English language edition
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It is 1821, and for 250 years the Philippine Islands have been under the thumb of the Spanish crown. But, in the end, the Spaniards do not really control everything. In the shadow of the colonial power, self-willed natives have established secret maritime trade with neighboring islands and the Asiatic mainland. Using odd-looking punts and fragile bamboo barks, these black market traders cram their boats with nutmeg, silk, jade, and ginseng, and set sail to smuggle them into Manila. Success in each venture is uncertain, as the seaworthiness of both boats and captains is poor. To add to their woes, pirates lie in wait to plunder boats that cannot escape them.
Given all this, it is not surprising that wares that reach the black markets in Manila command high prices, making the venture worth the risk for those who succeed. The black market dealers use accomplices to ensure they get the wares, bribe pilots to aid their cargoes and hinder others, and insure their cargoes against failure. And a few wealthy merchants hire pirates to attack the black market boats and secretly pocket the profits from these raids.
Manila is one of my favorite games from 2005, just because of the enjoyment I get every time I play it. It's basically a gambling game, in which players attempt to guess which boats will make it down the river. Manila allows you some information when making wagers (investments), and the excitement grows each turn as you sit there cheering for or against the boats as they travel down the river. Yes, there's a dose of luck, but discerning players will make better guesses, and influence the luck to their advantage.
There are four different shares of goods sold in Manila (jade, coffee, ginger, and cloth), and two random shares are dealt out to each player at the beginning of the game, along with thirty pesos. A marker for each share is placed on a track (from zero to thirty) on the board, and the rest of the shares are placed face up nearby. Each player takes three accomplices (four if only three players are playing), and the first round is ready to begin.
In each round, players bid to see who becomes the Harbormaster, bidding around the table until everyone drops out. The winner (Harbormaster) pays their bid to the bank and has the option of buying any available share at the market price (represented by the good's marker on the track, but always at least five pesos). The Harbormaster also decides what three goods will participate in the round and places a cardboard piece, representing the goods in three different boats. Each boat is placed on a river that has spaces from zero to thirteen. The boats can start on any space from zero to five, but the total of the spaces must equal nine. (For example, one boat can start at five, another at four, and the third at zero).
Starting with the harbormaster and proceeding clockwise around the table, each player places one of their accomplices and places it on any available space on the board, paying the fee associated with the space. Once all players have done this, the Harbormaster rolls three six-sided dice that match the colors of the goods and moves each boat accordingly. Players then place another accomplice in the same manner, and the dice are rolled again - for both the second and third part of the round. If any boat reaches space thirteen by the end of any of the three phases, then that boat has finished the race.
The places where players may place their accomplices
- On a boat: Each boat has space for three or four accomplices - each paying a certain amount (shown on the space - cheapest for the first accomplices on the boat). If, and only if, that boat reaches space thirteen, all the players split the money shown on the boat according to the accomplices they had there. For example, the Jade boat has four spaces, costing "3", "4", "5", and "6" respectively. If there are two players who each have one accomplice on the boat, and the boat finishes the race, then each of them receives half of the "36" award on the boat.
- On a dock: There are three docks, "A", "B", and "C". The first boat to finish goes to dock A, etc. A player can invest in a dock; and if a boat lands there, they receive a reward. The cost/reward adjusts accordingly to the chances of a boat landing there. For example, dock A costs "4", and pays off "6" if successful. Dock C, on the other hand, costs "2", and pays off "15" but is much rarer.
- On a shipyard: There are three shipyards, also "A" to "C". If a boat does not finish the race (doesn't make it to space thirteen), it is placed in shipyard A, etc. The cost/rewards for the shipyards are equivalent to the ports.
- Insurance house: If a player places their accomplice here, they actually receive ten pesos. However, they must pay the rewards to any players who receive them from the shipyards.
- Small pilot: If a player places their accomplice here (paying two pesos), they may move one boat forward or backwards one before the third and final rolling each round.
