Game Buzz: Vanuatu

I’m starting to reach the end of the Essen games I want to talk about.  Next is:

image by BGG user alainE

Vanuatu was designed by Alain Epron and was published by Krok Nik Douil Editions.  This French game is for 3-5 players aged 12 and up, and takes 90 minutes.  It’s set on the archipelago of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific approximately 1090 miles from Australia.  It’s a fairly poor nation, so the measure of your victory in the game is prestige.  It’s another one of those Euros with an odd and kind of uninteresting theme.  However, I was attracted by the promise of programmable actions, so let’s take a look.

The game comes with a board that shows a starting island, 15 other available hexes, a score track, and various tables used to track/remind you of other information in the game.  There are 15 archipelago, 10 order of foreign market tiles, 33 resource discs, and 10 character tiles.  Also included are 5 boats and 25 action pawns, as well as 40 stalls, 4 bonus chips, 15 player discs, 14 fishing area markers, 10 exploration area markers, and 9 drawing markers.  Additionally, you get 24 goods cubes, 18 tourist pawns, 1 round marker, 1 price of fish marker, and a first player pawn.

You’ll lay out some starting hexes at the beginning of the game, and sort the others alphabetically into two piles.  One goods cube of each color goes on the starting island, and the starting sea spaces get 3 fish and 2 treasure discs (one will remain blank).  A tourist tile is drawn and placed on the appropriate space.  Each player gets a boat, 8 stalls, 5 action markers, and 3 player discs.  One player disc goes on 0 of the Prosperity Point track; one goes on 3 of the Bank of Vanuatu track; the third is kept.  Each player places a boat on the blank starting sea space, and you’re ready to play.

The game proceeds in rounds, with five phases in each round: setup, character selection, action planning, performing actions, and resolving rest token bonuses.  The first player (chosen randomly) goes first, and all players complete a phase before moving on to the next.

SETUP (skip on the first turn): Advance the game round marker – there are only 8 rounds.  Remove any tourist pawns remaining on the current tourist tile, remove the tourist tile, and draw a new one.  If a demand area is filled, discard it and move all tiles underneath up a space, drawing a new one to replace it.  Replenish goods on empty tiles, reset the fish price to 3, and the start player places two archipelago tiles.  Islands can’t touch islands, and seas must touch islands.  These tiles get fish and treasure or goods.

CHARACTER SELECTION: Each player will choose a character card, not choosing one they had in the previous round.  Each character (The Navigator, The Builder, The Diver, The Fisherman, The Vendor, The Buyer, The Artist, The Guide, The Beggar, The Preacher) gives you a special bonus during the round.

ACTION PLANNING: You’ll use your action markers to plan your actions for the next phase.  In order, you’ll place two in one or two action spaces; then two more, then your last marker.  Here are your choices:

  • SAIL – Pay 1-3 vatus (dollars) to move your board that many sea spaces in any direction.  You can’t move onto an island tile.  The Navigator can move 1-3 spaces for free.
  • BUILD – If your boat is adjacent to an island with an available stall, you pay 3 vatus and place a stall on the island.  These give you extra actions on the island, as well as prosperity points.  The Builder only pays one vatu.
  • EXPLORE – If your boat is on a sea tile with one or more treasure discs, you can explore a shipwreck.  Take a treasure tile equal in value to the number of treasure discs on the space, then return one of the discs to the reserve.  Treasure can be kept until the end for points, or sold for cash at any time (no action required).  The Diver collects money with the treasure tile.
  • FISH – If your boat is on a sea tile with one or more fish, you’ll take a fish tile equal to the number of fish in the space, then return one to the reserve.  These can be sold later.  The Fisherman immediately gains points equal to the value of the fish tile.
  • SELL – If your boat is next to an island that has one of your stalls, you can sell your fish.  Gain vatus equal to the collective value of the tiles you turn in multiplied by the price indicated in the Fish Market.  After selling, the fish price goes down a space (but not lower than 1).  The Vendor can sell even if not adjacent to his stall.
  • BUY – If your boat is adjacent to an island with goods cubes, you may buy one.  Kava costs 1, copra costs 2, beef costs 3.  You’ll then place the good on the topmost demand tile with an unfulfilled demand of that type and score points (1 for kava, 3 for copra, and 5 for beef).  You’ll score two extra if it was the last required good.  The Buyer gains a second good of the type bought from the reserve for free.
  • DRAW – If next to an island with an incomplete drawing site, you may draw in the sand.  Place a black drawing disc in the space and score three points.  The Artist gets 5 points.
  • TRANSPORT – If there’s a tourist at the Tourism Office, and if your boat is next to an island with an available tourist room, you can transport the tourist.  You get 1 vatu per stall of any color on the destination island.  The Guide gets an additional 2 points per drawing on the island.
  • REST – Take one of the available rest tokens and place it face down in front of you.

PERFORMING ACTIONS: After everyone has chosen actions, you’ll perform them.  In player order, you choose one area here you have a simple majority (more than anyone else – ties are broken by the player higher up in the turn order) and take the action, removing your discs afterwards.  If you don’t have a majority anywhere, you are skipped for now.  The Preacher allows you to perform an action in a place where you do not yet have a majority.  Once all discs have been taken back, this phase ends.

By the way, the Beggar allows you to trade in up to three points for that many vatus at any point during your turn.  It should be noted that any time you get to 10 vatus, they are immediately converted to 5 points, so you’ll never be able to acquire much money.

RESOLVE REST TOKENS: Reveal your rest tokens if you took any and take the associated reward – the first player marker, one point, one vatu AND one point, or one vatu.

The game ends after the eighth round.  You get three points for holding the start player marker, vatus for any remaining fish tiles (converting to points if appplicable), one point per 3 vatus, points for your treasure tiles times two, and 2 points per tourist pawn on an island with your stalls.  You win with the most points.

This game seems to be doing something interesting with the action selection.  The order of action resolution is determined by whoever committed the most action markers to a space, and you can use that as a way to delay people from doing what they want to do.  It’s not exactly the type of programming I had in mind when I first heard about the mechanics, but it does seem pretty cool.  The money system is also kind of clever – you can’t keep money, but it turns into points automatically.  So you can go from 9 vatus to 0 in an instant, remaining poor, though prosperous.

There are undoubtedly some very clever things going on in this game.  The theme doesn’t really draw me in, but it does seem to hold everything together – you’re trying to draw tourists, you’re trying to manage your meager supplies, and you’re just trying to be prosperous even without cash.  I do want to give it a try – no idea if I’ll like it or not, but I do want to see how these ideas gel together.  My ability to try it might depend on a domestic publisher picking it up – Rio Grande would probably be the best bet, but who knows at this point.  Thanks for reading!

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