I have a friend who has an addiction to board and card games. This has the excellent benefit that I get to play them. So before I say anything more, I would like to thank Pete Freer for making this review possible…
There’s no point me being bashful with this review; I think Macao is a great game. I’ve only played it twice, but I didn’t win on either occasion, so I have none of that “I like it because I’m good at it” bias coursing through the pleasure centres of my brain.
The premise of the game is simple – get more victory points than your fellow players. There are a number of ways of doing this, from sailing around the map selling wares, to generating gold to simply buy the points, to name a couple. But the driving component of the game is the collection of little coloured cubes, which act as a resource for doing nearly everything in the game. However, to get the most of these you have to plan to take them on a future turn, not your next turn, so there’s an element of forward planning in the game that builds a lot of anticipation and can see players streak ahead at surprising times. The cubes also take a while to sort out into piles of the same colour at the start of the game, a great job to give someone who can’t stop talking while you try to tell them the rules – I was given this job.
Part of the appeal of the game for me is the world – I love the romantic notion of sailing out of a far eastern port and plying the trade routes. This game helps to uphold my rose-tinted vision by not modelling things like scurvy or shipwreck while sailing the oceans. But it’s not just the fiction that’s the draw – the whole system is just the right level of complexity to mean your plans can be utterly demolished by another player, only for you to realise that there’s another opportunity you didn’t see and you can now exploit. Such realisations will make you want to do a little dance of personal glee.
The game lasts for a fixed number of turns, so it always weighs in at about 2 hours per game. The box has an age rating of 12 and up but I think you could start a kid on this at the age of 8, if you’re happy to help them out a little and give them some advice regarding planning for the future. That said, many adults will need some careful prodding on this point too, I know I did.