Mister Pfister takes you on a splendid adventure around the Caribbean seas and beyond. Put on your finest pirate costume, sail the treacherous seas and go deep and fast on this race published by Capstone Games. Go about it on a solo adventure or challenge three other companies to take you up for an epic story you together can endure or just play a single game of Maracaibo! The choice is yours.
- Tons of options and strategies to pursue.
- Easy ruleset and an excellent rulebook.
- Text and iconography on the cards, it makes so much sense.
- Campaign mode is amazing and isn’t too heavily woven into the game itself either.
- Solo mode is a blast and variable difficulty.
- Multi-use cards are always a great option to have in a game.
- While you have ton’s of choices, there is some randomness in the game you should be aware of
- The little wooden discs aren’t the best component choice ever.
- You can’t ignore the influence track, it is a dominant place to gather a lot of victory points.
Let’s continue our adventures a little deeper
Designer: Alexander Pfister
Artist: Fiore GmbH, Aline Kirrmann
Player count: 1 – 4 players
Playtime: 30 – 120 minutes
Theme: Pirate, Marine, Caribbean, Economic
Mechanisms: Card Play, Race, Track Movement, Campaign
Which story are we telling and how does the setting put us there?
As with every board game, I am looking for a story. How thinly woven in I don’t care, but I am looking for it to let the setting makes sense. If that isn’t the case, most often that means the game is too abstract for me sadly. In the case of Maracaibo, the story is excellently put into the gameplay. As a pirate, I assume the world will feel like your oyster and the possibilities must seem endless. As is the gameplay, will you fight? Will you build and exploit your network? Change alliance by how the wind will blow today or where you see a profit? Are you doing it slowly and sip some rum on every island or are you taking the race part very seriously and try and put pressure on your advisories there? Again, the setting gives you all the ingredients to do that and that makes very much sense.
Setup and rules talk
One of the biggest hurdles to overtake in our analog board game hobby is setting up the game and learning the rules. Most often, those who will read these reviews will also need to teach those rules to their friends and family. How does Maracaibo hold up here? Let’s start with the setup. That will take a few minutes and is on the longer side for most euro games. Especially the cards, which will come in a few flavors, will need to get sorted out. But also the cubes for the different countries you will fight for, need to get sorted and placed. In the end, it isn’t the biggest issue, but be aware that if you are going to teach the game, you need to setup in advance or need someone helping you out to speed up this process.
Rules. Oh, those pesky rules. I myself love reading rulebooks, watching teach and playthroughs, but I do find it a challenge to teach them now and again. The Maracaibo rules aren’t the most complex ones, but it will take a little time to grasp them fully. Especially due to the fact there is a lot of synergy between many actions and cards. My advice would be to focus on the rules first and strategy second. The rulebook is excellent and in most cases, it holds everything you need and won’t lead to much boardgame geek checking for rule clarity. There are tons of icons and colors in this game, but what is really stellar is on the cards you will get both iconography and text! Just love that fact and makes it so much clear what something means. Player aids are available, so that’s great, I would have liked one for the solo game too though. A small nitpicky thing though.
Lastly, it’s always great that a publisher takes a little time to explain the real setting versus the simulation we are playing. For me here it was bare they could have done and could have put even some more historic context within the rulebook or as an extra page.
Flow of the game
This is where for me Maracaibo shines, the flow is so sweet and so puts you into the boots of those swashbuckling pirates. You sail, you do your main action and you grab some new opportunities? Easy, right? Well, there is a little more to it than that. Depending on how far you will move, you will gain more village actions. grab some doubloons, discard cards or build (sounds better than buy which is the official term) your cards. Those actions are only available at Villages (small circles) and for main actions, you will need to stop at a City (big circles). If you would stop here, what can you do, you may ask? As the first option, you can deliver a good, which needs you to discard a project card for it’s good. That will empty your player board from those ugly brown discs and lead to more options, points, or doubloons. This is optional though, but very smart to plan out, to upgrade your ship. But mainly your goal at a city is to Combat or Explore. In short, combat will lead you into the most important part of Maracaibo, influence with the three powers (Spain, England, or France) and will put out their cubes onto the Caribbean. And which pirate doesn’t want some power and points from them? Exploring will send your explorer deep into the jungles of the mainland to gather all sorts of rewards and bonuses. And if you think those options are it, you aren’t paying attention or I am just not telling you yet. So let’s change that, there are even more possible actions to undertake in a city or village. If there is a Quest token, you may discard the needed icons as a cost and gain the rewards. When playing the campaign, this is where the story will evolve over time. Or when you build a relationship with an Assistant you can do their action. Which often is gaining income, combat power, or points. All this happens over four rounds, where you will do an interim scoring at rounds one, two, and three. Depending on how quickly you will sail this Caribbean rondel, it will depend highly on how much you will get done in those few rounds before final scoring.
