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Subject: Red Player One Reviews Cacao rss

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Curt Frantz
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Pennsylvania
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The Game

Cacao is a 30-45 minute game for 2 to 4 players. In Cacao, each player plays the chief of their tribe, attempting to lead their tribe to prosperity through the harvest and sale of cacao. This is done through strategic tile placement. The player who collects the gold by the end of the game is the most successful tribal chief and wins the game!



The Components

Before starting the game, each player collects their 11 worker tiles, village board, and water carrier meeple. The water carrier is placed on the negative 10 space of the village board’s water field track. The village board also contains spaces to put cacao fruit and sun tokens when collected. It’s worth noting that the worker tiles come in 4 types, with varying numbers of workers on each side.

1. 4x 1-1-1-1

2. 5x 2-1-0-1

3. 1x 3-0-0-1

4. 1x 3-1-0-0



The game also contains 28 jungle tiles that all players will use. There are six types of jungle tiles, the effects of which will be explained later:

1. Plantations – 6x single plantation, 2x double plantation

2. Markets - 2x selling price of two, 4x selling price of three, 1x selling price of four

3. Gold mines – 2x one value, 1 x two value

4. Water – 3x

5. Sun worshipping sites – 2x

6. Temples – 6x



There are 20 cacao fruits, 12 sun tokens, and a pile of gold in denominations of one, five, and ten for the players to collect throughout the game.



The Gameplay


As described above, each player takes their 11 tiles (removing some if less than four players), village board, and water carrier meeple. The water carrier starts at the far left of the water track, on the negative 10 space. The player would score negative 10 points at the end of the game if the water carrier is not moved. Each player shuffles their pile of worker tiles and draws three, forming their hand. These are the three tiles the player will have to choose from on their turn.



A single plantation tile and a two value market always begin face up in the center of the table. The remaining jungle tiles are also shuffled and placed in a face down stack near the plantation and market tiles. Two are revealed and placed face up at the start of the game.



The oldest player is the starting player, and proceeds clockwise around the table after each turn. On their turn, the active player will do a few things:

1. Place one worker tile.

2. Place jungle tiles, if necessary.

3. Perform jungle tile actions.

When placing a tiles, a couple rules apply:

1. A worker tile may never share a border with another worker tile.

2. A jungle tile may never share a border with another jungle tile.

This means the board will end up as a checkerboard pattern of worker tiles and jungle tiles.

Place a worker tile

The player will choose one worker tile from their hand of three tiles and place it on the board adjacent to at least one jungle tile, oriented as they wish.



Place a jungle tile

The placing of the worker tile may trigger the filling of jungle spaces. If the newly placed worker tile creates an empty jungle space bordered by two or more worker tiles, it must be filled with a jungle tile. If no such space exists, this phase is skipped. In the below example, the indicated space must be immediately filled with a jungle tile from the two available, face up jungle tiles by the active player.





Perform jungle actions


Each worker on the newly placed worker tile that shares a border with a jungle tile. By activating a worker, the player may perform the action of the adjacent jungle tile. So, if two workers are adjacent to a single jungle tile, that action may be performed twice.

If jungle spaces were filled this turn, each player may now perform the actions on the newly placed jungle tiles now bordering their previously placed worker tiles. Each worker is activated only one time during the game; either when it is placed next to a jungle tile or when a jungle tile is placed next to it on a later turn. If the placing of a jungle tile allows multiple players to perform actions, they may do so simultaneously. You may determine the order you perform actions, as long as all of the workers on one edge of the tile is completed before activating the workers on the next edge.

After a worker tile and any necessary jungle tiles have been placed and actions performed, the player draws a new tile from their worker draw pile and adds it to their hand. If there are less than two jungle tiles in the jungle display, they draw tiles from the jungle draw pile to replenish the display. Then, play proceeds clockwise to the next player. The game ends when all players have placed their final worker tile.

