Anno 1800, by Kosmos Games, has foundations via a computer game by Ubisoft. Designer Martin Wallace, of ‘Brass’ fame, is the maestro behind this board game translation. If you’re a Brass: Birmingham fan, you’re going to enjoy Anno 1800! Like many of these games, to look at Anno set up on the table, it might appear intimidating. Daunting, even. But is it that complex to grasp? Not with a Zatu ‘How To Play’ guide, it’s not! So let’s dive straight in, starting with the most important part of any rules teach… How do I win?
First Things’s First: What Are We Doing? How Do I Win?
At its core, Anno 1800 is a resource conversion game for 2-4 players. Each player controls an island, full of starter-level industries. You have a few citizens to man the factories, and a small fleet. Your primary aim is to complete Population Cards (contracts). They’re like individual requests from the folks living on your island. Fulfil the order, score the points. Simple, in theory! In reality: a wonderful challenge.
The goal in Anno is working out how to complete those ‘contracts’ as quick and as efficient as possible. Many facets of Anno are a bit chicken-and-the-egg. You need to do X to achieve Y to achieve Z so you can complete X. Over the course of the game, you’ll look to expand your island. Will you build new shipyards? Explore the New World? Will you create extra Industries, so you can produce a greater range of goods? Or will you buy resources off an opponent? The latter’s all well and good, but you need a large enough fleet of trade vessels to rely on that…
Don’t panic! I’ll explain all in a succinct, logical manner. First, let’s talk through the set-up.
Main Board Set-Up: Get Everybody Involved!
Place the main board in the middle of the table. Start by placing the Shipyard Tiles (Strengths 1, 2 and 3), and the six types of Ship Tiles onto their matching spaces. (Top-right.) Tiles are double-sided; sit them so that the purple bar, the ‘blueprint’ faces up. Then place the square Industry Tiles onto their matching spaces on the board. They come in three colours: blue, red and purple. Again, blueprint side-up.
(This is the most tetchy part of set-up. There’s 35 different Industry Tiles, and two of each. During set-up, give a colour to each player, set it up together in half the time.)
To the left of the board, separate the Population Cubes by colour green/blue/red/purple/turquoise. There’s space for four decks of cards to sit along the bottom of the board. Place the 46 Farmers/Workers (green/blue) cards face-down, to the left. The 32 Artisans/Engineers/Investors (red/purple/turquoise) sit next to them, neighbouring the 24 New World Cards. On the right, place the 22 Expedition Cards. You shuffled them first, right? Who am I kidding. Of course you did!
The 12 Old World Island Tiles and 8 New World Island Tiles sit to the right of the board. Again, shuffled and face-down. Nearby, have a communal pile of the small square Trade (bronze), Exploration (silver) and Gold (erm, gold) Naval tiles. Sit the single Fireworks Token nearby. Last of all, pick five of the 20 Objective Cards at random, and have them face-up for all to see. Each has a different means of end-game scoring. (First time playing? It’s recommended you pick five specific ones, as a gentle introduction to Anno 1800. These being: Alonso Graves, University, Edvard Goode, Isabel Sarmento, and Zoo.)
Your Own Island: What Am I Looking At, Here?
Each player gets their own identical Island Board. Place four green Population cubes (Farmers) on the top-left square. This is the residential district where these people live. Then take three blue
cubes (Workers) and two red (Artisans). Place them in their matching districts. Each player then receives seven Farmer/Worker Cards, and two Artisan/Engineer/Investor Cards. This is your starting hand of Population Cards.
Nine cards in total, to match those nine cubes. Those cubes are your island’s workforce. But they’re not mere pawns in your strategy. They have dreams and goals in life! Things they want to build or craft. Those nine goals get represented by those nine Population Cards.
See that bottom row of your Island? The water? You start the game with a modest fleet of three ships. Each player takes two Trade Tokens, one to place on their first two ships. Plus, you get one Exploration Token, to sit on your third ship. The Tokens match the symbol on the ship. Above that, on the shoreline, you have one ‘Strength 1’ Shipyard. Inland, you all have the same 10 default Buildings, which are goods production spaces.
