WBG Score: 9
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: Garphill Games
Designed by: S J Macdonald
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here.
Circadians: First Light has an interesting history for its short time on this bright green earth. First published in 2019 via a Kickstarter campaign with 1,673 backers. The game received largely positive feedback, although Tom Vasel didn't like the art or the small box it came in. The same type most Garphill Games use. Then in 2021, a second edition and the first major expansion, Chaos Order was released. This received over 1,000 backers again. The second edition has since been released and comes in a much bigger box, with 90% of the art updated. You happy Tom? No, he still doesn't like the art. The rules remain largely the same but the first mini expansion, Allies, is included and a few small tweaks have been updated in the rule book. There is also a new expansion, Specialists, that came out in 2023 that we will cover in a separate review. The first edition is back compatible with the new expansions via an upgrade kit, or the publisher suggests you sell it and buy a second edition. In this review we will cover the second edition of the base game. Lets get it to the table and see how it plays.
How To Set Up Circadians First Light
It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is to set up Circadians. That is because there are a lot of moving pieces. But stick with me! We can get through this together.
Place down the main planet board and fill the spaces marked with the three Water and one Gem icon with Water and Gem tokens. Then take the Gem cache tokens and place six at random, face down in each of the spaces for them in the corners of the planet map. Place a Rover marker into the central space, one for each player. Then place the negations board (the right side up for your player count) along with the faction boards. Each faction tile is doubled sided to allow for variation between games. Pick which ever suits you. Then add the 12 grey incident tokens into the spaces on the left side of the Negotiation board.
Next, add the Spaceport board which shows the Depositary and Headquarters.
Again, make sure you have the right side up for your player count. Then take the Event cards, remove the End of an Era card and shuffle the rest. Place the End of an Era card face down on the space for this on the Headquarters board then add six other event cards at random, face down on top. Place the left over cards back into the box.
Now add the six other station boards, again with the appropriate side for your player count. You can place these anywhere and in any order. Just make them all within easy access of all players. Unless someone has particularly long arms. or one of those grabby arm device things. Now shuffle the Farm and Ship tiles and separate each one into three equal stacks, adding them to the three spaces for each on the Laboratory and Foundry board respectively. Then shuffle the contract cards and place them face down in a pile in the central playing area.
Now it's time to set up each player. Give everyone a research base mat and screen, along with 13 dice in their colour. Three of these dice are placed onto the research mat, the others are left in a nearby supply. Each player starts the game with 15 Water, four Algae and two Energy. Then randomly determine the starting player and give them the Radio token. Each player will now be dealt three Leader cards. You can keep one, returning the others to the box. Or if you are playing the Dyad Alliance variant, you can keep two leaders. However, with this rule, you would have only received Ten water, two Algae and two Energy. I highly recommend playing with this variant from your second game onwards. It's not a great way to learn the game but a way more fun way to play after that!
Finally, players will now draft their contract cards. Make sure you do this after your Leader cards have been chosen. It's handy to know who you Leaders are before you choose these. Each player draws four cards and selects one to keep, handing the other three to the player to their left. From these three, each player will keep one and pass the other two. From the final two, each player keeps one and discards the other, leaving each player with three contract cards. You are now ready to begin.
How To Play Circadians First Light
Playing is a lot simpler to explain than the set up. It is also very conveniently displayed in each players screen. There are seven rounds in the game as indicated by the seven event cards. And in each round, there are four distinct phases. Three of which are very simple, the other is where the main actions happen. Let's go through them all one by one.
Plan - During the Plan phase the top event card is flipped and read out by the first player. This event will add a unique rule to this round, either helping or hindering the players progress.
All players will now role the dice they have, you start with three but can get more during the game, up to five, in later rounds. Roll your available dice behind your screen so other players cannot see, and then assign each one to one of two areas on your mat. Either the Garages at the front, which means you will send them out to take actions in the next phase, or onto the Farms on the bottom of your mat, which means they will stay back at base and create resources for you to use in a later rounds during the Harvest phase.
Execute - When all players are ready, remove your screens simultaneously, so all players can now see what each player has done. Then in turn, starting with the first player, everyone will move one dice at a time from the dice assigned to their Garages, starting with the left most Garage. The first Garage has no cost to send a dice out from. The rest have a cost starting from one Algae, then rising to two, then three. The first player takes one dice and adds it to one of the nine locations, paying the cost and taking the benefit. Then the next player moves their first dice, and so on until until dice in all Garages are allocated. The nine buildings offer you the following options.
Mining Camp - This is Where you can gain extra gems. paying the cost of Water less the number shown on your die, either six or ten less the dice face for one Gem (based on player count and space available) or 16 less the dice face, for two Gems.
Laboratory - This is where you can get new Farm tiles to add to your own board. This is the only space where two dice must be sent at once, rather than just one. The two dice must be the same number. You will then pay a cost of either three Algae or ten Water. So, the higher the dice, the cheaper the Gem cost will be.
Foundry - This is where you can acquire new Ships to upgrade your Garages. The number of the dice dictates which of the three piles you can take a new Ship from. The Ship tiles offer extra benefits when added to your mat and dice are later assigned to them. You will pay a cost of either two Energy or ten Water to acquire them.
Market - This is where you can exchange resources for other resources, based on two different exchange rates.
Academy - This is where you can gain extra dice. You will pay the cost depending on which space you place your dice, and if you want to now take back one or two extra dice. The dice are added to your mat but cannot be used until the next round.
Control Room - This is where you can control your Rover. Placing a dice here means you can move your Rover one space on the main planet board. The number of the dice dictates the direction you can move the rover as shown on the Control Room mat, as seen below.
