Ships deals with the history of shipping, from the time of the Phoenicians to the modern era.
The game is divided into three ages, marked with different ship types. The first age is that of the galley, followed by the age of the sailing ships, then finally the steamship age. The board combines a track showing the development of ships, similar to that in Automobile with a map of Europe. There is also an area around the European map that represents the rest of the world.
On your turn, use your allotted merchant cubes to perform actions. Actions include placing a ship, moving a ship, retrieving a ship, taking a card, and selling merchandise. When you place a ship, you do so in the highest occupied level. There are eleven levels in all, each one divided into two boxes-the merchant box and the warship box. Placing one of your ships in the merchant box allows you to place a merchant cube on the board. Where you place it will give you one or two goods counters, which you then place in your warehouse. If you place your ship in a warship box, you can take control of a location, but you must expend one food goods counter to do so.
You can also move ships instead of placing them. You pay an amount of money to move one ship up one level and take the associated action. Alternatively, you can retrieve a ship to allow you to place them in later turns and to avoid losing points as ship technology improves. The advantage of moving a ship is that it saves you the action of retrieving a ship. Having money in hand gives you a greater range of options and allows you to use your pieces in a more efficient manner.
As ships are placed in a level, the navigation cost of placing in the next level reduces, until somebody is willing to pay the cost to place in that level (which earns bonus points). At some point, somebody will place in the first sailing ship level, which makes galleys deprecated. Later on, somebody will place in the first steamship level, making sailing ships deprecated.
The main map also works as a type of track. To begin with, you can only place in '2' locations, which are grouped around the eastern Mediterranean. At some point, somebody will pay the cost to move to a '3' location, which are grouped around the western Mediterranean. Northern Europe is area '4', while the Americas, East Indies and the Pacific are areas '5', '6', and '7.' Players cubes gradually spread across the board as new areas are opened up. As soon as a new area is opened up, players score points for the present area. You score for merchants and control discs in the area, the points being the same as the number of the area. Consequently, later areas are worth more points than earlier ones.
There are six types of goods: food, oil, metal, wine, cloth, and spices. Each has a monetary value as well as some special power. For example, food can also be used to take control of locations, thus building an empire, oil can be used to gain extra actions, and spices can earn you victory points directly. You have to decide whether you wish to cash your goods in for money or use their powers.
You need to decide which goods to go for, which is not simply based on their monetary values. You need to manage how your ships move up the track, as leaving too many in lowly positions will cost you victory points. You need to be careful with your merchant cubes, as once they are all placed, you will need to expend an action to retrieve some of them. This leaves ample room for different strategies.
- 1 Mounted Game Board
55 Playing Cards
4 Punched Boards
4 Player Displays
173 Wooden Pieces