Dale Yu: Review of Arraial


  • Designers: Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro, Paulo Soledade
  • Publisher: MEBO Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30-40 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by MEBO Games

Arraial is a game based on the eponymous traditional Portuguese summer festival.  In this game, the festival visitors are found on different colored polyominoes – and you have a street board where you will try to fit them in as tightly as possible.  This game also fits in well with the pervasive theme of SPIEL 2018 (and this week on the Opinionated Gamers) – that is, games with polyomino placement.

There is a central board that is placed in the center of the table, it is square in shape and there is an octagon on it where three color piece cards will be placed.  Each player orients their street board so that it is oriented vertically against one of the sides of the central board. It is ok if multiple players have to share a side of the central board.   A level bar is placed at the appointed row on your board based on player count.

You will note that there are yellow dots on the octagon – anytime that you place a card on the octagon, make sure that the yellow dot on the card matches the yellow dot on the octagon.  There is also a tableau of three more Color Piece cards placed off to the side of the octagon.

courtesy of henk rolleman

The game is played over three phases, and in each phase, you will play until you cannot refill the octagon with color piece cards.  On a player’s turn, the player has 3 action points that can be spent. For one action point, you can rotate the octagon 90 degrees clockwise.  For one action point, you can place a color piece by placing it in the exact orientation as you see it onto your board. Find the matching color piece, place it on your board, and then discard the matching card from the octagon. In phases one and two, you must place at least one color piece on your board each turn.  In phase three, you must place at least two color pieces on your board each turn. You are not required to use all your points so long as you meet the above requirements. At the end of your turn, you then refill the octagon with any of the three face up cards in the display off to the side. Then, refill the display up to three cards.

When you place a piece, again you take the matching polyomino as seen on the card as you are looking at it.  It then is placed at the top of your board in any column and then it slides straight downward until it either hits the bottom of the board or a previously placed polyomino.  The piece cannot rotate nor can it overlap another piece. The piece can move one space to the left or right when it lands to snuggle underneath another piece though. The whole piece must fit on your grid.  If any part of the piece hits your Level bar, the Level bar (and any meeples on it) are discarded, and then you are allowed to place the piece normally.

courtesy of henk rolleman

Once the piece is placed, check to see if you gain any visitors.  If you create a zone which has at least 2 pieces of the same color which are orthogonally adjacent, you place a matching colored visitor into that zone.   If it is the largest zone of that color (based on number of little squares), you also get the special double meeple in that zone. You will lose this to another player if they build a zone in that color which is larger than yours.

If you are able to fully complete a line with colored polyominoes (that is each little square in the row has a tile on it), you receive a white color meeple which is placed on your level bar. Your level bar also moves up one row.  They are not yet at your festival, but they are close and will join at the end of the phase. (If you have lost your level bar at some earlier point in the game, you never get it back, and you simply cannot ever earn any white meeples for the rest of the game).

The phase ends whenever a player is unable to refill the octagon up with cards.  At that point, all discarded cards are shuffled to form a new deck and the octagon is refilled with the top card(s) from the new deck.  A new display of three cards is created. Each player now drops their Level bar by 2 lines. As long as the level bar does not overlap any tiles, your white meeples that were on the bar now join the party.  They are placed on any color piece on your board. If your bar overlaps any tile, it is discarded and you lose any white meeples already on it. Play now continues with the next player in turn order.

If this had been the end of the third phase, the game simply ends – the level bar is NOT moved down, and all white meeples are placed in the festival. Now it’s time to count up points – which is quite simple.  You score one point per single meeple and two points per double meeple. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player furthest away from the original start player.

My thoughts on the game

Arraial is a beautiful game.  The colors are bright and engaging, and it enlivens up the game room when it is on the table.  The artwork is amusing, and I love looking at all the people drawn on the different tiles. As you have probably seen from this week’s worth of reviews, there are lots of polyomino games this year, and the big question is – how does it stand up to the competition from this year?

First, unlike most of the others – Arraial is NOT a roll and write.  Each player has to choose cards from the central octagon board to add to their festival.  Each player is going to end up with a different set of tiles to work with – some based on luck of the draw and some based on the choices made their their RHO… as the addition of new cards to the octagon is determined by the previous player in turn order.

This is good and bad.  I do like the fact that everyone has different tiles to work with.  But, the interaction with your RHO is a big negative for me. It honestly seems unnecessary, and long time readers of this blog will surely be familiar with my intense dislike of one-sided binding.  Sure, there are times when the tableau simply doesn’t have any good tiles for you, but there are also times when your RHO can see what you want and then chooses tiles which you can’t use. For me, it seems like good old luck of the draw from the top of the deck would work just as well.  It would make the decision making faster, and it also reduces the effect that a shrewd player has over their LHO as opposed to someone who just put cards in without much regard for their opponent.

Sure, you’d like to think that all the players would play at an equal level, but I have found that this rarely happens in any game.  The gameplay seems like it would be cut down by at least a third if this decision making process was cut out of the game, and it seems a bit more equitable to boot.

