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Subject: Macao - A SenorCoo Review rss

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Jack Francisco
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If you’re looking for an unbiased review, you’ve probably come to the wrong place. I am a devout fan-boy of Macao and it is my number one game. WAIT! Before you click away, let me see if I can give you some insight into my love of Macao.

OVERVIEW
What is Macao? In Macao, you are a merchant/businessman who is trying to exert your influence in the city of Macao. You do this buy purchasing city quarters, bringing people and buildings into your network, delivering goods, and using wealth to buy points. Seems simple enough, right? Well, there is a rub. You are under constant pressure because each round you MUST draft a person/building/office card to add to your tableau. The problem with that is that there are only five spots available and if you ever have to draft a card with no place to put it – PENALTY. The way you create spaces on your tableau is by paying cubes. The better the cards, the greater quantity and more varied color combinations are required to activate them. That’s not all. You are also at the whim of the dice which dictate how many cubes of each color are available to pick (you pick two different dice each round). The pips indicate how many cubes and which spot on the windrose you place them. Don’t have cubes in a spot when the windrose turns to it – PENALTY. So, the idea is that you have to try and coordinate the cubes together to activate your cards as well as to weigh the importance of less cubes earlier against more cubes later.

COMPONENTS
The components are ok. The game isn’t that expensive, so there isn’t a lot of room to complain. The gold coin chits are absolutely god-awful. I’d say they are much worse than even the tiddly-wink money that appears in Martin Wallace games – sorry Martin. Needless to say, I spent a good amount of money to replace them:



The tableaus are sturdy, the cubes are standard, the ware tiles are a bit thin for my liking, and the wooden dice have a nice tactile feel to them. There are a couple of wood bits (ship, player markers) that are solid, if a little small, as well. The cards and board are good as well. You will have to overlook the fact that all of the people cards have the same picture of a bearded Portuguese merchant – even the women. My board, for example, has seen nearly 50 plays and shows no signs of wear. The white player chits for marking ownership in the city quarters have gotten a bit dingy, however.

RULES
The rules are in a typically well-done fashion of which we have come to expect from Alea, with sidebars condensing paragraphs of text. One translation issue exists among some of the cards – some cards benefit you each time you do something and others benefit you when you do something. There is a nice aid in the files section that clarifies which is which and once you’ve played enough times, you come to inherently know the distinction.

There are 12 rounds in the game. Each round you will draft cards from among two known office cards and then some drawn building/people cards. The office cards are a primary way to generate money. They all do the same thing – convert a specific color cube into a gold coin, but the cost between 1-4 cubes to activate. Draft order is dictated by a common Feldian element – the Wall. First on the wall, picks first during the draft. The exception is at setup. You pick a card, place it on your tableau and then the dice are rolled for the round. As I mentioned, each of the colored dice will tell you how many of that color you can take and at which number of the windrose to place them. You select two different dice (can’t pick the same die twice, for example) and your choice does not prevent someone else from taking the same die/dice. Then you rotate the windrose and, in turn order, do all of your actions.

The actions you can select from are pretty easy to grasp. Once per round, you can buy a city quarter, taking the ware tile there and placing it on your tableau. The way to think of this is that you are taking over a neighborhood with your influence that produces that type of good. In lieu of the ware tiles, there are “dark” neighborhoods that have joker tiles specifically placed on them. These allow a one time use to get any 1 cube or 3 gold coins. They all cost 4 cubes of two different colors. When you are a new player, it doesn’t seem worth it, but when you’ve seen them in action, you learn their value. The pain of missing a particular color and watching someone grab a joker you were trying to buy is exquisite. Each neighborhood/city quarter has a cube cost below it as well and these wares are all laid out randomly, which makes for interesting combos every game. Sometimes similar wares end up next to each other, sometimes a particular ware is on all the 4-cube spots. You want to buy city quarters because at the end of the game, your longest connected string is worth 2 points for each quarter. Link 9 quarters and you’ve netted yourself 18 game end points.

You can also activate as many cards as possible from your tableau, by paying the cost. Cards are immediately available to use. Either getting you points, gold coins, cubes, etc. You want to get cards off of your tableau, because every time you have to take one and don’t have a space you suffer a -3 point penalty. If there are cards still on there at game end, you take -3 point penalty for each.

