Dale Yu: First Impressions of Embarcadero

So, 2020 is the year where I finally learned to conquer my fear of online gaming.  Well, sort of.  I’ll admit, I still don’t like it very much; but the pandemic has made it such that this is the only way to see some of the new games!  I was invited to meet with one of the press folks from Renegade to discuss their new game, and after a short demo, I was enticed enough by the description to go ahead and play a game online!  I’m normally not a fan of playing games online, but I’m trying to get ready for SPIEL2020.digital, so it’s high time that I figure out all this new fangled technology.

In Embarcadero, players are business moguls in the growing city of San Francisco.  Around the wharves, players will park their boats and build buildings upon them – all trying to be the most successful mogul.

Players start the game by getting a business mogul tile, a player board which has a nice player aid on it as well as space to hold your cards, some starting money and a bunch of building platforms in your color.  Each player is also dealt a starting hand of cards – these cards are of two types: ships and buildings.  You get 4 of each type, and you must create your starting hand of 5 cards from these.  Players also get a supply of cubes (Structures) in their color.

Near the board is the general supply of coins, empty boats, and some finished resources.  Additionally, there is a display of cards – for each type, ships and buildings, four cards are laid out face up.  On these cards, the cost is found in the upper right.  Buildings also require resources to be built, this is seen on the right edge under the monetary cost.   Resources made by the ship/building are seen on the left.  If there is a bonus action associated with the card, it is found along the bottom.

The board itself has two main areas. To the right, you see the four wharves surrounded by water spaces.  Each player will start the game with a single 1×3 ship, with all spaces covered with their structures (cubes).  Ownership of ships never changes, and no one can ever place their structures on your ships.  As you build a platform you get to put one or more structures on it.  Later, groupings of these structures will be covered by more platforms to allow you to build more buildings.  The left of the board has the council track.  You can get bonuses as you move your marker down this track.

The game is played over three rounds, each following the same format – which is deceivingly simple.:  Play a card, buy a card. 

Players start each round with a hand of 5 cards.  On a player turn, players must first play a card.  If it is a ship card, they will build a ship – placing a ship tile down on the water and placing a single structure cube on it.  If they build directly next to a wharf, they must spend $1 for each space next to a wharf.   Ships produce goods (as seen on their card) and they also provide platforms for building things.

If it is a building card, they first check to see if they are able to build the building.  The card tells you the size of the building, and you must have a contiguous group of uncovered structures available.  You must also have access to the resources needed to build the building (meaning that you can see the resources on the production areas of your card).  If you meet both requirements, the structure cubes are covered with building tiles and you are able to play the card.  You place a single structure cube on top of the newly build building.  If you are able to meet the secondary cost (seen in yellow on the right hand border of the building card), you instead get to place cubes on all the spaces of the new building.  Score points for the card, and then take any immediate bonuses if offered on the bottom of the card.

The third option is to play a card and scrap it – which means you don’t build it, and you instead take the scrap bonus which is seen in the bottom left corner, just to the right of the production strip.  You could also choose to simply take $5 or place 3 structure cubes as a default scrapping action.  After you have done this, you do have the option of discarding one set of cards from the market and dealing out new cards.

Once you have taken you action, then you must buy a face up card from the market.  Pay the cost as shown in the upper right corner and add the card to your hand.  Next, take any card from your hand (which may or may not be the one you just bought) and place it face up on your player board.  You are essentially putting these cards down to form your next hand.

The next player takes their turn, and this proceeds until there are no cards left in your hand – this should happen after the fifth card play, and each player will also now have 5 cards on their player board for the next round.

Now that you know the basic structure, there are a couple of other things to briefly mention.  The first is the council track – which is found on the left of the board.  You move down this track due to certain building bonuses or scrap actions.  Additionally, any time that you place a structure cube so that it is immediately orthogonally adjacent to an opponent’s cube, you get to move on the track.  You can gain bonuses as you enter certain spaces, and at the end of the game, you can get a VP bonus dependent on your progress on the track.

Also, note that the wharves can be expanded – due to building bonuses or scrap actions.  Wharf tiles extend the existing wharves out in a straight line.  You gain $1 for each wharf tile placed.  Infill tiles allow you to increase your presence near the wharf without having to dock a ship.  When you place the infill tile, you put a cube on it.  IF this cube is adjacent to the wharf, you must pay the $1 fee for it.

At the end of each round, there is a scoring phase – and it is summarized on the very left of the game board.  In each round, the first part of scoring is a bonus based on board state – either cubes next the each wharf, progress on the council track, and then both.    Then, there is a goal card for each round (dealt out in setup) – points are awarded for being in 1st, 2nd and 3rd place for the goal on the card. 

If this is round 1 or 2, players now pick up their hands from their player boards, collect any income (gold resources seen on their ships/buildings) and play resumes – the new start player is the player with the lowest current score.   Both rows in the market are wiped out and new cards are dealt.

If this is the final round, there is a final score reckoning. you also score points based on the card cost of the cards you stored away during the final round.  You now score points for

  •         End game bonuses on building cards
  •         Points for the money cost of your cards saved in the 3rd round
  •         Progress on the Council track

The player with the most points wins.

Please note that this isn’t an exhaustive/complete overview of the rules!  I’m doing a lot from memory, but I think it’s probably enough to get you the overall feel for the game…  Also, note that I’m only describing the basic game as this is all that I have been taught.  The complex game involves the back side of the character cards where each has asymmetric abilities and endgame scoring options.  That’s all I know about it.

