Navegador

Image by Peter D

In my thoughts on 2010, I mentioned one game I really wanted to try but missed out on was Navegador, the latest in the rondel series of games by Mac Gerdts. While I enjoy Antike and have warmed up to Imperial, neither are games that really demand my attention. When information on Navegador came out it looked like it may finally be the rondel game I’ve been wanting. Thankfully I received a copy from my BoardGameGeek Secret Santa shortly after the new year and have had a few opportunities to table it up!

Players in Navegador are Portuguese sailors navigating the African coastline trying to expand the Portuguese empire. You discover new colonies to trade with, build up your production capabilities at home, construct fleets of ships for exploring and look to the church for more manpower.

Navegador takes place over three eras triggered by a player sailing into specific sea regions on the map. Over the course of the game you will be able to collect privileges from powerful Portuguese families to earn you victory points for various game aspects you have focused on. For example, one will give you points based on the number of factories you have built while another earns points based on the number of colonies you have settled.

There are really three things that drive Navegador:

Image by da pyrate

* The Rondel – Mac Gerdts loves his rondel and it makes yet another appearance in Navegador. For those not familiar, the rondel a circle of actions players traverse to choose their actions each turn. You start the game on any rondel space but may only advance up to three spaces for free on future turns. This creates a somewhat a pre-programmed sequence of actions but you decide how quickly you move around and which actions to take or skip.

Unlike Antike and Imperial, I think Navegador really makes the rondel shine. In those other games your choices around the rondel were generally obvious and the game was more about what you did within those actions. Navegador flips that around and really puts the emphasis on deciding when and where to stop around the rondel. Only the market action appears twice so skipping any other action means some time before it will be available to you again. I think the order of the actions is really well designed as you’ll find yourself making extremely difficult decisions on how quickly you need to get around the rondel.

* The Market – While the rondel drives your decision making, the market really is the focal point. It’s the only portion of the game featured twice on the rondel – a good clue that it will see lots of action.

Image by henk.rolleman

Like many other games with markets, prices fluctuate as goods are bought and sold to simulate supply and demand. Here, though, the concept of goods is abstracted out and you simply receive cash for your exchanges. Selling goods from a colony to the market back in Portugal will earn you money and drive prices down while using your factories takes goods from the market, driving prices up and giving you a return on the profit margin made. You want to sell when prices are high and manufacture when prices are low.

Again, this isn’t an innovative mechanic but not many games make it such a central part of the game or do so as elegantly. Everyone will be using the market and the trick is figuring out who is buying or selling what and when so you can find the perfect time to cash in big. Of course that ties back to the rondel; sometimes to get that big payout you’ll have to pass up other actions that may earn you points or build your economic engine.

* Finding Your Niche – It’s no surprise I’m pleased with Navegador’s multiple paths to victory. What really makes Navegador interesting is that a strategy’s viability depends on what everyone else at the table is doing. The player to your right will heavily influence your choices as you want to avoid following in their footsteps; ideally you play off of them while carving out your own niche. This aspect is certainly found in other games (Puerto Rico immediately comes to mind) but I’ve found it works really well in Navegador. There are enough different strategies and they compliment each other nicely so you can find something that fits in with everyone else. You need to be aware of how your choices ripple down to everyone else; you don’t want someone else to cash in too big from you! Yet letting any single player go uncontested in any aspect of the game will almost certainly mean victory while everyone else butts heads.

Image by duchamp

Going into Navegador I was hoping for a fun rondel game. What I discovered is one of the more fun pieces of cardboard I’ve tabled up. Heavy use of the player-driven market mixed with carving out your scoring opportunities easily lend Navegador to repeated play. There are many difficult decisions to make but the rondel helps narrow your choices on any given turn and allows you to plan a couple of turns ahead. While there’s no direct player interaction you need to be aware of what everyone else is doing so you can benefit most from their actions while helping them out as little as possible. It doesn’t hurt that the game features a beautiful map and quality components that help sell the theme even if the mechanics do feel a bit abstract.

