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Mercado de Lisboa: A Thinky Filler from Vital Lacerda?!

Candice Harris
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Board Game Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
The year 2020 continues to surprise me. Like most people, when I hear Vital Lacerda's name, I instantly think of heavy, thematic, brain-burn-inducing yet elegant games such as The Gallerist, Vinhos, Kanban, and (most recently) On Mars. Who knew the day would come that we'd see Vital Lacerda's name on a thinky filler game??

Well, my friends, that day has arrived. Julián Pombo and Vital Lacerda have teamed up to create Mercado de Lisboa — a quick-playing, easy-to-learn, deep and thinky tile-placement game for 2-4 players that Eagle-Gryphon Games plans to launch on Kickstarter in mid-2020.

Julián Pombo has worked with Lacerda as a developer and the main playtester on several of Lacerda's games: CO₂: Second Chance, Escape Plan, and most relevantly, Lisboa. As hinted in its title, Mercado de Lisboa is actually based on a mechanism in Lisboa, specifically the city-building system in which players pay money to own stalls on the market, with special stores next to them improving their profit and customer tiles that score for the matching booths.

Board Game: Mercado de Lisboa
Cover art

In Mercado de Lisboa, players strategically place stand and restaurant tiles in the market (a 5x5 grid) to influence the price of goods sold at the stands, then place customer tiles at market entrances to sell those goods — all with the long-term goal of having the most money. Fish, flower, tomato, meat, and grape stands, for example, earn you more money when placed next to sushi bar, tea house, pizzeria, burger joint, and wine bar restaurant tiles respectively. Two pub restaurant tiles are included, and these are essentially wild since they'll earn any type of stand more money when placed next to it.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum
Flower stand and tea house

During set-up, the game board is seeded with eleven restaurant tiles randomly drawn from a bag and placed face down (i.e., gray side up) on the marked spaces of the board. Each player receives three random stand tiles that they place face up in front of themselves, wooden stands of their player color, and 1 coin. The last player also starts with a pub restaurant tile. The left side of the board displays three stand tiles and three each of the four types of customer tiles (which show 1-4 customers).

Before starting, players decide whether to play with hidden or open money. From talking to Vital, Mercado de Lisboa was designed to be played with hidden money, but I think they wanted to give the option since some players may prefer playing one way or the other. I've played both ways, and it plays well either way, but at this point I prefer hidden money because most of the games I've played have been so close that it becomes an exciting reveal at the end of the game when you don't know exactly how much money your opponents have.

In Mercado de Lisboa, players take one of the following four actions on their turn, with players taking turns in clockwise order until someone triggers one of the endgame conditions:

(1) Open a stand
(2) Open a restaurant
(3) Bring customers
(4) Take 1 coin

• When you open a stand, you choose one of the three stand tiles in front of you with your color wooden stand and place it on a space that is empty or that has a face-down restaurant tile in the market. The cost of placing a stand is 1 coin for each stand in the row or column, including the one you are placing. (You pay the more expensive cost, so your stand creates a column holding two stands and a row holding three stands, you pay 3 coins.) After placing a stand tile, grab a new one from the designated area on the left side of the board so that you always have three from which to choose when taking this action.

It's important to note that whenever you place a stand or restaurant tile on a space with a face-down restaurant tile, you take that restaurant tile and place it face up in front of you with your available stands. You can place this restaurant on a future turn to earn 1 coin, but if you have any restaurant tiles in front of you when the game ends, you must pay 1 coin for each, so restaurant hoarding is not encouraged!

Board Game: Mercado de Lisboa

• When you open a restaurant, you place one of the restaurant tiles in front of you on a space that is empty or that has a face-down restaurant tile; this earns you 1 coin. Again, if you place a restaurant tile on a space with a face-down restaurant tile, you take that restaurant tile into your supply.

• While you can earn coins via restaurants, to make real money you need to bring customers. To do this, take one of the customer tiles on display and place it on an open market entrance space following two conditions: 1) You can place customer tiles at market entrances only where the number of customers is greater than or equal to the number of stands in the row (or column), and 2) at least one of your stands in that row must match one of the types of goods depicted on the customer tile.

After placing the tile, check to see which players earn money by having a stand in that row that matches a good on the newly placed customer tile. Count 1 for each of your matching stands, plus 1 for each matching restaurant orthogonally adjacent to your stand, e.g., a fish stand next to a sushi bar restaurant, then multiply that number by the number of customers on the customer tile, then take that many coins from the reserve. Don't forget those awesome pub restaurant tiles! They will boost your profit when orthogonally adjacent to any type of stand.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum
Fish stand and sushi bar

If you play your tiles right, you can take advantage of existing customers in the row and column of the new stand you place. Once customer tiles have been placed, you can get a discount or even possibly earn money when placing a new stand tile if this stand meets the demand of existing customer tiles. Needless to say, this is where Mercado de Lisboa really shines. When you place stand and restaurant tiles, you can set yourself up for profitable combos and start making some serious coin! Of course one of your opponents might beat you to the punch by placing an unfavorable customer tile where you were hoping to score big different customers. The game becomes sort of a race to place tiles at the right place and right time, with you hoping opponents don't place tiles to hinder your plans. It can feel tense, but in a light playful way, not stressful.

• If you have no better option or just need cash, you can take 1 coin. I haven't done this yet in the games I've played, but I've seen other players do it here and there. Considering that you can earn money by placing restaurant and customer tiles — and sometimes even stand tiles — I don't think this is ever an efficient action, but I understand why it's needed.

The end of the game is triggered when someone places a stand or restaurant tile that leaves only four market spaces open or a customer tile that leaves only four market entrance spaces open. This player does not get another turn, but all other players do. Once all players have taken their final turn, add up your coins, then subtract 1 for each unopened restaurant you have. Whoever has the most money wins!

From gallery of candidrum
My 2 May 2020 game on Tabletopia

I've played five games of Mercado de Lisboa so far and have been thoroughly enjoying its unique blend of lightness with depth. This game is definitely thinky, but it's not meant to be overthunk. The actions are straightforward, and the whole game can be taught in five minutes and played in thirty. Turns are quick, and in my experience each game has felt distinctly different, which I find refreshing and challenging.

While you'll develop certain strategies with experience, you must be prepared to re-adapt based on the board state and how your opponents are playing. There's also the "fun" struggle of placing stand tiles when you need to grab a particular restaurant tile from the board, but placing your stand in that position isn't optimal because it's either too expensive or not where you need it to be to set up some other combo — or the even more "fun" struggle of trying to place the right customer tiles to minimize your opponents' profits while maximizing your own. I'm a fan of these challenges and struggles as it results in a satisfying gaming experience in which all players are watching the board intensely the entire game. Definitely no multiplayer solitaire here.

While I've played Kanban, Vinhos, The Gallerist, and On Mars, I've yet to play Lisboa, which I know is a lot of people's favorite Lacerda game. Trust me, it's on my list. I'm secretly hoping that my understanding of Mercado de Lisboa becomes a stepping stone for easing me into Lisboa. From what I've heard, that was part of the goal for making it. Either way, I'm looking forward to playing more Mercado de Lisboa. It's been great playing with people around the world on Tabletopia. and I imagine it'll be even better playing the physical version face-to-face with my opponents.
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