My ranking of the top 50 free agents this offseason is up – you can go right to the top ten, to 11 through 30, or to 31 through 50. The buyers’ guides are also back, starting today with corner infielders, where I discuss (among other things) A-Rod as a trade target.
Navegador is a beautifully-designed game with a great theme that’s strongly integrated into gameplay, combining exploration, production, and construction all into a single, easy-to-understand game that balances the three areas enough to allow players to win in several different ways. With three or more players, there’s enough competition for resources that players are forced to make tough choices and focus on single strategies before the game gets too far along. Unfortunately, the breadth of options for players makes it unsuited for two players because it’s far too easy for both players to get and do everything they want to.
In Navegador, players represent fleets of explorers – think Dutch East India Company – who start in Portugal and travel to Latin America, Africa, and south and eventually east Asia, exploring those areas, developing colonies, and acquiring trade goods to sell on the open market. Players begin with two ships apiece, but lose one ship if they’re the first to explore a new area of the ocean, although that player receives a token worth more points at the end of the game plus an immediate cash bonus.
Any player can purchase a colony once the adjacent sea area has been opened up, with sugar colonies from Latin America, gold from Africa, and spice from across Asia. (My wife insists the gold bars look like butter, which would at least make the food theme consistent even if it raises unpleasant questions about storage.) Colonies produce goods that can be sold on the market, but the price goes down the more a good is sold, after which the advantage shifts to players who build factories to process those goods – no colony required – which then drives the price for the raw materials back up. This creates the first of several “do what your opponents aren’t doing” dynamics that work much better when the game has more players.
Construction is the third leg of the game. There are five building types, including a factory for each good, plus shipyards, allowing players to build ships more cheaply, and churches, allowing players to recruit workers more cheaply. Each player begins with one shipyard and one church, so s/he can build one ship for 50 cruzados or recruit one worker for the same cost during that kind of turn. Each additional shipyard/church allows the player to build/recruit one more whatever for 50 cruzados; otherwise the cost for extras can run from 100 cruzados in phase one to 300 in phase three. Ships are required for exploration, while workers are required to build factories (three workers), shipyards (four), and churches (five). However, each building type becomes more expensive as the supply of available buildings declines, so building early can be a major advantage even thought it may box you into a specific strategy for the rest of the game.
You can’t do whatever you want on a turn, however; there’s a rondel on the board that lists different turn types – Sailing, Shipbuilding, Worker recruiting, Market, Building, Colonization, and Privileges. Players move around it counterclockwise, advancing one to three spaces at no cost (destroying one ship for each additional space, a very high price), so sequencing your moves properly becomes a fundamental part of gameplay.
The Privileges tie into the end-game bonuses that determine nearly all of the scoring in the game. Each player automatically gets points for exploration, colonization, and buildings at the end of the game: One point per colony, two per factory (all types), four per new region explored, three per shipyard, and three per church. Players can increase those bonuses by gaining Privileges, sacrificing one worker to take a token that increases the per-unit bonus in one of those five areas by one or two, while also earning an immediate cash bonus for doing so. For example, a player may sacrifice one worker to take a one-point Colony privilege, earning two points per colony at the end of the game rather than just one, while also taking 30 cruzados per existing colony at the time s/he grabs the privilege.
The game is fantastic with three or more players (I haven’t tried with five, so I’m extrapolating from other experiences), because you’re going to be tripping all over each other on the board and will have to straddle the line between executing the ideal strategy and staying flexible because someone will inevitably try the same thing. With just two players, each person can achieve in all three major areas without much competition, splitting the new exploration roughly in half, grabbing plenty of colonies, working the market (you sell, I process), and building enough of all building types to do pretty much whatever you want. The game remains fun because the theme and mechanics are so well integrated, but there’s not much of a competitive sense to it, nor is there the tension you’d get with more players, where you spend time between your turns hoping your opponent doesn’t do the thing you were going to do. That means that, for us, as great as the game looks and as easy as it plays, we’re not going to get as much mileage out of it as most of the other games in our collection.