Monday, December 19, 2011

Navegador - A wind in one's sail.

Game Designer - Mac Gerdts
Game Publisher - PD - Verlag / Rio Grande Games
Game Type -  Euro / Rondel

Navegador - A wind in one's sail.
Navegador is a euro-style board game by renowned designer Mac Gerdts. The game takes place in a time long ago when Portuguese explorers were mapping the globe inch by inch in a glorious race for fame, wealth and prosperity. You play one of these explorers vying for your place among the most revered. The game supports 2-5 players.

Once again Mac has chosen to use his trademark "rondel" mechanic, a wheel of sorts with different actions players can choose from as they go 'round and 'round. You can purchase buildings, workers, colonies and ships. There are actions to sail those ships out to sea as well as to utilize your buildings and add to your wealth. The actions are simple but when combined with the pacing of the rondel, it's trickier than it already sounds... but the truly wonderful quality of this game is that it's "trickiness" lies in the strategy and tactics rather than in it's rules.

Do you want to be a take on the challenges of setting sail into unknown waters? Are you eagerly anticipating settling the newfound land- harvesting the resources from the ground? Maybe the intrigue of an ever shifting market will reward your curiosity in industrialization? There are many roads to travel along, none without their own unique challenges and stories.

This review will center around a just few points of interest. There are plenty of rule re-hashes to found- I don't care much to add to the already adequate job these articles have done of explaining how the game works- I'd just like to tell you why it is I like it.

  • The Theme - I'm new to the business of writing reviews for Euro games but I can tell already in my 2-3 years of playing them that theme isn't going to be my introductory bullet point often. Theme isn't always as important for me as it seems it is to others, but when it works I enjoy it.  Somehow this game really gets the job done, as in, it makes you feel like you're getting the job done. You really feel like an explorer carving out your niche in the expanding landscape of the day. You're going to need a boatload supplies and money of course- let us not forget the ultimate motivator... well money and an unquenchable victory point addiction. One aspect I find especially thrilling is the exploring of new regions along the map. As you sail your ships into uncharted areas you earn the prestige of mapping the region for Portugal. Pushing forward to new regions allows one to settle more profitable areas on top of getting credit for the new discovery. Colonizing areas which produce valuable goods can earn you a lot of money, but only until the market bottoms out- opening the way for profit-minded factory owners to process the now cheap resources. The game very much has an ebb and flow, a rhythm. The activity comes in waves- as the tide inevitably goes back out to sea, so in come the shallow-water predators looking for a quick snack. 

  • The Market - After you begin to colonize some of the discovered regions goods start to show up in market- first sugar, then gold, then spices. One of the more mathematical points of the game is how the market works. During the game as you finance colonies you will begin to produce goods. Goods are traded in a  market that is open to all players willing to invest an action in on the rondel. There is a graduated scale in the upper left-corner of the board that dictates how much your goods are worth when you take them to market. Everytime you sell goods they are sold for the current market price but then afterwards the market is adjusted, driving down the value of that good for future sellers. Supply and demand. Another way to play the market is to invest in factories that process goods. When the goods are cheap and the market values low, the factory owner processes these cheap resources and sells them back to the market driving the value back up. So generally you'll end up having a couple players selling goods from their colonies while some of the factory driven players are setting up shop just waiting for the market to drop out so they can begin to make their piece of the pie. This happens across 3 different scales representing the market values for all 3 of the different goods. Again there's a rhythm to all of this dictated by which areas have been explored and thus maybe colonized, the factory prowess of the players and of course how many times the market is used as an action on the rondel. You see, you have to spend an action in order to sell or process.

