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Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
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(Rich, Anton, Evan, Eric)

With 8 gamers all ready to go from the start of the evening, we talked briefly about what games to choose. Eric had received Santiago in a recent order, so he asked to play and began to set up. The game works for 3 to 5 players, but because we had 8 at MVGA, we wanted to play two 4-player games.

Santiago is a bidding game and a game that involves getting cube majorities in the right areas. Rich is a master of bidding games and cube majority games, and it's right up his alley. Rich had played a few times before and Eric had played once, but Anton and Evan were brand-new to the game, so we began by explaining the rules.

Santiago is an arid island in the Cape Verde island chain. Players win by having large shares in extensive plantations and by amassing cash at the end of the game. Plantations are the main key to victory, but cash will make the difference in a close game. A plantation is a contiguous grouping of tiles showing a single crop (potatoes, sugar cane, bananas, peas or paprika) and can be shared by multiple players (as long as each player has his or her crop markers on different tiles in the plantation.) However, a tile is only viable if it has access to water, and water comes only from a single spring (or actually from canals emanating from the spring.) Each round, four tiles are turned up (in a 4-player game) and players bid for turn order, with the high bidder getting first choice of tile and location. No two players may bid the same amount, but you may bid more or less than a previous player. This part of the game is reminiscent of New England. The low bidder (or first passer) gets last choice of tile and placement, but obtains the right to be the canal digger, an important job when water is highly sought after.

After the tiles are selected and placed, the canal digger receives bribes from other players to place the canal in this location or that. A player need not offer a bribe, but if you want water for your tiles, you'd better get into the action. The canal digger can take any bribe (even a smaller one,) or can place a new canal in a totally different place by paying one more than the highest bribe. Each player has one emergency canal that can be placed without the intervention of the canal digger, but it's not much in an 11-turn game.

We started the game off with two large plantations, one with potatoes and another with paprika. Anton got a banana plantation off to a promising start, but he was the only investor in bananas, and as a result he found his plantation mysteriously hemmed in. We found that the last bidder has the choice either to top the highest bid by 1 or to bid low, while the early bidders (if they don't choose to be canal digger) have less control. It was fascinating to see many of our canal diggers spurn a bribe of 4 or 5 to take a bribe of 1 (when taking the smaller bribe would also help the canal digger's tile.)

Rich played a cagey game, bidding $1 several times and even getting to be canal digger on bids of $1. Eric matched him tile for tile, but Eric spent quite a bit more money to do it.

Final scores: Rich $133, Eric $127, Evan $115, Anton $90.

Eric's rating: 7. This game feels very much like New England. The rules are simple and it's never necessary to consult the rulebook, but there are interesting decisions. I'm eager to play again, and I can see that my rating may go up over time.
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