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The 100 in 25 Challenge

This session report is part of a series known as The 100 in 25 Challenge: 100 Games, 25 Weeks, as a fellow GamerBuddy and I are on a quest to play at least 100 different games in less than 6 months. We are on to Week 2, and so far we are slightly ahead of schedule, needing an average of four games a week to make our goal.

Today finds the Masked Man as a pirate, trying to escape from jail, along with four fellow captive pirates. But the historic jail of Cartagena does not allow its captives to flee to freedom easily. Rather than hiding his identity, in this case wearing a mask may in fact be a handicap that could prove to be the Masked Man's undoing. Or would it be the disguise he needed to escape? Read on to find out!

The Masked Man, Mr Ender, and four junior pirates

Now if you're smart, you'll have figured that the names in this heading add up to six. And Cartagena is a game that can only be played with five players. Did you catch that? Oh, you are clever! You should consider a career as a pirate! They aren't noted for their intelligence, so you could rise rapidly through the ranks, faster than most! I hear that the chief pirate will be retiring soon, and as we all know, someone needs to take the place of the Dread Pirate Roberts, to keep his terrible legacy alive!

But as for why the game only allows five pirates, well apparently there is an annual quota, that allows a maximum of five pirates to escape each time from Cartagena. Arrggh! How considerate of the jail staff to impose such a limit. Well, fear not, me hearties, then Mr Ender will bravely carry his daughter pirate-piggy-back style to freedom! So Mr Ender and a 6 year old junior Ender played as a team (Red), while the Masked Man formed the Opposition (Yellow), along with a ten year old (Brown), four year old (Green), and five year old (Blue) - pictured above.

The importance of turn order

With a five-player game, turn order can really favour one player above others. At least, that seemed to be the case. Miss Brown (10yo) started things off, followed by Miss Green (4yo). Quickly it seemed that guns and pirate flags were the order of the day. Mr Blue (5yo) followed suit with more weapons and flags, and by the time Mr Yellow (aka the Masked Man, who is of course ageless) took his turn, he could leap his pirates very far through the tunnel indeed. When Mr Ender - with his team-mate Miss Red (6yo) - took his turn as the last player to go, guns and flags enabled several pirates to get almost out of the tunnel, and so very close to boat that would signal their freedom.

Of course it would not prove quite that easy. Careful tactics would be needed in order to draw the cards needed to continue forward progress through the escape tunnel. But eventually Mr Ender and his partner would triumph, when three Key cards enabled their lagging pirates to make a mad dash from halfway the tunnel, all the way to the safety of the boat. From then it was a simple matter to draw several cards on the next turn, and one remaining turn was needed to urge the three final red pirates to safety.

Interestingly enough, although the game went on for several turns, the turn order corresponded almost precisely to the final results, with Miss Brown (10yo) coming in second, followed closely by Miss Green (4yo). Mr Blue (5yo) enjoyed the satisfying privilege of successfully fighting off the Masked Man to avoid last place.

1. Mr Ender & Miss Red (6yo) - started fifth
2. Miss Brown (10yo) - starting player
3. Miss Green (4yo) - started second
4. Mr Blue (5yo) - started third
5. Masked Man - started fourth

Challenge Points: Mr Ender 1, Masked Man 0.

Final reflections about Cartagena

Is turn order decisive here? Decisive is perhaps too strong award, but there does seem to be some slight advantage, although any such advantage can easily be trumped by poor decision making. Is random card draw decisive? Certainly the game depends to some extent on what cards you draw, but it would be unfair to say that the outcome depends entirely on randomness. Ultimately one must carefully consider one's cards, one's position on the board with respect to the other pirate meeples, and make clever tactical choices that will maximize card draw and forward movement.

Is the game too simple? Certainly it's a nice little game with very simple rules, but to call it an "Advanced Candyland" (as some have said) isn't quite fair to its potential for significant tactical play. The decisions are far from brain burning, but they are fun. Best of all, the game is easy enough to learn and explain, that it has immediate non-gamer appeal, and is fun enough for gamers to play too. And version described above (the Jamaica version) is most suited for a light social game, but the game also has a more complicated variation: those looking for a more skillful brainburner could try the Tortuga version (where all hands and the next draw cards are played face-up). Personally, I'm not sure I'd want anything more complicated than what the simpler version game presently offers.

But one thing is clear: despite his fearsome mask, small children are not afraid of the Masked Man! And masks don't help pirates escape from dungeons. So how did the Dread Pirate Roberts do it, despite his mask? Well that is a story for another time. And although it was on the back of his six year old, Mr Ender sneaks away with another challenge point. In the end, all the junior pirates agreed: Cartagena was a pile of fun.

Stay tuned to hear more about the adventures of The Masked Man, as The 100 in 25 Challenge continues next time!

The 100 in 25 Challenge Progress Log: Games 6, Weeks 2
Games played: Jambo (25/11), Lost Cities (25/11), Hera & Zeus (25/11), Pick Picknic (25/11), Roma (28/11), Cartagena (30/11)
Challenge Overall Points Leader Board: Mr Ender 6, Masked Man 1
Other pictorial reports & mini-reviews in the Masked Man series: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37038
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