You can use your cards each round as long as you meet their requirements. Some require paying a cube for an effect, some give you something if you’ve met a condition such as getting a point if you have 0-2 ware tiles for example.

Each round you may buy points one time from the prestige table. This value is dictated by the numbers at the bottom of the cards at the draft.

You can advance on the wall moving 1/2/3… spaces for 1/3/5… cubes. Some people like to pound the wall and there are some who sit back, conserve cubes and hope luck is on their side at card draft time. Doing the latter too often can lead to a bad predicament.

Finally, you can move your ship – 1 cube for each space. You do this so you can deliver goods and being the first one into multiple cities is good.

That’s it. You do this over and over for 12 rounds, eventually leading to a winner.

GAMEPLAY
How does it play? Well, it’s my number one game for a reason. It requires high adaptability, timing, and the ability to change gears if the cards, dice, etc. aren’t going your way. These are not elements that are for everyone. You also cannot be afraid to take a penalty marker if it ensures getting a big turn at the right time or getting a strong card out. Sometimes you will have to pass on drafting a card you really like, because you just need something you can get off your tableau.

You also cannot judge this game based on a single play. There are things that will not be readily evident to a new player. The windrose can be a tricky thing to manage, much like the mancala in Trajan. If you give it a couple of chances, particularly with someone who can properly teach and explain the game, you will be rewarded with a great game experience.

Decisions are hard. Seeing the right card come up in the draft that perfectly fits what you are doing can be exhilarating. Just as it crushes you when that card gets drafted before you pick because an opponent jumped ahead of you on the wall last round. Choosing when to buy points from the prestige table can be very risk-reward as well. There is little that is more satisfying than building up a nice money engine and watching the prestige table come out to 6 or 7 gold for 12 points that no one else can buy but you.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Macao is a wonderful game. I may be particularly biased, because it is also one of the favorite games of my friend, yBob. He and I have locked up one-on-one many times and virtually every game we play is a nail-biter.

One of the biggest knocks I’ve heard against Macao, and other Feld titles, deals with the issue of theme. Some folks on BGG say that it has no theme, or it is dry, or you could be doing anything other than shipping wares. That can pretty much be any game, to be honest. With a little bit of imagination, a great story forms. You imagine yourself as a savvy merchant exerting influence to take over neighborhoods in hopes of cornering ware markets. People and businesses are trying to join your organization, but if you ignore them, they spread bad publicity about you. You flash your wealth by using the prestige points table. Your business acumen is rewarded when you’ve recruited people and businesses that work well together.

Really, it all comes down to what you make of it. As I tell my daughter – pretend. That’s good advice for all of us – pretend a little bit and have some fun – which is why I get together with friends to play games in the first place. Finally, the best thing I can say about Macao is that if I was stranded on a deserted island with some good friends and a copy of Macao, then things wouldn’t be all that bad.


So, that's my second review. Hopefully, you got a little insight into what I love about Macao so much. If it’s something that you never really pictured yourself playing, or have played and had a bad experience, take what I’ve said into a play of it. Embrace what it gives you and you might be surprised that it will embrace you right back. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post, geekmail me, etc.

Let me also add that if you like my review style and would like me to review something else, don't hesitate to ask. If I can do it, I will.
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Todd
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Re: Macao - a SenorCoo Review
Great job!!! Is the family out?
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Łukasz Małecki
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Re: Macao - a SenorCoo Review
The thing I love the most in Macao is how well this game is balanced. If you're playing well, you're always getting that last desired cube or coin just when you need it. It's very satisfying when in the last turn you use each and every cube to activate cards, sail to sell goods and buy prestige points, and you're left with empty space next to the wind rose. Nothing goes to waste, although it's not always easy to pull it off.

Great timing with the review btw, I just came here to log my latest play - won with my wife 103 to 82 few minutes ago
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Jack Francisco
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Re: Macao - a SenorCoo Review
Falcons wrote:
Great job? Is the family out?


Heh. No just occupied. ;-)
 
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Jack Francisco
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Re: Macao - a SenorCoo Review
rednar wrote:
The thing I love the most in Macao is how well this game is balanced. If you're playing well, you're always getting that last desired cube or coin just when you need it. It's very satisfying when in the last turn you use each and every cube to activate cards, sail to sell goods and buy prestige points, and you're left with empty space next to the wind rose. Nothing goes to waste, although it's not always easy to pull it off.

