who has purchased an additional ship token and places it at a point in the route where it might split onto another path.
So its all about choices, and this is one of the key elements that keeps players tied into the game, each other players actions will effect you in some way, so pay attention, develop plans and backups.
The Option Cards give you certain advantages over Passing or placing a Port. If you pass you place 2 route segments/matchsticks on each Phase 2 & 3 with no money bonus for completing routes. The option cards do give useful advantages, however they may cost you money. The Option Cards may give you more segments to lay and or a monetary bonus for route completion, all very handy.
The placement of Ports is long term strategy early in the game and rushed attempts to gain advantage at the end of play. As only one player will have the card allowing Port placement you have to look well ahead and make plans about when you will place ports or expand ports, or take advantage of a situation. And others may have similar ideas to you.
An interesting variable in the game is with American Samoa, once two shipping companies have built routes to the Island then another shipping company starts from the island and may build without restriction.
Final scoring looks at each location with a Port. The owning player of the Port gets points equal to the number of different routes that enter the port multiplied by the Port value, and then multiplied by each port token the player has at that location. Given the wide difference in values, all this multiplication can make a real difference, so invest wisely in where you place ports and take the opportunity in others to develop more than a single port.
Money also adds to you final score, so some players can take money strategies to mitigate on losing out in other areas.
In the above picture the US player scores big time, 3 trade routes x 8 (Port value) x 2 = 48pts, while the Germans and Japanese make do with 24pts each.
Clippers is a very competitive game, there are lots of choices and things happening all the time, you just need some broad planned strategy and be ready to seize opportunity. And this is why I like Clippers and would rate it overall a solid game that I am happy to play anytime.
It does have its weak points. The small port components are probably my biggest bug-bear and I have replaced them with other tokens that are easier to grasp and keep track of. The last few turns also seem weaker, you are just trying to place ports if you can because most of the major route development is done, so its like ‘just finish me’.
That said, it has a very good game development through the rest of the game, and a player who has done well in bringing to bear his long term strategies will not be in a panic at games end.
Length of play is also not big, so for a meaty’ish game of strategy you can fit in games either side of it no problems.
Overall its thumbs up if you like route development games with a twist and some strategy.
Game type: Euro route building investment strategy
Mechanism / Skill: Route building, Stock Holding (ports)
Number of Players: 2-5 (3 or 4 is best)
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
Ease of Play: 4 / 5
Ease of Setup: 4 / 5
Ease of Learning: 4 / 5
Fun Factor: 4 / 5
Replay-ability: 4 / 5
Strategy Rating: 3 / 5
I scored strategy lower simply because this is a game where strategy helps, yet you can play opportunistic or calculated and still be competitive without to much strategy, there is no hidden component to factor in.