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Subject: Madeira - And the woes of keeping ships afloat - down to the basics review rss

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Tiago Perretto
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Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...

About Madeira:

1) What is it?
Madeira is a heavy strategy game. It uses area influence (placing dice) and work placement (both workers and ships). The goal is to gain more influence (points).

For those that are familiar with the others games by Sentieiro & Soledade, you will get a very similar feeling here: few rounds (only 5), a single action per player per turn and a small number of actions (usually three each round). Madeira is a very tight game, as every resource has value and is connected with something else: you want bread to feed workers and also to broad (hehe) the room for the use of dice; you want grapes to send to trade (put ships); you want wheat to trade and maybe use the mill to get more bread; you want cane to trade; you need wood to build ships, to sustain them and to get Guilds; you need money to pay for buildings, to avoid pirates and you get money by trading in the captaincies (Funchal, Machico, and Porto Santo) and with the sea trade routes; you get grapes, bread, etc, by using works, which you need to feed otherwise you need to lose points or get pirates; and so on and so forth.

All the parts are connected, some stronger then others, but usually players will at least dip their toes in most, if not all, areas. The choices made have multiple levels (from choosing which die to use and where, to a pressing timming issue) and aren't, normally, done lightly.

The dice add a level of tatical readiness, as it is possible to be prepared to use them regardless of what numbers they show; or you can just swing between the areas and grap whatever you can as best as possible.

Madeira is made to have a small downtime, as players do a single action on their turns, however, the sheer amount of possible actions and the necessity of having something (workers, wood, trade materials, etc) in order to make the best use of them, may induce to some deep AP - I have seen it first hand and it isn't funny, as I had time to go prepare something for the others and me to eat, came back and still wasn't my turn (and this was a three players game). This can indeed be a game that can be finished in around 75 minutes, however, it usually go to 120.

Overall, Madeira offers a fulfilling experience for those looking into an euro type game, with deep strategy with tight resource management, good amount of interaction (most is blocking), high replay value and many possibilities in each turn.

2) How do you play?
Players start with some money and resources and some workers on the board. Then, by turn order, they pick a set of dice to use that round, alongside a goal token (dice and goals are paired, therefore, by choosing the set of dice, you limit your choice of goals). Once everyone has done this, the placement of dice starts.

Players use a single die at a time. They can use one of their own (green) or one of the black die, but this costs a worker that is in the Fortress (the player must have a worker there in order to pay to use a black die). The dice will show numbers between 1 to 3 - this limit the area in which they can be used (the board is divided in four areas, 1 to 3, and one unnumbered, used only to gain access to wood). To use, say, a die with the number 2 in the Area 3, the player must pay one bread.

Inside the areas there are places the dice go: for instance, in the Area 3, there are the Fortress and the Crown House. But the use of that place can change, as there are tiles which went above the normal use, printed on the board - only one place is as printed on the board, per round, the others have the tile above, which players must adjust in order to make the best use. Each place can only have a maximum of three dice, and only one black die.

Once all players have passed, the second action of each location will take happen. To use them, players that went there (this is marked by a piece), must pay an amount of money ($9, in a three players game, for instance) minus the total of numbers shown on the green dice used there. For example: two players used the Mill (in Area 2), using a die showing 3 and other a 2. In a 3p game, each player must either pay $4 to use the secondary action of that spot (gaining bread) or receive a number of pirate tokens equal to the number of the black die used in the same place (if any) +1. This is done for every location, in order (the Mill will always be the first resolved, and the Fortress, the last).

After this resolution, if there is a player with more workers than anyone else in the Fortress, she can take a worker out from here and gain 4 points. Workers on the colonies produce goods. Then players must pay for things: 1 bread per worker on the board; 1 wood per ship; etc. Players must buy, or gain pirate tokens for things they don't have or can't pay.

Players score their goal tokens three times during the game: after the first round, one goal; at the end of the third, two goals; and at the end of the game, three goals. Also, the player with the most pirates loses 16 points, and second, 8 points, and so on. Finally, players trade goods they still have for money, in a 1 per 1 basis, and for every 5 money they have, they gain 1 point.

The person with the most influence (points) will be the winner!

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
Lots and lots, all with secondary relevance.

The most important and constant will be: which place to go. You might want to go to a location not because of the main action, but because of the secondary, which will be solved later. This can serve to block others from going there. Once you did decide which spot to place a die, you must choose a die to use. Using the lower ones, with 1 or 2 showing, first is, usually, best, as you will have more options later. However, this isn't so simple. First because places can only hold up to three dice (either three green, or two green and one black) - therefore, if you leave a place to go later, you might not even be able. Second, the amount of money you will have to pay to use the secondary action depends on the number of dice previously used in that location - the higher the numbers, the less you will need to pay. And, of course, there is the matter of using a black die (piracy) - they cost one worker from the Fortress, but basically allow you one extra action (but you don't put a marker in the place when using a black die, therefore, you won't be able to make use of the secondary action once these are done).

