Publisher: Victory Point Games
Designers: R. Ben Madison and Wes Erni
Playing Time: 40 minutes
Retail Price: $32.99 (Boxed Edition)
Category: Solitaire strategy
• One 32-page full color Rules booklet
• One 11″ x 17″ map
• 49 thick, laser-cut, multi-shaped counter pieces (minor assembly required)
• 50 History cards
• One player aid
• One six-sided die
• One 11” x 17” mounted, jigsaw-cut game map
• One bright red, 9 1/4″ x 5 7/8″ Standard cardboard VPG game box
• One beautiful box cover sleeve
• One “Wipes-A-Lot” napkin
• One charcoal desiccant packet
Mound builders was my introduction to Victory Point Games States of Siege games. I have heard about the States of Siege line but wasn’t sure how they played. I approached Mound Builders with an open mind of excitement and couldn’t wait to learn more. The first thing I noticed was thirty two pages of games rules with a 40 minute play time? Really? You bet! Mound Builders really CAN be played in that amount of time.The rules were easy to read, walks through order of game play and you can find the sections referenced quickly.
The basic premise of Mound Builders, during the first half of the game, is expanding your empire outward from your home city. During the second half you’re keeping the discovered cities, and the Spanish, away from your city. You win if your home city of Cahokia remains standing. Mound Builders also has a small table showing the level of victory or defeat according to the Smallpox number, Land numbers or remaining cards in the draw deck.
Setting up takes less than five minutes: Place the Cahokia marker in your chiefdom, which shows the strength of your palisades. The Hopewell Era marker goes in its designated place on the board. The Mississippian Era is printed on the board while the Spanish Era is on the back side of the Hopewell Era marker. Place the Action Points marker on “0” of the Storage Pits track. The Value Modifier marker, used when making diplomacy die rolls, and the five Peace Pipe markers go in the Conquered Chiefdoms box. Ignore the six Army standees for now as they’ll come into play during the Mississippian Era. You’ll then randomly choose and place five of the Chiefdom markers on each of the Warpaths with the Plain side up. These will also have a Battle Value and Trade Good type printed on them. Take the twelve green Hopewell Era cards, randomly discard two and make a draw deck out of the remaining ten.
Honestly, it will take you about the same time to read the previous description as it will to setup the game.
My biggest gripe with Mound Builders, and this goes for quite a few games, is the colors used are not colorblind friendly. The red and green printed on the cards (and in the game rules booklet) look so similar distinguishing them from each other will be difficult. I got around it by matching the shade of the cards icon with the “Reading the Symbols” section of the rules; a minor annoyance but one which colorblind people will need to address.
Now it’s time to start the game by playing through six phases during each Era: History, Economic, Hostiles, Revolts, Actions, and End of Turn.
Economic Phase – Figure out how many Action Points you get for this turn. The cards will have either a white or black circle. White AP numbers are simply the number of Action Points you can spend this turn. Black AP numbers depend on the economic situation and Trade Goods. There are nine Trade Goods: Chalcedony, Chert, Copper, Feathers, Hides, Mica, Obsidian, Pipestone, and Seashells. The size of your economy is determined by counting the number of Trade Goods. You may only count the Trade Goods if you have two or more Plain Chiefdoms showing the same type or a Mounded Chiefdom. Converting a Plain Chiefdom to a Mounded one takes place during the Action Phase.
Hostiles Phase – This is where you’ll deal with the Warpath Status on the card. A colored arrow will show which tribe is in Decline or Ascension (Status Marker). Simply put it’s just a die roll modifier. A colored icon represents the tribe, or tribes, that are taking hostile actions. They’ll be trying to advance towards Cahokia to reclaim lands you took earlier and if they do advance into Cahokia, with Breached walls, you lose immediately. You can engage them and attempt to push them back towards their homeland. This “push back” includes the Spanish army as well.
Revolt Phase – Some cards will have a tribes name printed on them to indicate which one is revolting. Just roll a die and determine which land is advancing, staying put or retreating.
Action Phase – Time to spend those precious Action Points doing as few or as many actions as you can afford.
You may perform the following actions:
Move: Advance your peace pipe, unopposed, towards the tribes homelands and discover new chiefdoms.
Incorporate or Attack a Chiefdom: Roll a die and compare to the Chiefdoms Battle Value, then move your peace pipe into that chiefdom. This also lets you discover new chiefdoms. Discovering new chiefdoms is available only during the Hopewell Era.
Mounding: Improve the Chiefdom by spending Action Points equal to its Battle Value. Flip the Chiefdom over and sometimes there will be a symbol showing it won’t revolt.
Fortify/Repair Cahokia: Spend two Action Points to improve the strength of your palisades. This will make it harder for the enemy tribes or Spanish to breach the walls of your city and allow you to survive a bit longer.
End of Turn Phase – Basically you’re cleaning things up so think of it as doing a minor reset. Remove the Status Marker and any overextended Peace Pipes, enemy controlled Plain Chiefdoms. Along with this you will also be degrading enemy controlled Mounded Chiefdoms. Ouch, that will hurt your economy. Adjust your Trade Goods marker. During the Spanish Era, after the first turn, you will be setting the smallpox level. The level depends on how far the Spanish advanced meaning if they got to the number one land next to Cahokia you will have, at the most, one Action Point to spend for the rest of the game. Action Points are your life blood for this game.
There are finer points to the rules which I left out because this was my introduction to the States of Siege games and wanted others to experience some of the surprises for themselves. For those gamers who are familiar with the States of Siege line I hope this gives you an idea of what to expect. Also I didn’t discuss the Advanced Game rules since I believe part of playing games is discovery. Discovery of strategy, rules you missed that change the game, events which make you go “Wow! I didn’t see that coming,” and talking with people about the games you’ve played. Who knows, that person could become a lifetime friend.
As for being my first time playing a States of Siege game, I had fun learning and playing Mound Builders. There are several strategies to try and I’m sure more will show up with more plays. The choices you make early in the game will help or hinder you later on.
Do you try to advance along each war path to discover new chiefdoms? Pick one or two war paths and build Mounded Chiefdoms? Make Cahokia as strong as possible? So many more questions to be asked and answered as you’re playing. After multiple plays it was never the same experience due to the variety of cards, order in which they came into play and the dice rolls. I love those dice rolls to keep things interesting but the sheer amount of luck involved may deter some players.
During one game I thought I had it won only to have the dice go against me several times in a row. After playing Mound Builders six times and never winning hasn’t discouraged me to keep trying. It only takes 45 minutes to play a single game, once you know the rules, with easy setup and clean up. A good example is that it only takes five minutes to play through the Hopewell Era. As a bonus, each card has a bit of flavor text regarding Native American history and ancient mounds.
I can easily recommend Mound Builders be added to your library, especially if you enjoy solitaire games set in an interesting period and, if you’ve never played a historical solitaire game, this might be a good one in which to start.