- Large pilot: Same as the small pilot, except that the cost is five pesos, and they may move the boat two spaces (or move two boats one space each).
- Pirates: If a player places their accomplice here (and there are two slots), the accomplice becomes a pirate. If a boat lands at space thirteen EXACTLY during the second phase, and there is an open spot, the pirate may jump on board. If the boat lands at space thirteen EXACTLY during the third phase, the pirates kick everyone off, take the profits from the boat for themselves, and decide whether or not the boat lands (port) or crashes (shipyard).
All the boats which land in the port cause the value of their good to increase, and the markers are moved accordingly. Players all receive their profits (losses, in the case of the insurance agent), and the harbormaster starts the next round.
If at anytime a player runs out of money, they can "loan" out one of their shares, receiving twelve pesos, but they must pay back fifteen by the end of the game. When one good reaches a price of thirty pesos, the game ends. At this point, all players sell their shares for their current price and add the current amount of pesos they have. The player with the most money is the winner!
Some comments about the game...
1.) Components: The components for Manila are absolutely fabulous! The coins, which come in several denominations are double sided plastic coins - great to feel and look at it. The only problem is that there seems to not be enough coins. In the majority of the games I've played, we've run out every time. The boats are nice large wooden boats, and the cardboard tokens fit in them easily. The board looks great - long and thin, with tremendous artwork on it. The goods cards each having a matching die in their color - which while not necessary, certainly just brings up the "wow' factor of the game. The accomplices are wooden pawns - chunky and easy to hold. Everything fits perfectly in a custom plastic insert in a large square box. Manila is really a delight to look at and play with - all of the components are top notch. This does mean, unfortunately, that the price is higher, but I feel that this is justified to have a game that lasts.
2.) Rules: The full color rulebook, complete with illustrations and examples, is easy to understand. I found that Manila was fairly easy to teach to other people; I simply talked about gambling or investing and gave an example of each investment and the payoff. I have had zero problems when teaching the game - everyone picks up on it quickly. The bidding is the only problem that people have - not because it's hard, but because it's hard for players to easily put a value determination on how much being the harbormaster is worth.
3.) Harbormaster: Being the harbormaster is a huge advantage, and bidding often reflects this. Not only do you decide which good is excluded from a round, the harbormaster determines the starting position for each boat, which often determines whether or not that boat finishes or not. But more so than any of these, the harbormaster gets to purchase one share. Since shares can possibly be worth thirty pesos at the end of the game, this certainly is a big deal. In fact, one person asked me why we even played the game, since buying the shares was obviously the most important part. My response to this would be twofold. First of all, I think that if the auctions are forceful enough, the person who pays to be the harbormaster should be paying high enough for the privilege that it slightly negates their share value. Secondly, I think it's possible to win the game with only a few shares, as long as a person makes canny investments during the game.
4.) Investing: Deciding where to place one's accomplices is the heart and meat of the game - and by far the most enjoyable. Some investments, such as dock A or shipyard A, will most likely have a pay-off, but a very small one. Other investments, like dock C will have a huge pay-off, but I rarely see them accomplished. And what boats should your accomplices ride? Should you ride in a boat all by yourself, but probably won't make it, or should you put more than one accomplice in a lucrative boat? And is it worth it to pay money to move the boats? These choices aren't hard, but they do make the game extremely enjoyable.
5.) Pirates: One of the most fun, and lucky, parts of the game are the pirates. There's not a lot you can do, strategy-wise, when it comes to placing a pirate. You simply put one down and hope a boat lands on thirteen. It doesn't often happen, but when it does, there are shouts and groans all around. Having the pirates in the game adds a lot of luck, but it's worth it, in my opinion. A player who is behind can "bet the house", putting all of their hopes in a pirate or two, hoping to come from behind. I remember having two pirates take TWO boats in one round - effectively putting me in the lead. Yes, it's a long shot, but it's definitely fun to try.
