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English language edition
List Price: $39.95
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Some kilometers west of the African mainland lies the Cape Verde Island of Santiago. The climate is hot, and every drop of water is precious.
Every player buys at auction certain plantations (potatoes, beans, paprika, bananas, and sugar cane) and tries to connect these to others in order to unite and enlarge their holdings. Plantations must quickly be connected to the canal irrigation system so that they do not dry up completely and fail to produce any yield. Bribes to the Canal Overseer are necessary, in order to insure that the canal system connects to your own plantations. The sooner that a plantation is irrigated and is connected to other plantations of the same type, the more yield -- and thus the more money -- will be gained at the end of the game.
The one who wins will be the one who most skillfully acquires plantations, irrigates them, and connects them to lucrative plantations of the same type.
Players: 3 - 5
Time: 90 minutes
Ages: 10 and up
Est. time to learn: 20-30 minutes
Weight: 917 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English. This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item.
- 1 game board
- 110 wooden yield markers
- 45 plantation tiles
- 20 wooden canals
- 150 bank notes
- 1 canal overseer
- 3 plastic palm trees
- 1 wooden well marker
- 8-page color rulebook
Average Rating: 4.7 in 3 reviews
Santiago, with five players (3-5 players), presents one of the best interaction game I have witnessed. Perhaps, it was the players; I think it was the game design as well.
You have four even stacks of tiles. You are asked to match up two colors or place another farm tile. Two farm tiles are already placed on the board at the beginning of the game. The game mechanics looked so easy in the beginning. The four stacks of tiles are revealed with four tiles to bid on.
You start by bidding on who will draw and place the first tile. Ten Escudos or dollars are given to each player at the beginning. You may conserve your Escudos or bid wildly for those first tile placements. At the end of each round, the player is given three dollars to refresh the resources on hand.
The name of the game is irrigation. Each player has four irrigation sticks or canals. The one in your color represents the one placement you can use to keep your farms going. The blue stick represents a freebie that you can place to head off someone else not keeping your farms irrigated. You need to keep your colored canal stick for a time when farms will be lost without irrigation. Sticks placed between farm or crop tiles do not necessarily water the crops you want watered.
As individuals are deciding on their bids, one player may stay out of the bidding. He or she automatically becomes the ditchdigger for the lowest bid or staying out of the bidding. The Canal Builder or ditchdigger becomes a powerful person who decides which additional bid will be accepted and where the life-giving water stick will be laid.
The last step in the turn involves laying one of your blue tiles to keep that farm going. If no water stick is located near your farm tile, your farm tile is turned and the farm is lost. The farm becomes a desert.
At the beginning, two of the players placed tiles that gave them two farms or crop little blocks. On the farm tiles it shows how many little blocks of your color can be placed. Two tiles were immediately lost without irrigation, and the game begin to look like a stalement.
Then, the players got smart. They started holding back bids to become the Canal Builder and accept bids. They, then, built more carefully to conserve their water resources. It became a contest to guess who would become the Canal Builder. I ended up building only one farm for many turns, but the farms were at least receiving water from the other players.
Deals continued to be made in the game to save precious water irrigation sticks and team with other players' farms. That made the game highly interactive. Some players started new farms away from other people's tiles. The middle of the board became filled with one- and two-farm tiles. The players vied for conserving their water sticks. The Canal Builder was making a killing.
Money is earned at the end of the game by the number of crop stones on a farm tile times the size of the area involved. Money on hand is also counted. The final scores were unbelievably rich: 86, 67, two 52s, and 43. All in all, players commented they liked the game and would play it again.
From the furor generated by trying to convince the Canal Builder with bids and the spirited bidding for initial placement of tiles, this game is a winner. It has all the elements of stabbing your neighbor in the back and acquiring more water.
I first saw Santiago (Z-man Games, 2005 -- Claudia Heley and Roman Pelek) in GAMES magazine and was vaguely interested -- mostly because the cube colors (purple, white, tan, gray, and black), weren't your typical colors in a games such as this. The description didn't really catch my attention, though, so I didn't think much more about it. Then, I started hearing word about what an excellent game it was when scanning the 'net; but since the game was only released in Germany, I didn't think that I would get a chance to play it. I was therefore pleased and delighted to hear that Santiago had been picked up by Z-man games and looked forward to playing it.
