This week we started with our “Feature Game”, Vasco da Gama. Some of us played this few months ago so we decided to give it another go. As discussed previously, it is a worker placement game, with an element of risk management. Players recruit workers, start projects, build ships and sail new commercial routes to eastern Africa and India, to earn money and glory.
The game comes in three phases: worker placement, then worker actions, and finally ships sailing. Players take it in turns to choose one of four areas for their workers: buying ships; captaining and manning ships with sailors; “schmoozing” some influential characters to win valued favours; and finally, launching boats. The clever part of the game is that when players place their workers, they also choose a counter to go with it. The counters are numbered from one to twenty and the actions are carried out starting with the lowest working up to the highest – a bit like the deli counter at the supermarket. However, here, the low numbers cost cost money while the higher ones are free. The snag is, you don’t know exactly where the free ones start, only the range of possible values, and the further you are below the cut off, the more it is going to cost you to carry out the action.
So, people take it in turns to choose a counter and place one of their four workers in the four areas. Then, once all the workers have been placed, in number order, players choose whether or to carry out the action (paying if appropraiate) or whether to pass and take money in lieu of an action (just to make things more interesting, the lower numbers get less money). Once a ship has been bought and has a full crew, the ship can be launched, and this is where it gets tricky. You get an immediate reward for launching a ship, but you also get rewards for each ship still sailing at the end of the round, and these rewards are increased if the row the ship is in is also full. The snag is that before the next round starts, each complete row of ships moves on to the next row, however, if there is no space in the next row the ship is lost and with it any future possibility of rewards. Thus, the position of ships is really critical and can make or break your chances of doing well.
Black chose to fight for the attentions of one of the characters, Bartolomeu Dias. This character is particularly generous as he gives players two victory points when they offer to host him as well as two more victory points at the end of the round AND means you go first at the start of the next round. Meanwhile, Yellow and Red decided to buy ships and Blue tried to sail the line between bankruptcy and profit. It is very clear that it is an advantage to have seen the way the ships move as it is a complex process and appears quite chaotic at times with the best laid plans falling apart because someone places a ship unexpectedly or they simply can’t count! Before long, ships were sinking all over the place and Black had a massive lead, however, before long, Yellow and Blue started making in-roads too. Yellow ran out the eventual victor, but only a couple of points ahead of Black.
We only had time for one other game and as time was tight, we chose an old favourite that we’d all played lots of times before, Bohnanza. This is a fun, trading card game, where players are collecting beans to become the most successful bean farmer. Players have to play cards in the order they are in their hand and are not allowed to rearrange them, so the game is all about controlling the order of the cards trading. Everyone was feeling very generous and deals were rarely hard bargains. In contrast to the first game, it was very close and the game was tied with the winners on thirty-three and everyone within four points of each other.
Learning Outcome: Bartolomeu Dias is a very powerful guy.