I’ve never really been drawn to Alexander Pfister games, they always seemed like super dry Euros. Even though they had interesting themes, they didn’t seem to capitalize on those themes. And I was pretty lukewarm on Great Western Trail when we played it, so I hadn’t ever really looked at Maracaibo. But after watching the Before You Play video on it, the game actually seemed pretty interesting.
I really enjoy card-driven games and card games, and the way the cards are used here reminded me of Race for the Galaxy. In both games, you’re going to cycle through cards a lot, just picking some here and there that fit your strategy, then spending the rest to keep going. And I think they struck a good balance of having cards to spend as goods or turning in objects for quests and keeping cards to buy. Most of the time, if there was a city to deliver goods to or a quest I wanted to complete, I had the cards in hand; it was only a matter of deciding which ones to keep and which ones I could do without. I ended up focusing on income, especially cards that used the anchor token since I was able to get that and tools out early. My brother managed to draw and eventually play 4 of the Master Builders so he had a huge discount on all cards. I also had a lot of exploration bonuses and an assistant set up to give me an extra exploration action each round.
Between the ship upgrades and the types of card effects, the game definitely has some engine-building to it, but you have enough control over it that you can adjust your strategy along the way (though earlier is probably still better). You unlock upgrades at a pretty good rate, but this may partially be a 2-player thing. Not many aspects of the game scale, so I think you’ll not get to do as much with more players.
Some of the iconography could have been a bit better. We did have to frequently stop to look things up. And all the cards and tile references should have been in a separate appendix, not mixed in with the rest of the rules. There was a lot of flipping through the rules to check various icons/symbols. At least the player aid is pretty good. I think the biggest downside so far is the length. It’s a bit of a fiddly game to set up and tear down, and it was a good 3 hours at 2-player. On the upside, it didn’t feel like it was too long.
Perseverance: Castaway Chronicles (episode 2)
We were all pretty sure episode 2 would be more our style, and we definitely enjoyed it more. But wow is there a lot in episode 2, and it’s all really expensive. Right away, we felt like the starting resources weren’t enough, but maybe we were just getting ahead of ourselves and trying to do too much or do the wrong actions. There’s definitely a high learning curve. And just like episode 1, you will do terribly if you try to do too much and not focus on one path.
We started out all trying to do the same thing (episode 2 added exploration and dino hunting, so we wanted to try the cool new thing). For the most part, we didn’t put much effort into the assembly this time, just getting votes because we happened to have the majority in certain zones, though one player did start collecting permanent votes. Only one neutral die was changed to a player die in the game towards the end. I think we ended up scoring a lot more from the officer bonuses. And influencing officers is more expensive too!
The adventures, which work the same way as patrols in episode 1, are still really fun to do, and all the stuff you can do in the discovery zone was interesting, especially how there’s an almost semi-coop ecosystem of one player going out and hunting dinosaurs, another player going in and clearing tiles to go on adventures, and another player going in and building in the cleared hex. But beware owning camps and outposts, you might get attacked by dinosaurs at any time. Lastly, we all really liked the perks and how they allowed you to specialize in different areas. Way more interesting than just one pre-determined player power.
One odd note, there’s an error on the board for the adventure that wasn’t addressed in the FAQ/errata. The action to go hunt dinosaurs on a hex is missing the attack symbol (target icon), even though it shows up correctly in the rulebook and on the officer perk that allows you to attack a second time during an adventure action.
I only got second place this time with 132 compared to 162 for first and 108 for last. But a minor rule we forgot during setup (placing an influence on the captain to place a camp instead of a settlement) messed up my plan for the start of the game. And at times, I felt I was one turn behind the other players despite going first, and even couldn’t finish my temple adventure because I needed one more action than was left. You just have to accept that for really heavy games, there will be mistakes and yes, sometimes it can have a big impact on the game.