Tag Archives: Cuba

20th September 2016

Since the planned “Feature Game” (Cuba) was a long one and we didn’t want anyone to get stuck playing two-player games all evening, we decided to play a quick filler until everyone had arrived.  After a brief discussion, we decided to go for Between Two Cities.  This game is quite popular with our group as it is both competitive, and cooperative and, as such, is totally different to anything else we play.  The idea is that, instead of each player having a personal player board that they work on in isolation, each player sits between two boards which they share with their neighbours.  The game play is based on card drafting games like Sushi Go! and 7 Wonders with scoring taking elements from tile-laying games like Carcassonne and Alhambra.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is played over three rounds with players placing building tiles to construct cities consisting of sixteen tiles in a four by four array.  Each player starts the first round with six tiles, of which they secretly choose two and pass the rest to the left.  Once everyone has chosen their two, everyone reveals their choices and then negotiates with their neighbours to try to to ensure they get the tiles they want in the two cities they have a share in.  Play continues with each player picking up the hand they were passed and choosing another pair of tiles etc. until there are no tiles left.  In the second round players get three double tiles of which they choose two and discard the third.  These double tiles contain two buildings in a vertical or horizontal arrangement.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

This is where things can get difficult, as the final city must form a four by four square and the location of buildings can be critical to their scoring.  For example, a housing estate built in a city with lots of other different types of buildings is worth up to five points at the end of the game, unless it is next to a factory in which case it is only worth one point.  Similarly, an isolated shop is worth two points, but a row of four is worth sixteen points.  The third and final round is played the same way as the first, except that tiles are passed in the opposite direction.  The winner is the player with the highest scoring second city.  We had just begun getting the game out and revising the game play when Black and Purple arrived, the last two expected.  So, in a quick switch, four jumped ship to play the “Feature Game” leaving Black and Purple to join Red, Magenta and Pine in Between Two Cities.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The five cities all had very different characteristics, for example, Pine shared two contrasting cities with Magenta and Red.  The city he shared with Magenta had a pleasing arrangement of houses around a large central park with a couple of shops, bars, offices and a factory.  On his other side he shared the top scoring industrial town with Red which comprised a small housing estate buffered from factories by a row of office blocks.  Red shared her second city with Purple. This was built round a large park with lots of offices some bars, but only the one housing estate which cost it points.  Purple also shared a city with Black comprised two small parks surrounded by houses and bars with a couple of shops thrown in for good measure.  The fifth and final city was another industrial conurbation shared by Magenta and Black with lots of factories, and offices interspersed with bars and restaurants giving it a high score.

Between Two Cities
– Image by boardGOATS

The key to the game is to build two cities with similar scoring, but ideally using different components.  The other important factor, however, is the layout of the buildings and keeping them flexible for as long as possible.  The most successful in this regard was Pine, who was sat between the first and third highest scoring cities shared with Magenta and Red, who took second and third place respectively.  Filling in the log book was quite a pantomime, accompanied by photos and complicated diagrams before the group moved on to their next game, Pi mal Pfloumen, also known in our group as “Oh my Plums!”.  We’ve played this a couple of times, most recently last time, but on both occasions we struggled with the clarity of the rules.  This time, we finally managed to play it right (we think) and unsurprisingly, the game worked much better played correctly.

Pi Mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

The game is one of set collecting built on a framework of trick taking.  Each card has a value, a “fruit suit” and, in many cases, a special action as well.  Players take it in turns to play a card, then, starting with the player who played the card with the highest face value, players then take it in turns to choose a card.  These are added to their tableau in front of them.  In general, any special actions are carried out when the card is taken, which can include taking “π cards” (which can be added to cards when they are played to increase their face value), taking cards from other players or claiming the Watchdog card (which protects from card theft).

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Some cards depict a “fruit mix” which lead to scoring opportunities, and can be claimed at any point when a player is taking cards at the end of the trick.  It all made a lot more sense this time though Red still didn’t have a clue what was going on.  It was quite a close game, but was finally decided when Red took a critical plum spoiling Black and Pine’s plans and with it taking the game, just ahead of Purple in second place. With Red and Magenta heading home for an early night and the game on the next table still going, Black, Purple and Pine were looking for something interesting to play.  Blue suggested Oh My Goods!, which is a little card game, but as none of the others had played it (and Blue was engaged elsewhere), they settled down to decipher the rules.  Meanwhile, the neighbouring table were just over halfway through their game of Cuba.

