Friday, 11 July 2008

El Capitan

El Capitan is another game played at Carcasean. This is an old Wolfgang Kramer game reprinted with a new theme, with beautiful artwork by Mike Doyle. You sail to different cities to build warehouses and fortresses, and you earn money in three main ways - for having a majority of warehouses in individual cities, for having warehouse presence in many cities, and for having fortresses (which reward more for cities which have the most warehouses). Each turn you can choose to sail to another city or stay put, and then you must build something, OR you go to the bank to take a loan if you don't have enough money to do what you want. Sailing costs money, and so does building. The interest rate of the bank is quite high, but you can't really avoid taking loans in this game, you just have to manage it, deciding how much to take and when to pay back (the later, the more costly, of course).

This is mostly an area majority game, and it feels semi-cooperative like China, where you need to follow the crowd. A city will pay out more if it has more warehouses, so it takes more than 1 player to make a city a profitable place to do business. But if there are too many warehouses, the profitability will drop. This is an interesting balance. Also sometimes some older warehouses will get shutdown when a new one is built. This is quite unique and allows for nasty moves to mess up your competitors. At game end, the richest wins.

The quite nicely done gameboard by Mike Doyle, showing the 9 cities, the proliferation payout chart on the top right, and two spaces for the loan cards on the bottom right. Above the board are the two types of navigation cards that are used for traveling between the cities.

Han and Chong Sean

One of the navigation cards. This one allows you to travel from Marseille to Napoli (or vice versa), and costs $2. In the background are the warehouses (house-shaped) and a fortress (cylinder), the start player tile, and the back of a loan card, showing that I owe the loan shark $30.

A close-up of the board

In our game, I suffered from the fate of the early obvious leader. I was at the receiving end of the nasty moves. I was the first to have warehouses in all 9 cities, but at game end, I was also the only one who could not maintain this level of proliferation. This has a big impact, because the difference in money earned is big - $30 for 7 cities, $45 for 8 and $60 for 9. Han played a good game, focusing on the fight for majority only in certain cities (I was spreading about too much), and won the game at $221. Chong Sean had $218 and I was last at $209.

I find El Capitan to be just an OK game. Nothing very special, but well crafted. It is of medium weight. Some interesting decisions. Low luck, strong player interaction (I guess this is inherent in area majority games).

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