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Subject: First impressions rss

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Jon W
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Picked this up yesterday and had a solo run-through to learn the rules. Some thoughts, no particular order:

Bits: standard-issue alea. Nice, functional, very euro.

But wait: board laid flat without much effort. That was unusual for an alea game.

Rules: much simpler than anticipated by the "6/10 on the alea scale" remarks.

Easy-peasy: player board was sufficient for info I needed. After second turn, I didn't need to consult the rulebook until the endgame scoring.

The Wall: what is it with Feld and the "race for turn order" thing? It's not intrusive, but I'm not sure it adds much. Not even close to as interesting here as it is in In the Year of the Dragon.

Ship-shape: the shipping lanes/cities thing, OTOH, was more interesting than I'd expected. You have some ground to cover, and you do want to get the order right, and the pressure's on.

Asymmetry: loved the uniqueness of the person/building cards. This could have easily been a copout (16 effects x 6 colors), but it's actually pretty good. There are some symmetrical patterns, sure, and few surprises, but it's nicely done.

Except where it isn't: didn't love the blandness of the office/scroll cards. This was a single effect (discard 1 cube for 1 coin) x 6 colors x 4 costs equation, and that's lame. Why not 4 effects (e.g., discard 2 cubes for 1 coin @ cost 1, discard 3 for 2 @ cost 3, may do this twice @ cost 4)? Or whatever, it should've been more interesting.

Gimmick: the septagon thingy is fun, but I wasn't blown away. It's a tradeoff: if Feld had made more forward planning possible (say, a longer queue of cards), the AP would be excruciating. It's a fun sort of gambling effect, and you generally have a good use for overages. There can be some real swingy rolls, though, which I think is a feature, and leads to....

Whee!: this is a much less "serious" game than I was expecting. It's actually rather light in feel, and the rules flow very quickly and organically. There's a little slowdown/AP at the end, trying to get everything built, but overall this felt much more like Ra than like The Princes of Florence. Not as stodgy as it looks.

Bribery: the gold:vp mechanism is pretty cool. The remarks I'd read up to now led me to think the ratio was the important thing, but it's not. The bottom line is VPs, and it lends a lot of urgency to your money engine. Again, not fully calculable, so you don't drag on in AP. This is a clever bit that could have been stodgy and dull.

Really, you planned for that?: the city adjacency sub-game may have some subtleties based on district colors (you could get a red engine going, for instance), but overall it felt pretty stock. I suspect a lot of the city game is just going to come down to incidental luck. Not sure that's a feature or a bug, but it didn't strike me as terrifically interesting.

Failure is an option: again with Feld, you can fail. And that's great! This is not some Rudiger Dorn job where you're squabbling over that final 5% to see who wins: I expect to see wide differences in score, chances taken that completely fail to pan out, etc. Feld's trademark?

Thinky thoughts: overall, I'm pleased. I wasn't expecting a classic, and don't think it is, but it's solid. No theme to speak of, but it's not even bothering to try, or to hide that fact. It's a nice blend of short- and medium-term evaluation, and most decisions were interesting--a few were very difficult. Looking forward to getting it on the table soon.
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Corin A. Friesen
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Thanks for the very good point-by-point first impressions! Since you are doing first impressions only, this is the perfect form to put them in since they are thoughts.

Please, play some more and see if you uncover anything else! Even if you are negative about the game, I don't care... mainly because I've already ordered the game.
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Jimmy Okolica
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Thanks so much for the review. I've been looking at this game and the wheel looked interesting enough to give it a try. Your take on the weight of the game makes me think I'll wait and play before I buy.
 
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Corin A. Friesen
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I'm only guessing, but if you love Loyang, you'll probably love Macao.
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Jimmy Okolica
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Ambrose wrote:
I'm only guessing, but if you love Loyang, you'll probably love Macao.


Can you elaborate on that at all? Loyang is my favorite solo game and I really enjoy playing it with others, though the long game time compared to the depth (one of my gaming groups plays a lot of Agricola and the other prefers 60 - 90 minute games) means it doesn't hit the table as often as I'd like.
 
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Corin A. Friesen
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
I'm only guessing, but if you love Loyang, you'll probably love Macao.


Can you elaborate on that at all? Loyang is my favorite solo game and I really enjoy playing it with others, though the long game time compared to the depth (one of my gaming groups plays a lot of Agricola and the other prefers 60 - 90 minute games) means it doesn't hit the table as often as I'd like.