Once decided the place, comes the use of the location. Some allow to place or move workers and ships - workers grab goods and, in the captaincies, can also get money, bread and/or wood. Ships can net you special actions (when putting them in colonies) and money when putting them in the trade spots. Is important to decide the best places to place each of them, to get what you will need in the moment you need, and also to improve the secondary actions (the more workers in a region, the best it is); and ships are costly things to place. Other actions allow to harvest goods/wood; or trade in the captaincies; or take a Guild (paying with wood). All the uses are good, but not all will have use for you all the time. Prioritize is a must.

There is also the matter of passing: turn order can be key, not only to reach locations before they are filled up, but also because, next turn, you get to pick sooner the set of dice, and the place to get them - this is important because the spot can activate one used Guild token, and also have the goals to pick from.

Then there is the matter of paying for secondary actions or receiving pirate tokens. Is usually best to pay, as you get to do an action, but, sometimes, you simply can't and don't want to. Having just a few pirates isn't all that bad, during the game, as get rid of them is not all that hard. But they can pile up fast.

This don't even cover all the decisions you will make during play, just the most usual ones. It is not usual that the space for the decions is this big, but Madeira, with its long tree of choices, have plenty of them.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Rich environment for players to decide the paths they want to follow, the strategies they want to develop;
- Huge amount of decisions, all with layered relevance;
- Supposedly small downtime;
- Good amount of indirect interaction;
- Strategy mixed with tatics - there is need to adapt and plenty of ways to prepare;
- Language independent.

5) Which are the bad news?
- The amount and relevance of decisions can induce to some heavy AP;
- Lots to learn from the get go, and while the game isn't cruel, it isn't forgiven also - there is no catch up mechanic;
- Steep learning curve can make the first games be a challenge to overcome.

6) How do you feel while playing?
Like trying to hold water with the hands: a good part of if will slip through. Things are constantly needed and there isn't enough time (actions) to do them all. Something will need to be left behind or delayed - even passing!

For instance, in one game, the deciding moment was one that, in many games, it doesn't matter as much: passing. The player decided to take the third spot, and send a worker to the Fortress, as he had a piracy problem to handle. This allowed other to take the second spot, and pick the set of dice and goal sooner in the next and final round. The person in third end up with a goal that he didn't make use of (Guilds), as he already had one of these and only two Guilds. If he had gone to the second spot, and choose sooner, he would have won, regardless of the actions done during the final round (he would still, for instance, be able to get rid of all his pirate tokens). Of course, this is clear in the 20/20 sight of after the game is finished. But illustrates well that every decision matter and carry weight, as everyone has only few actions, and so much that is needed.

Madeira is a game with many parts that are deepely connected with others. Decision making is made harder and more meaningful due to this, yet the pacing can be quick enough for such a profund game.

Madeira is a very good options for those looking for a strategic euro game mixed with tatical decisions due to the need to adjust yourself to the limitations imposed, meaning you are never too relaxed or "done" at any point: you will constantlybe on your toes, needing your best moves in order to get ahead, keep everything in place and working, avoiding the pirates and remaing watchful for opportunities. Recommended.


Image credit: darkpact

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Roy Valstar
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Thx for the review. The one thing that keeps me from buying this is the steep learning curve that you also mention, and other reviewers too. And thats wold also mean i would only play this asa two player game, because other casual gamers in my friendgroup dont have the patience to learn this game
But maybe... when there is a sale somewhere and i see it pop up...
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Aaron Larsen
Pathum Thani
Pathum Thani
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loverman21 wrote:
Thx for the review. The one thing that keeps me from buying this is the steep learning curve that you also mention, and other reviewers too. And thats wold also mean i would only play this asa two player game, because other casual gamers in my friendgroup dont have the patience to learn this game
But maybe... when there is a sale somewhere and i see it pop up...

I just bought it and played a learning game with my wife. It is not a complicated game to understand. We had no rule problems at all. It is simply a game that has numerous options and when you don't understand those actions too well, you obviously don't make very good choices.

My wife and I really enjoyed our first game, and we are looking forward to playing more. The 2 player rules seemed fine! I ordered Madeira directly from What's your game.

Don't worry about difficulty and such. It is not difficult to learn the rules at all.
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