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Subject: Bring On the Cigars! rss

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Niels Peter Q Marstrand
Denmark
Copenhagen Region
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Complex deep blue, code #031634.
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After pneumonia & a long break, I showed up, greatly motivated, at our Copenhagen Board Game Club (KBK) this past Tuesday. My great joy was to see so many Newbies (Welcome, fresh blood). My disappointment was to see that everyone – new & old – had worshipped the pagan Chaos Rune in my absence, that the club therefore (again) looked like a sty, & that I (again) felt compelled, within few hours, to transform it back into a shining Spanish dubloon. Here I was unwittingly helped by my fellow players who, like all newcomers (?!), played with desperate slowness, giving me plenty of downtime in which to store the games back on their rightful shelves.

But the game on our table was Cuba (M. Rieneck & S. Stadler, 2007), & that, on the other hand, was clean, unadulterated fun!

As it happens, I’m no unconditional fan of Plantation Games. I’m actually in that blissful minority who really (yup, really) believes that Puerto Rico (PR) ought to call its slaves “slaves”, not “colonists”, & that precisely this game is a little overrated. But I had an intuition that Cuba would, at least to me, be more fun & colourful. Here I was certainly not disappointed.

Apart from the obvious fact that, here too, each player sits with his/her personal board running plantations on a subtropical island/colony, Cuba does not, to any alarming degree, remind of either PR or Goa. The possibilities are just as manifold, but the game mechanism driving these here seems tighter & simpler. Cuba is at the same time more precise & more funky than its predecessors. You can even build a golf course (I don’t like golf, but at least it’s decadent). In fact, it's been said that the golf bit is one of the game’s few core problems: if the golf owner also controls the water supply, s/he can continuously water the golf course & win the game – bordering on what, in the lingo, is termed a “degenerate strategy” (yes, like conquering & blocking Australia in Risk). A course which, if single-mindedly pursued, almost guarantees winning the game. Lo & behold, the evening’s winner was… the guy with the water & the golf course. In fairness, he did play well overall, & had to fight hard against a highly able 1st Runner-Up, equipped with another rock-solid strategy.

Had we, however, played to avoid the water-golf monopoly (which seems quite easy to do), my impression is that everything else worked fine. Our game seemed somewhat shorter than PR, & perhaps also than Goa (or at most the same length). The raw resources are almost exclusively limited to cane sugar & tobacco, with which you produce precisely what Cuba, perhaps superficially, seems to be all about: Rum & the cigars that used to be the world’s best. Again, this is wonderfully decadent (I used to mass consume these cigars, with dire consequences for my finances & health).

But the game’s true strength - &, imo, what makes it stand on its original own as Plantation Game - is its very heart: a lively & life-like market where you can buy most of the goods involved in the game. This is in addition to producing those same goods yourself. Ie (to really make things clear): you usually have a strategic choice between buying/selling the goods on the market, or producing those same goods on your own. After which, much like in PR, you ship off these goods for crucial Victory Points (VP). I’ve the distinct impression none of us (certainly not me) exploited the market’s possibilities to the full, focusing instead on the usual Plantation way, namely production. This leaves many possibilities for strategic progress in subsequent games.

Another key feature is that you may ”influence the political process” – ie buy corrupt politicians to pass bills to your own advantage & the frustration of other players. If you master these 3 building blocks – production, buy/sell/ship, & politics (pretty much in that priority), as well as their extremely subtle interaction, you’re well on your way. If, in addition, you play your roles to the sharpest (worker, saleswoman, architect, foreman & politician – a little like in PR, but with sufficiently different mechanisms), you’ll probably end at the very top. But, again as in PR & Goa, everything looks so obvious & direct, yet it remains difficult, challenging, & fun to become the very best at doing what everybody does, to the optimum.

7 with a handsome +, based on my single experience that evening. More, if I’d learned some geeky historical facts from the game. But given a choice between PR & Cuba, I’ll now agitate in favour of Cuba. Between Cuba & Goa, I’ll still have a slight weakness for Goa. To this must be added, though, that not all my fellow players that evening were equally enthusiastic about Cuba. Yet another game issue to have bitter, emotional arguments about…

Who said pneumonia? Queremos fumar los Puros! (Bring on the cigars!)

Q. kiss
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Mark Crocker
United States
Westland
Michigan
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Nice session. Like you say, some players aren't crazy about this game. Cuba seems to be shaping up as one of those games that people either enthusiastically like, or they don't like at all. In the games I've played, the feelings are running at exactly 50%, for and against, with no middle ground. And I think one of the problems is that everyone's first game takes nearly an hour longer than it really should, so it's 1st impression suffers. That's too bad. Cuba is as good as all of the games it's been compared to.
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Alex Bove
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East Lansdowne
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Yes, Mark's right. I've played three games so far, all with beginners (myself included, of course), and the game seems too long for what it is. But I seem to recall the same "problem" in the early days of Puerto Rico, where games took two hours easily. In time, when everyone knows all the buildings, optimal placements, etc., I think Cuba will be a 90 min. game, as it should be.
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Niels Peter Q Marstrand
Denmark
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Crockerdile wrote:

Quote:
Cuba is as good as all of the games it's been compared to.


montu wrote:

Quote:
But I seem to recall the same "problem" in the early days of Puerto Rico, where games took two hours easily. In time, when everyone knows all the buildings, optimal placements, etc., I think Cuba will be a 90 min. game, as it should be.


I agree with both these statements. And what they add up to is that Cuba may - though this is way too early to say - have in it the elements of a modern classic, like Puerto Rico or Goa.

I certainly would like to play it more, & especially get good at working the market which, in my best opinion, is the true originality of the game (much more than the political process).
 
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