Engaging? Engrossing? A lot of fun? Strategic? ….Perfection? For us, these are all words that might be appropriately used to describe Rudiger Dorn’s Goa. A game requiring one to consistently balance a number of choices, Goa is nothing less than a finely tuned game of resource management and development. This is a game that’s sufficiently well-known that any restatement of the rules would be overly redundant. Rather, I hope to convey what makes this game worthy of high praise, particularly from the point of view from 2 players.
A proper general overview of the game would go something like: each player is charged with advancing a number of attributes that are self-supporting towards the goal of ending the game with a the most victory points. What does THAT mean?!?
Players are given both a plantation placard and a development board. On the plantation placard are 8 spaces: 4 for plantations that produce particular spices, 4 for colonies, 2 of which will produce any spices you need them to produce while the other 2 are available in preset distributions. Some Madras tiles allow you to harvest either clove or cinnamon (but only those two) while another will allow you to choose between pepper and cinnamon. A last note on the colony tiles is that they also come in varying capacities: they can either hold one or two spices. This means that they will also vary in price in terms of colonists needed.
For the above to make sense we should understand the basics of how the game is laid out. The main portion of the board is taken up by a 5x5 grid for tiles that will be auctioned. These tiles represent everything from plantations to privileges such as the ability to take a spice every round. There are spaces for denominations of ducats. Also, on the board goes ship cards, colonists, and action cards.
The way one obtains these tile is through an auction and this the first area where the game shines. Most games that rely upon auctions to obtain anything significant to the way the game plays are an unmitigated disaster for 2-players. Notable exceptions are Ra and Power Grid, but generally, our experience has not been great. So, it’s been with great satisfaction that we deeply enjoy this aspect of the game. There are a couple of reasons the auctions work so well. First, players begin with a very modest sum of money so prices stay realistic from the beginning. Unlike a game like a game like Medici and Strozzi where the appropriate ballpark prices can’t be figured out for many gameplays, the prices in Goa seem apparent from the beginning. Second, in some auction games, when you’ve bought the wrong item or miscalculated, your regrets will run deep throughout the game. In Goa, the options are plenty enough that you should never feel like you’re up against the wall. This is not to paint Goa as a game that forgives bad decisions – not at all. If you make a bad choice you will pay in terms of upending your strategy, However, the game is so flexible that good players can find their stride in a short period of time. Last, the amount of items for auction are limited by number of players. For instance, in a 2-player game only three tiles are auctioned. The first tile placed is the flag which denotes who will start next round. But winning this tile has another important benefit – whoever wins the auction for this tile also gets an extra action card. This tile is placed alongside one of the tiles in play; players subsequently, and in alternating fashion orthogonally place their markers on tiles to be auctioned that round. By constraining the auction to three tiles per round, auctions are both manageable and rewarding. I think the last thing to be said in a nod to this game’s design is that when playing with only two players, many tiles will be left on the board when each of the game’s two parts end, yet you will never feel like you were somehow cheated. You might have wished you had a shot at a particular tile, but you’ll never feel dissatisfied. Again this is testament to the flexibility of the game itself.
So, you’ve got tiles and 2 placards. What do you do to win the game? Your development placard marks six areas that you develop in. From left to right: amount of ships you can draw during your turn; the amount of spices you can take to supply plantations and colonies; gold you can collect in taxes; the amount of expedition cards you can draw that round in addition to indicating the maximum you may have at any given time; and last, how many colonists you can deploy to found a colony. From top to bottom these values increase, so in row #2, instead of being able to obtain 1 space during your turn, you can obtain 2 spices, 6 gold rather than 4 and so on. But besides being able to claim more spices, etc, progressing down the placard also grants you more victory points when you score your development at the end. The first row is worth 0 points while the last is worth 10. An ideal situation will be to get every marker down to the bottom but this simply is not possible. But, nonetheless, you will need to make some progress and, to have a chance at winning, you’ll need to do it in a few areas.
In order to progress down the board you will need to pay various “prices”, and these are calculated in terms of ships and spices. For example, to move from the second row to the third row in the spice column, you’ll need to be able to play one pepper spice, one cinnamon and 2 ships. In seeking to progress it’ll become apparent what Goa demands of players. If you are still on the first row in the ships category you’re only able to get one ship a turn; but, you only get three actions a turn and it would likely be a waste to spend one action every turn to simply get one ship. In that case, you’ll need to make some progress in ships to be able to get more ships to make progress elsewhere. But, maybe, getting more ships constantly is not where you’d like to spend your time. You figure that tiles on the auction board that simply grant you ships will suffice. But if you want to guarantee winning those and other auctions rather than depending on development of your ship capacity and/or spice capacity you’ll definitely need to increase your tax collecting revenue in order to have ample funds to outbid on those tiles you really want. Herein lies the beauty of this game.
Goa isn’t simply about getting lots of stuff. In fact, there’s no way to do it. Instead, as much as a boardgame of this nature can do, it evokes the feeling of actually developing an infrastructure.
