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Subject: Cuba - Session Report rss

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Greg Schloesser
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Jefferson City
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NOTE: My full review of Cuba will be published shortly. What follows is an abbreviated version.

The first game I had the opportunity to play during my Essen excursion was Cuba, the new Eggertspiele release designed by Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler, the team that brought us Pillars of the Earth. Being a fan of Pillars, I was anxious to see what the design team had created this time.

Cuba is set in the pre-revolution days, when making money was paramount and rum and cigars were the commodities of choice. Players gather resources and products, convert them to goods, and sell or ship them to earn handsome profits and gain influence. All of this must be accomplished in spite of a frequently aggressive yet indecisive government, which continues to change the tax and duty requirements, and enact often troublesome policies.

Each of the game’s six turns follows a rigid sequence of play:

Bills. Four proposed bills are revealed, allowing players to adapt their plans to the potential laws the legislature may enact. Only two of the laws will ultimately be enacted, and only the player controlling the most votes in parliament will decide the exact two.

Action Phase. Each player has an identical set of five character cards bearing values of 1 - 5. Players will alternate playing cards one-at-a-time until each player has played four cards. The remaining fifth card will determine the player’s base vote value in parliament.

Specific characters allow players to move their worker in their field and collect the appropriate resources and products, activate buildings in the row and column where their worker is located, sell and purchase products and goods at the marketplace, ship products and goods, and construct buildings. There are specific alternative uses for several characters, including earning commodities, resources, money or victory points. This phase is where the bulk of the game occurs, and choosing the order and type of character to play is a vital key to one’s success.

When constructing a building, a player may select any of the twenty-five possible buildings. Each costs a specific type and quantity of resources, and grants the owner a special ability when activated by the foreman card. The buildings work in a nearly identical fashion as those in the authors’ Pillars of the Earth.

Buildings are constructed on the player’s plantation mat, with each building covering a resource or commodity space, effectively reducing a player’s production options. Buildings do not convey their power unless activated by the foreman card, which takes an action to enact.

The idea is to assemble a powerful combination of buildings whose abilities mesh well together. Building an efficient economic engine is a main goal, as it will allow a player to convert merchandise into goods and/or victory points.

Shipping commodities and goods can bring a windfall of victory points. Each of the three ships in the docks lists five commodities and/or goods it can hold. Playing the mayor card allows a player to select a ship and load as many of the requested goods as possible. Victory points ranging from 1 – 3 for each good loaded are earned based on the dock occupied by the ship.

Parliament Phase. Each player has a base number of votes in parliament equal to the value of their un-played character card. To this, players may simultaneously offer a bribe, the amount being added to their base votes. The player with the highest total chooses which two bills to enact.

Statute Phase. The effects of each of the current four laws are implemented. Each player will have the opportunity to pay the taxes and duties assessed. Paying just one of the two earns two victory points, while paying both yields five victory points.

Cuba is a “gamer’s game”, filled with lots of choices, strategic options, and tactical decisions. It will likely take numerous sessions before all of the viable building combinations can be explored. Like Puerto Rico, the game is ripe for building expansions that can help keep the game fresh and give players even more options to investigate. At this point, however, whether such expansions are forthcoming is purely speculative.

The influences of several games – most notably Pillars of the Earth, Caylus and Puerto Rico – are clearly evident in Cuba. Indeed, it is difficult to find anything significantly new in the design. It is a hybrid, combining elements of the designers’ previous collaboration with mechanisms from other titles. The finished product is a solid design, albeit one that will likely not “wow” its audience. Due to its similarities to the aforementioned titles, some will undoubtedly argue that they would rather be playing those games. Fair enough. However, the game is different enough to provide another alternative with a similar level of strategy and complexity. Whether one needs another game of that ilk in their collection is a matter of choice that some will answer in the affirmative, while others will decline. For now, I fall on the “affirmative” side of this question.

In our quest for wealth – and good cigars and tasty rum – Bo, Alison, Tom and I farmed our land, traded and shipped commodities, and attempted to bribe … er, influence … the erstwhile politicians to pass bills that would not impede our quest for riches. I focused on meeting the tax and duty requirements each turn, and was successful on five of the six turns. I took a hodgepodge approach to my building acquisitions, while Bo concentrated on a tobacco-to-cigars industry.

After leading the game through the first four turns, I was surpassed by Bo, who completely filled the boat in Dock 3 with commodities and goods. This yielded a whopping 15 points for him, and allowed him to slip past me and grab a narrow lead.

His supply of commodities and goods were spent, however. This gave Alison and I an opening, and we all knew that the finish would be extremely close. I was once again able to satisfy all of the demands of parliament, and having one more building than Alison and Bo proved to be the difference in the game.

Finals: Greg 71, Bo 70, Alison 70, Tom 65

Ratings: Greg 7.5, Bo 7, Alison 7, Tom 6

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John Weber
United States
Ellicott City
Maryland
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Greg, I must take issue with this statement in your report: "...it is difficult to find anything significantly new in the design."

I find the Parliament aspect at the end of each turn, where around 5-10 VPs per turn (a majority of the VPs in an average Cuba game) are at stake, to be rather unique, and I believe you glossed over its importance in your report. Perhaps with your vast experience in reviewing and playing games you can recite something similar from a previous design, because I can't think of one.
 
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Greg Schloesser
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John Weber wrote:
Greg, I must take issue with this statement in your report: "...it is difficult to find anything significantly new in the design."

I find the Parliament aspect at the end of each turn, where around 5-10 VPs per turn (a majority of the VPs in an average Cuba game) are at stake, to be rather unique, and I believe you glossed over its importance in your report. Perhaps with your vast experience in reviewing and playing games you can recite something similar from a previous design, because I can't think of one.


Hey, John! Don't worry -- I've described the Parliament section (and other areas of the game) in far more detail in my full review, which will be published on Board Game News later this week.

There are numerous games wherein laws come into effect based on different conditions. While none are exactly the same as that used in Cuba, there are marked similarities. To name just a few:

Twilight Imperium (original edition). Players gather in a Congress, wherein players can propose laws that everyone votes on. The number of votes a player possesses is based on the systems he controls and various other factors.

Warrior Knights. I own the game, but haven't played. However, the system is similar to that used in Twilight Imperium.

La Citta. Several new "laws" or conditions will take effect in the upcoming round. Players can take actions to "peek" at some or all of these conditions so they can properly plan.

DemoCrazy. Players propose various laws or rules on which everyone votes.

Keythedral. Various laws are available each turn that players can take actions to secure and enact.

There is also a book "Playing Politics" by Michael Laver that contains various games wherein laws come into effect that change the conditions affecting the game. I've not played any of these games, but there are similarities to the system used in Cuba.

Other games using systems that contain some similarities include Junta and Shadow of the Emperor.

 
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Michael Stanley
United Kingdom
Nelson
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Greg, the book "Playing Politics" you mention is by Michael Laver - not Lane! Let's hope he hasn't read your posting above!

I too have never played any of the games in it, but have often wondered why I've never seen any game yet that shows it has picked up some of the wonderful ideas in that book. It should be better known and read IMO.
It was published by Penguin Books in 1979.
 
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Greg Schloesser
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Jefferson City
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talitha2 wrote:
Greg, the book "Playing Politics" you mention is by Michael Laver - not Lane! Let's hope he hasn't read your posting above!


Thanks for the correction. I've corrected the information in my post.
 
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