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Subject: Macao - wind rose, is a wind rose, is a wind rose, is a wind rose. rss

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Tony Bosca
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Game Designer - Stefan Feld
Game Publisher - alea/Rio Grande Games
Game Type - Euro


On the surface, I shouldn't like this game. Elegant isn't quite the hotword to throw at this title. The production quality of the game is functional but bland. As Tom Vasel would say, "Wahoo! Another game about the exotic world of shipping goods!" That being said, Stefan Feld is one of my favorite designers and it all started with this game. In fact, I still have several titles by him that I've yet to play. To date I've played only three of his designs: Macao, Luna and The Speicherstadt. Within these three excellent games Macao is by far the stand-out. Here's why...




The Windrose- Stefan, you clever little bugger you. This mechanism is amazing. For those that haven't had the chance to play this game, I'll offer a brief explanation. Every turn prior to the card draft and player actions, one player rolls the 6 dice (all of different colors) for that round. Players take a look at the results. The players will draft these different values in their specific color for actions on future rounds. So if you take a black six, you put 6 black cubes by your "6" on the windrose. Every turn the windrose arrow turns to the group of cubes you get for that turn. So in my example with the black six, in six turns from the point of choosing it, that windrose will work itself around eventually to the place on the table where the number six once stood and the 6 black cubes still do. It's hard to explain in words but once you see how it works you'll be taken back at how interesting it makes planning for your actions. The even trickier part is that several of the actions require cubes of different colors to activate, so if you have a card that requires a 2 black cubes and a green cube to play, you need to line up some green cubes with those black ones as well. You'll have six turns for the dice to work out, where you can put those green cubes on the spot where the black ones are... or be forced to adjust your intentions.




The cards - This game comes with a massive deck. If I showed you a picture of it you wouldn't be all that impressed. Sorry ladies, you've seen bigger. What makes it so lengthy is the result of only seeing a relative handful of the cards each game. I don't want really want to concern myself with percentages, but out of the variable cards, you only see around *half of the deck a game. Some of the cards have overlapping similarities but no two are exactly the same. This gives the game a lot of variety play to play. I've actually seen some people players comment on how the deck is too big. They argue that not enough is consistent game to game to count on, I don't think they're entirely wrong, but I don't see this as a shortcoming to the game at all. There are quite a few different niches to specialize within Macao and most will be accommodated no matter which cards come out. It's mostly a matter of what combo's or lack there of, become available throughout the game. This leads some to think there is a bit too much luck of the draw, when cards come up that easily aid in what you're already trying to accomplish without them. Really I think some cards are deceptively difficult to work into your efficiency machine but every card has it's place. If someone keeps snatching up your cards before you get a chance to pick, this game has a nifty turn-order mechanic as well.




The Wall - I really like this as a turn order mechanic. I like the fact that one needs to sacrifice to gain preference in turn order. If the cards are bugging you, or you really need to get that crucial office card, invest here. It seems more of a compromise to spend points here than some of the more commonly used methods. Passing early to go first next round (e.g. Carson City) never seems like much of an option, most of the time the player is basically forced to pass early in situations or games that use this method. It never seems to hold suspense or drama. The worker placement "spot" for turn order in several of those games also seems to not retain that dramatic flair either. I don't know if it just seems to easy to do, like placing your worker on the turn order spot in Caylus for example, or if it just seems unfair to be able to catapult your way from last to first in one motion. In Macao, cubes that could be accomplishing a wide variety of different actions can be spent on the wall fight for tun order. I really like that it's a gradual and measured approach to the turn order struggle. It takes keeping up with the whole game. You can actually get far enough ahead where one significant play from an opponent will not be enough to get them back to the front of the line. In this way it seems, idk, somewhat more "fair". It's also a nice little subsystem, a race within a race. You can even completely neglect it if you're fine with taking everyone's leftovers.




2P - The game plays beautifully two-handed. It scales very well. There are more cards with more players in the drafting lot each turn, but besides that no changes need to be made to make this game play well with two. The dice are open availability, so that doesn't change. The only thing that get's a little screwy is some of the competition in the area control aspect of the game. It's not entirely messed up though, just far less competition. The city can feel very tight with 4, almost impossible to get desired results without stepping up in the turn order so you can build first. While that tension remains in the card drafting, it's essentially absent in the city 2P as no locations are removed or sequestered with varying player counts. You can only buy one section of the city per round normally anyways, which sort of tames this a bit. You just see more cohesive groupings of area in smaller player counts, couple that with the area scoring (2 pts/connected region) and it gets a little hairy, but not even close to broken... just different with 2.




