My ones are better because they can swim
A couple of years ago I was introduced to Cartagena at a small games convention, and since then it has sat on my wishlist as a neat and fun little game that I’ve wanted to pick up at some point. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend announced a bunch of games he was selling off, which included Cartagena, so I happily relieved him of part of his burden.
The game of Cartagena is inspired by the story of a group of 17th Century pirates escaping from imprisonment, and has players controlling teams of pirates travelling down a twisting passageway, trying to be the first to get their whole team onto the escape boat at the end. This involves playing cards to move one of your pirates onto the next empty space marked with an icon matching the image on the card, or moving backwards to draw cards. This results in pirates leapfrogging each other forwards in sudden lurches, then staggering backwards as if, in a rum-fuelled haze, they have forgotten where they are going and what they are meant to be doing. This can get really quite tactical, but is very quick and easy to learn.
I got in a bit of trouble over this game, as the first couple of times I played it, Miss B came in on me mid-game with other people, and she missed out on the opportunity to play herself. I got growled at a bit, because the game looks very nice and seems (and is) fun, so I promised to play with her at the next convenient opportunity.
That opportunity arrived just a couple of days later and, thanks to Miss B having seen the game in action already, I didn’t have anything to explain to her and we were playing as soon as she had arranged the board pieces into a pleasing looking route.
While the rules are extremely simple, the tactics are a little less obvious, but Miss B managed to avoid a few pitfalls that she had observed previously. In mid-game she decided that, instead of running through a passageway, the pirates were travelling down a waterlogged gutter (or something) so her pirates, being clearly superior to mine, should lie down so that they could swim. In the end, it turned out that my pirates, staying on their feet, were able to get to the boat first, and win the game, but Miss B was only a little behind.
From my experience so far, I think the game really needs more than two players, but is still fun with two. I think next time we may experiment with having a “robot” player (draw a random card and move the hindmost robot pirate according to it), which should make for more opportunity to take advantage of the whole leapfrogging thing.
Anyway, this is a game that has gone down well so far, and works well as a filler for adults, so I’m very happy to have it in the collection.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 8): “Very good. My pirate got stuck in the gutter/passage/not-very-secret passage/secret passage. 9½/10.”
The game: Cartagena (Winning Moves), 2 to 5 players aged 8+.