Loyang is a lighter game that depends upon cards to make everything work: interest, replayability, clever moves, etc... It is a card game, after all.
In Macao, it is all about making action cubes to use cards in the most effective way, again depending on cards to make the replayability and interest. Macao could be described as a card game with a board to make the cards work. OK not as extreme as that statement, but you could think that way.
Based on what JW said above, I think Macao will be a hit with me and my gaming buddies.
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Jimmy Okolica
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Ambrose wrote:
Butterfly0038 wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
I'm only guessing, but if you love Loyang, you'll probably love Macao.


Can you elaborate on that at all? Loyang is my favorite solo game and I really enjoy playing it with others, though the long game time compared to the depth (one of my gaming groups plays a lot of Agricola and the other prefers 60 - 90 minute games) means it doesn't hit the table as often as I'd like.

Loyang is a lighter game that depends upon cards to make everything work: interest, replayability, clever moves, etc... It is a card game, after all.
In Macao, it is all about making action cubes to use cards in the most effective way, again depending on cards to make the replayability and interest. Macao could be described as a card game with a board to make the cards work. OK not as extreme as that statement, but you could think that way.
Based on what JW said above, I think Macao will be a hit with me and my gaming buddies.


Interesting. I agree Loyang is a card game. I hadn't thought of Macao in that way. Thanks for the tip.
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Corin A. Friesen
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waddball wrote:
Really, you planned for that?: the city adjacency sub-game may have some subtleties based on district colors (you could get a red engine going, for instance), but overall it felt pretty stock. I suspect a lot of the city game is just going to come down to incidental luck. Not sure that's a feature or a bug, but it didn't strike me as terrifically interesting.

I think the district half of the game board is strategic tie in the game. At the beginning, you must analize this and determine your best course of action there during the game to strike the right balance between getting the tokens which work together well, and scoring the most endgame points (significant bonus!) at the end of the game.
Of course, the cards will affect how this plays out, but I liken the districts part of the game to the events in In the Year of the Dragon: they provide a lot of the strategy.
But heck, would if I'm wrong? Stefan Feld himself said Macao is a tactical game anyways, so why would you expect another In the Year of the Dragon?
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Corin A. Friesen
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
Butterfly0038 wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
I'm only guessing, but if you love Loyang, you'll probably love Macao.


Can you elaborate on that at all? Loyang is my favorite solo game and I really enjoy playing it with others, though the long game time compared to the depth (one of my gaming groups plays a lot of Agricola and the other prefers 60 - 90 minute games) means it doesn't hit the table as often as I'd like.

Loyang is a lighter game that depends upon cards to make everything work: interest, replayability, clever moves, etc... It is a card game, after all.
In Macao, it is all about making action cubes to use cards in the most effective way, again depending on cards to make the replayability and interest. Macao could be described as a card game with a board to make the cards work. OK not as extreme as that statement, but you could think that way.
Based on what JW said above, I think Macao will be a hit with me and my gaming buddies.


Interesting. I agree Loyang is a card game. I hadn't thought of Macao in that way. Thanks for the tip.

No problem. Just remember that I've never played Macao before! meeple
 
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Jon W
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Ambrose wrote:
I think the district half of the game board is strategic tie in the game. At the beginning, you must analize this and determine your best course of action there during the game to strike the right balance between getting the tokens which work together well, and scoring the most endgame points (significant bonus!) at the end of the game.

Well, I don't know yet, but I'd be surprised by any significant endgame bonus in this aspect of the game that wasn't offset by a serious opportunity cost sacrifice elsewhere. I think the connection bonus is a sop for the overages you'll occasionally accumulate, and not a true strategic variable. I guess we'll both have to see how it works out in practice.
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waddball wrote:
The Wall: what is it with Feld and the "race for turn order" thing? It's not intrusive, but I'm not sure it adds much. Not even close to as interesting here as it is in In the Year of the Dragon.

I don't know...being able to pick early in the order is pretty important. It's particularly nice to be able to grab the cards that you're most likely to complete, to avoid your display from backing up. I certainly prefer to stay near the head of the queue.
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Jon W
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Larry Levy wrote:
I don't know...being able to pick early in the order is pretty important. It's particularly nice to be able to grab the cards that you're most likely to complete, to avoid your display from backing up. I certainly prefer to stay near the head of the queue.

Well, sure, anyone would. It's a draft, after all, and you have to do something about order, whether it's a rotating first-player or a once-around auction like this one (sort of), or whatever.

