Managed to get 4 players (Me, D, J, C) together for a game on the same day I received this in the mail. Life is good.
Having never played before, we were all at a complete loss for strategy, but it turned out I was at more of a loss than anyone else. I started by passing, figuring that getting money from being canal supervisor would be nice. Boy was I wrong. I got offered 2 escudos (1 from each of 2 players) to water their two plantations, and I didn't want to pay 3 to ignore it, so I let my own plantation lie un-irrigated and die out. The second round I bid higher, so I could get a 2-planter plantation. And after trying to bribe 2 escudos to water my plantation, I was left high and dry again.
Clearly, I needed a new strategy. I started trying to carefully place adjacent to other people such that they would be incentivized to water my plantations as well, but this seemed to only make the canal supervisor more determined to leave us both unwatered. However, this left some pre-watered spaces to be taken advantage of, so I bid high for first placement choice and made sure I wasn't beholden to the supervisor. However, this put me low on money, and I couldn't both bid on a good plantation and afford a bribe to get it watered the following turn.
A few rounds later, there was a big 2x3 block of sugar in the middle of the board that I had 5 cubes in and everyone else had 1 or 2. Beans were just below it in a 1x5 stretch, and below that, D had a private chili reserve while the left corner had some lonely bananas. Another turn came up where 3(!) pre-watered spaces were available, but not wanting to spend out again, I passed. My theory was, everyone else would get a free space, there would be no incentive to pay me, and I'd water my plantation for a buck.
Again, I was wrong. D decided to offer an escudo for a random canal just so I couldn't water my new single sugar for free. Then J decided to add 2 more escudos to that offer. I had a sense that a huge sugar block was my only chance at victory, so I shelled out 4 to lay my canal where it helped me, rather than in a useless place.
The next round, C and J had the high bids and both took double potato tiles. I grabbed a double sugar, and D became canal overseer with a single bean. C and J extended the giant potato field, and I extended the sugar field such that my plantation would be watered by the same canal that would water D's new bean plantation. J offered up a 2-escudo bribe for a canal watering his and C's potato fields, and C raised it by another 4. I offered 3 for the canal that would help me and water D's bean field for a lot of points, figuring this was clearly her most attractive option.
Well, surprise. She was low on cash, and decided to take the 6 rather than my 3, so away went one of my valuable sugar workers. The next round I played on the pre-watered space left by the potato canal, but offered the overseer (J) a 3-bribe to save my dwindling sugar from the previous round.
A few rounds later, I find myself in a similar situation, where I could offer a small bribe for the overseer (C) to help himself and me. But I decide people aren't valuing their points, so I offer a 3-bribe just to water my own plantation. D offers a 4-bribe for her plantation. C takes the 4-bribe, but mentions that he'd have taken a simple 1-bribe to water both of our plantations. I complain that cooperating didn't work for me last time, but he argued that a) money is less valuable later in the game, and b) he isn't D.
The last round of the game, 8 sugar plantations are contiguous, and a 9th (a double) is up for bid, worth 18 points to the victor. I bid 9 for it, not realizing that J will bid 10, and I'll be stuck paying 9 for a bad plantation that doesn't even get watered. Not that it would have made the difference; J ends up winning by 20 points over C, who wins by 11 points over me, who wins by 16 points over D.
It's always a good sign for a game when you get your ass kicked, enjoy it, and want to play again.