The theme of the game, building plantations and digging canals, didn't really interest me that much, neither did my initial rules reading. But after my first playing I was hooked. The entire game comes down to knowing which plantation to pick, where to put it, and a very fierce, bitter canal auction. The auction seems to be the most critical part of the game, and yea verily, is the most fun. The game plays in an hour or less, feels like a "meaty" game, but yet is light enough that I've seduced many new gamers with it. Santiago may be one of the most underrated games of the last couple years.
A small board with forty-eight squares in a grid with ditches running throughout, breaking the squares into groups of four. Each player takes twenty-two yield markers (cubes) of their color, along with one blue canal (a long stick) and one "proposed" canal marker of their color. A spring piece is placed on one of the intersections of ditches on the board, and the "canal overseer" piece is given to one player. Each player also receives ten Escudos (currency) with the remainder placed in a bank. A pile of forty-five tiles (one less in a three-four player game) is sorted into equal stacks according to the number of players, shuffled, and placed face down. Finally, the rest of the blue canals are placed near the board. The first of the rounds is ready to begin (nine rounds for five players; otherwise eleven.)
At the beginning of each round, the top tile in each stack is turned face up. Tiles show one of five different plantations (pepper, sugar cane, potatoes, bananas, and beans), and either one or two planters pictured on each one. Starting with the canal overseer, and proceeding clockwise around the board, each player makes one bid. A player can bid any amount they wish, as long as no other player has bid it, or pass. The player who bids the lowest (or who passes first) takes the canal overseer figure. The player who bids the highest chooses a tile and places it on the board, on any free space on the board. They then place one yield marker of their color on the tile for each of the workers on the tile. If the player passed in the auctioning phase, however, they must place one less yield marker on the tile. All players then pay their bids to the bank.
Each player then, starting with the player to the left of the Canal Overseer, suggests a placement for a canal. Canals must be placed in the ditches on the board, and must either connect to the spring or an existing canal. When suggesting a placement, the player either places their proposed canal piece down where they want the canal to go, as well as the amount of money they are bribing the Canal Overseer with. Players can alternatively add money to one of the current offers, if they like how another player has placed their canal. Once all players have made their "suggestions", the Canal Overseer can take one of the offers, taking all the money and replacing the suggested canal with a blue canal from the pile in the middle of the table. The Canal Overseer can even build a canal in a place where no one suggested but must pay the bank one more Escudo than the highest offer to him.
Each player, in turn order, then can decide if they want to place the free canal they were given at the end of the game and do so if they desire. "Drying" then occurs. Each plantation NOT next to a canal loses one yield marker. If the plantation has no yield markers, it is turned over into a desert and cannot be built upon for the remainder of the game. Each player then receives three Escudos as income, and a new round begins.
Once the last tiles have been placed on the board, and the round completed, all tiles that are not next to a canal are immediately turned into desert. The game ends, with each player scoring their plantations. Each plantation tile that is adjacent to another plantation tile of the same type is considered to be in the same plantation. Several players can possibly score points for the same plantation. A player scores their points by multiplying the amount of yield markers in their color on the plantation by the amount of tiles in the plantation -- taking Escudos form the bank equal to the total. Once all plantations are scored, players count their money, and the player with the highest total is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
- Components: I have to state that the plastic insert in the box is one of the nicest I've seen in a long time. There are custom spaces for all the pieces, and the tilted slots for the money help make the box an excellent place to keep the "bank" during the game. As I stated earlier, it's nice to see cubes of different colors; and the slightly subdued yield marker colors provide a nice contrast against the very colorful plantation tiles (which are green, red, brown, blue, and orange. The canal sticks are similar to the "roads" from Settlers of Catan but are longer and help provide a nice visual effect when the entire canal network is complete. The board itself is drab; but that works, because the colorful effect the plantations have upon it along with the yield markers make the theme a bit more lively (although that's hard.) The Canal Overseer piece is a cardboard figure in a stand, and three plastic palm trees are provided for a variant. The money is nice, although the larger bills are fairly superfluous, as they are only used at the end of the game for about a minute or less.
