In Macao players compete to establish themselves as merchants in the city of Macao, collect wares from the city and deliver them via boat to far-distant ports. How they do this is a combination of cards and dice!
As well as the main board, each player has a Ship’s Wheel (more on that in a moment) and a Tableau in front of them which starts with one card on it and over 12 rounds another card is added in each round. Players will be trying to action those cards (get them off their tableau) and once actioned, the cards have unique uses.
How the cards are actioned is dictated by several colours of action cubes. The starting player rolls a set of dice and players, in turn order, choose two dice and put a set of matching coloured cubes next to the same number on their ship’s wheel. A blue six, for instance, lets them put six blue cubes next to the six on their wheel; a red one gives them one red cube next to the one. The wheel turns by degrees between rounds and brings the player to whatever action cubes they have ready for that round; so your task is balancing short and long-term needs; as it’s the cubes that allow players to get their cards off their tableau.
Cubes also allow players to pay for a presence in the city quarters of Macao (picking up wares in the process) and move their ship. When their ship arrives in the appropriate destination they can deliver the wares and claim points. There is also a tribute track where players can use gold to buy victory points.
It’s a game suited to older players and rich in strategy, where successful “chaining” of cards (where one card’s benefits boost another card) is often the key to victory. But it also has a seam of risk-taking within it, as the choice of card picked up can be pivotal: cheaper to build cards are easier to get off your tableau, but harder-to-build cards bring more rewards – if you can get them built!
I love Macao. It’s a crazy blend of dice rolling and future-planning that thematically has no resonance whatsoever with the concept of the game – trading and shipping – or the strategy that is played out through the cards. But despite the incongruity, the mechanics intrigue me and it’s a favourite of mine.
There is not a huge amount of direct interaction, but there is room for spoiling tactics in the city of Macao and the ware deliveries.
There is not a lot of down-time, as it pays to keep an eye on what other players are up to.
Macao can be a bit of a puzzle in terms of working out how best to action cards with the available cubes.
There are far more cards than would ever be used in a single game, and dice are unpredictable, so there is a good deal of variation.