Pi mal Pflaumen
– Image by boardGOATS

Cuba is a fairly simple game mechanistically, but is deceptively complex thanks to the way actions interact and build on each other.  Each player has a player board featuring a four by four array of plantations and/or buildings and a lot for storage.  They also have a pack of five character cards each with an associated action.  In the first part of each round, players take it in turns to play a character card until they have each played four of them.  In the second part of the round, the remaining character provides the basis of each player’s votes in Parliament, with different characters providing different numbers of votes.  This part of the game is vaguely reminiscent of voting for Laws in Lancaster.  In Cuba, players can improve their position by buying more votes in a blind bidding phase with the winner choosing two which two bills Parliament will enact.  There are a number of little features that give the game teeth, for example, any money spent on buying votes goes to the bank, regardless of whether the player wins or loses.  Similarly, the start player (which decided based on the final character card played) can be critical as it is the tie breaker in the voting phase as well as giving priority in the next round.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Getting these wrong can mess up plans spectacularly, but far more critical are the character cards played, the order they are played in and how they are played.  For example, the Worker card allows a player to move their Worker to any plantation on their player board and then activate the plantation at its new location and all plantations orthogonal to it.  Plantations can generate resources (rock, wood or water) or produce (sugar, citrus fruit or tobacco), but as the game progresses may be replaced by buildings.  Buildings are placed over plantation spaces using the Architect card and exchanging them for resources.  Like plantations, they are activated by playing the Foreman card who activates all buildings orthogonal to the Worker, but does not move the worker as part of the action.  Thus, the relationship between playing the Worker card and playing Foreman card is very important.

 Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Furthermore, there is a significant distinction between resources (cubes), produce (octahedral blocks) and goods (rum and cigars created from sugar and tabacco):  while resources and goods can be stored in the lot, produce will rot if left out overnight and must be moved to the Warehouse before the end of the round if they are to be saved.  In order to move produce to the Warehouse, the Warehouse must be activated by the Foreman.  This could be because it is one of the buildings orthogonal to the Worker or because the player sacrifices his positional advantage and activates the warehouse as a single building anywhere on the board.  Thus, the position of the buildings is very important, not only because careful placement allows players to activate multiple buildings, but also because they are placed on top of plantations which are then no-longer usable.  Produce can also be saved from rotting by either using buildings to turn it into goods or by playing the Mayor to place items on a ship.  This last option can be difficult to rely on however as all merchandise must be placed on the same ship and spaces on each ship are limited.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Thus, while Cuba relies on a good strategy, meticulous planning is also vital for success.  Although we could all see this up front, only Green had played it before (albeit some years ago), so he was the only with an idea of the possible strategies.  So, to give everyone else a few extra moments to familiarise themselves with their player board, Green was declared the start player and took the wooden blue sedan (pinched from the El Presidente expansion as a start player marker).  Green began by building the Dam to increase his board’s water supply, while everyone else started with what appeared to be a more flexible opening by using their Worker to collect resources and produce.  By the end of the first part of the first round, Burgundy had shipped a few goods, Green had collected a lot of water, and Ivory and Blue weren’t sure what they were doing, but had decided that collecting and storing produce seemed like a good base to start from.  Then came second part of the round:  bribing officials to decide which bills should be enacted.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

Since Burgundy had been the only one to ship goods he was the only one with fewer than five votes.  Everyone secretly chose an additional amount, but as Green really, really, really wanted this one, he bid four of his ten pesos, while everyone else wasn’t certain how to value the bills and therefore didn’t bid.  So Green chose his expensive laws for the round and in particular the water subsidy which would give him three points straight away.  The second round mirrored the first with everyone choosing their “Worker” until Green played his “Architect”, building the Golf Course (which converts water into victory points).  While everyone else could see what Green was doing, nobody else had worked out what was a good combination of buildings and therefore what strategy to play for. Blue made a mistake thinking the Bank she was would give victory points, but when she activated it she realised it gave her money.  Still, it did give her an advantage during the bribing and in the second round was able to choose the laws.  This time she changed the goods tax from citrus to sugar, and brought in the Harbour Act (this makes any fully loaded ships leave the harbour immediately with all remaining ships moving along accordingly).

