Sail the Caribbean
# of Players
Maracaibo is a heavy strategy game from designer Alexander Pfister with the digital version hitting your screens thanks to Spiralbust Studios. One to four players sail around the 17th century Caribbean attempting to increase their influence to be crowned the victor. A game lasts four rounds and a digital game takes about 30 to 45 minutes to play.
Maracaibo puts players in control of a trading ship that makes a trek around the Caribbean four times over the course of a game. On each turn players move their ship forward up to seven spaces on the circular track. They then take the appropriate action depending on the type of location they stopped at. The details vary, but in general you can recruit new crew members, increase influence with one of three countries, make deliveries, upgrade your ship, and so on. All of it is extremely Pfister-esque if you’ve played his other titles.
Round ends are triggered when a player reaches the end of the Caribbean cycle. Some cleanup occurs and all players start at the beginning for the next round. After four of these rounds, the game ends with the victor being the player with the most points, obviously.
I’m keeping this description vague because I can’t fully wrap my head around this game despite having been playing the app for about a month at the time of writing. It’s a very deep game which comes down to finding the best possible balance of movement, spending, collecting, and card usage. When a game of Maracaibo ends in your favor, it’s a thing of beauty. An intricately devised and shrewdly executed plan coming together like a supernova…only to return to reality when you lose the next ten games. Maybe that’s just me, though.
Quite honestly, Maracaibo is over my head in terms of the weight of games I like to play. I make rare exceptions for keeping heavy games in my regular rotation, but Maracaibo has not yet stood out enough to me to qualify for that exception. That’s no knock on the game, Great Western Trail also fell flat to these fingers recently having tried it for the first time.
Learning to play
Barrier to Entry
The game is taught through a tutorial which holds your hand for the first two full rounds of the game before skipping through to the end. This game is heavy, so I was skeptical how well it would be taught here, but I was pleasantly surprised at the balance it hits in being thorough but not overwhelming.
The game also contains a text rules section for quick reference, always a welcome addition.
Look and Feel
Maracaibo has a massive amount of information players need access to throughout the game. Multiple different tracks and cards really hog table space. I’m very happy to report that the digital version does a fantastic job of fitting everything you need onto your phone screen. It’s truly an impressive feat. Most items have their own sub-menu you can access via click, but a surprising amount is viewable from the default board view.
Elsewhere, bright colors and consistent style keep the app looking great from the moment you launch through gameplay. Controls are all as simple as you would hope; click a spot to travel to, then choose your action. Most things are done click-and-confirm style which works well for the crowded landscape of the app. There is an undo button as well, which is always a great thing to see.
The only multiplayer option in Maracaibo at launch is local pass and play. The developers have stated a desire to add online multiplayer but there currently is no timetable for that.
All single player games are played against an Automa rather than against AI opponents. The Automa has pretty standard automa rules; it doesn’t actually play the game, but rather uses a unique deck of cards to define its actions. It moves across the board and sometimes things it does interferes with what you might want to do, but it’s all random. The automa is solid, as most of them are, and even offers scaling difficulty levels as you improve. However, it is still an automa and not a replacement for AI opponents.
The game is split into two modes: Standard and Campaign. Standard mode games follow the rules explained earlier. Campaign wraps a light bit of structure around things and throws in some rule/setup changes along the way. You can use the changes from Campaign in Standard mode games, but the app does warn you that you might spoil the fun if you haven’t made it to a certain chapter in your Campaign yet.
Taking an action
A major plus for this game, given the complexity and length, is that you can save your games and return to them later. The game keeps three save spots for both Standard and Campaign mode games.
The Wrap Up
Maracaibo is an app stuck in a weird place. What it does, it does exceptionally well. The presentation on this MASSIVE game is amazing, they did a fantastic job packaging it up to fit on your phones. The experience has been very smooth for me, with only the most minor of technical issues popping up once in my entire time with the game. The game itself is a beast, among the heaviest games ever to receive the app treatment.
The downsides of Maracaibo are, unfortunately, quite large depending on how you want to play. No online play and no AI mean the only way you can replicate the experience of playing Maracaibo against someone else is with pass-and-play. The automa works quite well, but it simply isn’t the same.
If you are interested in Maracaibo there is likely no better way to give it a test run than through this digital version. If you are an experienced player wanting to hone your skills and test strategies against a fun automa or if you would rather pass around a tablet instead of setting up the beast of a game, the app is a great choice there as well. If you want to play against AI or online, you will be disappointed.
Overall, Maracaibo does a fantastic job in what it offers, but the feature set is lacking so that must be factored into the review.