Andres F. Pabon L.
Designer(s): Leo Colovini
Original Publisher: Venice Connection
Version Reviewed: Rio Grande Games (2000)
Awards: Nederlandse Spellenprijs (2002)
Board pieces: The central board must be assembled from 6 different S shaped cardboard pieces, each printed on each side, and depicting a section of a passageway, with 6 different symbols placed in different order. The board pieces are made from very thick and durable cardboard, with tones evocating an underground passageway; the symbols are very representative of pirates' lifestyle (tricorns, pistols, daggers, skulls, bottles and keys) and look very nice.
Cards: Each card depicts one of the six symbols printed in the board pieces. The cards are, unfortunatelly, printed in paper-thin cardboard, although they look to have a plastic coating or something, as mine haven't worn out despite being my most played game.
Pirates: 5 sets of 6 wooden (pirate meeples) represent each player's pirates, and each set is colored in one of the 5 typical player colors: blue, green, brown, yellow and red.
Ship: A nice rowboat made from the same cardboard as the board pieces is used to mark the end of the passageway.
It's hard to find an eurogame with simpler rules, yet with some degree of tactical play. The object in Cartagena is to race your six pirates from the fortress of the same name (the end of the passageway with no boat) to the row boat before the rest of the players. The first player to do this will leave the rest of the pirates behind, to be judged and probably hanged for their attempted escape! A pirate life for me!
To do this, players have up to 3 actions per turn, which can be either:
(a) Play a card and advance any of his/her pirates to the next free symbol (i.e. not occupied by any other pirate, that player's or otherwise) matching the card, or
(b) Take one of his/her pirates back to the previous space occupied by one or two pirates (that player's or otherwise), and take one or two cards from the deck accordingly.
Once a player has all the pirates in the rowboat, that player is the winner and the game is over.
The game also has two versions: the Jamaica version, in which players keep their cards hidden, and draw cards from a face down stack; and a more tactical (and almost zero-luck) Tortuga version, in which the players keep their cards face up, and draw cards, in order, from a face up line of 12 cards (refreshed every time it gets exhausted).
The game's mechanics are so simple, that anyone, anywhere, from any kind of gaming background, can learn the almost immediately. The gameplay isn't marred with any kind of A-P (at least in the basic Jamaica version): the longest turn I've experienced was less than 2 minutes long (and I've played the game more than 100 times).
The game board is completely customizable, and while not as mutable as the Settlers of Catan board, it certainly gives you enough possibilities as to playing the same game twice is extremely rare, and almost impossible to play the same game twice in a single evening.
The game play length is also very short, spanning from 20 minutes to, at most, in the Tortuga version and with 5 players, 70 minutes. This gives the possibility of playing several in a single gaming night (or evening, or whatever), or to be used as an opener, filler or closer.
But the question is, obviously, is it fun? Yes, the game is quick, easy, and rather tactical. Is it any fun at all? The fortunate answer is: yes, it is, but it largely depends on your gaming style.
The game warning is not very obvious when reading the rules, but painfully obvious after a single play: the player on your right has the power to screw you or give some precious opportunities to you. In my game group, screwing the player on your left has never been a priority (not even in PR), so the game is fun, and some times you actually get lucky, at other times you get screwed (but not intentionally) and everyone has fun.
For a more serious crowd, the game should only be played Tortuga version, and of course, it's mandatory to screw your left-hand neighbor!
But for those of you who want something light to play with your hardcore crowd, I guess I wouldn't recommend this game, as it's either a light family friendly game, or a vicious tactical one, with little ground in between.