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Brian Bankler
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[This review originally written in 2002 -- Brian]


Good auction games rely on uncertainty. Imagine a game where you have 100 Victory Points, everyone has $100, and you auction the points out one at a time. Pretty boring. Auction games work when players bid on widgets, and each player has to answer two questions: How much is this widget worth? and Am I likely to get a better deal later on?

Analyzing uncertainty is a tricky business. Literally millions of professionals make a good living doing just that (actuaries, financial specialists, and engineers probably being the largest three groups). But it's still engrossing enough to make a good game.

Pizarro makes players into Kings, hiring out the services of valiant explorers to go to the new world. The game is played in three rounds. In the first round, each explorer sends out three ships. Any player who wins an auction gets to put a ship into the "Year One" box. In year two, each explorer advances two ships, but they have to be ships from year one. And in the last year, each explorer advances one ship from year two to year three. So at the end of year three, an explorer (Magellan, say) will have a ship in each of three boxes. Different boxes are worth different victory points.

Players are bidding with money cards (from 1-9). Cards are also worth victory points at the end of the game, with the low money cards being the high victory point cards.

And finally, each explorer has a special power. At the end of each year, everyon gets two cards. Some explorers grant bonus cards at the end of each year, which is worth 1-3 Victory Points ... or can be used towards winning more bids. And explorers have other powers. Marco Polo lets you control the order of auctions (a little). Cook is worth a slew of victory points, but makes you suffer a penalty.

If you don't like auction games, there isn't anything in Pizarro to attract you. I like auction games, and find Pizarro to be a worthy addition to the field, for a few reasons:

First, analyzing the value of an auction presents a lot of uncertainty. You have to worry about getting a source of cards versus certain victory points; not overbidding early (letting other players get better deals later on), and worry about players stacking on one explorer. The last point -- player may get two (or three) ships onto one explorer in the first round. This guarantees at least one cheap win later. A player who gets all three ships of one explorer doesn't have to worry about anything: he's getting first, second and third! This may be considered a flaw, as that player may be done for the rest of the game. In fact, in our second game one player won three ships, said "Autopilot me", wandered away for twenty minutes and then came back to see if he had won. This is a valid strategy, but disconcerting. [And one that shouldn't happen very often among experienced players. Now that we have played it more often, we tend to try to fight everywhere. Of course, we've also been playing six player games.]

Second, The explorer's special abilities are interesting. Apart from the variety in victory points and cards granted, the powers are cute. One power lets the winner 'play blackjack' for victory points...keep flipping cards, but if your total (in money) goes over 20, you lose them all. One explorer lets you take either cards or victory points. Of course, if you advance your ship, you get to choose again, and you hope that you picked cards. But if you didn't advance...

Thirdly, There are actually four combinations of explorers. The boards for tracking them are double sided (and there are two boards). This is just a nice little additionally touch. I had already decided to buy the game after my first playing, but seeing the boards flipped over after the game thrilled me. The extra value is a nice touch.

Overall, a good auction game. I don't expect to play often, but I expect to be playing several years from now.
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thomas coe
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so are you still playing this???
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Russell
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Yes, are you? Enquiring minds want to know.
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