I suppose that those that clamor for player interaction have the stocking of the octagon to lean on.  The game also does offer a bit of indirect competition in the quest for the “longest road” double meeples – which can be quite valuable come the end of the game.   Though it may have made the production a bit more complicated, the majority of the blocks are all four squares in size – so this almost always becomes simply a race to see who places more tiles down.  It could have been a bit more interesting and challenging if there were tiles of different sizes available so that it might have come down to counting squares to see which area is larger.

I am also trying to figure out how the level bar works other than a player eliminator.  In this game, there isn’t much advantage to building non-efficiently. There are no bonuses for racing upwards to cover certain spaces, and the payoff for building a color-contiguous zone while leaving a huge gap underneath pretty much never pays off.  Thus, you’re never looking to play poorly and not try to finish solid lines. If you get caught out and touch the level bar – not only do you lose any white meeples that you might have on it at that time, but you also lose the bar for the rest of the game which means that you can NEVER AGAIN collect white meeples – which is a one-way ticket to DFL in this game as your opponents with their level bars intact will continue to collect and eventually score their white meeples.  I suppose you need it to pressure people to play well, but man, if you lose it in Phase 2 – you might as well get up and play something else as you’re not going to win this particular game.

The game itself works fine – like many of the other polyomino games that want to capture the essence of Tetris,this one does it well.  The use of the rotating octagon is an interesting and different way to deal with the rotation of the pieces. It is beautiful to look at, and it has the heft and feel of a real board game as opposed to the roll and writes which are a bit more ephemeral.  But in the end, we’re really just playing analog Tetris, and it takes a long time to get to the end of the story here, and you’ll end up winning if you sit to the left of the player who isn’t paying as much attention as everyone else.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Nathan Beeler: Like Dale, I had a big issue with the tile selection being done by your opponent instead of some variety of luck. In my one and only game of this, the winner was the person that was the beneficiary of someone who knew better but just wasn’t paying attention on one turn. The scores were artificially tight, and that one mistake gave away the whole game. Otherwise, the mechanisms do kind of work, and they even manage to replicate the limited ability to handle what a Tetris game throws at you in a split second. I’m impressed by it, but I don’t need it. I’d rather just play Tetris and give this a pass.

Patrick Brennan: I guess this is touted as Tetris the board game. The allure of Tetris is its speed and variety. This goes in the opposite direction. Not many shapes, not much variety, and the game is slow. You’re trying to place pieces in colour groups to earn VPs, and each row you fill extends the time you have to earn bonus VPs. But you can’t plan ahead as you don’t know what shapes and their orientation you’ll get to choose between until your turn starts. So, you execute your 3 actions of rotations and placements, and then spend further time working out how to shaft the next player in crafting their choices. This turns it into a mean game – also non-Tetris-like – and while you’re doing this, it’s pure downtime for the other players. This does have the benefit however of allowing them the opportunity to pull out phones and play the real deal in between turns.

James Nathan (1 play): I struggle to find a Tetris-style polyomino game that I enjoy.  When I think about the parts of Tetris that excite me, it’s (a) the push your luck of trying to only complete 4 lines at a time, (b) the errors induced when pieces start to fall faster than you can rotate and position them, and (c) delightful Russian music. Here, as with the others that I’ve tried, I fail to find something that fulfills those buckets – which may be fine: it can do something else interesting. But this one doesn’t for me.

Doug G (3 plays): So it looks like I’m going to be the contrarian here. With the stipulation that Shelley and I played this 2-player for 2 of our plays and 3-player with our nephew for one of them, we LOVED this game! I’m a huge Tetris fan from my college days, and though this one’s analog, I like the fact that you have to deal with the strictures of how the shapes of the pieces come at you based on the spinner on which they sit. Part of the fun involves making your opponent’s turn as painful as possible given how you leave the pieces on the spinner. The game also moves along quickly, so it didn’t outstay its welcome. For more info, we discussed it on Episode 647 of Garrett’s Games podcast – http://www.garrettsgames.com

Dan Blum (1 play): I initially rated it “I like it” but that was a borderline rating and with more thought I’ve downgraded it. I still do like some aspects – the color groupings are an interesting additional thing to think about (instead of just forming lines) and I feel the Tetris-like tension of getting too far up more here than in Brikks. However, I agree that some aspects of the game don’t work well – there’s the binding mentioned by others, the level bar removal is too harsh, the lack of variety in piece size means the competition for colors is not as interesting as it should be, and in our play we definitely felt that the scoring was too bland and predictable. I still like this sort of thing enough that I’d be willing play occasionally but it should have had more development.

Lorna: I liked the idea but the downtime was long, I prefer race or simultaneous play for my polyominoes… Also the game was dependent on the player choosing your orientation of the pieces.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Doug G.
  • I like it. Steph
  • Neutral. Dale Y, Dan Blum, Lorna, Simon W
  • Not for me…Nathan Beeler, Patrick Brennan, James Nathan

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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