Feld-ruary #3 – Macao

9 Feb

IMG_0777Macao was, quite frankly, a game I hated with a mighty passion after my first play when it was released in 2009. I found the game (and in the long run, it became one of my problems with Feld games in general) to be over-fiddly, and that it tried to cram in too many mechanics – especially the ship movement / trading aspect. Other players seemed to agree with me, as one was basically whining the entire game about how much he was hating the experience (note: he won, running away). So it was with a bit of trepidation that I sat down to the game this time.

In Macao, players wear several hats. Players can act as the city planners, government officials, or sea-faing adventurers / traders depending on which actions they take on their turn. Macao plays over 12 turns. Each turn consists of three phases.

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In phase 1, players collect a new card. Cards are buildings / workers that they can construct to get some benefit. Many of these cards allow you to trade goods cubes for coins. This is important because coins are extremely valuable, and can be hard to come by. Each turn, a set of cards is laid out on the table from players to pick from. First, the turn’s “Tribute Value” is determined, based on numbers in each corner. This tribute value is a 1-time action that allows players to spend coins to get victory points. These points are very important to the game as they are the easiest to get. They won’t win you the game on their own, but if you can’t make use of them frequently, it’s that much harder to win. Next, each player chooses one of the cards, and places it on their player board. Next up is Phase 2.

 

In Phase 2, whoever is the start player takes the 6 colored dice, and rolls them. These dice relate to the 6 types of goods in the game. The number rolled is how many of that type of good you can take. The catch? You only get to choose 2 of the 6 dice (fortunately, all players have open choice of whichever dice they want). The other catch? You most likely won’t get to use them this turn. Why? Because you must place the dice into a roundel around a large wind rose.

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This roundel shows you how many turns you have to wait to unlock the cubes you just took. The more cubes you take, the longer you have to wait to use them. Also, your cubes don’t stick around between turns. You use them, or you lose them. Taking lots of cubes to try and do many things on one turn later in the game, or trying to pace out a more balanced strategy is the big choice in this game. This is also the first time the Feld trope of hurting the players comes in. If you ever have a turn where you don’t have any cubes to use, you lose get a punishment marker. These markers will cost you 3 points apiece at the end of the game. I’ll say that getting at least 1 is almost a given. This becomes less of an issue as the game goes on, but at the beginning, you can fall into a pretty deep hole if you constantly ignore the small numbered dice.

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Now we get to Phase 3, the action phase. This is where all the…action…takes place. There are 6 different actions you can take: 5 of them require a certain amount of cubes to activate, the 6th being buying victory points with coins as I mentioned before. The first action you can choose is building one of the cards on your player board. You just have to pay the specific colored cubes to put the card into play. You may then activate each of the cards you have in play by paying the required cubes listed on the card. You can take possession of one of the city quarter spaces. These spaces require specific colored cubes as well. When you take control of one of these spaces, you get a good tile which you can later trade for victory points at one of the ports your boat can travel to. The market has a very sneaky area control mechanic as well, which only shows up in final scoring (PROTIP: it pays to group your markets together). Since I mentioned movement, that is another action you can do. It’s simply pay as many cubes of any color as you like, move that many spaces. The cruelest part of this mechanic is that to get from home base in Macao to the first port costs 10 cubes! That’s a lot of other stuff you could do that you just have to throw away before beginning to make positive headway on the trading front, but if you’re focusing heavy on the market – it’s imperative that you spend time trading those goods for points. Finally, you can move yourself forward on the wall / turn order track. The first space you want to move forward cost 1 cube, each further space requires 2 more cubes. This is a costly action, but having more choice of cards, and first chance of all the spaces on the board can be critical. If you find yourself falling behind, spending a few cubes to improve your standing on this track can be a worthwhile investment.

Once 12 turns are finished, the game ends and lots of scoring happens. First, any buildings that you didn’t get built get you penalty markers (More pain!). You then lose 3 points for each penalty marker you’ve gained throughout the game. Next, you actually gain points for any of your building cards that have end game scoring abilities. Finally, you get 2 points for each of your markers in your longest chain on the market board. High score wins.

After playing it again, my view of Macao has softened. I don’t have as much hate for it as I did before. There is still a whole lot to do in this game, and nowhere near enough time to do it all. The wind rose roundel mechanic reminds me very much of the gear mechanism of T’zolkin: The Mayan Calendar. Timing is critical. Also, trying to find building that work together is key. For example, I had 2 buildings that would give me 1 coin for 1` cube, and then I got a building that let me activate my building for 1 fewer cube each. That freed up 2 cubes a turn. That’s huge in this game. Macao’s a tough game, but everything works well together. It’s a fair bit better than I thought, though I still don’t love it.

Next time, one of the lighter Feld games, and the controversy it stirred upon release.

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