If you enjoy a solid Euro-style game or are a fan of Mac Gerdts’ other rondel titles, be sure to give Navegador a look. It has easily shot to the top of my list.

Antike

(image courtesy MacGerdts @ BGG)

Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been fighting off a nasty cold and the weather hasn’t been cooperating much. Thankfully Monday night I was finally able to get some gaming in. I got Antike in trade not long ago and have been itching to try it out so we decided it would hit the table.

Antike is a game of conquering Europe (and eastern Mediterranean if you use the flip side map) for up to six players. Sure, there are a lot of games that involve beating each other up in Europe but Antike has a few unique things going for it. First off, there is zero luck; not a single die roll or card draw. Second, it uses an interesting mechanism called the rondel for choosing player actions.

I’m a big fan of luck. Rolling lots of dice makes me happy. I find some sort of sick enjoyment from managing the randomness while pulling from a deck of cards. No luck can be a scary proposition for me in a game and I was a little worried about that in Antike. Most games of this sort at least use a d6 for combat but not so here. Battles are simple and brutal; in general, like units are eliminated 1:1. If two players each bring three soldiers into battle, nobody is left with soldiers at the end of the day.

Initially that makes the proposition of combat a little scary. You know going into battle if you’ll win or lose and at first it seems like that would lead to some serious stalemates on the board. While I’ll need more plays to determine if that’s fully true, I really didn’t get that feeling in our three player game. Combat isn’t a means to an end in Antike, it’s a tool that you exercise at the precise moment you need it. Figuring out those moments and trying to make them happen is extremely fun and rewarding.

The game is played to a number of victory points which varies based on the number of players. Points are earned in a few different ways: owning cities, building and destroying temples, controlling seas and researching technologies. Combat becomes a tool for either earning those victory points or denying someone else points. What makes it really work is that you earn points for reaching various milestones. For example, you earn a point for every five cities you control. At the end of your turn, if you own five cities you earn a point. That point will never go away, even if you drop below five, and you’ll never re-earn that point. Your next point from cities will come when you manage to control ten cities and so on. That system allows you figure out which attacks will push you to your goal. You might push hard to take a city from someone simply to earn you your tenth for an extra point and immediately abandon it because that city is now useless to you.

Actions are taken by moving around the rondel which is a circle divided into eight parts. You get to move three spaces for free and need to pay resources if you wish to move further. There are three resource gathering actions and their counterparts along with two maneuver actions. Iron is used for building new units, so iron and arming are directly opposite each other on the rondel. This clever system not only makes it easy to remember what resources are used for (just look opposite on the rondel) but also means that you can’t generate a resource one turn and immediately use it the next without paying out an additional resource. You end up making some tough decisions on where to move on the rondel as you’ll have lots of things you want to do and getting back around can take a couple of turns if you pass up something.

Turns fly by too, which is great. It’s a longish game… I would plan for three to five hours depending on the number of players, but that’s pure speculation on my part based on our one play. Each turn is fast though so it never feels like there’s much downtime and you have plenty to be thinking about while others are going. With no luck involved you really have nobody but yourself to blame if things go poorly!

My only major complaint is that the game was a tad fiddly. There are little cardboard coins to represent your resources that you are always earning and spending, plus you have to add up how many resources you gather all the time. I think I’m going to print out little sheets so players can easily track how many resources they are gathering to help cut down on time and potential errors.

Overall I was really impressed and can’t wait to play some more. I thought the no-luck factor would turn me away but it ends up working just fine. It’s a very dynamic game – our map changed a lot and key territories were hotly contested – so there’s plenty of excitement. You do have to play it a bit differently that your typical conquest game though as you need to pick your battles wisely and decide when to push for points. If you like conquest style games, though, I’d really suggest giving Antike a look. It’s something a bit different and it won’t suite all players but, like me, you may be surprised at just how fun it is.

EDIT: I may have overestimated the length a bit. Thinking back our learning game with three was around 2 1/2 hours and we probably could’ve done it faster than that. Although I still think it’ll take awhile with six, especially depending on how analysis prone your players are.