Economic simulation games set in 19th century Scotland are few and far between, but Clans of Caledonia by Karma Games is one of those rare games. Your role is to expand your influence in the Highlands, cut wood or mine ore for income, plant the land with wheat, as well as herd cows and sheep. You build factories that turn your milk and grain harvest into delicious cheese, bread and, of course, whiskey, all of which you will export and trade for imported sugar cane, cotton and tabacco. It is very much what you would expect from any other economic simulation game of the same ilk, yet Clans of Caledonia is exceptional because the theme and mechanisms fit like glove and hand, making for a really smooth gameplay.
Many people have compared Clans of Caledonia to Terra Mystica, and I can certainly see many parallels. There are definitely many mechanisms that are basically the same in both games, so the influence of one onto the other is obvious. I know Terra Mystica is close to many people’s heart, because there is so much strategy and thinking ahead, and it is very abstract, just like chess.
In my view, Clans of Caledonia offers the same level of strategy and thinking ahead, but the game is so wonderfully thematic, that I find it a lot easier to follow a strategy and be able to identify the outcome of my actions. After all, if your clan is clearly good at making whiskey, then you will want to grow lots of wheat and build distilleries. There is no need to work out how the assymetric clans in this game work and what they are good at. It’s all there in front of you.
Yet, Clans of Caledonia doesn’t dictate the actions you take every turn. Your clan will have an overall aim, but because everyone shares space on the same map and competes for the same export contracts, you will have to make decisions based on the ever changing game state. There is still plenty of planning required, and many opportunities for your competitors to interfere with your plans, or even take advantage of your actions for their own benefit. So every game will be different, even if you all choose to play the same clans every time.
The variability of the export contracts, end of round bonuses and the modular, double-sided map, plus the asymetric clan abilities and randomly selected starting resources, plus the ability to choose your starting hexes differently in each game, mean that Clans of Caledonia will keep your interest for a very long time indeed.
So if you like heavy strategy games, but are put off by some of the more abstract options available, and if you want to have a theme that tightly integrates with the game mechanisms and helps guide you in your strategy choices on every turn, then I can definitely recommend Clans of Caledonia. I backed it on Kickstarter and have the lovely wooden resource tokens and metal coins, which add a nice feel to the game, and our games group has been playing it many times since it arrived. It is still a game that comes to the table with great expectations and delivers a great feeling when you have made your clan the most successful in the Scottish Highlands.