The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Fish are Games, not Food

Gaming had a  … piscatorial nature last night.

Fleet was classified as being in the San Juan/Race (etc) family, and that’s not wrong. The main differences is that every turn some licenses are auctioned. You need licenses to launch (most) ships for a fishing fleet, and each type of license also provides a special ability. (Some just give points, though). I did terribly, but one thought popped into my head — economy games shouldn’t have a fixed number of turns, and fleet does. (You play until the license deck is empty or the fish cubes, but that seems unlikely). A fixed number of turns makes it too easy to count the exact return — not that I did that, but hey. As complaints go it’s pretty minor. In any case, I’m not sold on Fleet but I’ll try it a few more times.

Next up was the worker-placey Vanuatu.

Here’s the core idea — You place 5 workers each turn (Two at a time, until the last). Unlike Caylus, any number of workers can be in a spot. Then you go around resolving actions. But only the player with the most workers in an action (ties based on player order) can take that action (once, but it costs all workers). If you take an action you remove your workers; now someone else the majority. If you can’t take an action, you remove one set of workers.
At least with five players, I don’t think this works. Well, it works, but it’s got implications. If you, as first player (who wins ties) place on “Fishing” and “Selling FIsh” space, you may discover opponent A places two in “Fishing” and B places two on “Selling Fish” You could fight them both (by adding a second worker to each) but they could each match you (and still have a worker left). Or you could fight A, but not B (by adding both workers on a space) …. but they could always win.
Or you could place somewhere else (“Building” and “Sailing”, say) and hope that your single worker is enough to win one space, and that (as actions are being taken) you’ll get the second “Fishing” or “Selling Fish” action. There’s no luck in this. You could look at this and figure out that A won’t fish, B wants to build, etc. (There are roles you select each turn that also give you good insight).But the fact of the matter is that a player could, through a mild mis-step or even no fault of his own, wind up getting few (or NO) actions. Now sure, you could just slam down two workers in one space, but then everyone who spreads out gets more actions than you. In an 8 turn game, that’s huge. So … a few guaranteed actions probably won’t win against someone who gets an extra action each turn. But by spreading yourself thin, you risk getting no actions.
That’s the primary tension of the game. But while Caylus had this, it’s much easier to predict how it would unwind and you can easily see the risks — All the spaces past the provost don’t work, so you can say “Well, if this doesn’t activate, those won’t.” But here you can have a cascade of failure. You can be blocked, players can gang up on you. There’s no ‘safest’ space. I actually like it, but it’s a surprisingly vicious design, and it drew some negative reaction.
More problematic (IMO) is the fact that you sail your ship around the board and can only do some actions in some space. So if you take a fishing action while you need to sail, you must take the sailing action, then the fishing action, in that order. Worse, sailing is only a cost, not a benefit. Each turn the start player builds out the board a little bit, and typically tries to put a useful space next to himself.

The net result is that sometimes one (or two) players don’t have to sail for a turn, which frees up several workers as other players fight over the sailing space. In a game where you get 8 turns and normally 2 or 3 actions a turn, having to spend 2 extra actions to sail while paying $1-3 for the privilege of wasting actions felt like the difference between losing and winning. (And there’s not even a fixed income each turn. That money is huge).

I’ll play Vanuatu again, but I suspect it’s a bunch of good ideas that absolutely do not work together. To be fair, the problems are exacerbated with 5 players, it should improve with 3.

Fleet — Indifferent

Vanuatu — Indifferent leaning towards avoid.

I apologize for the wall of text. WordPress seems to be having problems with editing these last few months and if I manually enter breaks it all goes to hell.


Written by taogaming

July 2, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

2 Responses

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  1. Vanuatu is all about temptation. You can almost certainly do one action successfully. You can probably do two. Three? Now you’re getting greedy. And yet you want to get ahead . . .


    July 3, 2013 at 7:32 pm

  2. Vanuatu is at its most vicious and brutal with 5 players. Many like that, but it’s too much for me (just too easy to get screwed, perhaps accidentally, as you’ve noted). It’s not nearly as bad with 4, but this is still not a game for the faint of heart. I very much admire the ideas, but I’m not sure how much I like the game. Right now, I’m still willing to play it with 4.


    July 3, 2013 at 11:51 pm

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