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.