Campaign or legacy, that’s the question
Definitely no legacy here, you won’t destroy components, you won’t alter the game in such a way that it isn’t possible to just play a regular game. So we are talking about a campaign. I haven’t played the full campaign yet, but in a broad sense speaking, and without spoilers, it’s a fun adventure and sprinkles in a real sense of adventure and changing state of the board which makes sense. That latter part I find important. Changing rules or adding stuff for the sense of adding, is no fun. I haven’t played that many legacy or campaign games admittedly, Pandemic season one and Gloomhaven I did, but for me, this type of campaign is really accessible and far from overwhelming or takes a lot of rules overhead. I do find myself, at least in the solo games I have paid, more focusing on the story arc and less so on scoring points. I really like that, to be honest.
One thing I would like to highlight is the chances that will happen out on the mainboard. I just love the fact they choose to use special cardboard overlay cards to change the board state. No permanent adjustments, but very clear and hugely impactful stuff you can introduce during a total campaign.
Components and artwork
Let’s talk hardware, let’s look at the quality you will find in this square box of cardboard goodies. Cubes, cards, player boards, a big mainboard, cardboard money, wooden ships, wooden victory point markers, and tons of chits for quests and combat.
- Chits are thick and well-cut.
- Cards are fine, maybe not top of the class, but absolutely fine. I don’t like the white borders though and the rope distinction wasn’t the best choice here.
- Player aids are a little flimsy, but do what they are meant to do.
- Player board is thick but lacks the double layer sadly.
- The wooden little brown discs are, honestly, horrible. They are easily bumped, too small, and are just taking away on the overall quality.
- The mainboard folds good, printing is very clear and vibrant.
Overall the production is great, but it isn’t the highwater like re-print of Brass from Roxley, but also not the lower grade euro games we all also know as being used still today.
The artwork on the cards is good, it lacks a little diversity in race and sex types, but all in all the quality of the characters or buildings shines through nicely. The mainboard looks bright and interesting. It does hold some nice little details, but here also the choice was function over form. With a lot of icons and spots out to sail too, it’s a logical choice. The tracks (explorer, income, and influence) are nicely woven into the total feel of the board and setting, so another well done there.
For me, this is the contemplation of how this style of the game holds up against my other owned board games or with the fans also like on Boardgamegeek. I will compare it here to the Pfister games I have played or games I see a relationship is some mechanism, setting, or feeling while playing.
- The obvious, The Great Western Trail, is one I have played once and must admit, I did not really like. I do like the setting, but I struggled with doing a good job with the available options there. It just didn’t click, but need to give that one another chance. But, now with Maracaibo, I don’t feel the need to chase this one down for now.
- Mombasa. My current favorite Pfister game. I like the setting, all the mini-games you need to balance and the way the card play works is just amazing. Both are different enough to have their space on my shelf though.
- Teotihuacan. Based on the rondel only really. For me, Teo still feels a little too mathy and less about really setting yourself into the slippers of the people we are perpetuating. On the fence, if I would choose Teo over Maracaibo, I don’t think I will.
- Underwater Cities. The cards, oh the sweet cards. In both games, I really love the fact of so many different cards you can use.
- Orleans. One of my favorite bag builders, don’t really see these compete for me and can live happily on my shelf together.
Weight and Complexity
Boardgamegeek speaks of a five weight scale and has this on a 3.88. I think that’s a little high if I for example see that Under Water City is rated as a 3.58 or Gugong as a 3.05. In my experience, this is a solid mediumweight board game with meaningful decisions, but also some luck with the picked and hidden prestige buildings (less so with the play open variant) and with the cards being available. I would rate it as a mid 3 .5 and the most complex sequence is the combat action, which isn’t that complex either. The greatest complexity lies in the synergy of cards versus the variable board state and reading the overall state of the influence track. In other words, if you want to do well, don’t ignore the influence rack for the big powers. Also, the point salad character of the game can feel a little sandbox at first and adds to this being a little more complex, but also not too restrictive. But beware, this is in the end a racing game, at least you need to get your stuff done before someone ends the round. It adds to the game that you really need to pay attention to what other players are undertaking or you expect they will do this round.
Which leads to my culmination
For me, with the above contemplation, makes this one of the best games of 2019, and to put it even stronger, this will be a top 10 candidate for me for sure. In my humble experience, this is Alexander his best game to date and I cannot wait what he will bring us in the future. I love how he slowly worked up his storytelling ability with his smaller box games and has now integrated it into his big box games so sweetly. Well done sir, I will take my hat off, if I ever am to wear one. Keep up this direction and let’s make this the standard for euro games to come.