  • The Rondel - This is truly the centerpiece of the game. To review this game and not make mention of it would be blasphemy. Designers and players alike gravitate towards this mechanic and it's simple nature. As the very first thing you do is pick up your pawn and move it to a new place on the rondel, this gives the turn a solid starting position. As silly as this sounds it really helps over analyzers get the ball rolling; to have limited choices as opposed to the overwhelming "menu" that's associated with many worker placement games and action point allowance systems. The game  moves along briskly because of this. I tend to lump my experience with this mechanic into one simple statement. Sometimes you ride the wheel and sometimes it rides you. As the round progresses around the table, each turn you can move your pawn forward up to 3 spaces (for free) around the rondel. If you'd like to go further than 3, the penalty is fairly steep, although sometimes necessary. This paces the game- you can't just keep doing the same thing over and over. You have to get all the way around the wheel again before you can choose your favorite action again. The trick is to make all of the actions in the path back to your niche as useful and impacting as possible. The only action that appears twice in the 8 separate action wedges is the market action, one that is almost a necessity in every strategy, the rest are spaced out among each other. There is a loose order of logistics involved, like buying ships before you can sail them and the similar- so as you race around the rondel make sure you're not passing up less useful but necessary actions! Inherently this leads to varied play. You simply do not have enough time or resources to do everything, although you do need to specialize in more than just one area of the scoring. Very often this game comes down to who can compliment their main strategy with some other useful ones. This is a theme that resonates throughout Navegador and might be in it's purest driving form right here in the action selection. The most notable of the actions along the trails is the "privilege" action. This is an area that allows you to pick from the available "scoring multiplier" chits in order to boost your chief strategies' point potential.    

  • The Scoring - Multiple paths to victory are something I look for in my game purchases. To me this one of the most important ways games can appeal to my need for variety play-to-play. More than a box full of cards or endless expansion possibilities, this aspect excites my gaming mind like almost no other. What I like about this game is that this apparent at a mathematical level. Now don't get me wrong, besides the market/economy aspect of this game it doesn't come across all that mathy. The different strengths one can excel in are fleshed out to include quite set of moving parts. Every one of these strengths is also intertwined among the others. It's the way you want to shape your strategy that will affect texture of your secondary pursuits. The neat thing about this all, is that now matter how many times the Venn diagram overlays atop itself there is a fair mathematician feeding the boilers below. At the end of the game each colony, factory, discovery, shipyard and church you've managed to amass through the game are scored. So for example, each of your colonies are worth a base of 1VP. So 6 colonies, 6 points- but as mentioned earlier the privileges will allow you to score more in the areas in which you've collected them. On your player sheet, each of the scored equities have a base value and a place to add some privilege chits below them to make them worth more. Each privilege, depending on the category, also has it's own value. They each add 1 or 2 points to the base value of these assets. So for instance, if you manage to get 2 of the "colony privileges" each worth one point, your colonies would each be worth 3 points (1+1+1). The shipyard and church chits are each worth 2 extra points per chit and the buildings themselves are worth 3 points, but this is off-set by their increased drain on money and worker resources. So throughout the game, especially during your first few overall plays, you'd barely notice all of this underlying math, but the balance is achieved through such simplicity- it really is beautiful. This paragraph could go on for quite sometime explaining all of the particulars, but in the interest of not confusing myself, these are the basics. The game's choices are so interwoven and overlapping that the multiple paths to victory seem legitimate and almost theme-based rather than founded on the broken backs of playtesters. 

  • The Map  -  I like the map. I like it a lot. It takes on the appearance of a yellowed cartographer's scroll. The colors are understated yet clear and brilliant. I've been a sucker for maps since I was a little boy- was always fascinated in history class by the rough estimations of coast lines, the subtle decorative desires of artistic cartographers craving more than just accuracy out of their hard work.  There's room enough on the board for both the building market and "trading market" as well. Each asset has it's own icon, which roughly equates to less than 10 intuitive symbols to remember. Everything is made very clear from premise through delivery. There are no cards, just tiles, a welcomed relief. The rest of the bits range from adequate to above average. The ships have interesting lines and are sculpted out of wood as well. Nothing too special, but aesthetically pleasing. The factories and buildings are wooden bits; and the colonies and privileges are tiles/chits. The money is chipboard as well, but fairly large in size and inscribed with one of four clear denominations.  Finally each player gets a player-mat that is made of cardboard  and is of an appropriate thickness. Overall I'd say I am very pleased to own this game based on the components. It's something I very rarely think about unless it's because they are of unacceptable quality, but in this case it's the opposite. 

