Thursday, 23 June 2011


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Most people would probably react to hearing about Navegador thinking "not another Mac Gerdts rondel game?". Since I played Shipyard (by Vladimir Suchy, but it also uses rondels), I have learnt to see past the rondel, and think of the rondel as merely a tool, as opposed to the central mechanism of a game. What's more important is what the actions are on the rondel, and what they mean to the game.

In Navegador players are Portugese explorers during the age of exploration and colonisation. They explore new seas, establish colonies, manufacture goods, and generally develop their own business / exploration empire. While doing all these things, they need to maintain cash flow because most actions need money. You want to earn money as efficiently as possible, i.e. using as few actions as possible.

The market. The numbers in the sugar, gold and spices columns are the prices when selling these goods. After selling, the prices drop. The numbers in the rightmost factory column are the prices when manufacturing goods (any type). After manufacturing, prices increase. You earn money both when selling and when manufacturing.

While developing your business empire, you also need to take Privilege actions, which help you score more points at game end. The main scoring in the game is done for 5 aspects of your business empire - your colonies, your factories, regions you have explored, your shipyards and your churches. Each of these are worth a basic number of points per unit, and taking the Privilege action increases the points per unit. So if you are strong in a certain aspect, you want to boost the value per unit for this aspect.

My personal board. Above the board are my colonies, 4 gold colonies, 4 sugar colonies, 2 spice colonies. On the right of the board is the Navegador card, which is a special ability card that rotates anti-clockwise around the table and allows an extra sailing action. On the board itself, the leftmost section is for factories, white = sugar, brown = spice, orange = joker. The next sections are for exploration tokens, shipyards and churches respectively. The right half are the five scoring categories, showing the base scores per unit, and allowing up to 3 value increases.

Many of the aspects in the game are inter-related. If you want to do more explorations, building more shipyards will be helpful. If you want to take more Privileges, building more churches will help, because churches allow you to gain more workers cheaply, and you will need to spend workers when taking Privileges. Having many factories and many colonies work well together, allowing you to have good control of goods prices and to be able to earn money efficiently.

The game accelerates towards game end. Ships travel further and thus allow explorations to happen at a reasonable pace even though the new regions are now further away. Players would have built up bigger business empires, and building prices become higher. The game ends either when all buildings are bought, or when the last region is explored.

The Play

Han, Allen and I did a 3-player game. All were new to the game. I had read before that specialisation was the key to winning, so I decided to pick shipyards as my specialisation. In hindsight I played the game rather awkwardly. I spent much on shipyards, but did very little of building ships or exploring. I was buildings shipyards for the sake of scoring. The other area that I focused on was making money, i.e. investing in factories and colonies. I think I did quite well in making money. I eventually decided to pick colonies as my second specialisation.

Unexplored regions in the background still have the blue round token. When a region is explored, the square colony tiles are turned face-up, showing the cost to establish a colony. The colony types are predetermined. The ones in the foreground (South America) are sugar colonies. In Africa, in the background, most colonies are gold colonies.

Han and Allen did much more exploring than I, especially Allen. He specialised in exploring and in churches. Han only had one strong specialisation - factories. In other areas he generally spent more or less equal and moderate effort, unlike Allen and I who were actually weak in some areas.

The game flowed very smoothly. We did what we often do - we executed turns simultaneously where possible. Individual actions were usually very simple, and when an action taken didn't impact the next player, the next player proceeded to execute his turn without waiting for the current player to finish. The simplicity of invidual actions allowed us to do this. Sometimes by the time one player had completed his turn, it was his turn again because the others had completed their turns too. This is one aspect of gaming with Han and Allen that I enjoy - we play efficient and intense games. Usually only the market action (i.e. earning money and modifying the prices of goods) caused us to pause a little, because how the prices change could impact the next player's decision.

Timing was important. We had to watch what others could do and sometimes we had to race to do an action before it became less useful or even not useful due to the actions of other players. E.g. timing to manufacture or sell goods when prices were good, buying a building before it became too expensive.

At game end, Allen won, I was second, and Han was last. Allen and I specialised heavily in two aspects, and Han only specialised in one, so it seems that specialisation was key. Or possibly preventing others' monopolies was the key. In this first game I don't think we very actively tried to break others' monopolies. There is still more to explore in this game. I suspect it will be better with more players, because it will be harder to monopolise any specific aspect.

Near game end.

The Thoughts

I like how the game remains challenging throughout. You have limited resources in the early game so you can't do much. As your business empire grows bigger towards game end, things also get more expensive and harder. So there is a feeling of constantly trying to not get left behind. There is a fine balance between three goals - (1) continuing to make money to fund your growth, (2) growing your business empire to be even bigger, even stronger, and (3) claiming Privileges to increase your game end scores. The third is your ultimate goal, but you need to be careful not to fall behind in the previous two.

I'm not sure yet whether specialisation is the key to winning, or it is more important to prevent others from specialising. Possibly players will need to keep trying to do both. This needs to be explored further.

The game design is very clean and the game flows very smoothly. I quite enjoyed the game.

Remember this: This is a rondel game, but it is not a game about the rondel!


Aik Yong said...

Games with the rondel mechanic works because there is an underlying ebb and flow to the game. Timing is everything, and it is also the most interesting player interaction, when to ride on their coatails and when to screw them. Oh and limiting player choices with the rondel also reduces the downtime.

So when are you playing Imperial with us? :)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

but but but imperial has the stock-holding mechanism which is one of my much feared game mechanisms. perhaps i need to find an opportunity to overcome that fear. :-)

good point regarding limiting choices and reducing downtime. indeed the game that we played, despite being a first game for all three of us, progressed very speedily.

Sue G said...

I enjoy your blog. I've been tabbing it to see what you think of new games. I think this game is probably best with 4. It's very prone to taking the "other path" to victory, so it feels stilted with 3.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

before i played the game i worried a little whether it would feel a little artificial, in that the single most effective strategy to win is to simply pick the path least used. after playing the game, i found that my worry had been unfounded. there is much jostling in specialisation and focusing on one particular path is not as easy as it sounds. others can and will try to stop you. with three players the competition is not as high. i imagine the game will be better with 4 or 5.