The Evil-Do That I Do-Do
In perusing The Geek I have noticed that most reviews give general game information, and what I really wanted was what exactly goes into the gameplay. Is there area control? Blind bidding? Resource production? Or maybe some good old-fashioned luck? On top of that I really wanted to know was how these elements meshed together to form the gameplay. Like was it a strategy vs. luck game? How about tough choice resource management? Or maybe something like a concealed element blind bidding game. I believe this is the alchemy of the game, the part the makes each game unique. In each review I will go over the usual elements (Theme, Components, & Gameplay), but I will also give the Alchemy of each game, and also a Philosopher's Stone (my own feelings/thoughts) score for each game. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated, thanks for reading and enjoy!
The Alchemy of a Board Game-Cartagena
Theme: Each player assumes the role of leading six pirates trying to escape the famous prison of Cartagena. A boat awaits at the end of the escape tunnel for the lucky group of pirates who made it out as a group.
Components: The components for this game are of good quality. The cards are large enough to be easily read, although one of the symbols (the red pirate's hat) is not easily identifiable. I played the game many times before I realized it was a hat, before that I thought it was a ruby. But, that is really nitpicking the artwork. Speaking of which, the artwork nicely matches the theme of the game. The board pieces themselves are made of sturdy cardboard and shouldn't see much wear after many many plays. On each of the board pieces there are six symbols that match the cards in the playing deck.
Starting the Game: Each player starts out with six cards, and a set of six pirates in their chosen color. The six board pieces are connected in any way that the players see fit, and are interchangeable. Then each players set of six pirates are set at the one end of the board, after the six board segments have been assembled. The escape boat is placed at the opposite end of the board from the player's pirates.
Goal of the Game: The goal of the game is to have all your pirates reach the end of game boards, and the board the awaiting escape boat. The first player to have all of their pirates reach the escape boat wins the game.
Gameplay: Each player's turn consists of three actions. The two options that are available for those three actions are:
1) Play a card from the player's hand and advance one pirate to the next available space of the same symbol that is on the card played. Each symbol on the board represents a one space. Any symbols that match the symbol of the card played that already have a pirate (any player's pirates) can be skipped. The player's pirate moves to the first open symbol that matches the symbol on the card played.
(In the above exmaple, almost all of the "gun" symbols are occupied by at least one pirate. This means that the pirate that is the furthest away from the escape boat, the yellow pirate furthest to the left, would be able to move to the "gun" symbol that is only two spaces away from the escape boat.)
If all symbols that match the symbol of the card played are occupied by pirates between an active player's pirate and the escape boat, the pirate immediately moves to the escape boat. In this way a player's pirate can move from one end of the boards to the other if all spaces of one symbol are occupied.
2) Move one pirate backwards to the first symbol that is occupied by either one or two other pirates. If the space is occupied by one pirate draw one card from the deck, if there are already two pirates on the space the player draws two cards from the deck. There is a max of three pirates per space.
(In the above example if the yellow player were to move his pirate backwards from the "pirate hat" symbol to two spaces to the "knife symbol" with the one brown pirate the player would pick-up one card. Also, if the brown player's turn they choose to move their pirate that is occupying the "knife" symbol backwards one space to the "key" symbol, that already has a green and yellow pirate, the brown player would be able to pick-up two cards from the deck.)
Any space already containing three pirates, must be passed over for the next symbol that is occupied by only one or two pirates when moving backwards.
These three actions can be used one pirate, and or any combinations of pirates.
There is a variant included in the game that allows for less luck in the game. The above description of play is the Jamaica version. The "Tortuga Version" has 12 cards dealt face up and these are the cards that players will take from when moving their pirates backwards. The 12 face up cards also include an arrow card that shows the order in which these cards are picked up. When all twelve cards have been taken, a new set of 12 cards are placed onto the table. Player's cards are also visible for all players to see.
(The above exmaple is the illustrated example of the "Tortuga Version" of the game that comes with the re-printed version of Cartagena.)
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: I have always enjoyed games that force players to exchange some advancement so that they can advance in the game at some future point, i.e. piece exchanges in chess. By making players move their advanced pieces backwards to receive cards, which is the only way players can advance their pieces in the future, Colovini has created an interesting balancing act between advancement and exchanges.
Variable Board for Varying Play: The board for play comes in six parts, which are all double sided. Having the different parts of the board, every game becomes a unique experience. The varying board also allows for interesting combinations in gameplay. For more interesting combinations try putting like symbols next to each other when setting up the board.
Luck Vs. Strategy: One of my favorite aspects to some of Colovini's games is how he pits a player's strategy versus the luck element involved in a game. Leaving oneself open to possible actions in the game, while at the same time risking your position to further you outlook on the board is an essential element to this game.
You Know What Happens in Prisons: With a group of adults playing this game, it is fun to joke about what all the pirates are actually running from. As opposed to believing what they are running to, their freedom. Not to mention the fun with pirates, Argggggggg!
Philosopher's Stone Score:
Cartagena was the first game I purchased that was designed by Leo Colovini. I have always used this game as a gateway game for anyone who hadn't had any experience in the realm of euro-style board games, and always with great success. I have always enjoyed the luck vs. strategy element to this game, and Colovini never fails to present a easy to learn, fun, light game. The variable board is a neat element to the game, and the other components work well with the theme of the game. The game works well with 2, 3, 4, or 5 players. I definitely recommend this game for anyone needing a light gateway game, especially for times to fill the gaps between heavier games.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
I agree its my favorite game. I play on you play it, and the 2 german sites that host it.