Trumpet, lump it or dump it. A Review of “Madeira”.

The Basics
The game has five turns. On each turn you will have the opportunity to place zero to six dice out onto the five Buildings on the map. I say “zero to six” because you are not required to place any dice and you will have three dice available only to you for placement and there are three Pirate Dice that are available for any player to place in addition to their own dice.

Five buildings are spread out across the three regions on the map, one building in Region 1 and two buildings in each of Regions 2 and 3. Additionally, the region number indicates the minimum die value required to place a die into the buildings there. All of the dice in the game are six-sided and each has two “1”, two “2” and two “3” values. A player can spend bread to increase the die value when placing it, so a “1” and two Bread tokens equals a “3” allowing a lower die to be placed in a higher-values region. Pirate Dice can be played by the players too, and building can only have a maximum number of dice placed on it in a turn equal to the number of players in the game – and – only one of these dice can be a Pirate Die.

Each building confers a distinct building action that is directly based on the number of workers you have in the region the building is located in. If you have no workers in the area, you cannot take the building action and would have to take some Pirate tokens (you could pay the building cost to avoid the Pirates, however).

So, why would I place a die in a building where I have no workers? Well, because each turn the building is inhabited by a Character (the characters are randomly placed each turn). The characters give players actions too…and these actions are not tied to the number of workers in the region. So, you may place a die in a building to use the Character’s action even though you may not be able to use the building’s action. Evil genius!

On the subject of workers, in addition to having workers in the various regions to support your actions and to harvest wood, grain, grapes and sugar cane, workers can be placed in a variety of other areas.

Before moving on, let’s clear something up though. I said “workers” and “placed” but this is not really a “worker placement” game. Like, this is not Agricola. There is a limit to the number of dice that can be placed on buildings, so there can be some typical worker-placement blocking there. Cities have a limited number of spaces in them for workers, but the number of spaces grows during the game and rarely is there a blocking issue there. There are a limited number of spaces for ships to be placed too, but unless two or more players are aggressively shipping, there is only a small blocking issue in our experience.

Back to worker placement (oops, there’s that phrase again!). The aforementioned “variety of other areas” in which workers can be placed include the Cities, the Colonies and the City Watch. All of these things have their own strengths that I’ll touch on in the review section.

I mentioned ships. Players can build ships to bring resources to market and to visit the colonies. Shipping figured strongly into one of the strategies we think we have identified.

There is upkeep. At the end of each turn, ships require wood and workers require bread. If you cannot pay the upkeep, you will take Pirate tokens. The game includes a mechanic called “The Windmill” that primarily assists the players in feeding their workers.

Another important element to game play is the Guild Favors. These are tiles that depict various men and women of the cities that give you special favors during the turn. Once used, you flip them over and they cannot be used again until flipped back through various means. They often are an important part of the game.

Lastly, the most important element of the game is scoring and making all of the above gameplay factors come together enables scoring. The mechanic for scoring are the Crown Request tiles. They come in five different types and during the game you will acquire six of these tiles. You will score these tiles after rounds 1 (score any one tile you have), 3 (score any two tiles you have) and 5 (score the last three tiles that you have). These tiles help you drive your play by focusing your play on these scoring opportunities:

• Guild Favors.
• Ships at the Markets.
• Ships at the Colonies.
• Money donated to the kingdom.
• Most workers in a city (the three cities each have different scoring values).

Game scaling for three and four seems very good. There are no special rules to handle fewer players, just a couple of adjustments that are all simple and listed on the game board. Actions have a less expensive base value, there are fewer ship spaces available, and you can place less dice per location.

The above is a brief overview. I will spend some words on various elements in the review section. Let me say this; do not be afraid of the rulebook. I found it to be well written and although we struggled through figuring out what to do in our first game, we did not struggle with the rules. The rules are pretty simple and straight forward; it’s the output of those rules that are complex.

The Review
OK, I must “Trumpet” this game! I really enjoy it. To me the game has a hallmark of good design: the rules can be simple but the interaction between them creates depth. I enjoy the layered decisions in the game and the point that few, if any, decisions are inconsequential regardless of how small they may appear at the time. In fact the game just might be about how to best make 12 or more small moves translate into your scoring strategy.

Absent in the game are uber powerful scoring moves during your turns. Every move is about placing one brick in a larger wall and the stability of the wall depends on most of those bricks being well placed. Scoring is the culmination of your efforts. #awesomesauce!

The game could lead the AP prone into slow moves, but once folks are familiar with what’s going on, the game actually can move quite briskly.

Let’s consider for a moment the layers of decision involved with selecting your dice for the coming round of play. First of all, the player order in which dice are selected was determined by the order in which players passed the previous round. There are often tactical advantages to passing earlier to get the best selection of Crown’s Request tiles and/or Guild Favor refreshes.

The dice selection for the coming turn will determine the strength of the dice you will use, it will determine which Crown’s Requests tiles you can choose from and it will determine which Guild Favor color can be refreshed.

On the dice, a value of “3” is always better than a value of “2” or “1”, obviously. But you must examine the board to see into what Regions the Characters were dealt. This means that, depending on your strategy, you can make due with lower valued dice, especially if the selection of them also gets you that Crown’s Request tile that will score well for you (You’ll score between 0 and 20 points for the different tiles, with some topping out at and 15 and 18 points).

