I never realized that mexican food was so bad in Canada as to warrant smuggling some of it from South of Border. Oh, well... such is the theme of The Nacho Incident, where players try to smuggle good mexican food past mounties to fill the demand for such delicaties in four provinces: Albert, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Québec.
I'm pretty happy with the quality of the components given the cost of the game. You get a bunch of plastic coloured cubes, a cloth bag (which AoS wasn't even nice enough to provide with its 70$ game), a coloured bed and play cards. The cards a slightly on the flimsy side of things, but still decently ok.
The rules are fairly well laid-out and somewhat easy to understand (I had to read them twice to really "get it"). I have one minor and one major qualm with the rules: they don't specify in which order the provinces should be layed out. Being Canadian I knew that it would have to be Alberta -> Saskatchewan -> Ontario -> Québec, but this might not be immediately obvious to other people. That's the minor issue -- my bigger issue is that I can't understand what the cantina bonus is all about, even after reading that section of the rules a couple of times.
Players have a random hand of 7 smugglers, ranked 1- 9 and associated with a particular province. One "demand" card is layed out for each province describing which types of food are in high demand in that province as well as its going market price. Players simultaneously select a smuggler and reveal him at the same time. The player with the highest-ranked smuggler sends him to his associated province (or one adjacent to it), with a good from his warehouse. He collects the price for that good, minus the smuggler's fee (the higher the smuggler's value, the higher his price is). Then the next-highest ranked smuggler goes, etc. until all players have delivered one good. The player who played the highest smuggler attracts the attention of the mounties.
Afterwards all smugglers opens a cantina in the province where they delivered goods, unless there is a mounty already there in which case the smuggler is caught and is discarded along with the mounty.
Repeat 4 times, then it's the end of the round. At the end of the round, each player totals up the number of smugglers he has in each of his province separately. The player with the highest total in each province gets the 'cantina bonus' (still unsure what that is, I think it's the +4/+5 symbol on the province card) and looses all his smugglers in that province. Any mounty left over (not discarded) gives a penalty to its owner.
Repeat 3 times, the game is over.
I really like the concept of "trading" with the game and the attempts to mix this with some sort of an area-control concept (the cantinas), but... ugh. It just doesn't work. The penalty for playing a high smuggler is just so harsh (the loss of money due to his fees and attracting the mounties), and it so rarely happens that you have to go first that you might as well always play your lowest-ranked smuggler on every turn. Selecting your smuggler is the main mechanic of the game; as this doesn't quite work, the game as a whole doesn't quite work.
If this comes to the table again (doubtful), I will try the following workaround: smugglers *pay* their rating in loonies instead of charging you -- this I think would fix my main beef with the game as you would want to play high enough to get a good bonus but not so high as to attract the attention of the mounties. Another thought I had was that if you can attract two mounties in the same province under your control, they both go away (to eat donuts or something). This would actually make it worthwhile to attract a mounty under some circumstances and might introduce some interesting decision-making. But this is untested and may introduce other problems. I'll report on it here if I get to try it.
I never realized that mexican food was so bad in Canada
It is, sadly.
I have one minor and one major qualm with the rules: they don't specify in which order the provinces should be layed out. Being Canadian I knew that it would have to be Alberta -> Saskatchewan -> Ontario -> Québec, but this might not be immediately obvious to other people.
I thought that would be a serious problem, so I checked the rules to verify this. For laying them out it says to see the figure on the first page. The figure in the bottom right corner of the page plainly shows the order they should be laid out. It's small, but it's there.
Overall I thought the rules were a bit hard to grasp on first reading, but thinking about it after playing the first time I realized they are really not. They are simpler to follow than the much longer rules for, say, Saint Petersburg (such a simple game needs 8 pages?) or Settlers of Catan.
The player with the highest total in each province gets the 'cantina bonus' (still unsure what that is, I think it's the +4/+5 symbol on the province card)
The penalty for playing a high smuggler is just so harsh (the loss of money due to his fees and attracting the mounties), and it so rarely happens that you have to go first that you might as well always play your lowest-ranked smuggler on every turn.
I found that this can be an issue mostly in 2 player games, but it can be dealt with strategically. If someone else is playing their lowest-ranked smuggler on every turn, that means that their lowest-ranked smuggler becomes higher as the round progresses. Plan for the round rather than just the turn and overall it can work in your favor. You won't get a tremendous lead, but you can win.