Pick a start player, give them the Start Player Token. Give the second player one Gold, the third player two Gold, and the fourth player three Gold. All done? Phew, let’s start playing!
On Your Turn: Pick An Action, Any Action
Anno 1800 is a resource-converting, and resource management game. You attempt to achieve your islanders’ dreams by fulfilling those Population Cards. How you do this is down to you, in the form of an action-selection system. There are nine different actions available to you, but you can only take one of these per turn. You’ll keep taking actions, one at a time, until one player completes their final Population Card, which triggers the end-game. At that point you’ll add up scores to find a winner. Let’s digest the actions you can pick between, then…
Expand (Any One Of 44 Tiles!)
To ‘Expand’ means adding a new Industry Tile to your Island, or adding a new Shipyard Tile, or a new Ship. There’s 44 to pick between, in a first-come, first-served basis, so you have quite a few options! You can claim any tile you like, with the proviso being:
1) you can afford it, and
2) it’s still available.
Tiles have a cost on that purple blueprint bar. To claim the tile, move your Population Cube(s) to the corresponding Industry Tiles on your Island Board.
For example, to build the tinned food factory, you need to meet the requirements of paying 1x Pig, and 1x Metal. You start with ten industries already on your island (one of which is a pig farm, and one being a steelworks). Each industry on your Island has a colour associated with it. (The pig farm is green; the steelworks red.) Send a green (farmer) Population Cube to your pig farm from your residential district, and a red cube to your Steelworks. Place them so they cover up the green and red corners of the Industry Tile, respectively. Each Industry Tile has two spaces for cubes. Once they’re both covered, you can’t send any more Population Cubes there. (There is a way around this, which I’ll discuss, later!)
Paid the cost? Take that tinned food factory. Flip it over, and place it onto your Island board. You can place it into an empty space (such as next to your Shipyard). Or, you can overbuild it on top of another Industry that you don’t feel you need any more, if space is tight. Now you have access to producing tinned food (via a blue ‘worker’ Population Cube). In later turns, you might visit here because other Industries demand tinned food as their blueprints. Or, because you have a Population Card with that particular demand…
Play (And Activate) A Population Card
Talking of which: instead, you could look to complete one Population Card as your action. Like an Industry’s blueprint, these also have requirements, again on a purple banner. You move Population Cubes to the matching goods on your Island to complete the card. There’s Influence Points (3, 5, or 8) at the bottom of the card, for end-game scoring. This is a huge incentive for wanting to complete these cards! The Farmer/Worker cards are all worth 3 points each. They’re easier to complete than the Artisan/Engineer/Investor cards (hence the latter being worth 8 points).
The icon(s) underneath the citizen themselves is a one-time reward effect. You can claim this at any time during the game. Keep completed cards face-up, and when you decide to cash in the reward, flip them face-down. You can hoard a bunch of them, and cash them all in at once, if you like. Rewards include earning more Population Cubes (and with it, a matching, new Population Card into your hand). New cubes sit on their matching residential section of your Island. Other rewards include free temporary Explore/Trade Tokens, or free Gold. Handy!
But what if you don’t have the right Industry Tiles on your Island to complete a card? What if you can’t Expand to get new Tiles onto your Island? If only there was a way to— (oh, wait, there is)!
Let’s Make A Trade
Remember those three ships you started with? Two of them have Trade Tokens on them. You can take advantage of another player who has built the Industry Tile you need. You don’t ‘visit their Island’, nor need to send a Population Cube their way. But you do pay attention to the colour of cube needed. You pay a cost in Trade Tokens in accordance to the Industry’s colour.
- Green = 1 Trade Token
- Blue = 1 Trade Token
- Red = 2 Trade Tokens
- Purple = 3 Trade Tokens
Trade Tokens leave your ships, assuming you can afford the trade. The other player has no say in the matter, but you’re not ‘stealing’ from them. They don’t need to move their workforce, either. It’s easy, passive income for them. They sit back and earn 1 Gold for this from the supply, regardless of the trade itself. It’s like commission!