Here's how each of the six tile types work:

Plantation – For each activated worker adjacent to this tile, the player takes one (single plantation) or two (double plantation) cacao fruits from the supply. They place each cacao fruit on an unoccupied storage space of their village board. Only five can be stored at a time.

Market – For each activated worker, the player may sell one cacao fruit from their storage for the price indicated on the market tile (either two, three, or four gold). Cacao goes back to the supply, and the player takes their gold.

Gold Mine – For each activated worker, the player may take the amount of gold indicated from the bank (one or two).

Water – For each activated worker, the player may move their water carrier up one space on the water track of their village board. At the end of the game they will add or subtract the indicated amount from their score.

Sun worshiping site – For each activated worker, the player may take one sun token from the supply and store the token(s) on the indicated spaces of their village board. Each player may store up to three sun tokens. When the jungle pile runs out but players still have worker tiles to play, they may spend a sun token on their turn to ‘overbuild’ one of their previously placed tiles, taking the appropriate actions again (according to the workers on the new tile). Each tile may only be overbuilt once.

Temple – The temples have no immediate effect, but after the game ends, the players will score each temple, one at a time. The player with the majority of workers around each temple gains six gold, and second place gains three gold. If there is a tie for first, the players split the six gold and there is no second place. If there is a tie for second place, the players split the gold evenly. If worker tiles adjacent to temples have been overbuilt only the top worker tile counts towards the majority.

Scoring

At the end of the game, each player adds up their gold, which comes from:

1. What they’ve collected throughout the game

2. The gold modifier on their water track

3. Their first and second place finishes on temple tiles

4. Their leftover sun tokens (each token is one point)

The player with the most gold is the most successful tribal chief and wins the game!

Final Thoughts


Strengths

Pace – Once players understand the rules, this game moves very quickly. Any downtime is spent envisioning where you might play on your next turn.

Competitiveness – In most of the games I’ve played, the point spread at the end of the game is only 10-12 points from first to last place. It’s hard to win by a large margin, but it’s also hard to lose by a large margin, so players remain very engaged and entertained.

Theme – This is a neat theme, and the tiles are beautiful. Cacao is a very aesthetically pleasing game. As a matter of fact, it was the first game I played after entering the Origins 2015 exhibit hall – it really caught my eye!

Accessibility – This can be played with experienced gamers, rookies, parents, friends, kids, etc. The rules are simple and, as mentioned before, it’s not hard to be competitive.

Weaknesses

Player order – The order that the jungle tiles become available can be a killer. In a 4 player game, if valuable or popular tiles become available to the player on your left, you may never get a chance to use them. If this happens a few times in the game, leaving you with little access to water (for example), it can leave a sour taste in your mouth. The game is quick enough that, if this happens, you can probably convince your friends to play again.

Overbuilding – I like this mechanic, but it can slow the play down a bit, as players try to figure out which space and orientation can lead to that extra point right at the end of the game. As the competition gears up, players spend a bit more time making their decisions.


This game isn’t without flaws, but nevertheless, it pretty frequently finds the table. It’s fast, doesn’t usually lead to analysis paralysis, and can be played with gamers of all types. It’s often compared to Carcassonne, but there are some significant differences. In Cacao, the players have more choice, because they have three worker tiles and two jungle tiles to choose from each round, instead of just drawing one tile out of a bag. On the other hand, once a tile is played, you don’t have to think much about it again. In Carcassonne, the board is in a pretty dynamic state for the entirely of the game. For these reasons, Cacao moves faster but contains less long-term strategy. I think this is fine, as it’s targeting a slightly different audience. In conclusion, this isn’t my favorite 30-45 minute game, but it’s a fun game that can be enjoyed by all types of gamers.

How easy is the game to learn?

Some players have trouble envisioning the ‘checkerboard’ pattern, and knowing when they need to place jungle tiles. But this is the only confusing aspect of the game for new players.

Will it be easy to find players?