The last consideration in dice selection is player order for the coming turn. When you select a set of dice, you place your marker on the space vacated by them and the turn order is established for the coming round. Sometimes it is important to go first, but it does not always matter. Maybe there is a place you want to get a ship before another player beats you to it. Maybe you want first crack at that juicy Pirate Die or the Guild Favor you think your opponent is also seeking. Maybe this turn, none of that matters to your strategy. I think that having an early selection of dice/scoring tile is more important than turn order.

Let’s discuss some key game elements…

Pirates
Be afraid, but don’t be scared. Go ahead and take pirate tokens, just manage them well. Don’t take too many, try to remove ones you have taken and watch how many the opponents take. You certainly do not want to end the game with the most or the second most. Third most is survivable unless the game is really close. Best yet, end with zero pirates if you can (thanks Captain Obvious!). Note, even if you end the game with 1 Pirate token and the other players have zero you will feel the full wrath of the punishment -16VPs! Some have commented here on the Geek that this is harsh – and it is.

City Watch
This is a pretty important place for workers. First of all it allows you to use Pirate Dice. To use a Pirate Die, you must remove 1 worker from the City Watch. But, adding workers back to the Watch allows you to rid yourself of 3 Pirates per worker placed! And, if you end the turn with the most workers in the Watch, you’ll earn a 4VP bonus.

Pirate Dice
Cool mechanic. There are only three and no building can accept more than one per turn. Placing a Pirate Die earns you the Character Action only – you do not later get the Building Action (you have to place your own dice for that)…but often, this is desirable! Also, it adds more potential Pirate points that your opponents may take if they placed dice here and do not execute the Building Action. You don’t take Pirates for using the Pirate Dice, but as mentioned, you do remove a worker from the City Watch.

Guild Favors
These are tiles that depict various peoples. They can be really important to acquire as they provide important bonus actions or resources. They also provide very good scoring opportunities with the Crown Requests (you can max at 20 points here).

The Windmill
The Windmill is pretty cool. It helps you feed your workers with free Bread; helps you get Bread or money needed in an emergency; and it affords trades of resources. Only in one game has a player maximized their potential in the Windmill, but we usually do advance our position there to earn extra Bread each turn. Very helpful device.

Strategies
Last night, the four of us had a lively discussion about strategies, about the “pathways to victory” in the game. We all seemed to agree that there are certainly two strong approaches, and we’re playing to seek more strategies and debunk these!

First, the “city-centric” approach. The cities are an extremely valuable source of wood, bread and money (and a few VPs for placing workers). We think it is always good to play at least a little in the cities. Making a heavy effort in this approach means that you need to compete for the “Urbanization” Crown’s Requests and strive for the 15 point mark on them. It also means that you need to compete for the “Wealth of the Nation” Crown’s Requests and strive for the 15 point mark on them. You can ignore ship building, harvesting, colonization, everything – unless you end up with Crown’s Requests that score for those things. But, you pass tactically, early, to strategically avoid the scoring tiles that do not assist your approach. I took this approach last night, and was victorious. In the scoring rounds, I scored 5, 35 and 50 and ended the game at like 109. The margin of victory was like 5 points – very close! I had zero ships on the board and 9 of my 12 workers were in the city. Expect competition in the cities, it is valuable to all players regardless of their strategy!

Second, the “colony-centric” approach. This strategy was used by Edward in the last two games and seems very solid. He won two games ago and was the second place finisher last night. I need to try this approach; it looks really fun and thematic! The gist of the approach is to focus on acquiring goods from the colonies, augmenting them with harvests, and building a big fleet of ships to get a lot of cash, rewards in the colonies, VPs from colonists/ships and scoring from the “Market Routes”, “Expeditions” (striving to max out both at 18 points) and the “Wealth of the Nation” Crown’s Requests. The colonies and the markets just seem to work great together for solid game play.

Again, “Trumpet!”…play this game if you like the heavier fare, you should not regret it. Playing in our group, the competition is great (and always friendly, we’re soooo lucky!) and everyone plays well, which just adds to the enjoyment of the game and the evening!

Element Ratings

Theme: Lump it
Little or no thematic relevance to gameplay. I get that there is actual history in play in the design, location and artwork of the game. But it could be depicted as a space game on Mars and be just as awesome – besides, I can’t care less about theme.

Player Interaction: Lump it
The player interaction in this game is alright, typical Euro interaction, not totally multiplayer solitaire. My good moves can often cause adjustments to my opponents’ plans.

The area control battle in the cities, colonies and markets as well as the placement of dice on the buildings are good sources of typical Eurogame interaction.

Luck/Random Factors: Lump it
The luck or random elements present in this game are limited or actually improve the game play a bit.

Dice and luck go together like cheese and hamburgers and that is no different in Madeira. But this game handles the luck very, very well. The dice values are of a limited range and can be modified by the use of bread. Other random factors include: the Characters move randomly each turn and the Guild Favors are randomly placed at the beginning of the game. Also, the price of actions is determined by die rolls, but the more dice present the lower the price is likely to be!

Replayability: Lump it
The replayability is pretty good in this game due to the challenge factor, variable conditions or both. The challenge factor is high, I think we’re going to see some good competition in our games for the strategies we think we see.

Beauty: Lump it
Typical/expected production values. Great pieces, nothing earth-shattering. Wooden meeples and ships. Tokens for resources. Wooden resources would have been great…but it allows us an opportunity to upgrade the pieces ourselves.

Casual Gaming: Dump it
Whoa. Only my heavy-economic monster game pals will be able to play this. There are a lot of little details to track in this game, noobs could struggle too much as would those that enjoy lighter fare. I believe this is a game to work one’s self into over multiple plays.

 

OVERALL – TRUMPET!

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