- Rules: I really enjoyed the layout of Santiago's rules. The first two pages explained how the canals were to be placed, and how final scoring occurred. This helped me, as a reader, quickly grasp the major mechanics of the game. The rest of the rules then spelled out the actual order of play, but I already knew the basics. The back of the eight page full-colored, fully illustrated rulebook had a quick guide to the game -- it may be possible to play the game only having read this guide! Either way, I found that the game is very easy to teach to people with the only hang-up being how auctions work, since very few games have bidding such as this.
- Auction: I enjoyed how the auctions worked. You could bid any amount, as long as it wasn't the same amount another player bid. This led to some interesting bidding. On one hand, players are eager to get the Canal Overseer, because the benefits of that position are twofold: money from other players and/or decision where the canal is placed. However, the player who bids the lowest (thus getting the Canal Overseer) often gets a very poor choice of tile. If a player passes in the bidding, (and is first), they assure themselves of getting the Canal Overseer -- but at the cost of a yield token. In the five player games I've played, games often started with players bidding one to five Escudos in the first couple rounds. As the game continued, some players' bids got higher, and a few passed occasionally, making the bidding phase a bit unpredictable. The tiles being turned face up may remind one of a similar mechanic in Puerto Rico, but here it is of much greater importance.
- Placement: When placing a tile, players must carefully consider where the tile should go. First of all, they want to place it next to a canal, or to a spot where they are pretty sure a canal can go. Secondly, should they expand a current plantation. Yes, it might score them a lot of points, but it might score an opponent even more points. For example, if a plantation already has ten tiles and Joe has six yield tokens on it; if I play a tile there with one token, I'll get ten points, but he'll get six more. Is that worth it to me? Choices such as this are interesting, although in actual gameplay they take but a few seconds to make.
- Bribing: Trying to get the Canal Overseer to put the canal where you want it is a fun, yet strife-filled part of the game. A lot of argument and (loud) persuasion has occurred in the games I've played, as people desperately want the Canal Overseer to pick their spot for the canal. Sometimes evil (or canny, however you want to look at it) folk will simply put a suggested canal down that goes nowhere -- helping no one, just to hurt the other players. If they offer enough money, the Canal Overseer just might be tempted to take them up on their offer, which irritates the other players to no end. At the same time, players can band together, and temporary alliances are formed each turn as players strive to get the canal waters flowing in their direction. Each player has one "backup" canal that they can place; but if they place it too early, they have nothing to fall back upon in the later stages of the game.
- Canal Overseer: Being the Canal Overseer is fun, but can cause a bit of stress. Players get to choose between the options offered them. They can choose their own route for a canal; but as this is fairly expensive (they lose all the money offered to them, plus the money they have to pay), it's rarely been done in the games I've played in. Still, players know that it's an option, so they must not be too chintzy when bribing the Canal Overseer.
- Players and Time: The game is good with three or four, but I absolutely love it with five players. With five, the auction phase and bribing phase are much more interesting, as there are five different players who want several different goals. But no matter how many people are playing, the game clocks in just under an hour, which is pretty impressive, considering the amount of "game" included in the box.
- Fun Factor: Santiago transcends the usual intellectual pit that many of these games fall into, passing the boundary of "fun". This is simply due to the bribing phase. Negotiation, pleading, demanding, and other forms of quite vocal communication occur, and it's a lot of fun to be involved in and watch. I do realize that a very few people may be turned off from this aspect of the game, and a few others can turn it into an ugly affair, but for the most part it's extremely enjoyable.
If you're looking for a game that has a lot of player interaction, no downtime, a playing length of an hour, and a simple scoring system, Santiago has it all. It's become a staple of my collection, a game that new players and hardened gamers can play alike. There's some luck with the tiles being turned over, but for the most part the game's result happens because of negotiation and keen bidding. Don't let the lackluster name or theme turn you off from this game; it's one of the best I've played in recent years.
"Real men play board games."
Water, the source of all life. Water gives life and points through the ever expanding canal in Santiago, and what grows by the water and where the water flows is determined by an intriguing three-part game mechanic that sees temporary partnerships emerge and dissolve. The result is one of the better new Essen releases and one that is particularly strong with five players.
The board is a simple three by four grid, with each cell further divided into four areas. The water source begins on one of the intersections, and in each round of the game a section of canal is constructed which links back to its source. Through the game, players plant five types of crops on the land, and each crop tile fills in one-quarter of the primary canal grid cell. Crop tiles hold one or two workers. Crops that border the canal stay irrigated and sustain life, while those that don't dry out and eventually perish. Each canal piece covers one side of the primary grid, so most placements will irrigate four crop tile spaces. A canal piece placed along the border grid sides will only irrigate two spaces.
