Are you tired of fighting for Jesters in Princes of Florence, are your Puerto Rico maps so worn and grayed out that they look more like the island of Krakatoa? You may want to give Goa a try. Goa is a game that is full of options, multiple paths to victory, and shares mechanisms with other heavy games like Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico, and Merchants of Venice.
Inside the box
This is a well packaged game and one of the first things I noticed is that the box has a plastic insert with lots of compartments designed to keep all of the components separated for easy set up. A lot of games have them but this one is really good. Of course, you still have to punch-out the tiles for the first play but they all come out nicely. There is a large board (of typical German quality) which is not used for pieces but rather as a place to keep game components organized and to conduct auctions. This is a good idea when you consider all of the piles and groups that must be made in games like PR and PoF. I've always felt that those games look "cluttered". Interestingly, there is no place for the wooden spice bags on the board although is seems that room could have been made. Also in the box are player boards. Each player gets two: one is a "technology tree" and the other is a plantation/colony board. That's a lot of game for $22!
So after following the set up directions you'll see a board in the center that is full of square tiles that will be auctioned off with money to one side and colonists, ships, extra action, and expedition cards to the other side. You also see colonies on a third side. In front of you you'll have a technology tree with markers at the 0-level and an empty plantation map.
Here's a shocker - the object of the game is to acquire the most Victory Points (if you were to watch me play this would not be obvious). Victory points come in many different forms and keeping the values straight is a bit of a challenge. Every colony founded gets you VP's, every advance in technology gets you VP's, certain auction tiles give you VP's either directly or by fulfilling conditions, expedition cards in your hand at the end of the game get you VP's, the person with the most gold at the end gets VP's. The reason why keeping them straight is important is because it’s not always 1 = 1. For example a level one technology is work 1 VP while a level two is worth 3 VP's. VP's are only determined at the end of the game and there is no score track so unless you are one of those people who are no fun to play with, it's difficult to keep track of who's in the lead.
The game is played in 2 sets of 4 turns. The first four turns feature the A tiles for auction while the second set of four turns feature the B ties for auction.
Every turn has three phases: place auction markers, conduct auctions, individual player actions. I'm not going to go into details but the starting player controls the area of the board where items will be auctioned. The auction items themselves are either plantations which can produce spices, victory points, one-time effects, or per-turn effects. Obviously you want to obtain items that help your game position. One item that is always for bid is the start flag which lets you determine where the next round of bidding starts on the board an also gives you an extra action card (which is used to give you an extra action in the third phase). The auctions are once-around with the auctioneer having the final bid, every turn each player is the auctioneer for one item. If the auctioneer wins, he/she pays the bank but if someone else wins they pay the auctioneer. This makes the auctioning a strategically complex process.
After the auctions come the player actions. There are three rounds of player actions every turn. Using an action, you can upgrade your tech-tree by sending spices back to Portugal. Every spice send requires a ship card to accompany it. Other actions you can take involve using your tech-tree. You can choose to build ships which means you take ship cards according to your level. You can choose to produce spices (again an amount that depends on your tech tree) but you must have plantations and/or colonies that can produce the spices you want and that have empty space. You can collect taxes to get gold (tech-tree dependent again). You can draw expedition cards which do random good things (cards drawn and hand size are tech-tree dependent). The last thing you can do is to found a colony which depends on your settler tech-level, settler cards in your hand and a random element. Founding a colony will get you one or two spices, the ability to produce more spices later, and victory points. If you fail to found the colony, you get a settler card as a consolation prize. After everyone has taken three actions, players may use their extra action cards to take additional actions (duh!).
So that the game: place marker, auction, and 3 actions every turn for 8 turns then add up scores.
Despite the auction component (I'm not a big auction fan) I enjoyed this game. I like that there is so much to do and different approaches to winning. The game also offers the tension of too many choices but not enough actions which I really enjoy. As far as the theme goes, it doesn't feel "tacked -on" although other themes could probably fit the game mechanism.
On the downside there isn't a whole lot of interactivity except for the auctions. Of course, some would argue that the auction phase is the heart of the game but during play, the actions take the most time. The actions you take have no effect on the other player's positions so it's a little like solitaire at this point. It's a bit long but continued play should move the time for games down. The rules have a few translation ambiguities but these have been cleared up on the 'geek. It definitely could use the addition of a scoring/tile/card summary for each player. The tech-tree has the score on it but the other scoring elements are not there.
Finally a word of warning: this is not a game to pull out at family gatherings unless your cousin is named Reiner or Wolfgang. Many games of late have had simple rules and game play (like Ticket to Ride and Hansa) but this is not that kind of game.
So board game enthusiasts should rejoice: you have another complex game with layers of strategy to add to your library!