You can trade with other players if you’ve ‘blocked’ your Industry Tiles with your own Population Cubes. With enough Trade Tokens, you could even trade with multiple players, for multiple different resources, on the same turn. You can only trade for the same resource once per turn, though.
Goldi(un)locks Your Workforce (Or Celebrate A Festival)
What good is Gold, then? You can spend Gold (back to the supply) as a bonus action. This returns Population Cubes from your Industry Tiles back to their residential areas. These increase in cost, colour-depending. This is important, because once a cube’s placed, it remains there. Getting to retrieve it, for a cost, frees you up to visit Industry Tiles more than twice before they’re blocked. If you run out of gold, or opt not to spend it, there is another option: Celebrate a Festival.
This means you reset all your Population Cubes from your Industry Tiles back to their residential areas. You get all your ship’s Trade/Expore Tokens back. You have to do this every so often throughout the game. Timing is key. But it’s a pain because it feels like a ‘nothing turn’ – you don’t accomplish anything! Think of it like prepping for a bigger and better turn, next time.
A Flotilla Of Ships, At Your Command
Let’s rewind back to those Trade Tokens. They’re an essential part of the game, but you only start with two of them. You’ll want more, so instead of Expanding by building a new Industry Tile, you can Expand by building more ships. Some ships provide you with more Trade Tokens. Others provide you with Explore Tokens (I’ll explain those, next, I promise). Some ships provide more tokens than others. They’re appealing, of course, because it means more tokens return to you after every festival. But to get your paws on these better ships, you need to first Expand by building a better Shipyard.
When you opt to build ships, you can build (up to) as many ships on that turn as you have Shipyards. Level 1 Shipyards let you build a level 1 ship. You can guess what Level 2 or Level 3 Shipyards let you build, right? That’s right. Level 2, or Level 3 ships. But they cost more resources, and harder-to-get ones, too. Starting to see how Anno 1800 all clicks together?
Open Up The Old World
Right: let’s whizz through the Explore Tokens (the crossed swords). You start with one, on your third ship. As an action, you can opt to spend this Explore Token to open up the Old World. This gets you an Old World Island, which sits next to your Island. It’s a 2x3 grid, with space for 2x extra ships, and 4x extra Industries. Every Old World Island has a printed bonus on one of those six spaces. It could be a random pre-built Industry, an extra Shipyard, or ship.
These are great for giving you extra space to build more and more Industry Tiles, rather than having to overbuild due to lack of space. You can only house 5x ships on your main Island, so having two more spaces for extra ships can be crucial. The first Old World Island you buy costs 1x Explore Token. The second one you buy costs 2x Tokens, the third 3x Tokens, and the fourth one costs 4x Tokens. You buy, at most, four of them.
Or Explore The New World
Instead, you can Explore the New World. These are the smaller (3x1) rectangular tiles. These sit above your Island board. You also pay for these by spending increasing amounts of Explore Tokens. On each New World tile there are three of five New World resources, such as sugar cane, cocoa, and so on. This represents you having a amiable relationship with citizens from the New World. On later turns, you can spend Trade Tokens to gain access to these resources. The difference here is that rival players cannot spend their Trade Tokens to lean on your relationship with these citizens. They have to do some exploring of their own to get their hands on such exotic resources…
Again, you can own up to four New World Tiles. Every time you take one, you have to take three New World cards into your hand. These are like medium-difficulty-to-achieve Population Cards. (They represent the wants/needs from the new bonds you’ve made with folks from the New World.) Some regular Population Cards demand goods from the New World, as do certain Industry Tile blueprints.
