Reviewed by Herb Levy

NAVEGADOR (PD-Verlag/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 12 and up, about 90 minutes; $59.95)


Although he himself never journeyed on unknown seas, Prince Henry of Portugal inspired and encouraged his nation to sail outward to increase its prestige, power and riches. Because of this support, he earned the nickname “The Navigator” and both his portrait and his sobriquet are appropriated for Navegador, the latest Mac Gerdts design.navegador

Navegador is played on a large board that shows Portugal and sea zones bordering South America, the coast of Africa and the Far East in three phases. As players progress east, they will cross red border lines. Crossing the first such line triggers phase 2 of the game; crossing the second line, triggers phase 3.

All players begin with a small bankroll of 200 Cruzados (the currency of the game), two ships, three “virtual” workers (denoted on the board’s “worker track” and not actual pieces) and a King’s Privilege counter. Everyone also receives their own player board which comes with a factory (which can process sugar, gold or spices – any of the three goods of the game), a shipyard (used for building more ships) and a church (a ready source for additional workers). These individual boards also serve to hold tokens and chart the “progress” of privileges players may amass during the game. Finally, each player takes his color matching tall piece and places it in the center of the rondel.

Mac Gerdts has made his mark with his use of the “rondel” (a circular track that determines the type of action a player may perform on a turn) in several, well-regarded, games including Antike (Winter 2006 GA Report) and Imperial (Winter 2007 GA Report) and the rondel is, once again, used effectively here. On the first turn, a player may place his tall piece on any part of the rondel. After that, a piece may advance, clockwise, up to three spaces for free. (If a player wishes to advance further along the rondel, each additional space forces him to remove one of his ships from the board.)

Actions possible on a turn include:

Workers – Players may recruit additional workers at a cost of 50 Cruzados per each church they have built. (Additional workers cost 100 Cruzados x the phase of play so, for example, buying an additional worker in phase 2 will costs another 200 Cruzados.)

Ships – Additional ships may be purchased in a similar manner as workers except it is the number of shipyards a player has that produces additional ships. (Again, extra ships are available at a higher cost depending on the game phase.)

Sailing – Ships may move one space (two spaces when phase 2 is entered, up to 3 spaces during phase 3). Upon entering an unexplored area, the player receives multiple awards. First, he takes the blue explorer token in the area. All colony tokens there are now turned over. Colony tokens represent the goods produced in that area (either sugar, gold or spices) and all carry a price. That player receives, in cash, the LOWEST value of the turned over colony token there. But these rewards come with a cost. That player loses one of his ships.navegadorboard

Colony – Once colony tokens are exposed in an area, a player may establish a colony there. To do so, he needs to have a ship in the area AND two workers for each colony in the area he wishes to establish and then pay the price of the chosen colony token. Workers are not spent in this action; you just need to have them. Each claimed token will produce one unit of its specified good which may be later sold at Market.

Buildings – This action allows a player to buy factories (which will process one unit of sugar, gold or spices), shipyards (to produce more ships) and churches (to recruit more workers) provided he has enough workers (three for each factory, four for a shipyard, five for a church) and pays the stipulated amount (as shown by the building’s position on the board). As with colonies, workers are not “spent”.

Market – This is the only action that appears twice on the rondel. At market, players may sell and/or process goods. Selling a good lowers its price. Processing a good raises its price. You may sell as many goods as you have colonies or process as many goods as you have factories but you may NOT sell and process the same good on a single turn.

Privilege – This is where you DO spend workers. Privileges are, in effect, “multipliers” of Victory Point values and provide the main bulk of a player’s Victory Points. Only one Privilege may be taken each turn. Privileges will increase the VP values for colonies, factories, explorer tokens, shipyards and churches. In addition, they give a boost to a player’s finances. A player places his Privilege token on the first open space under its particular category. Each space shows a money amount. The player will receive that amount of money MULTIPLIED by the number of that particular item he has. (For example, a player placing a Privilege on a 50 space with 2 of that particular item on hand will receive 100 Cruzados from the bank.)

As turns continue, ships will make their way eastward and buildings will be claimed. The final turn is triggered after the turn when someone reaches Nagasaki (which will cost the exploring player TWO ships instead of one) OR when the last available building is claimed. Once everyone has taken their final turn, the King’s Privilege token is used.

The King’s Privilege is a bonus Privilege. It is placed on any vacant space on a player’s board and adds to the already accrued modifiers (and is worth +1 for colonies, factories or explorers, +2 for shipyards or churches). Now, Victory Points are calculated.

Victory Points flood in from all directions. Players score 1 VP per ship, worker and for each 200 Cruzados. The relatively small number of VPs garnered from these items belie their importance as workers are as critical as money in purchasing buildings while ships, combined with workers, are key to gaining colonies and producing valuable, money-making, resources. Still, the bulk of VPs come from those potent multipliers as colonies, factories, explorer tokens, shipyards and churches are totaled. The player with the highest final total of VPs wins!

There are many things to like about Navegador. The entire game interweaves elements smoothly. You need workers for building ships, churches, factories and to claim colonies, ships to explore and get colonies, colonies for income, income to buy workers, colonies, ships and claim valuable privileges. Despite all this, play moves quickly so that, even with five players, downtime is virtually non-existent. The Market is simple and yet works brilliantly. It is the major source of funding and, as such, rewards players who put their money into colonies and factories. Yet, there is plenty of room for maneuvering as players need to consider the effects of rising or falling prices on the players coming after them. (There’s nothing worse than priming a large score for an opponent by recklessly selling or processing resources.) Another interesting source of income is available for the player who manages to maximize his workers and/or ships. These items are limited (9 for workers; 7 for ships) and if you are able to buy more than the maximum, you immediately cash the extras in for double what they cost. Sweet!

Turn order is important but any short-lived advantage is tempered and balanced by the “Navegador” card. This card is given to the player going LAST and allows him to take an extra Sailing action before his regular turn. A player keeps control of this card until he uses it (in which case, it is passed, counterclockwise, to the next player) or loses it (by completing a full rotation around the rondel without using that extra Sailing action). An extra action like this is most valuable in giving a player the chance to enter an unexplored area (to pick up an explorer token worth VPs and get an often welcome infusion of extra funding) or colonize (and snatch an attractive colony from another player). Even more important is the ability to find different ways to win. In games we’ve played, a strong holding of colonies and factories (creating a “money machine”) has propelled players to a decisive victory. At other times, large church holdings combined with multiple Privileges proved a winning strategy. The danger here is committing yourself to a specific strategy that brings you in direct competition with another player. This allows another player who is following a different approach to win while the two of you are battling it out. Still, because VPs come from so many different areas, it can be difficult to predict just who will come out on top which makes the race to Nagasaki or to purchase the final buildings to end the game, one of perception – as to who is winning – and timing – to end the game when you think you’re on top and before your opponents can grab that last Privilege or vital resource.

Sometimes, themes in games seem to come in bunches. Among the relatively recent crop of games, the role of Portugal in exploration has served as the basis for excellence. Think of Goa (Summer 2004 GA Report) for example and last year’s Vasco da Gama (Spring 2010 GA Report). This year, the theme is revisited with a totally different game design and, with Navegador, Gerdts excels. This is an extraordinarily well crafted design combining exploration, buying/selling and resource management into a coherent and cohesive whole, both challenging and fun. Navegador is a brilliant game and certainly one of the best of the year. – – Herb Levy


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