Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games; 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $32.95)


Rüdigor Dorn, best known for Traders of Genoa and Gargon (Winter 2002 GA REPORT), has outdone himself with his latest offering: Goa. Subtitled “Destination: Spice Islands”, Dorn puts players into the roles of Portuguese merchants who must grow their businesses to become the most successfulmerchant of them all.

Goa comes heavily laden with components including 55 game tiles and 18 colony tiles as well as a variety of card decks (colonists, ships, additional action cards, ducats and expeditions). There is a supply board and development board for each of the four players in addition to wooden pieces representing spices and those serving as “success markers” as well as action markers (numbered 1 through 5) for each of the players. A larger game board used to hold the game tiles and other components and a 12 page rulebook completes the package.goa

The 55 game tiles are divided into two stacks (A and B, noted by the different colored backs). Stack A is shuffled and the tiles are randomly placed, face down, on the 5×5 grid on the game board. (Extra tiles are discarded and are not in play.) The other game components (colonists, ships, expeditions, action cards, colony tiles) are placed in their designated spaces on the board. Each player chooses a color and takes the matching supply board, development board and action markers. Five gray “success markers” (square cubes) are placed in the top row of the development board. Each player begins with four ships and 2 colonists. Now, expedition cards are drawn with the first player to draw a “tiger” symbol becoming the start player for the game and receiving the flag tile. (Drawn cards are placed in the discard pile.)

The start player receives a flag marker. He then takes his flag and places it on the game board, marking it with his own number 1 marker. The next player, in clockwise order, places his number 2 marker on any adjacent tile. The third and fourth players follow the same procedure with the first player marking the final tile for the round with his number 5 marker. The number markers indicate which tiles (and in which order) auctions for the round will occur.

The flag is always auctioned first. The player whose number marker is on the flag (and on the subsequent tiles) is the auctioneer and his first bid is “0”. Players, in turn, may top that bid. The auctioneer has the option to accept the high bid in cash OR buy the item himself for one more than the highest bid (with the money going to the bank). The flag (and the tiles) give players the ability to do certain actions.

The player controlling the flag goes first each round. In addition, he receives one action card which permits that player to take an additional action whenever he chooses to play it. Tiles allows players to build plantations (which can hold spices), takes additional ships and/or colonists and/or action cards, draw expedition cards and earn bonus Victory Points. (In the second part of the game, when the stack of B tiles are seeded on the board, the tiles, while similar in nature, become more powerful.) After the set of auctions are resolved, players take action.

Each player may use 3 actions per turn from a menu of six possibilities. (As mentioned, action cards add to this total.) A player may advance down his development board, build ships, harvest, tax, draw expedition cards and/or found a colony. Each option is useful and interrelated.

Each player’s identical development board charts the progress of his holdings. Five columns indicate ship building, spice production, taxes (money), the drawing of expedition cards (and hand limits), and colonists (the number available to found a colony). When triggering any of these, a player takes the number of items listed on his row. As players maneuver down the row (by paying a varying amount of spices and ships), they are able to get more (more ships, more spices, more colonists etc.) for their actions. If they manage to get ALL of their development success markers to the second row, they are rewarded with an action card (a reward available if all markers get to the third, fourth and fifth levels as well). In addition, should a player be the FIRST to reach the fourth or fifth levels of any of the five columns, he is rewarded with an additional expedition card on top of any of the regular benefits.

A few words about those expedition cards. These cards may be used in several different ways. They are divided into a top and a bottom and either part may come into play.

The top of the expedition cards indicate a specific additional action that may be done. The card may allow you to take extra ships, colonists, money or spices. They may also modify an action such as allowing you to advance on the development board WITHOUT needing spices or the required ships.

The bottom of the card serves a dual purpose as well. When founding a colony, a player needs anywhere from 6 to 12 colonists. The position of the success marker of that player in the colonist row indicates a starting amount of colonists (ranging from 0 to 6). This is increased by the drawing of two expedition cards and adding the number of colonists depicted on the bottom of each card to that player’s total. If he has met his colonist requirement, he receives the colony. If not, he needs to “make up the difference” with colonist cards he already holds. If he can’t, the founding attempt fails. (The player receives 1 colonist card as “consolation” for the valiant attempt.) The second purpose of the expedition cards lies with the symbol found on the card. If the card stays unused, a player will score bonus Victory Points for each card – and more if the symbols match!

After four rounds of auctions (and sets of player actions) are completed, remaining Stack A tiles are removed from play, the board is reseeded with Stack B tiles and another four rounds of auctions (and subsequent player actions) occur. Once the fourth round of part B is concluded, the game ends and Victory Points are totalled.

Victory Points are earned in many ways: the position of each player’s success markers on the development board (with values ranging from 0 to 10 VPs each), founding colonies (from 1 to 10 VPs), for expedition cards (with single cards worth 1 VP each while sets of the same symbols are worth from 3 to 20 VPs), most money (3 VPs) plus VPs for certain tiles won at auction. The player with the highest combined total wins.

The beauty of this design is the number of viable strategies that are available. All facets of play interconnect and plans shift each time you play based on tiles up for auction, cards drawn and your own intuitive feel. But the key to the game, regardless of the strategy followed, is the number of actions that players are able to execute. By the time the game is done, each player has had a minimum of 24 actions (three actions per round, eight total rounds). By managing to get extra actions, players are able to do more – and doing more is essential if you want to come out on top.

The game almost falls into the pit of being multi-player solitaire but Dorn has avoided that trap. Auctions (and payment received when you are the auctioneer) involve you with the other players. The game has been criticized (unjustly, in my opinion) as being “luck dependent” since any game that has you drawing cards and participating in auctions will have some degree of luck. But, in our experiences with the game, you tend to make your own luck and can often overcome a bad break with shrewd strategy.

It’s a safe bet to say that Goa will not win the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) award next year. This game is just not a “mass market”, “family” game. Rather, it is an adult level, challenging experience, not complicated but richly textured so that tantalizing choices abound to compel you to maximize your resources. In what is unquestionably his most satisfying design to date, Rüdigor Dorn has succeeded in bringing together a number of different threads so as to weave an intricate and fascinating tapestry in Goa. Highly recommended. – – – – – Herb Levy


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