Reviewed by Herb Levy

PIZARRO & CO. (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 3 to 6 players, about 45 minutes; $24.95)


Tom Lehmann is no stranger to Gamers Alliance. As one of the forces that comprised TimJim/Prism Games, Tom had his hand in a number of interesting designs. The last time his name appeared in one of our features was in the Winter 1996 GA REPORT with his game, Age of Exploration. Now he’s back with a new look at that adventurous age with Pizarro & Co. (originally published in Europe as Magellan). In Pizarro & Co., six famous explorers Pizarro, Magellan, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama and James Cook are “up for grabs” as players (as kings or queens) seek to hire (or control) these explorers to earn gold and glory.

The game comes with a two part, dual sided, board that depicts three of the game’s explorers on each side. There are also 36 explorer cards (six of each explorer), 63 gold cards, 36 color-coded wooden ships and an eight page set of rules.

To begin, the two game boards are placed side by side to create the playing area. Each player gets a set of 6 ships (in his chosen color) and a set of 9 gold cards (valued at 1 through 9 gold). Excess gold cards are shuffled and placed aside, acting as the “gold supply”.pizzaro

Gold cards, as mentioned, are valued at 1 through 9 for gold. This value is used in bidding. A second value of 1 through 3 in crowns are worth Victory Points at game’s end. The explorer cards are divided into three stacks (I, II or III as shown on their backs) which indicate the turn or year they come into play. The I stack contains 18 explorer cards (3 of each explorer in the game), the II stack contains 12 cards (2 of each explorer) while the III stack holds 6 cards (1 of each explorer). The stacks are shuffled separately, the first explorer card is turned over, and turn (year) I begins.

In turn, players bid (a minimum of 1 gold) for control of that exposed explorer card. Players may also pass but once passing, a player may no longer bid for that particular card. High bidder discards the amount of gold bid, tossing the necessary gold cards onto the discard pile, and, during year I, places one of his ships on the matching explorer space on the board. In subsequent years, ONLY the ships already on the board may be moved ahead. This is something that players must keep in mind because of the special “powers” that controlled explorers can give to their “masters”.

Each explorer offers a “bonus” or special “power” to the controlling player. During years I and II, when more than one player can exert control, each player gets the benefit of an explorer’s power. These bonuses can change depending upon which side of the dual boards are in play. For example, on side A of a board, control of Vasca da Gama earns extra gold cards for controlling players; on the flip side, control of this explorer may result in cards OR Victory Points (the player’s choice). Control of James Cook results in lots of Victory Points (from 5 up to a significant 27 depending on which board side is in play) but these totals come with a price: either playing the rest of your hand with your gold cards exposed OR losing a gold card from your hand after making your winning bid. After years I and II, players receive two gold cards (to help replenish their hands) as well as any additional cards controlled explorers may furnish.

At the end of year III, after all auctions have been completed and explorers claimed, Victory Point totals are calculated. Every space where a player has a ship is checked for any listed VPs. Added to this are the number of crowns found on the gold cards held in each player’s hand at the rate of 1 crown equals 1 VP. The player with the highest combined total wins the game!

Pizarro & Co. goes beyond the normal parameters of an auction game. The aforementioned “narrowing” of the field adds another strata to play as players not only have to decide how to manage their hands but also have to consider which explorers to go for since it’s not possible to bid on an explorer in the second or third year UNLESS you’ve been successful in the previous round! It also seems that the powers of the explorers are neatly balanced. Explorers who generate more cards for the high bidding player often provide little or no Victory Points. Those worth large stacks of VPs leave you to your own devices as to where the extra (and necessary) gold cards will come. Handling your cards and keeping your head during the, sometimes, heated bidding is the key to success. The fact that high numbered gold cards deliver only 1 crown while the lower gold values provide 2 or 3 crowns each (which translates into 2 or 3 VPs each) is yet another balancing act and key consideration in formulating strategy. The Franz Vohwinkel artwork, as usual, is excellent and quite striking as the portraits of the explorers are extremely life-like. (The presence of a scoring track, however, is totally superfluous. Paper and pencil work better.)

At its most basic, Pizarro & Co., is an auction game and frankly, I thought the auction device in gaming was sewn up by Reiner Knizia in his masterful Modern Art (featured in the Fall 1996 GA REPORT) and Medici (Fall 1998 GA REPORT). But part of the pleasure of gaming is discovering how to make something “old” new again. That’s precisely what Tom Lehmann has done in designing Pizarro & Co. Recommended. – – – – – — Herb Levy


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