  • 2P Scaling -  My main gaming partner is my friend Nicole and most of our games are played heads-up so I'm always looking for good 2P options. That being said, Navegador is not "best with 2", but it does scale down very well. As I'd say 90% of all my BG plays are 2P I have a pretty good idea of what I like in a two handed game and what I don't. One thing that I find rare among games that scale down well is that they maintain the pacing and feel of the bigger player count games. Navegador manages to feel similar to the bigger games with only 2. Usually when games attempt this sort of stable quality through different player counts you'll need the addition of special rules or a dummy player. Not here. Sure there are some differences in the "tightness" and overall available space with more players but Navegador hold up really well. The required amount of effort it takes to keep pushing the exploration horizon further doesn't suffer one bit. The fact that players must begin with their ships at the beginning of the nautical path assures that a certain amount of actions on the rondel will need to be undertaken before one can get up to the cusp of new territory. There are more privilege chits to go around, leading to some more focused attempts at specializing, but the scoring tension and race for the chits doesn't seem to dwindle that much. Things that don't work quite as well as I'd like: the market and the Navegador "special ability" card become a little less interesting. Less moving parts in the market leads to some stagnant activity as far as price "setting" and manipulation and the Navegador role can come across as a little inelegant with 2. These maybe two areas that follow true to the "it's not bad, it's just different" mantra. 

If I had just played this game once I probably would have rated it a 10, but after a couple plays it's clear it isn't my favorite game. That being said I would still put it in my favorite handful of games. It has a palatable sense balance and varied strategy. The underlying work the designer has done allows the thematic to rise above the mechanical. I really enjoy the overlapping scoring combined with a theme that is nothing short of a multi-tasker's paradise. The way the thematic elements mirror the interwoven scoring is really satisfying. The game plays fairly quickly with a minimal amount of book work and pause between turns. This keeps the game moving even at higher player counts. This is my first exposure to Mac's work and it's a success. I really look forward to trying Antike and the upcoming two player variant Casus Belli, the theme here seems even more up my alley. Imperial (2030) looks interesting and might provide an inlet to more economic centered games while still giving players in my group a certain sense of familiarity. I'm very much looking forward to that one too. All in all, I couldn't be happier with the game and it's been one of the best plays I've had since finding out about all of these "strange games".

                               - SEE THIS POST @ BGG  -

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Carson City - A Duel in Eagle Valley...

Game Designer - Xavier Georges
Game Publisher - Eagle Games
Game Type - Euro / Worker Placement

Carson City - A Duel in Eagle Valley...
When I had first heard of this game the only other worker placement game I had played up to that point was Agricola. I had sort of built up the mechanic up as a saving grace to my gaming tastes. There was something I really enjoyed about Agricola, something that seemed fresh, and so it seemed this new freshness was the worker placement mechanic. Now I know I was a little late to the WP party... I had not played Caylus yet, just heard about it's checkered reviews full of bickering over whether the game was even any fun or just an exercise in accounting, and from of the incendiary commenters, that the game was just a contrived, soul-less pissing match.  Agricola certainly wasn't all those bad things to me, so a hunt was on for Caylus. For whatever reason the FLGS in my area never had it in stock and with my curiosity towards this new-to-me mechanic soaring, I started looking towards some alternatives. That's when I first heard about Carson City, read some reviews, bought it, played it 20-30 times and here we stand.

I consider Carson City to be my second favorite worker placement game behind Agricola. I have now played the majority of the notable games that make up this group, so not much mystery is left. I've played Caylus several times and despite the extremely strategic, dense and tight game play, I have found Carson City does a better job of putting those qualities in a fun to play package. Minute-for-minute, decision to decision I feel Carson City provides a very similar experience to Caylus in less time and with more drama. As far as comparing it to Agricola, the game play is so different I hesitate even to do so. This shows that just because games have a shared mechanic it does not necessarily equate to a similar feel as a whole. I think Agricola might be the superior game, but it certainly isn't my favorite worker placement game.

