For over 2 years I have been wishing to play Goa, an award-winning and highly rated economic development game, in which players take the role of 16th century Portuguese spice merchants trading from Goa, a colony of Portugal from 1510 to 1961. I admit I wasn't pro-active and just waited for the co-occurrence of three conditions: Steve coming to the club and bringing his copy, and me having no pre-arranged game. The wait for a particular alignment of planets would have been shorter... Well, last week the horoscope must have been favourable to Scorpios because I finally got my chance.
Adding to this the pleasure of seeing Michael join us again after many months of absence (because his live Internet radio show about videogames clashed with our games night) made for a really nice start of the evening.
Steve explained the rules to Paul B., Paul H. and me. Paul H. had a vague recollection he had played the game before (I now checked it was on March 19th). The gist of the game is rather familiar: you bid for resources which will help develop your capacity to produce further resources (build ships, collect taxes, harvest spices, make settlements). At the end of the game, whoever further developed their overall capacities wins the game. The game lasts 8 rounds, each with an auction phase followed by an action phase. In the auction phase, each player selects a face up tile for auction, which the other players bid on. The player who selected the tile either accepts the highest bid (and takes the money from the other player, who gets the tile) or outbids it to get the tile himself, and pays to the bank. Tiles represent resources (or special actions, in the last 4 rounds) that are used in the action phase of each round to develop the capacities. The game has an original tile selection mechanism in which the grid layout of tiles is used to constrain what tile the next player can select. There is also an element of making settlements and plantations to harvest spices, and there are adventure cards and special tiles, which allow other ways of getting VPs. As you can see, a rather classic German economic development game (from 2004), in the footsteps of Puerto Rico (2002), Princes of Florence (2000) and the like. I'm never fond of those special/bonus cards/tiles in games: they are purely for game mechanic purposes, making the theme so much thinner. I hence didn't enjoy Goa as much as I expected, because being a game related to Portugal, I was really looking forward to a strong theme. On hindsight I was being naive: knowing other German designer games, I should have been more moderate in my expectations. It's nevertheless a good game, where it's not easy to value a tile you're bidding on, and where you can visually track the development of your capacities and hence get a sense of achievement throughout the game. I'm looking forward to see how the 2010 edition will look like and what rules will change. Hopefully, the new edition will also lower the price for used copies of the out-of-print original edition ;). In either edition, Goa has to join Santiago, Magellan, and Age of Discovery in my collection of games related to Portugal.
As for our game, in an early round (2nd or 3rd, I think), Steve selected a tile that gave its owner 4 ducats per round. One of the Pauls bid 7 ducats for it, I bid 15. All bids so far in the game had been rather cautious and hence my offer raised a stir. Steve needed the money and accepted my bid. (Paul B. asked me to write that I 'severely overpaid' to Steve.) For the rest of the game, asking 'Do I hear a bid of 15?' or similar became a recurrent catchphrase. My lucky break came in the last round, when I selected a swap tile for auction. It's a powerful special tile that allows its owner to swap it during the action phase for any of the tiles remaining on the board. Steve bid some pitiful amount (or passed, can't remember), Paul B. bid 8 ducats, Paul H. 20. He couldn't have known that 9 ducats would have been enough, because I had 8 ducats myself and hence couldn't outbid them. Steve selected the next tile, which allowed to harvest spices. With the just earned money, I got it for 13 ducats and filled my empty plantations.In the ensuing action phase, my first action was to harvest spices: I had already enough, so I used a special adventure card in my hand to get instead any combination of colonists, ships and spices. I took 7 ships and 1 spice. With plenty of ships and spices, in the 2nd and 3rd actions I spent some to develop my two lowest capacities to the 3rd level, hence getting an extra action, which I used with the remaining ships and spices to develop another capacity to 4th (and highest) level. The last round definitely brought me a lot of VP. Moreover, I was the only one who had made 4 settlements, for another 10VP. Result: I not only had my cake (i.e. got to play Goa), I also ate it too - I won the game with 40 VP. What else can one ask for for a perfect games night? It wasn't easy though: Paul H. came a very close 2nd with 39 VP (uff!), Steve had 37 and Paul B. 28 VP.
At another table, Nick Baldyworth won a Puerto Rico tournament game against Chris (1 VP behind), Keith and Richard, while Damen and Matt played Dominion. Then Matt and Nick swapped places: Nick and Damen played Magic the Gathering while the others had a game of Ra. Ester, Julian, Dan and John played Le Havre all evening long, and André, Graham, David and Michael played El Grande followed by Puerto Rico.