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Store:  Family Games
Edition:  Cartagena
Series:  Cartagena
Theme:  Pirate
Genre:  Racing
Format:  Board Games


original German edition

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Product Awards:  

Ages Play Time Players
8+ 30-45 minutes 2-5

Designer(s): Leo Colovini

Manufacturer(s): Venice Connection

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Product Description

The game recalls the legendary 1672 escape of a large group of pirates from the dreaded fortress of Cartagena. Each player has a crew of 6 fugitives which he tries to hurry through the long and tortuous underground passage that connects the fortress to the waterfront. But the task is not easy, because to move pirates forward in the passage you must play appropriate cards, of which you only have a few, while to replenish your cards, you must move pirates backward again.... To balance these conflicting needs requires good timing and judgement. The first player who succeeds in bringing his 6 pirates to the end of the passage and aboard a waiting sloop wins the game.

The rules of the game are simple and easy to learn, and they offer two ways of playing: a faster way that gives more scope to luck, and a tactical way what requires more skill. Players can choose which they like best.

Product Awards

Spiel des Jahres
Nominee, 2001
Deutscher Spiele Preis
6th place, 2001

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Leo Colovini

  • Manufacturer(s): Venice Connection

  • Year: 2000

  • Players: 2 - 5

  • Time: 30 - 45 minutes

  • Ages: 8 and up

  • Weight: 440 grams

  • Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English).


  • 6 board-segments printed on both sides. On each is a portion of the underground passage with a different sequence of the following 6 signs: a skull, a dagger, a key, a bottle, a pistol, a three-cornered hat.
  • A small board in the shape of a sloop.
  • A deck of 103 cards; on the face of one is an arrow; on the face of all the others is one of the 6 signs (17 of each sign).
  • 30 pirates (pawns) in 5 colors, 6 of each color.
  • Rules with one illustration in color on a separate sheet.

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4 in 22 reviews

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by Wong SH
Simply a great concept
June 08, 2003

I am surprised this game doesn't get more wildly popular, I think it must be the price. Still it cannot be compared to candyland, because of the changable board and the retreating concept. Luck is involved with the drawing of cards, but its deceptively deep strategy always enables the best player to win. I am sure it appeals to most gamers with the open version. The only minus I feel about the game besides the price is that it does not have a proper compartment to hold the cards. Still this game should be one of the best selling game ever. Has anyone tried this game with a trading element?

by Jeff
Extreme Fun-ness
June 02, 2003

Cartagena is really only playable to me in the 'Tortuga' version where all cards are face up on the table. This provides each player with 'perfect information' on which to base there moves. I hate 'perfect information' games.

But I love Cartagena. Conceptually the game is simpler than checkers--either move forward using one of your cards or move back and collect a card or two. But as pirates begin to crowd the halls, the game becomes more complex.

In spite of the fact that you have perfect information, there are enough variables to prevent the 'one right decision' syndrome that some games suffer from. And there are different strategies, if executed well, that can lead to victory, (do you take the patient route and stockpile cards for a massive endgame push, or do you go for a balanced approach and keep moving forward...)

It's always essential to pay attention to which cards your opponents have, and which cards are available for the taking.

A major bonus with this game is that it plays well with 2 players.

It's a game that has been getting a lot of requests and is becoming increasingly 'fun-ner' with each play.

Grab a bottle of rum and escape from Cartagena.

November 28, 2002

I heard about this game and had zero interest in owning it. Until I played it. Now I am just counting the days until the English version gets reprinted.

Simple, each player has five pawns they are trying to move from one end of the board to the other. The board has several types of symbols. Play a card with a hat, and you can move any of your pawns to the next -unoccupied- hat space. That means you can jump ahead many spaces if many hat spaces are occupied. When you need more cards, you simply move backwards to the next space with one or two other pawns on it to gain one of two new cards. Players will be jostling for huge shotcuts (or 'bridges' as we call them) and trying to grab all the 2-card movebacks while preventing quality 'movebacks' for other players. Tons of tactical strategy in such a little package.