As opposed to doing a detailed review with rules, explanation and strategy, I'd like to point out a few things I really like and expound on them. There are a ton of other great reviews that do a much better and thorough job of explaining the finer points... here are some that jumped up and bit me right in the heart.

  • The Roles - Each player per round will select a person from Carson City to help them out. Role selection is a nice way to give players special "powers" for a given amount of time without working into the rules all the extra fiddliness of acquiring them. The roles are varied and mostly balanced. (there are a couple less-desirable ones) Some help you get more guns, workers, cheaper buildings, VP's, money... The role placards are double-sided, you use only one side per game chosen prior, so there is a fresh set on the other side for a re-match! I personally prefer the red sides of the roles, they seem less powerful but require a little more finesse to take advantage of. These roles also help decide turn order (by rank) and cash limit (explained a lil' more later). There is a promotional role called "The Indian" that's pretty easy to proxy/obtain for some additional variety and a unique twist to the usual role benefits.    

  • The Map - I really enjoy the "interactive" aspect of the map. In a lot of worker placement games all you have is a board that looks like a menu at some sort of hieroglyphic themed diner. What I like here is that there is a spatial element to the strategy, that goes beyond just preferential positioning in a queue. The buildings that you will be constructing won't be worker placement spots in the future, but rather your economic engine for the game. You need to find and claim necessary area on the board to accommodate your economic strategy. So not only do you need the money to buy the buildings but also you may have to do a little "city building" to get your ducks in a row. All players are carving out their place on the same board. I crave this sort of interaction in games. When it's absent I notice. I'm not really stating that it's necessary for a game to have heavy player interaction for me to enjoy it, but it's just one of those things... when I think about boardgames I think about people trying to out maneuver their competition. This isn't always present in games like this, so to me, it comes across as refreshing. One thing to note as well, the board is double-sided. The basic board is one side, mountains scattered about, with a lot of room for players to spread out and find their own niche. The other side is the Carson River Variant. A river runs bold through the center of the play area. It provides for a tighter play area and a couple interesting strategic and tactical nuances. 

  • The Buildings -  There are quite a few different possible buildings that might cross the market path in any given game. The market is preset with 4 buildings (2 mines/2 ranches) to get the game started, but after that you draw replacements for the market from a cloth bag. There are several considerations when buying buildings: some need to go on specific types of plots (tile placement), they have different effects on income, they offer permanent benefits (guns, protection) and some even need a certain amount of existing infrastructure (roads, houses) to be placed. Couple all of these factors with the uncertainty of which buildings will come up for purchase in the game and you see some different building strategies each play. 

  • The Duels/The Guns - A point of direct conflict. In Carson City worker placement is not exclusive. Everyone is entitled their opportunity at any given action spot, the duels occur when two or more players choose to do the same thing. This ranges from buying the same buildings, trying to buy the same parcel of land, choosing the same action etc... When this happens, the involved players duel to see who will be the only player to receive the benefit or action of that spot. To do this players add in the gun tokens they have collected through various means along with their roll of a standard D6 die. All the losing cowboys are returned to their respected owners and the winner is allowed to take the action. There are a couple spots where multiple players can reap rewards, but besides those, there can only be one winner per action spot. The other way a player with a lot of guns can wreak havoc is buy robbing businesses of the other players. If someone is sitting pretty with their cash cow milking it turn after turn you can place a cowboy on their building for half of the money. It's a stickup! Before resolving actions the defending player can attempt to defend his earnings by placing one of his cowboys there, but a duel must be fought and won to protect his cash. One of the more subtle, and dare I say friendly, aspects of the design I started to appreciate in my later plays, was how the loser of the duel got to use his cowboys in the next round, almost always having a numbers advantage next time around. It just seems to balance things really well with almost little to no headaches from a design/mechanics/theme standpoint. It works really well and feels very fair.

