Ron Olivier, Sr.
On a recent visit to a game store, I had the chance to play the game of Cuba. We heard that it was a bit less complex than Puerto Rico, but offered a lot of the same type of scenario. Never having played PR in the past (but acquainted with its reputation), I thought this sounded pretty reasonable, so we dug in.
Components: I’m really a sucker for a game with lots of components – especially when they add to the thematic nature of the game. This game almost had my head exploding with all of the components that were in the box. First, there’s the main game board, which is very nice. I guess there is some wasted space on there, but at least they used it to create a decent little work of art. There are also five smaller game boards – one for each player – that were printed on both sides showing the different resources (wood, water, stone) and goods (tobacco, citrus, and sugar). One side is identical for all five players, the other side has small variations from one color to the next. Each player also has a deck of five cards showing different roles – worker, tradesman, architect, foreman, and mayor. These cards pretty much common coated stock, done very nicely.
The wooden pieces are sturdy and functional, and the ones that represent cigars and rum are also thematic, a nice plus. The ship cards are of the same good quality as the player decks. A smaller deck of cards used for taxation and subsidies could be a bit larger. For me, they were difficult to read from across the board. Building tiles are thick and colorful. The pesos came in three denominations, 5, 3, and 1, each one a different size for easy distinction.
Object of the game: Amass the most victory points. (Wow! You didn’t see that one coming, did you?). To do this, you must construct buildings as well as produce goods and products for exportation. There are several strategies on how to do this best.
Rules: The person showing us the game did so mostly from memory, but then terms like ‘I think that’s right’ or ‘we usually play it this way’ made us take out the rulebook a few times, only to prove he was right most of the time. I’ll not pass judgement on the rules at this time, but I can say that everything we did seemed logical and purposeful.
Gameplay: The game is not a difficult one to play, but it is one that requires attention and strategy. The game is played in six turns, and each turn consists of several phases. The game turn starts by allowing you to play any four of the five cards in your hand, one at a time. These cards are:
- Worker (1): Allows you to place your worker meeple on your production card. You are then awarded all resources that appear in the column and row that your meeple is on. You can also choose up to two products that appear in your column and row.
- Tradesman (2): Allows you to buy and/or sell goods in the marketplace. If you prefer, you can instead take one good or one resource from stock, free of charge.
- Architect (3) – allows you to construct a building by trading in the necessary resources. Can also be used to gain an additional one or two victory points (limited to 2 players per turn).
- Foreman (4) – ‘Activates’ all buildings in the column and row that your worker is in, or allows you to activate one other building instead.
- Mayor (5) – Allows you to load goods onto a ship for exporting.
Four of these must be played each turn. The highest value of the fourth card played among the players earns the first player honors for next turn. The fifth card can be used as a bid for deciding who will get to choose the tax cards (phase two of the game turn).
On phase two, the top card of each of four piles of tax and law cards are turned over. The highest bidder (counting the value of the fifth card and any additional pesos you may want to add to it) allows you to choose any two of the four tax/law cards to replace the ones that are currently active. These cards have the power to temporarily change the parameters of the game, so if one or two of them are turned up that really benefit you (or penalize one or more opponents), you may wish to bid aggressively.
Best points: This game is more of a hybrid than a unique game. As others have pointed out (more deftly than I ever could), There are a lot of familiar mechanics here. In my case, that is a major benefit, as I don’t have a lot of the games that these mechanics are based on. This game utilizes those mechanics very well, and blends them into a game that is thematically sound, rather than something that feels like it was put together by pieces of different puzzles. The shipping part of the game plays kind of like ‘Before the Wind’ (one of my favorites!).
Worst points: The game requires a good amount of time to set up and break down, and it doesn’t seem like the easiest game in the world to explain, due in part to the number of different buildings there are. It also could take a few plays to get used to the symbols used in the game.
Overall: I was very impressed after playing it once. By the second round of the game I was really developing a handle on what I was doing and how to score points quickly. I’m sure a few people in my group would like this game, but others would vehemently hate it’s complexity. For this reason, I probably won’t be seeking to add this to my collection for some time.
However, make no mistake…this seems like a real quality game that both my son and I enjoyed immensely. Check it out for yourself and prepare to enjoy!
Just call me Erik
I played this at a convention in May and loved it. We had a ton of fun with this game, even though we were 5 brand new players. I've since been considering getting a copy.
The components are indeed thematic, but the use of cubes for resources is pretty standard. It led to the following one-liner:
"This is just like when I lived in Cuba! I'd get up, go down to the market, pay my money to the lady, get my block of water and go home."