Headquarters - If you place a dice here, it will not return to your at the end of this round, but it can be used in the next round. The benefit being that as you are already out in the planet, you will be able to go first, before any dice from Garages are executed. This is essentially a way to break turn order. The dice in the first space can also be flipped, so a one could become a six.
Negotiations board - Dice placed here do not come back to you afterwards, but will reward you at the time of placing them. There are three rows, each governed by one of three different alien races. Placing into one of the three rows, means you can gain the benefit of talking to one of these races. When you place the dice, any number can be placed, but you must pay the cost shown next to the row. The costs go up steadily, either in Algae, Energy, or Gems, but the more you pay, the more end game points you will get. Once you have placed your dice, if it was the first time a dice of that number was placed, you can move one of the grey markers from the top row on the left to the right, and claim the benefit. Either to take whatever resources are currently shown on your harvester location, take a Ship tile or Farm tile, a new dice, or Gem, or move your Rover one space in any direction. If a dice has already been placed with the same number then you cannot do this.
There may also be a 'set back' if the dice you place means the column you are in now has a combined total of eight or more, or if the dice is the same number as another dice in this column. If this is the case, then you must move one of the grey tokens from the bottom set back row over to the right to lose one benefit of your choice.
Depository - When you send a dice here, it stays there for the rest of the game. You must also fulfil a contract when you visit the Depository paying the required resources shown on the contract card but then gaining the end game points and/or in game bonus from the card. The dice can be placed in one of three rows. Each row offers a different benefit, either to move your Rover, gain an extra dice, or take two new contract cards. You can only put a dice in a row if you have the matching number in the top row.
Contact cards can be used as a permanent power, such as the Fuel Refiner below which reduces the required cost to carry out actions by one Energy, particularly useful when used with a Ship that has the same power as seen below.
Once all dice are assigned, and all players have passed, all players will then move onto the Harvest phase.
Harvest - During this phase all players will simultaneously take the resources shown on the space on the planet board that their Rover currently occupies. As well as gaining resources for any dice placed into their Farms in the Plan phase. Each player starts with three Farms that generate either of the main resources and one Farm that simply adds an additional three pips to another dice on your Farm. For example if you placed a dice with a single pip into the left Farm which adds three to another dice and had another dice in another Farm which was a three, this second dice would now become a six. The mat shows clearly the exchange rate for each dice when you farm as seen below. The higher the number, the more resource you produce.
Rest - All players will now take back all dice on the retrievable spaces on the board and add them back to their mat ready for the next round. All players must discard down to a maximum of five dice and eight cards, if they have more. The first player token will move one space clockwise and the next round will begin. If this is the final round then scoring takes place.
Final Scoring - Players will score for five main areas.
Any dice on the Negotiations board will score points based on the printed value.
All fulfilled contracts will score points both for the printed value and any end game forcing bonus.
If your Harvester ended on a Gem cash such as in the example below, this will now score you points based on that tiles icon.
You will score points for your right left most uncovered Ship and Farm.
And finally, one point for any Gem.
Most points wins!
Is It Fun? Circadians First Light Board Game Review
Its takes a few turns to get to grips with the strategy of this game, but there are only seven rounds, and in the first few rounds, you may only take three actions. So you may not get it on the first play, games can be quite fast. This game certainly needs to be played fully to learn the strategy. But once you have done that, you could well find this is one of your favourite board game experiences. It won't be for everyone, but if you enjoy making strategic decisions that feel tight and meaningful, resource management, and working towards multiple small goals, this will be an absolute joy for you.
The flow of the game feels beautifully balanced as you play. You won't get a full view on how you are doing against the other players until the final scoring, but you can track how many contract cards they are fulfilling, and when they place dice onto the Negotiations board. But you need to focus on your own goals, but watch out! Other players will regularly block you, inadvertently or not so you need to be able to adapt your plans. Some spaces on the boards are limited, going first can be important, and using the Headquarters spaces to go first can be very important.
The real joy though comes with the Leader cards. The Dyad alliance rule where you get two of these cards brings even more fun to the table with these game changing powers. Gaining free dice, ignoring certain costs, or turning all dice into sixes in the Farms, the Leaders powers are huge and are brilliant fun to play with. In a tight game with a lot of tough restraints, it's wonderful to have a large bit of freedom in one small area.
There is a robust and wonderfully engineered solo mode in the game. Each of the player mats reverses to be used in the solitaire game, with four options for varying difficulties. It works incredibly smoothly and offers a brilliant challenge that is both absorbing and a lot of fun.
The AI always acts first, unless you use the Headquarters, and operates through the use of a small deck of Scheme cards. They give the AI various actions that allow it to play the game just as a human player might.
I would recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of Garphill games. This feels very much like a Garphill game production despite not being designed by Shem himself. Multiple scoring options, clever worker placement, some exciting combination turns, and plenty of wonderful strategy to unlock and enjoy. On your turn you will plan out a juicy turn, full of exciting options, but will then quite often have to adapt and pivot as the other players or the AI stop you in your tracks. Later in the game when you start to build longer turns, it may be hard to keep a track of what you want to do. The planning phase can be tough for some, simply by the process of having to remember what you intend to do and in what order! I have had to use notes a few times to remind myself of what I was planning to do, which is fine. I only mention as this comes from the fact that there are always good options open to you. But a few will be better. And when you have four or five turns lined up, it can be hard to remember which you were planning on doing, and in what order because everything feels juicy.
Circadians First Light is a wonderful game, and one that could easily creep into my top ten of all time. It certainly sits right now just outside, but with more plays, and the expansion, I think it could climb higher.