This game is not going to replace Taj Mahal in your game group, but it could be one of the best game ever, because of a couple factors: This game takes about 2 minutes to learn for the first time; it takes about 60 seconds to teach. It has a modular board which means that the value of the movement cards changes from game to game, even section to section. It can be played with gamers as very satisfying filler. It can be played with families, even younger children as a family favorite! Two sets of rules depending on if you want a slightly longer meatier game, or whether you want quicker game. It has lots of opportunities for sneaky play and rewards skill. IT PLAYS WELL TWO PLAYERS. It seems to appeal to non-gamers and women. It's my mother's favorite game of all time.

Whew! I've lost track of many times I've played this (thanks, Rick T., from letting me borrow it.) And everyone I play it with likes it: game convention, my mom, my gamer friends, my non-gamer friends, even my game-loathing brother admits he kind of likes it. What tips the balance is the timeless quality about it. The graphics are subdued, and the game is simple, which makes me think I may be playing this game 30 years from now with my grandkids. I really mean that. How many games have that kind of quality to them?

Quick, light, and interesting!
April 20, 2002

Although there are two versions described in the rules, do not buy this game in order to play the 'deeper' version. Sure, there is more to think about, but the layers of strategy are nearly the same. In other words, the game goes much slower but not all that much is added. As a deep game, I would probably give it only 3 stars.

On the other hand, it definitely deserves 5 stars as a quick light game. Cartagena is perhaps my favorite introductory strategy game to my non-gamer friends because it is short, works well with 2 players, and has a surprising amount of depth. In depth of strategy and length of game play, I would compare it to Lost Cities with the added benefit of being playable with up to 5 players.

After your non-gamer friends have tried Cartagena and liked it, have them play Carcassonne. It takes a little longer to learn, has more intricate strategies, lasts an extra 25 minutes, and also plays well with 2 - 5 players. Although Cartagena is 5 stars as light game, Carcassonne is a five star game on all accounts.

Excellent 2-player game!
February 09, 2002

Let me begin by saying that I have never played using the Jamaca rules (it seems too simple, like Candyland). However, I have played using the Tortuga version and have found it fabulous. This game is great, especially with 2 players. With almost no luck component this game is ideal for good hard core gamers. The rules are quite simple but the play is deep. Cartagena is also good with more players but it can be slow and a player's control over the 'environment' is lessened with each additional player.

I own a lot of 2-player games and this one is now my favorite. I prefer games where the outcome depends on my decisions and not some lucky thing happening. Cartagena fits this profile. I highly recommend this one.

by Rich
Deceptively Fun
January 20, 2002

Cartagena gets alot of knocks for being a lightweight game with minimum strategy. However, in my book, every game isn't nor should be a El Grande.

The Pros are:

It is easy to learn for children and adults.

It appeals to non-gamers.

It has a good playing time, not too long or short for a casual game.

It has a high replay value with it's custumizable game board.

Takes up a small amount of real estate on your shelf.

There is more strategy than you would be let to believe. Ultimately, the luck of the draw is the key factor, but knowing which pieces to move forward and which pieces to move back, and when increases your chances considerably.

And most importantly, I had fun playing it. Everyone has a good chance of winning, and everyone wanted to play again.

If you take this game for what it is, an entertaining light games with a broad appeal, then I really have no negatives.

If you choose only to play strategy games with other hardcore gamers, then this game is not for you. The target is casual gamers, and families.

by Carl
Unbelievably simple, but deep!
December 06, 2000

Yesterday I went back to my habitual game shop and was really surprised by all the Essen news. Herr der Ringe, Carcassonne, Attila, Doge, Troia and Cartagena, amongst others. Anyhow I decided to go with Cartagena and Carcassonne, the cheapest.