I'm not saying it's unimportant, I'm just saying it's not all that interesting because it's mostly straightforward. Yes, there's the general resource hit vs. using the cube(s) for something else, but I don't see too many real dilemmas over this, just an occasional one here and there. I find ITYOTD's system to be more nuanced, more laden with interesting tradeoffs basically every turn.
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I think there needs to be a pre-game way to generate turn order, like In the Year of the Dragon. The fact that the last person gets first pick of cards is not nearly enough of an advantage to balance the turn order in the early game (when you are trying to get your engine started). That is what makes Dragon interesting, is that not only does turn order matter (it matters here in Macao just as much), but you have to mortgage a certain amount of your early game if you want to be first in turn order but you don't have to do it during play. It's almost like bidding points for turn order that is seen in other games...quite elegant in ItYotD and not great in Macao. The others in my game group said that the last player in turn order should pay their first cube in Macao to move ahead in turn order, but not only is that not much fun, it causes you to fall behind in the city. I think it is even more of a problem considering that most cards require two or more cube colors, the production of which on the same turn is out of your control early on. I think turn order is extremely important in this game, and the mechanic is just not enough to balance, making it look as if the designer wasn't interested in the turn order dynamic.

As an aside, I was also not happy with the cards and their distribution. I think there needs to be 1) More cards that transmute ACs 2) A structured deck that puts out certain cards at certain times in the game. Considering you have to pick cards and get penalized for not finishing cards you pick (a harsh penalty at that), it seems that the player should have a bit better understanding of what cards are there and when they can expect them to come out. That's why Notre Dame works...Just trying to plan cubes around your compass rose (which is ultimately fairly random) is not enough planning to be compelling when you consider that the cards are randomly distributed. Notre Dame, your early game choices can be capitalized upon later in the game...I just don't think that this is finished in Macao.

There is a lot to like in this game. I like how you see so many parts of other Alea games reenacted here. I kept being reminded of Louis XIV, ItYotD, Witches Brew, and Notre Dame. I just think the central mechanics need to be tightened up a bit.
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Jon W
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chicagometh wrote:
The fact that the last person gets first pick of cards is not nearly enough of an advantage to balance the turn order in the early game (when you are trying to get your engine started). That is what makes Dragon interesting, is that not only does turn order matter (it matters here in Macao just as much)[...]

You bring up an interesting point, but it's heavily predicated on this being true. I don't have much opinion yet, but on the surface, it doesn't seem as critical as it is in ITYOTD. The splits there have a big impact on the game because the value of a given action has a huge range. Here, the "better" cards carry a higher build cost, so you're getting less bang out of the draft (if you didn't have to build it, sure...). Just the way I see it now, thoughts will probably evolve.

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Just trying to plan cubes around your compass rose (which is ultimately fairly random) is not enough planning to be compelling when you consider that the cards are randomly distributed.

That's why I think it's a lighter game than it appears. It is tactical and somewhat random, but in some ways that's a feature. If you added specific cards at certain intervals (or a longer queue, whatever), you'd add a TON of analysis, and you'd have the heaviest (and longest--barring perhaps Genoa) game of the alea series. I'm fine with it as is, but I can see why people might prefer your way.

It would be really easy, BTW, to do what you suggest and try it out. Pull out some specific important cards (a couple game-end PP, the abbey [abbot?], some cube converters, etc.) and put them at various intervals (say, even-numbered turns) with the office cards.
 
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I agree with some of what everyone says, but have not played this enough to have definitive feelings about it. After only 2 plays, though, I have to say that I think this is definitely more complex than most other Alea games, and is in the same class as Puerto Rico. I like Genoa better, but it is less complex. So far, this is my favorite Alea in quite some time (and I think that ItYotD and Notre Dame are great, solid games).

The wall is indeed not as interesting as the people track in ItYotD, and I also agree that the switchback start at the beginning is unbalanced - getting first pick of cards is way better than getting first pick of cubes (in fact, I see no advantage to picking cubes first, unless we are playing wrong). The wall, while not a revolutionary mechanism, does put pressure on staying ahead, as likely one cube for the wall will not be enough to guarantee first turn.

So far I have no problem with the cards, and indeed have been enjoying the limited nature of many of them - the difficulty of getting the good ones off the tableau, and of stringing together similar cards. Well, there is one problem with the cards, as I agree that there are damn few cards that transmute colors (we have seen none in our first two games). For a game like this, such cards seem very necessary, otherwise picking up those singleton cubes you need becomes very painful. Speaking of pain, I also adore Loyang, and enjoy the limited draft.

