DESIGNER: Alexander Pfister
PUBLISHER: dlp Games
AGES: 12 and up
TIME TO PLAY: 60 to 150 minutes
I haven’t had much experience with legacy games, but I am always intrigued by the idea of them. I have a bunch sitting on our game shelf, waiting to be played, and my New Year’s resolution is to get them to the table this year. While perusing the Essen list I was happy to see some games that were campaign games, but are not only playable in that manner. I was especially intrigued by Maracaibo, based on the description and the fact that I am a fan of several of Pfister’s other designs.
(Note – I am not going to try to give you a full rules review here, because there are a lot of rules and it would be pages before we got to what we think of the game. I am going for the general flavor of how things work. Also, this is a spoiler-free review; I won’t discuss the specifics of the campaign mode).
There is one large game board that contains all of the actions/tracks for the game. There is a space for all of the various components on the board, except for money and cards, which go off to the side.
Each player also gets a small personal board along with various wooden bits – an explorer, workers and a ship along with some markers for various tracks. Many spaces on your player board have two disks on them; over the course of the game you will have the chance to remove these disks, which will open up additional action options or bonuses for you.
If you are playing the campaign game, you will have particular story cards set out based on where you are in the campaign. If you are not you will use story cards specifically designed for this; these cards are the same every non-campaign game that is played.
The game is played over four rounds. The length of each round will vary, since it will depend on how quickly players sail along the routes on the board. After the fourth round the player with the most victory points wins the game.
On your turn, your first action is always to move (sailing). You must move, and you can move forward up to 7 spaces. Players may occupy the same space. If a space has a red hand symbol you must stop on that space, regardless of how many movement points you have left.
Your second action is to perform a main action at the spot you landed on.
If you stopped in a city you may deliver a good by discarding a card with the matching symbol, and then you may perform the action listed for that city; both actions are optional and you can choose to do one, both or none. Most of the city spaces have a tile that changes what good and actions are available each game.
The actions that might be available to you on a city (depending on the tile) include:
If you land on a city with combat symbol you can try to increase your influence with one of the nations (the red, white and blue cubes at the top of the game board). You flip over one of the combat tiles, which will show you the costs and bonuses for each nation. There may be a bonus or additional cost for choosing the nation with the most influence currently on the board. You choose the nation you want to do combat with, and then you may take up to 2 combat actions; each type of action can be taken once. You pay for the combat using combat points that are tracked on the top of your player board.
Depending on the amount spent you can gain one or two influence with the nation that you chose; you move your marker along that nation’s influence track. You could instead opt to take the action to place one of those nation’s markers on one of the spaces on the board with a flag, taking the bonus printed on the flag. You get victory points based on your positions on these tracks at the end of the game.
The bottom of the board is an exploration track. If you stop on a city with the exploration symbol you can move your explorer along that track up to the number of allowed spaces. Many of the spaces provide a bonus – money, combat points, influence etc. and being the first to cross identified spots can give you victory points.
Other city options include gaining various bonuses, influence or manipulating your player board.
If you stopped on a village (which is essentially any non-city space), you take a village action. If you got to that village using 4 to 6 movement points you can take 2 village actions and if you used all 7 of your movement points you can take 3 village actions. Available actions include:
o Discard all of your cards and gain 2 doubloons.
o Take 1 doubloon.
o Buy a card.
You start the game with a hand of cards. These cards serve two purposes – they can be discarded as the good that is printed on the side when visiting a city with that good symbol. Remove one of the disks on your player board and place it on the goods space on the city, if it is still available. (Once a space on your board has had both disks removed that action/bonus is available to you).
Cards can also be purchased for you to take advantage of the card’s effects. You spend the coins to buy it, either from your hand or from the space above your board (as a free action you can stash a card for later purchase there to free up your hand). The cards benefits can be taken immediately.
But wait! That’s not all. The board also contains quest tiles on some cities and exploration spaces; some are permanent spaces and others are determined by the story cards.
If you stop on a quest tile you may complete the quest. Pay the costs, gain the reward and place the quest in the appropriate spot on your player board. You receive victory points for completing quests.
If it was a story quest, you will read the reverse side of the card at the end of the round; that card will influence the set-up for the next round.,
At the end of your turn draw cards up to your hand limit. You may draw from the deck for free, or pay 1 doubloon for one of the 4 face-up cards.
END OF A ROUND
At the end of the sailing path there are spaces that, once a player lands on the first one, will trigger the end of the round. There are 2 preliminary spaces that the player must stop on before they can move to the one that ends the round, so you have a 2 turn warning that it will happen.
You then proceed to interim scoring after rounds 1, 2 and 3 and final scoring after round 4.
· You may buy a card from your hand or planning area/prestige building OR score 2 victory points.
· Get income and victory points based on those tracks on the board. During the course of the game card effects will let you move your marker up on these tracks.
· Remove all disks delivered as goods from the board and remove them from the game.
· Clear the display of cards and draw 4 new cards.
· Reveal the next prestige building.
· Check to see if the story card or cards have been fulfilled; if they have read the reverse side(s) and follow the instructions.
· Return all ships to Havana and start the next round.
· You may buy a card from your hand or planning area/prestige building OR score 2 victory points.
· Get victory points based on the income and victory point tracks.
· Score points for your cards and any prestige buildings you invested in.
· The player with the most influence in each nation scores 3 victory points
· Score points based on your position on the influence track (number of empty spaces times the farthest ribbon you reached or passed).