First, though, I want to say that the theme of colonization itself is one that I object to. However, I will give credit to Rudiger Dorn, from an optimistic point of view, that rather than choosing to romanticize colonization sought to portray the theme as traders aiming for a lucrative trade network in cooperation with local interests. For this I am thankful – nothing brings a game down more than moral hazard
Back to the game – you will feel as if you are developing something. It may not be in any grand scale – surely there are other games that allow one to capture this feeling in a more broad scope. However, given the simple layout of the game and the abstractions required to get the game to play as it does, it is quite remarkable that one will feel as if various aspects of your enterprise have important implications for other aspects of their enterprise. For instance, you’ll need to have a diverse supply of spices since the various progressions across the aspects of your enterprise and within each aspect call for differing types and amounts of spices. If you overdevelop your pepper capacity, you’ll only gain more colonists with great difficulty. With fewer colonists, founding colonies is inordinately difficult. In this case you’ll need to have ships that can transport sufficient amounts of different spices in order to have a capacity to support a greater number of deployable colonists. Additionally, you’ll need a greater capacity for expedition cards as these also provide a source for colonists (and other benefits [but the way I play the game calls for collecting these for both colonists and the points from matching them up]). In all, you’ll find that within a round of the game that you are responsible for an operation that needs to run smooth in order for it to be proven superior to your opponent’s.
This highlights another of the game’s virtues – emersion. Maybe everyone will not be drawn in very easily, but you will find yourself becoming concerned about the viability of your enterprise. BUT…you’ll never feel as if your are swamped with decisions and options. In other words, for all the possible strategies at your disposal you will not suffer analysis paralysis. This has as much to do with the design as it has to do with your own motivation in pushing the game to the next round in order to make that move you’ve just identified as propelling you to the next level,
This speaks to interaction. Goa is a balance between inter-player interaction and 2-player solitaire. Because auctions are tight you will need to pay very close attention to what your opponent does on their development board. If they have a high tax income you will need to pick your battles carefully. Moreover, negative bidding is possible. Maybe you slipped last round but have identified what you can do this turn to stay in the game, but your opponent is on the verge of pulling ahead. You can pour your resources in winning that flag just so they don’t have an extra action that turn. Though we have not played this with more than 2 players, we suspect that this intimacy is something quite unique to the 2-player dynamic. On the other hand, you don’t need to be a hawk over your opponent. You can thoroughly enjoy the manifestation of your strategy. In fact, if you’re playing the game well, you may have some room to be a bit more introspective about your interests and strategy – can you do better than you did last turn.
Another aspect of the design that will impact how you approach the game is in the scoring. You will certainly need to make some progress on the development board, but you can gain points in other ways. There are tiles that simply grant you points at the end; have the most amount of money? – there go some points. Expedition cards are important in this regard as well. Each card has one of a few different symbols. If you are able to accumulate these in sufficient numbers and make some matches then you fare well at the end of the game. Yet again, this speaks to the flexibility of strategy.
Last, this game is very, very well produced. The board, pieces, and cards are all of a nicely textured cardboard that gives the feel of touching canvas more than cardboard. If only all games came with these kinds of pieces and production values. If I had any one gripe in this regard it would be in the placards – these are a more flimsy cardboard. While from a graphics point of view they are both nice to look at and functional, they are nowhere near the quality of the rest of the pieces and board.
We highly recommend Goa for all, but we certainly endorse it at the level of 2-players. This may seem like a highly uncritical review - I've barely have had anything negative to say about it. This is true. Maybe we just need to play a lot more games (even though we're doing alright these days), but a good game is a good game. Maybe many more plays will uncover something unnoticed at this point - if it does, I'll be sure to post something.
Goa plays in about 70 minutes and we’re always disappointed when the game ends. Moreover, we feel that in the course of playing not only have we challenged each other but we’ve challenged ourselves. Somehow, when you lose at this game, you walk away more with a feeling of: “I’ll do better next time.” You actually want to be good at this game. That may sound silly, but, in fact, Goa will evoke the best out of gamers and this is due to its own accomplishments as a superbly designed game,
We’ve scored Goa a 10 – we’d play it anytime.
- Last edited Mon Apr 30, 2007 6:12 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:48 am
Great review. This game has needed a 2 player review slant for awhile now.
I play 2P with the variant found here:
GOA Variant for the 2-player game
In 2-player Goa, it is a simple thing to mentally keep track of how much money your opponent has in hand, thus giving you a decided advantage during the auction. We prefer the game to have a little mystery in this area. In our opinion, it makes the auctions more
interesting. The object of this variant is to makes it much more difficult (if not impossible) to keep track of exactly how much money the other player has in hand.
Goa Mystery Money Variant
Before the Game begins: create a special deck of ducat cards containing nine “1” value ducat cards and six “2” value ducat cards; shuffle them together and place the deck beside the board.
During setup: Instead of giving the flag player 7 ducats and the other player 10 ducats, the flag player draws 5 cards from the special deck. The other player takes a “5” value ducat card from the bank and draws 4 cards from the special deck. There are now 6 cards remaining in the special deck.
During the game – the FIRST time a player collects “taxes” at a given progress level he takes one less ducat from the bank than he is entitled to, and also draws a card off the top of the special deck.
When the remaining 6 cards in the special deck are gone, the deck is not replenished. The game continues as normal from that point forward.