Overall, I have yet to decide if the novel mechanisms in the game are blinding me to problems, or if they do indeed have legs. My feeling thus far is that the mechanisms work well and are truly fresh, in that they make you think and strategize differently from other (similar) games. Yes, there is some luck, but I would not call this a light game. For me, this hearkens back to the glory days of the Alea Big Boxers. Great stuff! (I just hope it stands the test of time).

Edit: I forgot to add that I also enjoy the limited nature of the office cards. One of the things that makes this game brilliant, and sets it apart (from the aforementioned works of Mr. Dorn), is the utter scarcity of gold. Unlike many Euros that are optimization fests, this one bucks that trend (at least somewhat) by making gold almost impossible to come by in any quantities. If the office cards allowed multiple gold transactions, they would become far too powerful imo. Gold is the lifeblood of this game, and so it should be hard to get a gold engine up and running (that's why multiples of the same type of office card will start getting expensive, cubes-wise). Without this limit, it would be too easy to just pick the high value dice whenever the matching color to your offices came up and make out like a bandit.
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cayluster wrote:
For a game like this, such cards seem very necessary, otherwise picking up those singleton cubes you need becomes very painful. Speaking of pain, I also adore Loyang, and enjoy the limited draft.

Yes. The dice are supposed to be random, for crying out loud!

(I love Loyang too. cool )

edit: Let me clarify. The dice for ACs are random: that means you need to get cards that will lighten the cost of using ACs or allow you to get more of them when you need them. This makes turn order very important because when those supposedly rare cards do show up, you have to grab them. But also, it means that when you have to get one of the cubes in the 1 spot on your wheel, and so you must only take one cubes, you must, regardless of what is perceived as "efficiency." If the game didn't push you to "get through," where would the fun be?
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Jon W
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cayluster wrote:
I think this is definitely more complex than most other Alea games, and is in the same class as Puerto Rico. I like Genoa better, but it is less complex.

I brought up Genoa because of length, not complexity.

I guess I don't see it. If there was more lookahead with the cards, then yeah, but as it is, you're taking quite a few gambles. Educated ones, sure, but you really can't analyze it too far ahead.

Quote:
I also agree that the switchback start at the beginning is unbalanced - getting first pick of cards is way better than getting first pick of cubes (in fact, I see no advantage to picking cubes first, unless we are playing wrong).

The switchback takes place before turn one. From turn one forward, the advantage of first is: card draft, city placement, cargo bonus (5-3-2). The disadvantage is that any movement on the wall puts you on the bottom of the stack, and that picking cubes first allows later players could to react to your "telegraph."

Quote:
If the office cards allowed multiple gold transactions, they would become far too powerful imo.

Sure, if they weren't priced correctly. Anyway, my off-the-cuff examples above were just noodling. I value asymmetry highly, that's all.
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Morgan Dontanville
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What does this game have to do with Macao? Did they close their eyes and point to a world map?
 
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Corin A. Friesen
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sisteray wrote:
What does this game have to do with Macao? Did they close their eyes and point to a world map?

Almost. Stefan Feld says he always starts with mechanics, not theme. I love it. Theme in a game is the aspect that least matters.

Anyone who disagrees with me I label a RPGer. (OK, that was hyperbole, but you get my view, right? )
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Ambrose wrote:
sisteray wrote:
What does this game have to do with Macao? Did they close their eyes and point to a world map?

Almost. Stefan Feld says he always starts with mechanics, not theme. I love it. Theme in a game is the aspect that least matters.

Anyone who disagrees with me I label a RPGer. (OK, that was hyperbole, but you get my view, right? )


Then why name it Macao at all?
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sisteray wrote:
Ambrose wrote:
sisteray wrote:
What does this game have to do with Macao? Did they close their eyes and point to a world map?

Almost. Stefan Feld says he always starts with mechanics, not theme. I love it. Theme in a game is the aspect that least matters.

Anyone who disagrees with me I label a RPGer. (OK, that was hyperbole, but you get my view, right? )


Then why name it Macao at all?


Because he pointed at Macao when he closed his eyes...

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sisteray wrote:
What does this game have to do with Macao?