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

After taxes had been paid and subsidies received (Green had already converted his water and so did not receive the subsidy this time) the scores were evenly spaced with Green at the front, building a solid lead.   Over the next few rounds everyone stumbled on, still not really sure what to do as Green developed quite a strong lead.  Burgundy was the only one who was really doing any shipping while Ivory had managed to build a Rum Factory and was converting lots of sugar into Rum, which he was hoping to ship.  Unfortunately, he really struggled since only the first ships seemed to required rum and the later ones all seemed to need cigars.  By the time Ivory had given up and sold his rum, ships that did want it finally started appearing, but it was largely too late.  It was at the end of round four when the game took a sudden turn though.  Burgundy had worked hard on shipping, which the rest of us had mostly ignored.  With the Harbour Law still in force, the ships moved on when full and nobody had noticed that Ivory had every piece of merchandise required for the top scoring ship.  So when it was his turn he loaded it completely taking fifteen points, and with it, the lead.  Suddenly everyone knew how important shipping could be.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

With only two rounds to go, it was a bit late to change strategies and only Blue made any inroads using her stash of pesos to win the laws and ensuring she could gather the full five points for fulfilling the taxes while everyone else struggled to get two points. This together with the Rum Café she had built gave her a sudden flurry of points, but it was too, little too late.  In the final final scoring, Green was unable to catch Ivory who finished four points behind Ivory – not how anyone would have predicted from the early rounds where Green had been so dominant and everyone else had been learning.  We had all enjoyed it though, especially once we’d got to grips with the difference between resources, produce and goods.  The sudden change of fortunes as strategies clicked kept it interesting too, though in any future there may be more competition for shipping than there was in this one.  It’s highly likely we’ll play it again soon though.

Cuba
– Image by boardGOATS

As Cuba was coming to an end, Black, Purple and Pine were still making a bit of a meal of Oh My Goods!, getting bogged down in the complexity of the theory of “chaining”.  Although this is the clever part of the game it is a complicated place to start in what is otherwise a simple game.  Players start with a hand of dual purpose cards which can act as resources or buildings.  They also start the  game with a single card face up in front of them, a charcoal burner stacked with face down cards:  charcoal.  The idea is that this charcoal can be used as money to spend on building, or as charcoal to use as an input to other processes.  At the start of each round players get an extra couple of cards before cards are turned over to make the morning market.  This can consist of as few as two cards or as many as eight or more.  The market provides input for buildings – there will be a second, evening market before the end of the round – but players have to use the morning market to provide a steer to decide which building they are going to activate and what they are going to build.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Each player has one worker and must be assigned to the building he is going to activate.  The worker can can work efficiently or lazily.  If he works efficiently, he will need the necessary resources in full and will provide two items of produce.  On the other hand, if he works lazily, he can manage with one less than the total necessary resources, but will only produce one item.  The resources can come from the market, but can also be topped up from the player’s hand.  Once each player has placed their worker, decided whether he will be efficient or lazy and chosen a card to build, the second market is revealed.  Once this evening market has been completed, players take it in turns to carryout their production and, if appropriate, build.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

A building only produces if the necessary resources (on the bottom left corner of the card) can be provided either through the market or from a players hand.  If the worker is efficient, then he produces twice and two cards are taken from the draw deck and placed face down on the top of the card as produce.  If the worker is lazy, only he only produces once.  This is where the game gets slightly nasty:  if the player cannot supply the required input, then the turn is wasted, though if they have sufficient money, they can still use it to build.  If a building is activated, it can additionally be used to “chain” i.e. produce goods using input from other buildings (rather than the market) and it was this that was confusing people.  The problem is that this is only possible once a player has several building and although it is a key part of the game, the ability to build good working chains is highly dependent on the cards drawn.  As such, it is not something to worry about too much when learning to play.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Ivory and Green left, leaving Blue to try to explain to Pine, Black and Purple, and Burgundy to spectate.  Perhaps it was because it was late and people were tired, or perhaps it was because the players had confused themselves, but the game itself was still rather tortuous.  Pine’s concluding comment was that if Room 101 existed, he knew which game he would be sending there…  In this light the scores seemed rather irrelevant, though it was obvious that the player who understood best was going to win and that was Black who finished with twenty-two points.  He agreed that it was a clever game and he might be interested in giving it another go, though sadly it is probably beyond Blue’s powers of persuasion to encourage Purple or Pine to try again soon.

Oh My Goods!
– Image by boardGOATS

Learning outcome:  Sometimes, you don’t have to understand what’s going on, but it usually helps…!