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Archipelago recounts the great Age of Discovery, an era of intensive exploration and colonization of the world by European explorers. The game covers the period from 1492 (discovery of the Antilles by Christopher Columbus) to 1797 (colonization of Tahiti).
Each player portrays an explorer and his team commissioned by a European nation to discover, colonize, and exploit islands. The mission is intended to be one of peace: to meet the needs of the local population while providing commercial returns to the continent. The archipelago and its natives must be treated fairly or they will rebel, potentially leading to an all-out war of independence.