At first I played Cartagena and I really enjoy this game. I actually dont know which version I prefer: the 'Jamaica' are unbelievably simple and funny, but the 'Tortuga' is much more strategic. So I say: it depends on the number and the quality of the players.

Rules are very simple:

Whenever it is your turn, you may make from 1 to 3 moves. Two kinds of moves are allowed:

  • play a card and advance a pirate, or
  • move a pirate backwards and pick up one or two new cards (this is the only way to get cards).
Moves may be performed in any order and in any combination but at least one move must be made at each turn.

It's very important to realise that it doesn't matter who brings first his first pirate, but only the last!

In my first game I didn't realize that and I hurried my first pirates to the boat but my last pirates fell hopelessly behind!

Try it!

An simple but engrossing game
November 22, 2000

What a simple game... play a card and move, or move back and take 1 or 2 cards... that's it! The 'Jamaica' version is very simple and can be played with kids. The 'Tortuga' (open hand) version demands more skill and has, in all the games we've played so far, resulted in VERY close endings. It is a brilliant game which also happens to be a lot of fun. What more can I say? Buy it!

Excellent light game.
December 08, 2002

Something to while away a half-hour. Reduced to it's simplest form, it's Candyland with atmosphere. The hand replenishment mechanic (moving backwards to draw more cards is pretty original) gives it a unique flavor. It is rated for ages 8+ but I can play 'Pirate Candyland' with my five year old son (the concepts of resource management and retrograde movement just go over his head). 'Pirate Candyland' is a stripped down version of the game. No moving backwards. When a player runs out of cards, they just draw six more.

Suprising with its game board
January 02, 2002

This is a easy-to-learn and easy-to-play boardgame with some strategy. You can have fun in this easy boardgame.

One suprise to this game is the game board -- you can construct your gameboard each time with several game boards provided, so that strategy will have little change each time.

Time to buy this game if you want a 'easy-to-learn and easy-to-play' game with some strategy.

Excellent niche game
September 16, 2001

Games become popular for a variety of reasons: strategy, social, theme, bidding, replay value, building, etc. Cartagena earns its place on the shelf because it fits into a couple of these niches nicely, those being the following...

Speed: If you want to play a game during lunch, there aren't that many options when time is a factor. Good choices would include Lost Cities, Hera and Zeus, and Carcassonne. For pure speed of play, it's difficult to top Cartagena. Two players can comfortably finish in a half hour, four can finish in a lunch hour. The game is clean enough to move quickly, yet subtly complex enough to challenge equally skilled gamers. I compare its basic rules to chess--sure it's simple, now show me you can win.

Family: The [page scan/se=0025/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Candy Land analogy, though tinged with a certain level of derisiveness, is in fact very accurate when it comes to teaching younger players the mechanics of perhaps their first real strategy game. My six-year-old enjoys playing this game, and watching the little motor turn is a very rewarding experience. (A good handicap for the younger players is to give them five pirates instead of six). If you want to teach your children the joys of your hobby, then put away the Avalon Hill 'til they're sixteen and bring out something they can pick up on, such as Settlers of Catan, [page scan/se=0027/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Bohnanza, Elfenland, or this little gem.

Replay: This game has the same amount of replay value as your typical card game, meaning better than most. The random layout of the board, plus differing strategies for different numbers of players, ensure that you won't be playing the same game twice.

Size and Price: Never a real issue for me when picking out a game, it nevertheless is very reasonably priced and won't take up a lot of space on your bookshelf. (As much as I love Tikal and Java, I wish they were bookshelf games!) This game makes a very reasonably priced Christmas present as well.

So, to bottom line it, Cartagena is a solid little game that will be played occasionally, often as a filler when waiting on friends or with the family, and I believe would make a good fit in your collection.

Simple version for kids, Advanced for adults
August 28, 2001

I've played this game a few times, and it really is two games. The 'Jamaica' version uses random draws from the deck. It's a simple game that my four-year-old daughter can enjoy. It can be easily handicapped by giving the younger players fewer pirates.

