Macao Review

Overview:

The story:
Macao, a bustling Portuguese trading port in the seventeenth century in Asia. Merchants bought silk, jade and spices in China, Japan and India and loaded ships full with these riches and sent them to the prosperous cities of Europe. 

What you get for your money:
In the box you will find a game board, 300 cubes in six colours, 4 player boards, 4 wind roses in four player colours, 24 goods tiles, 6 joker tiles, 36 coins, 12 ownership markers per player, 10 discs in player colours, 4 ships in player colours,6 dice in different colours, 24 office cards, 44 building cards, 52 person cards and the rules.

How do you play the game:
In this game you are an adventurer of some sort, you expand the city of Macao, you trade goods and spread influence by filling important positions. Every player gets a player board, a wind rose, twelve ownership markers, five coins, two discs (one on the score track and one on the wall) and a ship.

On the board you can see the city of Macao, here you can get one trade good by building a city district, by paying cubes of specified colours, and placing your ownership token on that district. Goods are distributed randomly, one on every district, at the beginning of the game. Your largest area of connected districts will give you points at the end of the game. The commodity you receive can be brought to Europe by sailing with your ship across the sea to the associated port and you can exchange goods for points there. Ships can be moved across the board by spending cubes. The city wall and the discs on top of the wall represent how much influence you have in the city, it’s basically the player order. You can move your disc by, guess, spending cubes. On one side of the board you can see the Tribute Track, the place where you, once per round, can exchange money for prestige points. The rate depends on values that are printed on the office, building and person cards and it changes every round.
On the upper and lower side of the board you will see twelve round spaces, because the game takes exactly twelve rounds, and next to every space you must place two random office cards. During the game more cards, namely building or person cards, are added to the office cards. Every round players will choose (draft), in player order, one card and place them on their tableau. There are six office types and four cards per office, the cost ranges from one to four cubes per card. With office cards, when you’ve activated them, you can exchange cubes for coins. Building and person cards can give you benefits or points during or at the end of the game, once you’ve activated them. How do you activate these cards? Easy, by spending specific coloured cubes.
So now you probably want to know how you get these cubes, right? And I will tell you. Your wind rose is a heptagon, so it has seven sides, six with a side of a dice on it, one to six, and the last one with an arrow on it. You start the game with the arrow pointing up and one cube at the one side and two cubes at the two side. Every round the six dice are rolled and then every player must choose two dice (or colours) and place the right amount of cubes at the designated side of the wind rose. When you choose the green three and the red six, you must place three green cubes at the three side and six red cubes at the six side. Then the wind rose is rotated one place clockwise and you must take the cubes that are on the side of the arrow. 
These cubes can and must be spend to activate cards, build one city district, move forward on the wall, move your ship and use cards (if needed) in this round.  
During the game you can also receive punishment tokens (minus three points). You will get these when your tableau is full (you weren’t able to activate these cards on time), when you cannot take any cube from your wind rose in your turn (the arrow side is empty), and for every card you’ve left in your tableau at the end of the game. 

 

The game ends after twelve rounds. Then you probably receive or loose extra points according to your punishment tokens, cards with ‘game end’ conditions and the amount of district in your largest area.
The one with the most points wins Macao.

Review:

Gameplay
Let’s start with some individual mechanisms.

You manage your cube supply by choosing the right dice at the right time. When you choose number six, you will receive many cubes, but you have no access to them until after six rounds, choose number one, you will receive only one measly cube, but you are able to use it right away. Difficult decisions.
A disadvantage of this system is that during the first couple of rounds you only have access to very few cubes and therefore can’t do very much.
Another important part of the game are the cards. To use the benefits of the cards you need to activate them. To activate them you need cubes with specific colours. To get cubes with the right colour at the right time you need to plan ahead. But you can plan ahead only so much, because most cards are drawn randomly at the beginning of every round, not at the beginning of the game. Only the office cards are visible throughout the whole game.
So you can do two things. One, make sure you’ll get the most out of your cube supply every turn and choose cards that fit your cube offer.  Or two, you try and get the most out of the cards, choose the best ones, and then try to match up the cubes in your supply with the cost of these cards.
I would like to do the latter, because I want to create a card engine and therefor I must pick cards that complement and strengthen each other. E.g. get a cube from multiple cards and exchange these cubes for money with the help of other cards so I can exchange money for points according to the Tribute Track.
In reality the game makes you do both, but I feel that it tends more towards the first option. That’s mainly because the cards are drawn randomly, so you can’t really plan ahead very far and beneficial card interactions might not become available, because of the large stack of cards. For me the first option is not as satisfying as the last one.
The wall, or turn order track, is only really important when you play with three or four players. In a two player game you probably won’t spend many cubes there.
The two player games play very differently than with other player counts. That’s most evident in the city and the trading routes. Normally  there won’t be a lot of sailing and trading in the beginning of the game, because you need a couple of goods from the city first. In a two player game there’s much less competition in the city and the European ports, so I found out that because of that players will spent more time and cubes in the city before they start sailing. The areas in the city owned by the two players are therefore much larger.
I do think the game is at its best with three or four players. There’s more competition for goods and places in the ports and this competition makes sure that the places where players spend actions are evenly distributed over the board. The arms race on the board makes the game more interesting.
The rules are quite easy to learn and the game is pretty easy to explain as well. The card actions are, probably, the most ‘difficult’ aspect of this game to explain.

Theme

The theme is not very strong. The only thematic mechanism there is, is you are bringing exotic goods from Macao to the old world with your ship. That’s it and that isn’t much. It looks thematic/ seventeenth century-ish, but the mechanisms do not back it up.

Looks
It’s decent, but not very special, a lot of brown and other earthy colours. The game looks very similar to other games that have a trading in the 16/17 century theme.

Quality of the components
Nothing wrong with it I would say. The wooden bits are good, the cardboard components are good and the cards very decent.

Fun
I like the wind rose mechanism, I think it’s pretty fun to (try to) plan ahead this way. It’s therefore a pity that the cards feel so random.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike this game, I gladly play it any time, but it could have been so much better.
A two player game is much more friendly than a three or four player game. Still quite nice, but in a three player game it’s much more satisfying and more fun when you are able to create a some sort of card engine, arrive at a port just before  you opponent does or just claim the only link between one opponent’s area to the other. It’s just a little more exciting with more than three players.

Macao is not Feld’s most brilliant brainchild, but he does not need to be ashamed of his grades either. It’s a worthy family member.

 

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