Great timing with the review btw, I just came here to log my latest play - won with my wife 103 to 82 few minutes ago


Those are great examples. It is pretty wonderful when you JUST make it with one of those actions.
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Phil Alberg
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senorcoo wrote:
The gold coin chits are absolutely god-awful. I’d say they are much worse than even the tiddly-wink money that appears in Martin Wallace games – sorry Martin. Needless to say, I spent a good amount of money to replace them.

Yep, we thought Jack was crazy spending oodles of dollars on real Macao coins. But they are su-weet to handle, and given the number of times he's played his copy of the game it was money well spent.
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David B
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Spielfreak wrote:
senorcoo wrote:
The gold coin chits are absolutely god-awful. I’d say they are much worse than even the tiddly-wink money that appears in Martin Wallace games – sorry Martin. Needless to say, I spent a good amount of money to replace them.

Yep, we thought Jack was crazy spending oodles of dollars on real Macao coins. But they are su-weet to handle, and given the number of times he's played his copy of the game it was money well spent.



I have an idea for a geeklist:

Games that come with the prettiest money tokens. I nominate Fresco as one of the better ones.
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Taylor Nakamoto
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pfctsqr wrote:
Spielfreak wrote:
senorcoo wrote:
The gold coin chits are absolutely god-awful. I’d say they are much worse than even the tiddly-wink money that appears in Martin Wallace games – sorry Martin. Needless to say, I spent a good amount of money to replace them.

Yep, we thought Jack was crazy spending oodles of dollars on real Macao coins. But they are su-weet to handle, and given the number of times he's played his copy of the game it was money well spent.



I have an idea for a geeklist:

Games that come with the prettiest money tokens. I nominate Fresco as one of the better ones.


And Kaispeicher
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Wade Broadhead
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"Really, it all comes down to what you make of it. As I tell my daughter – pretend. That’s good advice for all of us – pretend a little bit and have some fun – which is why I get together with friends to play games in the first place. Finally, the best thing I can say about Macao is that if I was stranded on a deserted island with some good friends and a copy of Macao, then things wouldn’t be all that bad."

Great lines. Just won this in a gift exchange, played once and was on the fence but your enthusiasm has swayed me to try it again. Thanks for the review.
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Jack Francisco
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denverarch wrote:
"Really, it all comes down to what you make of it. As I tell my daughter – pretend. That’s good advice for all of us – pretend a little bit and have some fun – which is why I get together with friends to play games in the first place. Finally, the best thing I can say about Macao is that if I was stranded on a deserted island with some good friends and a copy of Macao, then things wouldn’t be all that bad."

Great lines. Just won this in a gift exchange, played once and was on the fence but your enthusiasm has swayed me to try it again. Thanks for the review.


Thanks Wade! If you have any questions about the game or your play of it, don't hesitate to geekmail me.
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Rogue Marechal
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I appreciate your review and enthousiasm... for me Macao does nothing, and feels pretty un-Feld like, too much is based on what might come up next (both dice and cards).

I guess you could say that of some of his other games, however in this one there is no reasonable expectation to base your long-term strategy on, it is as you said all about adaptability, and card combo (pulled off only with a fair dose of luck)... the later making the game long and boring with the wrong players.

... big disappointment for me, though I will of course play it occassionally, I don't hate the game (but feel little reason to play it over Feld, most notably ITYOTD, or CoB for a closer design in term of strategy/tactical ratio).

But I'm grateful for the review, it conveys all the defining features of the game and should give readers the right info to decide if it is for them. So cheers for that (including mentioning you are an inconditional of the game, which was importantto disclose IMO).
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Jack Francisco
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Un-Feld-like? I disagree. Lots of avenues for points, rondel, etc. You can't plan a strategy is probably because the game is highly tactical. You must adapt to what you are given. If you say, I'm going to plan a heavy porcelain and spice delivery strategy and someone buys those city quarters or delivers to those first or the storages don't come up, then you are going to lose. It rewards a good, ADAPTABLE plan, not just a good plan.
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Rogue Marechal
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Well, that is exactly my point... maybe not a bad thing that Feld does a game with short-term planning above all else, but that is the only one I have played that has such a reactive nature (even CoB is relatively about mid to long term) and it's just not my bag.