The 'Tortuga' version has players play open-handed, which means you can see which cards they can play and thus plan your moves accordingly. This is the version that adults will enjoy.

My four-star rating is really a 5-star for the kids version and a 3-star for the adult version--averages to a 4.

Tortoise & Hare without all the annoying math.
August 19, 2001

I liked the concept behind [page scan/se=0526/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Hare & Tortoise, but found the math just a wee bit too much, to the point that I didn't want to play it. Well, Cartagena fits the bill, as it is similar to Hare & Tortoise, but there isn't the annoying math that goes with the game.

Anyhow, I like it. I also found it makes for a good two player game. Of course, when reviewing this game, I am using the Tortuga rules which add more strategy to the game. The Jamaican rules make the game equivalent to [page scan/se=0025/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Candy Land.

This game, to me, is a perfect filler game, and ideal to play with non-gamers.

by Luca
Simple, fast and still strategic.
June 11, 2001

Six good reasons to like Cartagena (I refer to the "strategic" version of the game, that with cards face up):

1) It has a nice mechanism: you need to balance card management and position management... not always a simple thing! The key is to use enemy pirates well, but your oponents know that and are trying to use your own pirates to their advantage. Additionally, everyone can see all the cards owned by the other players and those which will be drawn, so the game requires a lot of strategy.

2) The simplicity of the rules: you can learn how to play in less than 5 minutes (of course learning to play WELL requires much more, as always).

3) A game is quite fast compared to other games (in particular the strategic ones).

4) Its enjoyable whatever number of players you have (and it has a wide range: from 2 to 5), a rare thing (often theres a "best number of players" to play a game).

5) Each game youll have different cards and a different board to deal with (so you effectively have to think to a different strategy each time).

6) You can play it in the "childish" version (cards in hand) making it appealing to low-aged players (or those who hate to think too much in a game).

Fun for everyone.
March 24, 2001

Another fun quickie in a well-presented racing format. Play cards to move forward, but to get more cards you need to back up. The Tortuga version seems to be more trouble than it is worth. The additional "strategy" it introduces just bogs down the more fun, albeit light, Jamaica version. A good entry into the family-fare category with Elfenland and Metro.

by Bob H
For Gamers -- Use The Advanced Game Play
January 10, 2001

First, my disclaimer. I am employed by Funagain--Yeah!! But I have been playing games with everyone here for over 6 years. As the holiday rush has ended, I thought I would try to participate in this review process.

When we played this game with our regular group, we decided to play the basic game. All cards were hidden, so there was less strategy involved. The concept was simple so we did not have to waste time in trying to decipher the rules and game play. The game was quick and entertaining.

I will be interested to try the advanced game, where all the cards are exposed and there would be more strategy involved.

This is a terrific game that is simple to play and to comprehend.

Escape mediocre light fare with this fun filler
December 18, 2000

Hare and Tortoise meets Candy Land! I really enjoyed this clever and reasonably quick (30-45 minutes) game. Players have to be first to move all of their six pieces into a boat at the end of a passageway to win. Several hallway sections with various symbols on some spaces are randomly connected to create a path from the start to the boat. Each player has a hand of cards, each with one of the symbols represented on the board. Up to three actions are allowed each turn: players can either play a card from their hand to move a piece from its current location to the next empty space with the symbol on the card played (or into the boat if all of that symbol are covered); or move a piece backward to the first space with one or two other pieces and draw that many cards from the deck (or from the series of cards laid out in the version we played). There's a fair amount of strategy involved but nothing brain-burning (try not to leave easy moves for the next opponent, look for opportunities to draw two cards without losing much ground, look what moves your opponents will be able to do if playing with visible hands, etc.). Situations usually change significantly between turns; planning a turn far ahead of time is more frustrating than useful as good moves disappear before one's turn. The one problem this game has (and which many German games also possess) is one's performance is greatly influenced by the skill of the player to the right.

