Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Review: Caribbean

Caribbean, from Michail Antonow and Jens-Peter Schliemann, is one of a new line of small-box games from Rio Grande Games and Winning Moves. In this game, players attempt to bribe pirate ships to and convince the pirates to deliver their treasure to ports under the player's control.

This is a rather unique bidding game in which 2-4 players are bidding each turn for the right to influence one of six pirate ships. Unlike most games, the pirate ships aren't under the direct control of any of the players; instead, players must bid barrels of rum for the right to move each ship.

Each player has a set of seven tiles numbered from -1 to 5. At the beginning of each turn, players secretly assign one of their tiles to each ship (with one left over which can be used as a tie breaker). Then, beginning with ship A (appropriately named the Arriba), they reveal their bids. Whoever has bid the most rum gets to move the Arriba one space for every barrel of rum they bid. They can then try and send the Arriba to plunder a port, loot the treasure, and head for one of their own safe havens. After the Arriba is moved, players reveal their bids for the Bravo, then the Caribic, the Diabolo, the Evita, and finally, the Fuego. Then player take all their tiles back and the next round begins. Play continues until one player has amassed a predetermined amount of loot.

The difficulty, of course, lies in trying to divine what ships your opponents are going to want to bid the most on and making sure that you don't all bid on the same ship, especially since in the case of an unbroken tie, no one gets to move the ship.

The -1 tile (a.k.a. "the thief") is used in place of a positive bid and, while it always loses, it reduces the distance that the high bidder gets to move that ship by one space.

One of the most striking features of this game is the construction of the pirate ships. Each ship is a three dimensional model cleverly assembled from sturdy cardboard pieces. They're quite attractive and a lot of fun to move about the board. The board itself is a lovely full color map of the Caribbean Sea ranging from the Yucatan Peninsula to Trinidad and Havanna to Martinique.

The instructions are short, consisting of four full color pages printed on a single glossy sheet of paper. This is a game that can easily be learned and played in under thirty minutes.

Caribbean is a game of fun, light strategy and blind bidding that can be enjoyed by two to four players of all ages. It would make a fine addition to your game collection.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Review: Submarine

Leo Colovini's new game is called Submarine. In Submarine, up to five players send their bathyscaphes under the ocean waves in a race to recover artifacts from the lost city of Atlantis.

Submarine is one of a new line of games from Rio Grande Games and Winning Moves. It comes in a smaller box (about 8 inches square and roughly an inch and a half deep) but it packs a lot in such a small package. Inside the box is a full sized game board depicting the undersea ruins of Atlantis. You'll also find a deck of 75 half-sized cards; the same size as found in Ticket to Ride, and Attika, to name just two. There are also five sets of wooden markers: representing a recovery ship and five bathyscaphes for each player. Rounding out the contents are small game boards for each player and a set of sixty five round cardboard disks depicting 12 different treasures and one "joker" in each of five colors.

The rules for Submarine are printed on a single glossy full color sheet of paper, folded in half to form a four page rulebook. The rules are very simple, just the way I like them. You can easily just gather everybody around and read the rules together in five or ten minutes. Here's a brief summary to give you an idea for what the game is like.

The game board is divided up into a grid with six columns and five rows (one of which is above water and represents the surface, the other five are all below water and represent various depths).

Each player is given one of the jokers (which looks like the other treasure disks but has a picture of a muscle on it instead of a treasure). The treasure disks are randomly distributed on the board so that there is one disk on each of the first underwater rows, two disks on each of the second underwater rows, etc. The deeper you go, the more treasures there are to recover in each space, but the more expensive they become as you'll see later.

Each player gets their own supply deck of around a dozen cards (the exact number depends on how many players are in the game). Each card bears one of five colors that match the colors on the treasure disks. From that deck of cards, each player draws a hand of three cards. These cards will be used to recover treasures. After each turn, you draw from your supply deck to bring your hand back up to three cards (provided there are enough cards in your supply to do so).

Players take turn placing their bathyscaphes on the board and then the game begins.

On your turn you first move your recovery ship to a column in which you have one or more bathyscaphes and then you may take one action for each of your bathyscaphes in that column. Each bathyscaphe may either recover treasures or move. Moving is simple, either move your bathyscaphe to any other column, or move it up or down one row. Recovering treasure is also simple but it comes at a cost. For each treasure you recover you must discard one card from your hand with a matching color. If there are bathyscaphes belonging to another player between you and the surface (at your level or higher on the board) then you must give up some of the cards from your supply deck: two cards for each of your opponents' bathyscaphes. Those cards go directly into your opponents' supply decks. The cards are effectively a currency. Your supply decreases every time you recover treasure and it increases every time you are in a position to collect a toll from one of your opponents.

In lieu of paying any recovery fees, you can simply replace a treasure with your joker. The joker then becomes available for recovery, just like any other treasure. Also, any time you recover more than one of the same type of treasure, the excess treasure behaves just like a joker. Very often it is possible to recover a joker or a duplicate treasure "for cheap" from one of the shallow locations and then turn around and swap that joker for some expensive treasure deep down that otherwise might have been too expensive to recover.

The winner is the first player to recover the most treasures when the game ends. The game ends when one player has collected a full set of twelve treasures, or if all treasures have been recovered from a column, or if no player has enough cards to recover any more treasures.

Submarine is a game of simple mechanics and moderately deep strategy (if you'll pardon the pun). There is very little luck involved and there is plenty of potential for clever play. It's simple enough for the whole family to learn and short enough to play a couple of times in an evening. All in all, I'm quite happy with it. It's a little bit light for a Colovini game but that can definitely be a good thing. It's definitely a worthy addition to any family game collection.