The player with the most points wins the game. There are no tie breakers.
If you are playing the campaign you take the campaign-related tiles and story cards and put them in the blue bag that is provided. If you are not, you put all components away.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
I am really enjoying Maracaibo so far. There is a lot going on here, with many, many choices to be made and seemingly many paths to victory. None of the choices feel forced; they all flow well with the theme and work as a path to victory. Having so many things going on may be a negative for some, but I like it. If you don’t like Great Western Trail, I suspect you will not like this either. However, Maracaibo is not just a rehash of GWT with boats; my statement is based on the number of things happening that lead to a looooooong rules explanation and the many, many things to think about as you play. Maracaibo has its own elements and strategies that differentiate it from GWT.
The campaign mode adds some elements of story that can make the game more interesting, but are not essential to the enjoyment of the game. I like the storyline we’re following and the fact that it sometimes has a “choose your own adventure” feel to it, but I like the basics of the game enough that I wouldn’t need that I like that is possible to play both the campaign mode and the non- campaign mode, and you could do that interchangeably. We left our campaign game set up by putting the campaign components we were using in the provided blue bag, and then brought it to a game convention where others played it without the campaign, and it had no effect on our continued play.
Some things felt a little confusing to me until we were well into our first play. For example, I had trouble wrapping my head around the combat action because it isn’t really a fight – if you have the right number of combat points you just do the action. This was true for all players about some aspect of the game, but after the second round of the game it was all clear.
The rules are long because so much is happening, and not everything is explained together in the same place, so you end up doing a lot of flipping back and forth to find the answer to a rules question. It would have been nice to have everything about a topic in the same section, or to at least have an index. The rules are generally clearly written, though, and we didn’t have a lot of questions that we couldn’t find the answer for. We did have one in our second game that we couldn’t resolve, but it was related to a very particular situation. We posted it on BGG and got a very speedy answer from Mr. Pfister himself! We had resolved it correctly, and that was based on our understanding of the rules in general, even though that wasn’t specifically covered.
The components are of good quality and the graphics are reasonably clear; the board and the cards are busy with a lot of icons, symbols and the like, but I didn’t feel like I was struggling to see much, although I do occasionally feel the need to stand up to see something on the other side of the board from where I am seated.
The player board has many spaces with two small disks; those disks were prone to being knocked over on a regular basis, so I would suggest putting your player board in a spot where you will not be reaching over it, since it is important to know what disks have already been removed. It’s not a huge deal ; you just have to be mindful about it.
THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS:
Patrick Korner: First off, a small disclaimer: I assisted the developer of the game by translating the rules into English, for which I received some compensation. If you think that makes me a shill, you’re entitled to your belief, but I like to think I’m pretty even handed with my opinions. All that said, I really enjoyed Maracaibo and am very much looking forward to getting a campaign set up. When doing the rules (and even when teaching them later in the year) my concern was that there. Were. Just. So. Many. Rules. Done poorly, this kind of design can easily turn into a Kitchen Sink Disaster. Thankfully, Maracaibo does it well. Your turn is just as simple as in Great Western Trail – move some spots and do some stuff – but there are a ton of options and alternatives to consider. Depending on how quickly your opponents advance the game clock (i.e. how far they choose to sail each turn), you might not have all that many turns before the game is over, but thus far it seems that racing the endgame is not a dominant strategy, which means that you should still find enough room to develop your nefarious plans…
Jonathan F.: I have only played once and am not sure how many plays I will get in in 2020. That said I definitely liked it. I found it quite thematic if you assume the winds force you to go the directions the board lets you go. If you create an engine based on a slow progression, as others have noted, it can be scuttled by someone with a speed movement strategy. I can see this being unsatisfying, but it is definitely a core part of the design. I think it might be fun to have more card diversity as strategies seemed to be helped by multiple copies of an identical card. I was surprised how many card duplicates or near duplicates there were in the deck, so don’t go in thinking if someone else gets a card that you are frozen out from getting one too.
Simon Neale: This game has got elements of Great Western Trail, Black Out Hong Kong and Mombasa so players who enjoy Pfister’s previous games should enjoy Maracaibo. That said there is an awful lot going on in the game and it takes a few rounds before you realise that your turn boils down to a few straight forward actions. I have played the base game (without the story mode) both multi-player and solo and I have thoroughly enjoyed all my plays. I am looking forward to trying the story mode and this could well be my favourite game of 2019.
Patrick Brennan: Mmm, meaty goodness. In each of the 4 rounds you cycle through the action rondel, but you choose which actions on the rondel you wish to do each time. Some strategies want these actions, others want those actions, and there are lots of strategies depending on your quest card and what cards you draw into. There’s risk at missing out if you try to do too many actions in a round because the first to finish a lap of the rondel sets how many actions there’ll be in the round. It means that even though you’re doing your own stuff which can’t be hurt too much by the other players, you’re still affected by the approach of other players – a balance I really like. You’re probably sloughing off way more cards for their goods than analysing and playing them for their effects, which may lessen the game a bit, but at least the effect path is there to provide opportunity for depth. A campaign mode, lots of point avenues to approach, lots of specialisation paths to try (which means rules overload but I don’t care) … count me in!
I love it! Tery, Patrick Korner, Craig Massey, Simon Neale, Patrick Brennan
I like it. Jonathan F., Brandon K
Not for me.