My thoughts on the game

 So, I’ll admit, my initial motivation for taking on this meeting was split.  I was interested in the game itself, but I also wanted to take a test drive with a digital meeting, learn how to use Discord, etc.  I’m really glad that I did, as I must say that both of my goals were completely fulfilled!   I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the game after the demo portion, but I was pretty happy to give it a try.

 The online setup on Tabletopia looks quite nice, and it was pretty easy to see everything.  Sometimes, for me, I have issues seeing everything that is going on.  Here, I pretty much had to focus on either the wharf area or my cards – and that was enough.   I mean, sure I could have tried to look at the cards that my opponents were storing away on their own player boards to try to divine their strategy – but let’s face it, even in real life, I likely wouldn’t bother with that.  I tend to just worry about my own stuff and so I wouldn’t normally be looking.  Additionally, I didn’t have to worry too much about what was going on building wise because my own ships would always be mine, so it’s not like I had to constantly know what was going on over there.

 I’ve only played twice so far, but thus far I love the way that this game has such a simple structure but yet offers a wide area of strategic plays.  I also really like the way that the card storage mechanism allows you flexibility in your current turn – as you might be able to buy a card that you want to use immediately – as well as giving you some mid to long range planning.  It’s a really neat idea to be able to construct your next round’s hand as you are playing the current round.

 The cards give you lots of options.  Early on, it’s a lot of ship building – both to lock down your footprint for building as well as to ramp up your resource production.  Once you have enough resources available, then you can start erecting buildings – and this is clearly more complicated.  You have to figure out where you want to put things, and then you also have to make sure you have enough resources for it. I would also keep in mind where your opponents are building – both to take advantage of adjacencies to advance yourself on the Council path as well as to try to defend against your opponents taking advantage of your placements.

 As you build the buildings, then you start to keep an eye on the goal cards as well as the possibly synergistic interactions on the cards.  I have also found it very useful to try to pay the bonus building costs on cards because then you get to place one cube per space on a new building instead of only one cube.  That saves you energy from having to put down cubes in the future and allows you to immediately build something else!  For me, it’s well worth the investment of an extra turn to build a ship or smaller building if it lets you get enough resources to build with the bonus.

 Some of the more advanced buildings require you to “sink” one of your ships.  You don’t lose the card, but you must cover over the production area of that card.  Plan carefully when you want to build these advanced buildings as you will need to take into account your newly reduced production situation going forward!

 I tend to really like games with finite and limited numbers of actions, and knowing that you only have 15 card actions in the game makes you really focus on maximizing each one.  What makes it harder is that you will almost certainly have to take a few actions where you scrap a card – cubes are hard to get on the board, and often money is tight… or maybe you just don’t have the right resources to build a building – then scrap it and make the best of your action!

 All of these little things coalesce together to create a tight game, one where each card play is important, and therefore, you must be constantly watching how your cards work together as well as monitoring the cards in the market.  Because, after all, even though you’re trying to make the most of the current round, you’re also trying to store away cards for the next round.  It’s a lot of things to worry about, but the game is set up in such a way that it never feels overwhelming. 

 My games right now are about 90-120 minutes, but I think a lot of that is due to interface issues.  I can foresee games in the 45-75 minute range once people are familiar with the game and they aren’t fussing around with their computers.

 I can’t really comment on the components. I mean everything looks sweet on the digital version, so if that’s the only way you’re going to play, then the components are sweet.  Sure, the digital blocks are a bit finicky and sometimes things topple over – but that’s just digital gaming.  It was super helpful to play out first game with one of the Renegade demo guys.  Matt was awesome, and he is familiar enough with the interface to help out a newbie like me.  For those familiar with Tabletopia, I’ve been told that it’s a fairly easy game to manage.

 So, I’ve only played twice, but I’m already itching to play again.  That’s a great sign.  I’m really looking forward to getting a physical copy of the game.  For now, I’ll have to scratch the itch on Tabletopia.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Brandon K:  As a horrible player of games online, when I take on these demos I just kind of go along with the game to learn it, I couldn’t care less about how I score or how I do as long as I understand what is going one, and much like Dale, I’m not the most competent at using the software available. Before I babble too much about the game I will say that after playing it, I decided to back Embarcadero. It really tickles a lot of what I like about games. You can’t help but be all in everyone else’s business here, you build next to each other, trying to vie for the best spots and you even gain benefits for doing so. There is a wonderful 3d element to Embarcadero as you play that didn’t really come across in the online play, but you know it’s there. Not only does the board fill up with ships sprawling outward, it is going to sprawl upward with the building of the buildings. Being able to advance on the Council track is going to be really important as there are bonuses all the way up it, from gaining money to gaining the ability to build buildings and even points at the end of the game. In order to get those movements though you have to build adjacent to other buildings, on the same level, so it can be tricky and require some careful planning to gain the most benefit. Dale is also correct, the fact that you only have 15 actions mean you have to be planning and moving forward each turn, there can be no wasted actions here. I really like the deck building aspect here and how you get to build your hand from round to round. I think there’s a lot to really be anxious about in Embarcadero, now the waiting begins. 

Again, if you’re interested in learning more or backing the game – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/renegadegamestudios/embarcadero

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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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1 Response to Dale Yu: First Impressions of Embarcadero

  1. Thanks for playing and reviewing. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

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