Who doesn’t love chocolate, right? But did you know that behind that wrapped bar of chocolaty goodness there is a story of fierce competition between tribes living deep in the jungle. Tribal chiefs are trying everything to get the fame and wealth that comes with a successful cacao trade. Religion and knowledge of the ways of the jungle go hand in hand in the world of the ‘Fruit of the Gods’.
What do you get for your money?
You get 44 worker tiles, 28 jungle tiles, 4 village boards, 4 meeples, 20 cacao meeples, 12 sun tokens, 48 cold coins, a tile overview sheet and the rules.
How do you play the game?
Cacao is a two to four player tile laying game about, eh, cacao. Every player has its own stack of tiles with zero to three worker icons on each side and there’s a stack with jungle tiles with actions depicted on them. You and the other players create a chessboard-like pattern and activate the jungle tiles with their worker tiles, getting cacao, trading it for money, getting water, mining gold and bring offers to the gods. The player with most coins at the end of the game wins.
Every player has its own player board with five cacao spots, three sun token spots and a water track from minus 10 gold to 16 coins. Everybody also gets their own set of tiles with four worker icons per tile, divided between the four sides of the tile.
The game begins with two jungle tiles, namely a single cacao tile and a two coin-market, on the table, diagonally adjacent to each other. You draw three tiles from your personal tile stack and every turn you have to first place one of those three tiles next to one or more jungle tiles, creating a chessboard pattern; jungle tile, player tile, jungle tile in every direction. Then you have to fill any gaps formed in that pattern with one or two jungle tiles from the tile market, consisting of two jungle tiles. Lastly, you activate the jungle tiles around the worker tile you just placed yourself, plus you activate the jungle tiles you placed in your turn, so everybody who has a player tile adjacent to it can do that action.
There are several different jungle tiles you can activate. You have your basic one or two cacao plantation tiles, your two, three or four coin market, your one or two coin gold mines, a water pool, a sun-worshiping site tile and a temple.
Every time you place a tile you can activate that action as much as you have workers on the side adjacent to the jungle tile. So, if you place a tile with two workers on the side adjacent to a three value market, you can trade a cacao for three coins two times. Two workers on one side means that you have one worker on two other sides. So you might be able to get two cacao beans with one worker first and maybe advance one spot on your water track later, if the right jungle tiles are placed around your tile. The temples are are the only jungle tiles that are scored at the end of the game. Here you get six coins when you have the most workers surrounding it and three coins when you have the second most.
The game ends when all players have placed all their tiles, but before that happens the jungle tiles probably run out and when that happens you may pay one sun-worshiping site token during your turn, otherwise worth one coin, and you are allowed to place your tile over one of your own tiles, already on the table. In this way you can do the actions around that worker tile again and maybe even change majorities of temples which cannot be reached from the outside.
At the end of the game you add all your coins together, add or subtract your score from the water track and add all the points from the temples to your total and the player with the most coins wins Cacao.
The rules of this game are very, very simple. You place your tile, fill the gaps with jungle tiles and activate the tiles you just placed. That’s it, easy to teach, easy to learn. That does not mean that Cacao has nothing to give. The choices you have to make, make this a pretty interesting game. You have to make sure that you place and rotate your worker tile in such way that you have an efficient turn, you need to keep your options open for the turns to come, but you also have to make sure that you don’t place new jungle tiles in such way that you give easy points to your opponents.
On your turn you have to choose between three of your tiles and it’s important to now when to place the right tile. Some tiles have one worker one every side, so then there’s many things you can do, but only one time. And then there are a few tiles with three workers on one side and only one at another side. So with these tiles you can do one thing three times, but there are also two useless sides. Sides where your opponents can place a jungle tile without any risk. These are small choices, but they do make the game interesting and some players might even have a severe case of analysis paralysis when they play it.
It’s still a family style game, but it offers enough for gamers to enjoy it too. It scales perfectly, with some tile adjustments, from two to four players. Off course you have fewer players to take into account, but it feels the same with two players compared to four, so that’s good.
Flavour and Theme
The theme, tribes that grow and trade cacao, is just there to give the game a certain look, but it could have been anything that concerns any kind of trading.
That said, the theme and the look of the game aren’t especially appealing to me.
I mean look at the cover and look at the illustrations on the tiles. It’s not bad and certainly not ugly, but it just doesn’t scream ‘come and play me’. So much brown and green, so many leaves.
I was interested in this game because I like the designer, but I think a family game, with Spiel des Jahres aspirations, as the internet wants me to believe, needs a look and a theme with a broader appeal.
Quality of the components
The quality of the components is good. Nice wooden cacao meeples, solid cardboard tiles and coins and a perfect box insert, as long as you keep the box straight.
While it’s not ground-breaking or anything, it does its job well and it provides gamers enough to think about and non-gamers an easy entry into the world of boardgaming.
Do I find it Spiel des Jahres material? Looking at the mechanisms and accessibility, yes. Looking at the looks and theme, no, not really. However, a theme with a broad appeal isn’t really something they care about looking at the winners and the nominees of the last few years.