"Yo ho yo ho, a pirate's life for me..."
December 17, 2000

Cartagena is a new release by Venice Connection, a new game company started by Leo Colovini and Alex Randolph. The game is based (very loosely) on an infamous pirate escape from a fortress of the same name. It could just as easily have been about rabbits racing through a garden, or Hogan's Heroes tunneling under Stalag 13. That said, let's face it, Torres really has nothing to do with knights rebuilding a castle, but it doesn't detract from being a fun game to play and winning the Spiel des Jahres. Cartagena is no different. I don't think it will win any awards, but it is still a blast to play.

Object of the game is to be first to get your six pirates through the tunnel to the waiting boat. There are only two things a player can do: play a card and advance a pirate, or retreat a pirate to the first occupied space of 1 or 2 pirates and pick-up 1 or 2 cards respectively. As you do not automatically pick-up after a discard, you must plan for retreats in order to move forward. On his turn, a player must perform at least 1 action, and up to any combo of 3. Cards have six different symbols matching symbols on the board. Play a card and move a pirate forward to the FIRST unoccupied space with that symbol. Play a card and all matching spaces in front of your pirate are occupied, move into the boat. As the gameboard consists of six double-sided tunnel pieces, players have hundreds of different mazes to 'escape' through.

I highly recommend playing the 'Jamaica' version (player's hand is hidden) of the game. Hardcore players will balk, siting 'too much luck' involved and go for the 'Tortuga' version (players' hands AND draw pile exposed), but I feel it takes any gamesmanship. As with [page 07618#001145]my review of Rosenkonig, everything exposed slows the game down with over-analysis of every move. You might as well just play solitaire. Besides, when I read bad reviews of games like Lost Cities with luck sited as a reason for not enjoying it, I say bunk. Life isn't fair and luck is what you make of it.

As trite as it sounds, Kenny Rogers was right; "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

Get this game and cheers to Leo and Alex on developing a new game company. Good... Luck!

Tortoise & Hare in new guise
August 18, 2001

I have read the reviews and played the game. What happens, though, if you run out of cards and the only spaces on the board which are occupied have 3 men on them? Does this mean you cannot move and have therefore lost? A good family game that does not take much time to learn.

by Mike
Candy Land Meets Tortoise and Hare
December 17, 2000

This game IS amazingly simple. The game play is okay, but not much more than that. Of the three Rio Grande smaller releases from Essen, I like this one least.

One of my friends who played it really disliked it and said it was glorified Candy Land. There is a small similarity.... This game didn't work well with two players but was a little more fun with three.

I also thought it was slightly overpriced for what you are getting....

Strictly family fare, and on a budget...
January 16, 2001

We gave this a try in our group of hardcore gamers and it was a serious flop. First off, forget the pretense of a theme. There is not enough here to even begin to carry that off. Second, the mechanics are repetitive, only mildly clever and lack originality. Third, the game is quickly broken by setting up a loop for building up cards, while waiting for someone else to make the first moves so you can leapfrog over their efforts. I suppose you could say there is depth here for those who like to plot out moves in their head, perhaps the Ricochet Robot fans, but checkers covered this ground years ago. No replay value in our group, but it could appeal to families, especially with players in the 8 to 10 year old range. There is a game here, but not nearly as much as I've come to expect from Rio Grande Games.

Dull after a few playings
June 13, 2001

I purchased this game months ago and have played it numerous times. Each time it seems CONSIDERABLY less interesting than the time before. You can imagine my surprise when I saw that it had been nominated for Spiel des Jahres! The tactics are so simple that if you play the game with the same group of people more than once or twice, it loses all appeal; and very annoyingly, the endgame tends to be completely determined. There are no exciting twists or turns although it ends in about 20 to 30 minutes. Overall though, I must say it is just not very fun.

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