All in all, Macao is one of my favorites. It provides for some very interesting decisions, tight gameplay and a drip of drama that is sometimes missing from Euro games. On the surface it seems like a mish-mash of different mechanics but somehow something great emerges from the chaos, all the loose ends tie into one another. I look forward to trying Feld's other designs, especially In the Year of the Dragon, Notre Dame, Trajan and Die Burgen von Bergund. It's no wonder to me that this site seems to Feld-crazy these days, dude's brilliant.



-Please subscribe to my blog: http://iwantthegold.blogspot.com/


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Carl Garber
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Thanks for the great review!! This is truly a great game! My favorite since getting serious about boardgaming as a hobby. I'm always surprised that this game doesn't get more love (ie. BGG top 100).
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Andy Andersen
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Feld is my favorite designer. Excellent review of an excellent game. Thank you.
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Jon W
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blakstar wrote:
out of the variable cards, you only see around a third of the deck a game.

There are 96 "variable" cards, and you "see" exactly half (48) every game, no matter the number of players. Of course, in a 3p or 2p game you discard some (12 or 24) after seeing them, so the number available varies.

Not a huge deal, but it's not quite as thin a slice as your review states. Plus, even in a 2p game, just seeing Card X helps inform your decisions, even if you couldn't draft it because of the 2p discard rules.

Nice review.

(EDIT: actually, just recalled that you draft your first card from a "pre-draft" of N+2 cards, so you actually see 48 + (4,5, or 6) cards every game.)
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Star Fix
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Good review of a good game. Thank you.
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Tony Bosca
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waddball wrote:
blakstar wrote:
out of the variable cards, you only see around a third of the deck a game.

There are 96 "variable" cards, and you "see" exactly half (48) every game, no matter the number of players. Of course, in a 3p or 2p game you discard some (12 or 24) after seeing them, so the number available varies.

Not a huge deal, but it's not quite as thin a slice as your review states. Plus, even in a 2p game, just seeing Card X helps inform your decisions, even if you couldn't draft it because of the 2p discard rules.

Nice review.

(EDIT: actually, just recalled that you draft your first card from a "pre-draft" of N+2 cards, so you actually see 48 + (4,5, or 6) cards every game.)


I suppose you're right. I guess I hadn't paid much attention to the cards that get tossed out each round.

If I'm gonna take my Macao game to the next level, I'm gonna need to start paying better attention.
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Evgeni Liakhovich
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Great review of my second most favorite game, after The Castles of Burgundy. However, "The Wall" is actually the least favorite part of Macao for me. Sacrificing resources just for the sake of turn order just isn't very interesting to me. I like how Stefan resolved this issue in Burgund - everything serves at least a dual purpose there - the ships for example don't just move you on "the wall", they also give you goods.
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Jon W
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Glad8r wrote:
However, "The Wall" is actually the least favorite part of Macao for me.

It's my least favorite aspect, too. My favorite aspect is actually not the windrose (which is original, to be sure), but the card (and game-to-game) variability and resulting asymmetry. So many euros hold player's hands and present "balanced" options, but Macao will sometimes create opportunities for really powerful combos.

This can produce runaway losers/leaders, but I think the increase in tension is worth it. I find that Feld is maybe the best euro designer at this: in his games, you can fail, badly, if you're not careful.
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Tony Bosca
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Glad8r wrote:
Great review of my second most favorite game, after The Castles of Burgundy. However, "The Wall" is actually the least favorite part of Macao for me. Sacrificing resources just for the sake of turn order just isn't very interesting to me. I like how Stefan resolved this issue in Burgund - everything serves at least a dual purpose there - the ships for example don't just move you on "the wall", they also give you goods.


I really hope dBvB gets better distribution in the US. I guess I'm kind of naive about the publishing business, but as a consumer it's rather frustrating that I either need to import the game or pay a premium from someone who's already taken that step for me. Are they worried about sales of Feld games? I really hope Trajan gets better distro, but I think that's being put out by an even smaller company?

