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Subject: First play of Mombasa at OTK Meetup rss

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C.K. Au
Kuala Lumpur
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Here's the sessrep of our first play last Friday and what we think of the game. For a full picture post, head over to our blog site for the original blog post


The last game for the evening is certainly not the least one. Sharing the 2nd spot in the Fairplay Ranking this year with NIPPON & SIGNORIE, MOMBASA from Alexander Pfister looked set to be one of the top games of this Essen. Let’s see how well the game plays.

Unlike some Euro games where you start with building an income engine and then switching to VP generation, Mombasa is about both income and VP generation. Money is tight in this game and left-over money at the end of the game is worth VP. At the rate of 1 VP per coin, it means money is a viable VP source (unlike other Euros which usually offers consolation points for money at the exchange of 5 coins to 1 VP for eg)

The heart of Mombasa is the set of action cards. Each player starts with the same 9 cards and one starting card (with slightly different resale value to offset starting player advantage). You also get two book tiles (you choose one) which is used in the Bookkeeper’s track (more of this later).

The starting Book Tile (blue has selected his above) also determines which three of your starting Action Cards are locked in the Reset slots. Cards in Reset slots are not available for use until they are recovered into your hands.

Mombasa can be described as a mix of deck rotating with some worker placement. You start with a deck of 10 action cards and would be able to acquire more action cards to add to your deck (obviously to support the strategy you wish to pursue). From this deck, you get to choose 3-5 cards to play each round.

The sequence of action cards planned into your Action slot (ie the row at the bottom of your player board) does not affect the sequence in which you can play them (action cards can be played in any order regardless how you laid them down) but it’ll decide which of the Reserved slot columns the used action card would stack into.

After the player has played all his action cards – they are flipped over once played – his turn is over and he can pass. He chooses one column in the Reserved slots (the row above his player board) to recover. He’ll recover all cards in that column back into his hands, available to play in next round. The example above only showed one card in each column but when play progresses, you’ll have more than one card stacked in some columns (see example below).

The three action cards – after being used in the current round – are then stacked up with the existing cards in the Reserved slots. This ties up your action cards and you need to plan out your action cards for the future rounds to ensure you have the right set of cards stacked for recovery.

This is the deck rotation that you need to manage in Mombasa. It’s not overly complicated but does need some getting used to else you might just find yourself recovering the wrong set of cards into your hands. Just remember: you play action cards horizontally but recover them vertically.

You also see similar deck rotation in Concordia and Historia where cards played remain on the table until they are recovered into the player’s hand. In Concordia, you use the Tribune card to recover and in Historia, you play the Revolution card. In both games, when you recover you recover all the cards on the table (ie cards played in earlier rounds). In Mombasa, the cards played are split into 3 columns, and you recover by column.

You can acquire more action cards – usually improved cards – by spending resource cards (or money) to buy them. They add to your hand and is crucial in building your action card deck to support your chosen strategy. You “need” to acquire action cards – so plan for it – as your starting deck of 10 action cards won’t rotate fast enough to allow you to execute your plans effectively.

Mombasa is a multi-path to victory game; and you do need to specialize rather than diversify if your aim is to win rather than just “doing good”. There are basically four VP tracks in Mombasa
•Coins (each coin worth 1 VP)
•Company shares – value of the shares depend on the expansion of their trading posts
•Bookkeeper track
•Diamond track

The main VP sources in Mombasa is the company shares track. There are four companies in play here – Mombasa (black), Cape Town (red), St Louis (white) and Cairo (orange); each having a set of 15 trading posts and its own share track (slight difference in progression and bonus but all ending with 8 shares).

The four companies do offer some slight variance in how you play them; firstly they are linked to different resources eg Cairo with coffee, St Louis with cotton – and secondly their share track offers different bonus rewards.

FYI, each company share track is double-sided and one side is chosen at random to start your game, creating good replayability in terms of how you max out the company share tracks. In this session, I should have played the Cairo track (which gets me good money) with the Mombasa track (which allows me to buy action cards with money instead of resources – and therefore allow me to spend my resource points on advancing along other share tracks).

To increase the value of a company share track, you need to expand the trading posts… every two trading posts expanded into the region (btw this is played on a map of Africa) adds a coin value (or two) to your share holding. While share holding can deliver immense end-game points, it’s also easy to peg back. Either by pushing back the trading posts (you can advance another company’s trading post into an existing trading post territory and return the latter to the company stock devaluing the share value) or just co-invest in the same company share.

But do not let an opponent run away unchecked on the share track. That’s gonna end your game earlier.

The Bookkeeper track is pretty much a tacked on theme. Through out the game, you get the chance to earn bookkeeper points, which you then spend to acquire Book Tiles (above). Each book tile has a specific resource requirements, and if you are able to fulfill those requirements – with the action cards you played for that round – you get to advance on the Bookkeeper’s track.

There are certain milestones in the Bookkeeper track which earns you VP at game end. Obviously the farther you advance on this track, the more VPs you’ll earn. The same goes for the Diamond track (oops, didn’t take any picture of the Diamond track). There are Diamond Merchant action cards that you can play to advance on the Diamond track. Advancing past each milestone earns you VPs at game end.

Advancement on my Bookkeeper track opened one extra slot for action cards but this now meant I’d to balance the Reserved deck with four columns instead of three, fragmenting my deck further.

Both the Bookkeeper and Diamond tracks also bring an added benefit; once you advance past an early threshold you also unlock one more Action card slot. Playing more action cards is always good as each action card more or less translate to an action (or in worker placement term, each action card is equivalent to an extra worker). However in Mombasa’s deck rotation, having more card slots also meant your Reserved slots are more fragmented now. That’s an interesting counter-balance mechanic.

Each player also has two bonus action marker that you can place (ala worker placement) on any of the 11 bonus action spots. Bonus action spots allow for action / tasks that are usually not available via action cards so it’s important to blend this into your overall strategy too.

Three of the bonus action spots (on the left above) are pretty good – you pay 2 coins to get an extra action tile (either another bookkeeper, diamond merchant or explorer). Unlike action cards, action tile does not take up any of your available slots so they are like an “extra” worker but lasts for one round only. You can of course keep buying them for 2 coins if you think they are useful to you.

In our session, Mombasa (black) was a ghost town (no one seemed interested to develop it) while Cape Town (red) expanded furiously. St Louis (white) and Cairo (orange) had moderate growth. The growth of Cape Town proved decisive for Ivan to take a complete victory.

However it’s also worth nothing that I saw potential in both the Diamond/Bookkeeper tracks and also Money (if you get into Cairo early and started selling coffee). You still need to invest in some good shares but you do not need to be dominant in share holding to win.

This game does not reward diversity – having your fingers in everything would return meh-meh results – you need to specialize and you need to set up your action card deck to rotate to your advantage. I think learning how to set up your action card deck rotation is the key to this game. The spread of VPs are your usual Euro min-maxxing.. but to be able to execute your plans as you visualize it requires your action deck to be properly set up to rotate into your hands at the right time. That usually requires planning 2-3 rounds ahead – and given the game is over in 7 rounds, you need to get it right almost from the get-go!
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Christian K
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Thank for the report
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