Yes, this game has very broad appeal, and will get played unless you have a group of greater than four players. It’s a shame it only seats four, but the jungle tile mechanic would be much more luck-driven with a greater number of players.

Is the reward worth the time spent?


Usually, yes. Sometimes bad luck can lead to a less fun game, but I always feel like I have interesting decision to make.

How much fun is defeat?*

Honestly, just as fun as winning. The scores are usually so close that it’s hard to know whether you’re winning or losing until the final scores are tabulated. So, losing is just about as fun as winning.

Overall Score

*I think one of the best ways to evaluate a game is to consider how much fun it is to lose. The goal is to have fun whether I've won or lost!


If you enjoyed reading this review, feel free to check out my other game reviews HERE
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Michael Frost

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Great review. And completely agree: the whole point of gaming is to have FUN, whether you win or lose. It isn't just to win. The "best" games are those where you have more fun losing than you do compared to a game you win. Fun beats winning every time.

Gaming isn't about brutal, masochistic game themes and mechanisms that make you do things just to do things while slogging through a game to max out its win condition. That isn't fun, that's work. (Had that happen this weekend. Love Tammany Hall. Didn't care that I was in last place the entire time until the last round when I jumped to 2nd place. I was having fun! The entire game. And we were interacting in a fun way. But I didn't have a moment of fun in Merchant of Venus. A brutal and chaotic game that was random and driven by dice rolls. A boring slog. The four of us quit the game about halfway through when it was clear one player was so far ahead--he had more points than 2nd & 3rd combined and 4th had about 1/10th his points).

I've got this game ordered. Can't wait to play it.
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David B
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The map module from the Chokolat expansion addresses your turn order concerns. In it, four jungle tiles are showing. When you have to place a jungle tile, you can choose A or B, or you can spend one of your two map tokens to choose from C or D. Anytime a tile is placed they always slide forward just like they do in Stone Age, so C and D tiles will always eventually become A and B. Everyone gets 2 map tokens to spend and they aren't worth anything if not spent. You could easily pass out some cubes and use this module without buying the expansion. But there are some other really good modules in this expansion and it is well worth it.
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Curt Frantz
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MPMelanchthon wrote:
Great review. And completely agree: the whole point of gaming is to have FUN, whether you win or lose. It isn't just to win. The "best" games are those where you have more fun losing than you do compared to a game you win. Fun beats winning every time.

Gaming isn't about brutal, masochistic game themes and mechanisms that make you do things just to do things while slogging through a game to max out its win condition. That isn't fun, that's work. (Had that happen this weekend. Love Tammany Hall. Didn't care that I was in last place the entire time until the last round when I jumped to 2nd place. I was having fun! The entire game. And we were interacting in a fun way. But I didn't have a moment of fun in Merchant of Venus. A brutal and chaotic game that was random and driven by dice rolls. A boring slog. The four of us quit the game about halfway through when it was clear one player was so far ahead--he had more points than 2nd & 3rd combined and 4th had about 1/10th his points).

I've got this game ordered. Can't wait to play it.


I completely agree with your thoughts. Sometimes I like games to be a little more competitive but Cacao is certainly a crowd-pleaser.

I've played Tammany Hall once, and will never play again
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Curt Frantz
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pfctsqr wrote:
The map module from the Chokolat expansion addresses your turn order concerns. In it, four jungle tiles are showing. When you have to place a jungle tile, you can choose A or B, or you can spend one of your two map tokens to choose from C or D. Anytime a tile is placed they always slide forward just like they do in Stone Age, so C and D tiles will always eventually become A and B. Everyone gets 2 map tokens to spend and they aren't worth anything if not spent. You could easily pass out some cubes and use this module without buying the expansion. But there are some other really good modules in this expansion and it is well worth it.


Thanks for the feedback, David. I own the Volcano expansion/promo, but didn't know the Chokolat expansion existed until I was halfway through writing this review. I will definitely check it out.
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