Everything! In 1583, the mad Portuguese governor, Aires Gonçalves de Miranda[1], rounded up several (two to four, the sources are uncertain) indolent sons of wealthy merchants and made them an offer: pass his tests, and they could marry his (rapidly aging) daughter, the beautiful, green-eyed Miranda Gonçalves de Miranda. Fail, and they would be sent to the Chinese governor as eunuchs. Attempt to flee, and they would be beheaded on the spot. Everyone but the indolent sons found this a nice arrangement.[2]

The test was this: every month, de Miranda would assemble a few local personages, some deeds, and some guaranteed contracts. Each son would have to choose one (and only one) deed, person, or contract to hire or utilize. But there was a catch: instead of normal payment for these advantages, they had to pay de Miranda in Lotus flowers. The longer the flowers were allowed to grow, the more petals they would produce and the more de Miranda valued them.[3]

However, unbeknownst to anyone (except me, and now you), de Miranda was in fact the infamous Chinese sorceror/shadow-emperor Lo Pan in diguise. Lo Pan intended to use the flowers in an arcane and horrible rite that would rid the world of all hues except variations on brown and orange. Unbeknownst to Lo Pan, however, the Chang Sing secret society was waiting to bestow upon the "winner" of this contest an awesome talisman that could defeat Lo Pan once and for all by using his Lotus petals against him.[4]

Can YOU become the avatar of good and utilize the petals of the lotus to defeat the evil, disguised Lo Pan and save the color blind from an incomprehensible world? Play Macao today, and find out!

Pretty sure that's what Feld was going for, something like that anyway.


[1] True fact. Well, not the mad part. OK, you prove a negative.
[2] This may be apocryphal.
[3] A Møøse once bit my sister...
[4] No realli!
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waddball wrote:
sisteray wrote:
What does this game have to do with Macao?

Everything! In 1583, the mad Portuguese governor, Aires Gonçalves de Miranda[1], rounded up several (two to four, the sources are uncertain) indolent sons of wealthy merchants and made them an offer: pass his tests, and they could marry his (rapidly aging) daughter, the beautiful, green-eyed Miranda Gonçalves de Miranda. Fail, and they would be sent to the Chinese governor as eunuchs. Attempt to flee, and they would be beheaded on the spot. Everyone but the indolent sons found this a nice arrangement.[2]

The test was this: every month, de Miranda would assemble a few local personages, some deeds, and some guaranteed contracts. Each son would have to choose one (and only one) deed, person, or contract to hire or utilize. But there was a catch: instead of normal payment for these advantages, they had to pay de Miranda in Lotus flowers. The longer the flowers were allowed to grow, the more petals they would produce and the more de Miranda valued them.[3]

However, unbeknownst to anyone (except me, and now you), de Miranda was in fact the infamous Chinese sorceror/shadow-emperor Lo Pan in diguise. Lo Pan intended to use the flowers in an arcane and horrible rite that would rid the world of all hues except variations on brown and orange. Unbeknownst to Lo Pan, however, the Chang Sing secret society was waiting to bestow upon the "winner" of this contest an awesome talisman that could defeat Lo Pan once and for all by using his Lotus petals against him.[4]

Can YOU become the avatar of good and utilize the petals of the lotus to defeat the evil, disguised Lo Pan and save the color blind from an incomprehensible world? Play Macao today, and find out!

Pretty sure that's what Feld was going for, something like that anyway.


[1] True fact. Well, not the mad part. OK, you prove a negative.
[2] This may be apocryphal.
[3] A Møøse once bit my sister...
[4] No realli!

Actually, that is what anyone who wants more theme should be going for. laugh wow thumbsup
 
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Tried this again last night. Still having fun with it, but also problems. It's not clear that one can catch up upon falling behind. Also, it can be very tough to control your fate with the dice, so it can be hard to get action cards out. I find myself gravitating toward cards that have just one color because you have a better shot at that, but they don't seem to be as good. I think the endgame does not have enough to it. Everybody has something there, so you don't really gain on other players much by focusing on that. Also, in my games, the person won each time who got a card that said you get double points for delivering a particular spice. Having said all that, it's still fun, and I'm interested in continuing to explore it. Oh, and one more thing, there's too much downtime with 4. People have turns where they have zillions of cubes, and you can end up sitting there a bit.
 
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Corin A. Friesen
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But what if you get a card that is hard to get and everyone doesn't? Does it give you an advantage?
Also, don't forget that the dice are meant to be random, so control is not what the AC mechanic provides: it forces you to cope, which is characteristic in Feld designs.

Of course, I have never played the game, so what I'm saying may be bunk.
 
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