  • The VP system - I couldn't really think of any term to adequately describe this, but the way the VP's are dished out in this game is tricky! All VP's you earn, besides those awarded for your buildings in end-game scoring, are purchased with your income. There is a sort of countdown on the bottom of the serpentine action track which allows you to place a worker for the exchange of money for VP's. Just like any of the other exclusive reward spots, only one worker will be allowed to convert cash to VP's at a reasonable rate. This means that you will need a worker on this spot and be able to withstand the dueling attempts from other players. Each turn the best value exchange spot is taken away, so not only are the exchange places becoming fewer but the rates at the remaining places are more expensive. On the last turn just one of these exchanges still remains at a whopping $5/VP whereas the first turn exchange can be had for as little as $2/VP. This makes pushing for the guns a very reasonable pursuit. As the head gunner you can very easily command that top exchange spot, and given a big enough advantage, force some of the other players to worse exchange rates for fear of dueling you. Another facet to this system is the cash limit built-in to the different roles. If you decide not buy VP's for whatever reason this turn you can only carry so much money to the next round. This is indicated by the character card you chose at the beginning of the round. So if you want to save some loot over to the next round, you had better have deep pockets. All money that falls over this line is exchanged at a rate of $10/VP and that's crazy expensive. So generally you want to do one of these on your turn with your loot: spend most/all on a bunch of productive buildings, spend most/all on VP's or choose a character with a high cash limit so you can achieve "baller status" for the next round as MC MoneyBagz with all that carry-over coin.

  • 2P - A lot of the games that I get to play to repetitive death are with my friend Nicole. So therefore, I try and find games to purchase that are good two player. They don't have to be best with 2, but as long as they work they'll get a nod where from me where they succeed in this task. I must say, Carson City plays almost as well with two as it does 3-5.  The board definitely get's tighter and play more interesting with more players but the 2P games have left me feeling very satisfied. The river variant side of the board is great for ratcheting up the land grabs and even succeeds in tightening up the market a little bit. 

  • A New Beginning - This was a little expansion/giveaway that was put out at Essen 2010. We haven't played all that much with this little expansion/variant yet but the premise is to allow for players to choose their own starting supplies. You can basically start with more or less of any given resource, work force, money and VP's. There are also a few other nifty things like being able to choose either side of the role cards, choosing two roles or even rolling two dice in the duels instead of one (keeping your favorite).  It seems like a ton more variety... but with so many moving parts and a little time between games (can't play this everyday!) we haven't really had the opportunity to mess around with the different possibilities. I think we've tried this twice, each time deciding just to stick to varied amounts of starting materials and no new "abilities", but I'm confident as we continue to have fun with this one through the years that this "advanced setup" may soon become our "normal setup". 

I think Carson City does a great job of marrying some of my favorite aspects of euro-typical games with a little bit of "take that" for a really unique experience. The role luck plays in the game keeps the strategy heavy player on their toes and lends itself well to more creative play. I think the variety found in the double-sided roles and map and various playmates will keep this hitting the table for quite sometime to come. It's a game I researched quite a bit before I jumped on, there are a lot of threads out there that will try to convince you that this game is broken/unbalanced, rude/mean, but I think it's a delight and one of the most interesting pieces of cardboard I've laid eyes on. It's game play perfectly matches it's theme... Carson City is a tense and exciting game with a lot of variety, leading to unexpected outcomes. Fits the old west theme mighty fine! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Met some new people. Played some new games.

Today I finally got to meet up with one of the few other casual gaming groups in the area. I had met these folks another time before, but just haven't had the time to get together with them again. John, the fella I first corresponded with got back in touch with me and graciously offered to have me over to meet some more of their friends and play some games. Played one title I had previously played and a couple new ones. Here's what we played and then some general impressions of the games.

