This is a game that I've played recently a few times, and have owned and enjoyed for a couple of years.
As usual for my style, I'm going to avoid detailing the rules except in so far as it is necessary to make sense of the review.
The game recreates competition between farming enterprises in poorest Santiago. Each player is a farmer competing to grow various crops depending on what type is available for auction from time to time. The game requires strategic co-operation to develop the largest plantations of a particular crop in order to maximise it's value, but at the same time instills a heavy dose of competition by encouraging players to cause one another's crops to dry out by diverting irrigation elsewhere, enough to reduce a player's stake in a plantation, but not enough to make the crop wither and die completely.
The game is divided, fundamentally, into two stages. There is an auction phase, whereby each player bids a unique amount, and then, makes a selection of available crops and places his new crop anywhere on the board.
The second phase determines which crops will be watered, and thus flourish, and which will wither on the field.
The auction mechanic is interesting; it is not an English auction, but rather a once round, unique bid auction. Accordingly, it doesn't pay to always come first. Players will deliberately seek to bid for a position, rather than 1st place. If bids are well pitched, this decision can be agonising, for if you wish to come 2nd (in a four player), but, say. bids of 3, 4 and 5 Escudos have been placed, you must either come 1st and pay a hefty 6 (twice your income/round) or come last and miss out on your desired crop.
The irrigation phase is interesting too; A maximum of four tiles at once can be watered, and often, canals will only be capable of watering fewer. Additionally, because of incentivsations built into the game, players will not place crops together, with the result that someone will inevitably lose out. Becuase this is a banana republic, the canal builder (one of the players picking up the role as a 'consolation' for coming last in the auction) can be bribed to build a canal at a location the briber sees fit. As you can imagine, there is plenty of scope to negotiate with affiliated players to create a substantial joint bribe, but then twist the knife in moments later citing 'agreements are non binding' as the reason for bribing the canal builder to build elsewhere.
This process repeats itself over a number of rounds. At the end of the game, the crops are converted to money, depending on how large a crop is and how much of a stake a player has in the field - and remember, multiple players may have stakes in the same field. The richest player wins.
The game is especially interesting with 5 players because competition to have one's crop irrigated is intense from the word go; remember, only four tiles can ever be irrigated, therefore coming last or even fourth is usually not an option, but because cash is so scarce, its inevitable.
There is a little luck in the game - in which crops turn up for auction and where you are in the round for the auction. Sometimes it pays to be last, and sometimes it pays to be first. (I've often set the tone of an auction by bidding high in an effort to guarantee first place, only to find that others feel that if I'm bidding high, there must be something worth fighting for, with the result that I come last for a very high price!!)
The luck factor is good because it keeps the game interesting. There is plenty of engagement, and there is some downtime, but not so much that one would get bored.
A risk in the game is AP, as a player may decide to tot up the scores and all potential scores on every round. This could ensure a better chance of victory but it would undermine the essence of the game which is to have fun, not to win by boring your opponents to death!
This, I think, will serve as a gateway game to a more tolerant type of person. Perhaps a good friend who trusts you, rather than someone with whom you have a less close relationship.
I would give this game an 8 out of 10.
This game is surprisingly brutal for a maths puzzle. You can see relationships deteriorating and angry faces as the game goes on. It's that human factor that makes it so fun to play.
It's been the only game that my gaming group has played weekly for the past couple of months.
I've often set the tone of an auction by bidding high in an effort to guarantee first place, only to find that others feel that if I'm bidding high, there must be something worth fighting for, with the result that I come last for a very high price!!
This perfectly describes one of the most memorable "Aha!" moments I've ever experienced in boardgaming. This game routinely presents spine-chilling moments of decision which makes it an all-time Top Ten game for me.