6.) Luck: A lot of people may not like the amount of luck in the game. The boats going down the river are controlled by the roll of dice. This is mitigated by their starting positions, and by the pilots; but ultimately, a good roll can help a player, and a bad roll can ruin one. While this may annoy people, I don't see how it's a huge problem. For one thing, a player can spread their bets to avoid massive swings of luck; and for another, it's a light, fun game anyway! I've seen players win solely by luck in games of Manila, but the risks they took were great, so there wasn't a lot of begrudgment afterwards.
7.) Fun Factor: I can't emphasize that the main reason I enjoy Manila so much is that the game is just a blast to play. Reminding one of the roulette wheel - Manila allows a player to have a great deal more control over what they do. Players try to determine each round where to place their accomplices, and the shouts and jeers when a boat finishes or doesn't are loud and raucous - there is no such thing as a quiet game of Manila!
8.) Players: The game works well with three to five players, and I couldn't tell much a difference between them. Five players caused every position on the board to be filled, sometimes, but the bidding was fiercer. Three players gave each player more accomplices, but it didn't really seem to affect the game's enjoyment value at all.
Manila was not nominated for game of the year in Germany, which I think is a crying shame. It's certainly one of the most family-friendly games I've played, equally accessible by children and adults alike. It has some strategy, a chunk of luck, but most important to a game of this length (an hour or so) - a lot of fun. The stunning components don't hurt the equation, and the replayability helps also. Manila easily makes my top ten games from 2005, and I expect to be playing it many years to come.
"Real men play board games"
Played this game at the WBC this weekend. Loved it so much bought it there for higher price :( but it's worth it.
Came home and played it with the whole family. My son who is 7 and daughter who is 10 played. They both loved the game and were able to pick it up right away. In fact my son came in second place beating me. I would recommend it to everyone.
Nice gambling game for folks here in Las Vegas without giving your money to the casinos.
Our group enjoyed this game that is easy to teach and plays quickly. Of course your fate is on how the dice roll, but that's the heart of this game. On several turns how that dice rolled decided lots of money going to someone but not someone else. This of course led to lots of cheering for a certain number to show up. We rolled the dice one at a time and had a fun time.
If you want a mind bender of a game go elsewere. But for fun this is a fine game that is well made.
I've played Manila several times with family and friends. It has some redeeming features, but the lack of decision making earns it two stars.
Games for kids are excellent ways to teach them life's lessons, and Manila is no exception. It introduces such ideas as probability, investing, and of course math.
On that level the game succeeds. However, I found that the play doesn't give players a chance to determine their fate, given an understanding of probability, smart investing, etc.
The game accepts 3-5 players. Your goal is to make the most money (pesos) but transporting goods (jade, silk, nutmeg, ginseng) to Manila harbor.
You start out determining who will be harbormaster by open bidding. The harbormaster's role is powerful and it is unlikely you will win if you're not harbormaster at least once. He decides which goods will be transported, can buy a goods card (worth pesos as game end) and the position of the punts (boats) on the 14-space starting line.
Once that's done, you start placing your pieces down on the board in various locations - -the punt, the harbor, the repair dock, the pirate ship, insurance, and harbor guide. They all have payoffs, although most of them don't pay much.
All of this jockeying is supposed to have some meaning, but it sure doesn't feel that way. Most players will stack their pieces on the boats, where there's money to be made. The pirate option seems especially risky, since it's not often that you'll land on space 13 and the boats are usually full, denying the pirates access.
The goods go up in value when they reach Manila harbor. As the game goes on successfully shipped goods will cost more to transport, so even though they have a bigger payoff in the end, your profit will go down if you buy that particular good as harbormaster at a higher price.
Movement is determined by a roll of six-sided dice. Here's the problem. All that planning comes down to the roll of the dice for moving the punts. Of course you can work the odds, but it doesn't make up for the fact that your fate lies in the roll of the dice.
Components are top notch. It's just too bad the game doesn't play that way.