This was the only title I had played previously. My opinion of this game hasn't changed much. I think it plays really nicely with a wide compliment of players. I actually managed to win it somehow. I'm not sure if I like or don't like that about it. I imagine as you get to better know the cards the game can take on a more strategic flavor, because with my knowledge of the decks my decisions are almost purely tactical besides the "chained" improvements at least. Still a very fun game, one that I may even consider owning at one point because of seating so many. I'm also kind of curious how it plays with fewer people. The game I played today had 5 players, which was an improvement over the 7 that were involved during my previous play. I think I might like seeing how the game flows when the chances of receiving your own cards back increases, say maybe with 3-4 players. The group also owned a copy of the Leaders expansion, but they thought it better to teach me the rules to the base game first and give that a go. After we had finished another player joined us and attention got shifted to another game. No worries here, I'm curious if the expansion might push it over the "mediocre line" for me, as of right now it seems a little light for my taste and really hasn't shown me a propensity for tough decisions, but I gather this is because I have no idea what potential hands I may receive, what cards are clearly better than others and obviously a lot of the strategic pacing is missing for me. I might need to play this one a few more times before I'd buy it. It definitely is the best game out of the three I played tonight however.    

When I first saw this guy floating around the geek I was rather interested in it. I'm a sucker for all the pretty dice just like... well... everyone else. For those not familiar with the game, it goes something like this... it's a dice collecting game or a dicebuilder if you will. There is a pool of dice available to every player in the middle of the table and a bag in each players hand. The players all start with some basic dice which are weak creatures and some dice which have "money" values on them. I believe you start with 12 dice total. Then you put those in your sack and shake em up! You draw six dice out of the bag per turn, roll them,  and then use the results to either put monsters in play or use your money to buy dice with more impacting actions. Upgrade! I only got to play this once, after a few turns I was already aware of some mistakes I had made... or rather different directions I would have went atleast. It was better than I had thought it would be, I just wonder how long the fun would last. I've never really been taken too far back by card games or their offspring but this may seem like one of the more tolerable. One thing I can say for sure, is that after I was done playing it I had the desire to play it again to see if I could improve. That's a good sign. I don't know if it'll make to my collection, but it's very enjoyable.

This one had actually been on my wishlist sometime back. I can't remember what it was that made me reconsider but I remember actually having it lined up in a trade at one point and bailed on it. This game is a deduction game similar to the old classic Scotland Yard, but set in a nunnery for young woman. You will be playing these young women as they attempt to sneak around the premises looking for their desired vice. the humor and art style of this game is one that I identify with. The artist's drawings of the characters remind me of Archie comics for some reason. It was a little tricky for the host to explain this to all the new players because of the way the movements are recorded. (they are written coordinates that you keep on your own personal sheet out of view of all other players) After we got things rolling it played pretty well, there were some moments of tension and what seemed like a game that would go on for a bit ended before I saw it coming. I guess some of the other players had a better handle on it than me. Some things to note about this one that I didn't like: the board was kind of confusing. There was a little chart included in the rule book that went over some of the point-to-point line of sight match-ups, some of which were made very confusing by the busy board. Several of the players actually made mistakes that almost warranted starting the game over. This is sort of different from other games where rule breaking is apparent and almost always correctable, because information regarding where your character was on the map isn't really revealed unless you've been caught. Sure there's the paper trail, where you've recorded your current location and past locations, but that's no fun. Given how simple the game really is, I think given a less rushed presentation of the rules or even another go at it would have resolved any confusion. I thought this game was a lot of fun, although I can't think of many instances where I'd prefer to play this kind of game over some of my other favorites... as of right now I'm fine playing John's copy when I get a chance. 

Good gaming everyone!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Macao - wind rose, is a wind rose, is a wind rose, is a wind rose.

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

    Macao - wind rose, is a wind rose, is a wind rose, is a wind rose...

    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 Vassal 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 the BG world seems to Feld-crazy these days, dude's brilliant.