... like I said, your review makes clear what the game entails, and I'm not trying to change your mind. It's a fine game if you like that sort of stuff, but I'll stick to my un-Feld like comment, the mechanics he used may be familiar for his designs, but the feel is not.
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Łukasz Małecki
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Sorry, but ITYOTD is more reactive than Macao. Yes, in Macao you need to be adaptable, but you can plan long term with relative ease. First of all, the action cubes are visible for everybody, so it's not hard to guess who goes for what. Checking one's card tableau can give you a pretty accurate idea which colors he's going for and which he will ignore. Also, while there are multiple unique cards in the game, there are only a few avenues to explore - so you can easily plan to go, say, for money (because office cards in the second part of the game have relatively low gold cost) and you can be almost sure some cards that generate gold will come out (even in 2p game, where you see like 25% of the deck). Sure, luck is your best friend, especially when it comes to the "storage" cards, but Macao is not that reactionary when you know what you're doing. Though I admit it's hard to control everything in 4p games.

In ITYOTD, on the other hand, one move can block that action you desperately need - and often you can't do anything about it, because you don't have enough money. That game is epitome of "reactive"! Even the fact you see what's coming doesn't change that (for me).
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Jack Francisco
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I like ItYotD, but there have been some games of it that I've played where the last couple of turns are academic. Not a big fan of that.
 
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Rogue Marechal
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True, in ITYOTD the action grouping can lead you to have to adapt. On the other hand, you can control that aspect by sitting a round to have enough money available when you really need a specific action (depending on where the next tribute come in that might not be sufficient, but that is readily available information).

In other words I don't think it affects any game-length strategy, which can be accomplished, without changing course multiple times, which is what I see being intrinsic in Macao.

... so different kind of reactionary, but I guess I can't dismiss your point that ITYOTD has some randomness that gets in the way.
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RogueM wrote:
True, in ITYOTD the action grouping can lead you to have to adapt. On the other hand, you can control that aspect by sitting a round to have enough money available when you really need a specific action (depending on where the next tribute come in that might not be sufficient, but that is readily available information).

In other words I don't think it affects any game-length strategy, which can be accomplished, without changing course multiple times, which is what I see being intrinsic in Macao.

... so different kind of reactionary, but I guess I can't dismiss your point that ITYOTD has some randomness that gets in the way.


This!
If your strategy in ITYOFD depends on a necessary action to the right time without money than I don't think that this is a good strategy. You have to adept the stratgey sometimes depending on the available actions and wether you want to spend money or not but you should not do a complete coin flip.
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ozzy perez
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Awesome review Jack. I bought a copy of the game a while back and the seller cancelled the order... so I've my eye on it for a while.. found an English copy for a greeaaat price earlier today(very happy about that).. so unless I am a really unlucky dude n something happens to this order.. I should be playing this in a few days.
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Jack Francisco
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Hey Ozzy - Thanks! Sorry to hear about the back-out sale, but glad that you'll be playing it soon. Please let me know what you think as well as if you have any questions. It's getting harder and harder to find and as I watch the OOP price-point creep up, I get more thankful that I've been on board since the early days. There are a couple of really nice game aids in the file section to help get you through the first few plays.
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ozzy perez
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senorcoo wrote:
Hey Ozzy - Thanks! Sorry to hear about the back-out sale, but glad that you'll be playing it soon. Please let me know what you think as well as if you have any questions. It's getting harder and harder to find and as I watch the OOP price-point creep up, I get more thankful that I've been on board since the early days. There are a couple of really nice game aids in the file section to help get you through the first few plays.


Order has shipped so it looks like am good with this one.. Will give you my opinion after a few plays.
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senorcoo wrote:
Hey Ozzy - Thanks! Sorry to hear about the back-out sale, but glad that you'll be playing it soon. Please let me know what you think as well as if you have any questions. It's getting harder and harder to find and as I watch the OOP price-point creep up, I get more thankful that I've been on board since the early days. There are a couple of really nice game aids in the file section to help get you through the first few plays.


Incredible how Macao prices have skyrocketed! I remember buying my copy at $28 on sale.
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