(on a side note, that sort of further explains my frustrations: what the hell is up with Le Havre: Le Grand Hameau... Uwe's games must be BANK for publishers with all the fanboy expansion completists. Why is this not for sale in the states? Are these guys afraid of money? )
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Tony Bosca
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^^^^ This is what happens when you're spoiled with never ending game options... you become a brat apparently.
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Carl Garber
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I found an online company out of Quebec that I bought a copy of Die Burgen from, and for only 40$. They are also carrying Trajan. So I'm not too worried about distribution. Plus with the good initial hype as well as the good production, I would be shocked if this game isn't picked up by a big US distributor.
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Evgeni Liakhovich
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CarlG wrote:
I found an online company out of Quebec that I bought a copy of Die Burgen from, and for only 40$. They are also carrying Trajan. So I'm not too worried about distribution. Plus with the good initial hype as well as the good production, I would be shocked if this game isn't picked up by a big US distributor.


Do you mind sharing their address?
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Carl Garber
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Certainly! Godboma.com

I had a good experience with them. Also their prices across the board are great. If they are out of stock, just email them to see when they will be in stock. The owner, Mario, is great with communication.
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Mathue Faulk
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Love Macao.

Really enjoy Notre Dame.

Need more plays of In the Year of the Dragon.

And would love to try DBvB & Trajan.

And I'd also suggest Luna. Very awesome game. It's OOP so it may be hard to get a hold of, but I think it's a great game.
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Carl Garber
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Mat, check out Strasbourg, another Feld design that feels nothing like these ones that you've mentioned. I saw that you enjoy TTR but can't get it to the table, Strasbourg has the secret mission aspect of TTR, but has a once around bidding mechanic to get your missions accomplished (a more interesting mechanism than simply grabbing a card). A lighter game than usual Feld but I think you might enjoy.

Happy Gaming!
 
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Loren Cadelinia
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Great review.

I have only played it two player and can vouch for how good it is, and how much I enjoy it! I can't wait to play with more players.

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Miguel
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Love Macao.

You would probably also like In the Year of the Dragon. It has a similar turn order mechanism, but is very different in gameplay. Great game, which also scales very well and can be challenging.
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Nicole Yuhase
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We played yesterday, and I thought we were in a case of a runaway leader. It was a 2P game between myself and Blakstar, and midway through the game he already had 3 punishment markers (just wasn't able to get the dice to get those cards out), and I had just about played all of my cards. It was to the point that I asked if he wanted to just stop playing (which we just about NEVER do). But good thing we didn't! He ended up winning by a decent amount (I think 12 points). The dice rolls can really cause swings in the game!

Moral of this comment: I'm beginning to think that I would never be confident in my lead at any given moment in this game. The dice values each roll and cards that come up can create some huge swings, which is what keeps this game exciting play after play.
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Tony Bosca
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nyuhase wrote:
We played yesterday, and I thought we were in a case of a runaway leader. It was a 2P game between myself and Blakstar, and midway through the game he already had 3 punishment markers (just wasn't able to get the dice to get those cards out), and I had just about played all of my cards. It was to the point that I asked if he wanted to just stop playing (which we just about NEVER do). But good thing we didn't! He ended up winning by a decent amount (I think 12 points). The dice rolls can really cause swings in the game!

Moral of this comment: I'm beginning to think that I would never be confident in my lead at any given moment in this game. The dice values each roll and cards that come up can create some huge swings, which is what keeps this game exciting play after play.


Yeah that was probably the most brutal start to this game I've ever had. I don't think I can remember ever getting more than 2 punishment markers, at least prior to those you get for not clearing your tableau at the end of the game. I was about to tap-out but I saw a little glimmer of hope in my cubes to basically clear my board but it was 3 rounds away. i think I had 2 rounds to roll a "1" or a "2" of two different colors to not break my sheet. it didn't happen.I didn't really think I'd be able to compensate for the -9 pts, but in the end a really strong city quarter and Nicole ending with 3(?) punishment markers (2 during the game and one card on the sheet?) pushed me across somehow.

One of the more interesting parts of this game that is sometimes barely noticeable, other times very pronounced, is that all the players will have their own agenda's, cards and motivations, but very often they will end up using the same colored cubes during each round. They often use these to do drastically different things so some times it's less obvious, but they are the same color. It's interesting to watch what kind of effectiveness your opponent gets out of the same "rolls" as you. I think also as a finer strategy point one could pay better attention to the "cube economics" of this game. Where a certain color may get "flooded" in the rolls, and because of a limited "exact use" for specific colors, the equity in choosing certain colors may rise or fall. It probably translates better just through watching the board and the different seeing the mechanics play-out, obviously Feld has done most of this work for us, but it's interesting to watch the colors ebb. There was a time, in that game mentioned above, where there may have been only 5-10 green cubes left in the supply. That seemed rather extraordinary for a 2P game.


*edited for clarity
 
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