Explore And Take Expedition Cards
Instead, you can pay two Explore Tokens to take up to three Expedition Cards. These are for end-game scoring purposes, akin to set collection goals. They each display two certain-coloured Population Cubes on them. If you have the matching colour cubes by the end of the game, you’ll earn the points on the card. Population Cubes can only get allocated once per Expedition Card, though. This might influence you to consider the next two actions, then…
Increase The Workforce
Need more Population Cubes? Want to complete those Expedition Cards for big end-game points? Or are you tired of running out of cubes all the time and having to Celebrate Festivals every few turns? If only you had a larger workforce! Colour-depending, they have ever-increasing costs.
(They’re printed above the residential areas on your Anno 1800 Island board.)
The irony is you have to send Population Cubes to destinations to earn more of them. It’s often a smart move, long-term though, because this grants you a lot more flexibility as the game progresses. You can increase up to three new Population Cubes per turn using this action. Every time you earn a single cube, you gain a Population Card matching its colour. A new islander, a new dream card. More work… but more potential points!
Upgrade The Workforce
Instead, you can upgrade up to three Population Cubes per turn. To do this, you need to send workers to the locations stated between the residential areas. In essence, you’re turning a green Farmer cube into a blue Worker cube, or a blue into a red, and so on. You’re not increasing the size of your workforce in this manner, so you don’t earn new Population Cards.
You’ll want to upgrade workers to contribute towards those Expedition Cards. But you’ll also want them so you can send workers to bigger and better Industry Tiles. (In particular purple Engineers and turquoise Investors, whom you’ll need to send to advanced Industry tiles.)
Swap A Bad Hand Of Population Cards
By now you know that completing Population Cards is key to success in Anno. But what if the cards in your hand are impossible to attempt right now? Fortunate, then: the final action you could consider is swapping up to three Population Cards from your hand. You have to swap like-for-like (so you can’t swap Expedition Cards for green/blue Population Cards. Nor can you swap blue/green Population Cards for red/purple/green ones.). Hope you draw better cards!
The End-Game Trigger: Final Scoring
Anno 1800 ends as soon as someone plays the final Population Card from their hand. Straight away, they earn the Fireworks Token (worth a bonus 7VP). You finish the current round, then play one more round, so everyone has the same number of turns. Then it’s time to add up scores. Most points wins!
Everyone calculates the value of their completed Population Cards (worth 3/5/8VPs each). Reveal any Expedition Cards you collected, and allocate matching Population Cubes to them. You score 1VP for every three gold you have remaining at the end.
Last of all, you check the five public Objective Cards. Some award points for having built certain types of Industry Tile. Others reward players for having the most Population Cubes of a particular colour. Some, like Isabel Sarmento, pay out 6VP per New World Island tile you explore. You’ll appreciate that certain Objectives drive your strategy in contrasting directions, game to game.
First Time Playing? Consider Sticking Clear Of This Card…
One Objective Card, Pyrphorian, costs players -2 per Population Card they have remaining in their hand at the end of the game. This one steers Anno 1800 towards a ‘Ticket To Ride’ vibe. As in, it becomes super-tense towards the end if you still have a hand of cards you can’t complete. In this regard, its advisable that you don’t play with Pyrphorian for your first time playing Anno 1800!
Some Population Cards offer a ‘reward’ of letting you discard other Population Cards from your hand. This might seem odd, considering you want to complete cards for points, right? But if Pyrphorian is in play, throwing away hard-to-complete cards can be crucial! Plus, it speeds up the game and might land you that Fireworks Token. If Pyrphorian is one of the five Objective Cards, you might tweak your strategy so you don’t intentionally increase your workforce. Because every new citizen brings with them a new Population Card you need to complete…
So, what have you got? Population Cards aplenty. A whole variety of Expedition Cards. 44 different Industries/ships to expand onto your Island. Will you explore the Old World, or the New? And on top of this, 20 different Objective Cards! No two games of Anno 1800 ever feel the same. It’s not a beginner-friendly game; this is not a ‘gateway experience’. But for those who thrive with action selection choices and multi-step resource management? Anno 1800 is right up your alley. And now you’re ready to play!