The first main mechanic of the game is the crop auction. Crop tiles equal to the number of players are revealed, and an auction ensues for the right to choose a tile. This works as in New England, where a player can bid any number except those bid by other players. After everyone has bid, the high bidder chooses the tile of their choice, populates it with their worker stones, and places it anywhere on the board. This is the second major mechanic in the game, as placement of the crop tiles is quite strategic and creates the basis for temporary partnerships. The low bidder chooses last, but also becomes the Canal Builder for this round. The Canal Builder earns money and can direct the flow of the canal.
The Canal Builder is the third main mechanic in the game. After the tiles are chosen and placed, players suggest where the canal could be extended and bribe the Canal Builder to accept their choice. The Canal Builder can accept any of the suggestions and collect all money placed in support of it, or can place where they'd like by besting the highest bid by one. Being the Canal Builder can thus be quite powerful but also unusually entails receiving weaker crop tiles and substandard placement options as a result.
After the canal piece is placed for the round, any crop tiles not bordering the canal will lose one worker. If the tile begins the round with no workers and ends still without irrigation, it is flipped to show a wasted land instead of the crop. At the game end, players score for the workers on the irrigated crop tiles as a function of the number of connected tiles times the number of workers. For example, if I have four workers on a set of six connected banana tiles, I will earn 24 escudos (the currency) for those workers. Obviously, crop tiles which have dehydrated can break the connectivity of a crop area. The game finishes when all of the tiles have been auctioned and placed, and the player with the most money wins.
This structure creates a dynamic set of interactions. The initial tile auction sets up the turn order for placement and establishes the first battle for tile selection. Players can pass during this auction, and the first player to pass will automatically become the Canal Builder since by definition they will have made the lowest bid. But while passing saves your escudos and may put you into a control position, it also requires that you place one less worker than normal on your crop tile. Since some of the tiles only allow a single worker stone, it is likely that by passing to become the Canal Builder you will not place a worker in that turn. Since workers are what score, this must be carefully considered.
The placement of the tiles sets up the Canal Builder bribing partnerships. By placing in a non-irrigated space in such a way that a single canal will water both my tile and another player's tile, a natural alliance occurs to encourage the Canal Builder in the shared direction. Conversely, placing in an area that, if irrigated, will clearly leave another tile destitute creates an even livelier bribing round. Once the canal piece is placed, everyone must regroup and if certain tile spaces are unoccupied but now irrigated, this will come into play in the next tile auction phase.
Since scoring is a function of crop size, tile placement must also consider the relative value of all placements. If I can join my two-worker pepper tile to an existing large set of pepper tiles, I not only boost the value of my own investment but also add value to everyone else already vested in those peppers. This fact can create some downtime with the kind of players that insist on calculating the constantly changing board situation. And since escudos win the game and all tile bids and Canal Builder bribes are paid in escudos, it is possible to calculate the absolute return on each investment.
Santiago has been well playtested, based on a few other nice rule touches. Each player begins with one canal piece that can be placed in a phase after the Canal Builder places the main piece for the round. Once used, this is not available any longer, but played at the right time it can provide a critical link in your strategic effort. Once any one player plays their extra piece, though, the others will need to wait for further rounds before theirs can be placed. At the end of each round, each player is given three more escudos and this helps to ensure a more dynamic auction. With good players, it will be very hard for any one player to run away with the game.
While playable with three, four, or five players, Santiago is best with five. This is because the canal piece size is fixed and more rounds must be played with fewer players. In three and four player games, eleven canal pieces are placed against 44 crop tiles, while in the five player game only nine pieces are placed against 45 tiles. The latter clearly means that more tiles are being isolated, and thus every auction and every bribing situation becomes that much more critical.
Santiago is an interesting game. It employs a tight set of mechanics that fit together quite well, it often results in very close and tension-filled matches, and while some ideas are derivative it clearly doesn't feel exactly like any other game. Yet despite this deserved praise, something makes me believe that I'll enjoy this game for a few more months and then it will be forgotten. So enjoy Santiago while it lasts and let's see if it comes up in Joe Casadonte's ``re-reviews'' any time in the next few years.