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Giant Fire Breathing Robot
I really enjoy KdJ winner Village. I thought the first expansion, Village Inn, was revolutionary in what it brought to the game. And now we have Village Port. Rather than add a whole new module as the prior expansion did, Port simply replaces the Travel action with a whole new system. And it’s definitely an upgrade.
The Basics. Village Port comes with an overlay that completely covers the travel action. No longer do you use wagons to travel on marked paths toward various other towns. Instead, you load cargo ships and travel to distant islands.
Players still take cubes from the green circle. And, in doing so, can launch a ship, move a ship, or return to port. To launch a ship, they must first hire a captain. They cost between one and three coins and the pricier captains tend to allow more movement or flexibility in cost. When departing, you also get to load your cargo ship with up to three unique items.
Traveling generally costs cubes according to your captain. If you make it to an island, you can stop there and drop off any cargo they desire for points. You can also drop off a family member who acts as a missionary to that land.
After dropping off, you can pick up tea bales, treasure chests, and cocoa baskets. The treasure can be turned in for coins. The bales and baskets can be sold at market at new permanent stalls which always desire them.
The Feel. Even though Port is more of a lateral replacement than a complete addition, it’s actually a fantastic improvement to the base game. In fact, that turns out to be a huge benefit because it adds depth without significantly ramping up complexity or causing the system to bog down.
The best thing about travel is that it makes the action unique and far more interesting. In the base game, travel was probably the most dreary action. Every time you wanted to take it, you had to get two cubes and a wagon. Every time. So if you wanted a travel strategy, you simply ran a little wagon engine and moved around the board in a bit of a hum-drum way. It lacked some of the interesting decisions that are involved in other areas.
Now, though, Port completely replaces the monotony with meaningful considerations. The Captains mean that the type of cubes you need are voyage dependent – not route dependent. Plus, you don’t need to constantly keep coming back to the wagon. This allows a travel-focused player to diverge into other goods – both to trade at sea and to trade at market. It makes a far more robust experience.
In practical terms, this makes the travel action more attractive. But this has the side benefit of making everything better. With travel more viable and interesting, it lessens the pressure on the other actions. Suddenly, every other action looks a little more attractive because they are less crowded.
The other fantastic addition is the new objective cards. It gives players five or eight points for accumulating different resources. This encourages players to depart from favored, played-out strategies and go in different directions. It’s just a little nudge, but with a great impact on the game.
Unlike Village Inn, though, I wouldn’t call Port a revolution in the gameplay. It’s a great addition and one that Village fans will really enjoy. But it doesn’t fundamentally transform the experience. But not every expansion needs to. Sometimes, all they need to do is make a great game better. And Port does that.
Components: 4 of 5. The components are the same high quality as the previous game and expansions. The cards are standard thickness, but since they aren’t shuffled there’s no real worry. The baskets and bales are on thick punch board and the overlay does a good job of matching to the board.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. Port doesn’t really shake this up much. Sure, it introduces the treasure chests which are randomly worth between 3 and 5 coins. But otherwise, it’s all about strategy. Still, because this expansion is more evolution than revolution, it mostly relies on the same balance from the base game.
Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. I love the way Port is integrated into the base game by simply excising the existing travel action. Sea travel is more interesting, more dynamic, and more accessible to various strategies. The captains provide variable travel costs and the islands reinforce a craftsman strategy.
Replayability: 3 of 5. The major part of the expansion simply replaces one aspect of Village with another. But the silver and gold objective cards do enhance the replayability of the game and cause you to search out different strategies.
Spite: 0.5 of 5. Port introduces no additional spite into Village. You can still grab cubes that other players need, of course, but that was present in the base game. Port allows you to block off certain spaces with your family members, but that is more of a race to claim the reward than a specific “take that!” action.
Overall: 4.5 of 5. This one is for Village fans only. It doesn’t fundamentally alter the game, but it does significantly improve the existing experience. The travel action is now an engaging and interesting choice rather than a formulaic one that can brainlessly be achieved. Plus, more competition there means other areas of the board can also become more viable. If you enjoy Village, you should absolutely check out Port.
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)