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Vasco da Gama
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Store:  Strategy Games
Theme:  Exploration, Business
Format:  Board Games
Other:  Essen 2009 releases

Vasco da Gama

List Price: $59.95
Your Price: $47.99
(20% savings!)
(Worth 4,799 Funagain Points!)

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Product Awards:  
Games Magazine Awards
Best Advanced Strategy Nominee, 2011

Ages Play Time Players
12+ 60-120 minutes 2-4

Designer(s): Paolo Mori

Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, What's Your Game?

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Product Description

The search for a viable route to India was, since the mid XV Century, the main goal of almost all expeditions made by the Portuguese Kingdom. In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Pedro da Covilha found a land route, but it was only in 1498 that Vasco da Gama reached the goal and became the first European to reach, after some stops along the way, the legendary Calicut by sea. Vasco da Gama made an exceptional accomplishment, granting Portugal the possibility to achieve the monopoly of the spice trade between India and Europe.

Recruit workers, buy projects, build ships. Use this ships to open new commercial routes to eastern Africa and India, to earn money and glory.

Product Awards

Games Magazine Awards
Best Advanced Strategy Nominee, 2011

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Paolo Mori

  • Manufacturer(s): Rio Grande Games, What's Your Game?

  • Artist(s): Mariano Iannelli

  • Year: 2009

  • Players: 2 - 4

  • Time: 60 - 120 minutes

  • Ages: 12 and up

  • Weight: 1,368 grams

  • Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English). This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item.


  • 1 Game board
  • 1 Round Marker (1 small white disc)
  • 1 First Free of Charge Action Marker (1 white pawn)
  • 35 Project/Ship Tiles
  • 6 Merchant Ship Tiles
  • 4 Scoring Markers in each of the Players' colors
  • 4 Character Tiles
  • 1 Label Sheet
  • 9 Vasco Da Gama Tiles
  • 22 Sequence Number cylinders
  • 16 Action Discs in each of the 4 Players colors
  • 4 Additional Action Discs in each of the 4 Player colors
  • 28 Captain pawns in the 4 Player colors
  • 32 Sailors in 4 colors: turquoise, violet, grey, orange
  • 6 Missionaries (6 human shapes in white)
  • 48 Coins (34 of 1 Real, 14 of 5 Reals)
  • 1 Cotton Bag
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Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4 in 2 reviews

by G. Jay Christensen
It Takes More Than Rounding Africa -- Go, Diaz!
February 15, 2010

An opportunity presented itself to see a demo of Vasco da Gama recently and learn about the rules. Our rules explainer said we would not play the game, but she would explain the rules thoroughly. That she did.

Something then happened. Everyone wanted to stay after the first hour of rule explaining and play the game. We started a four-player game. It not only looked like fun, but it also had a tremendous element of strategy with it.

As the four of us commented in attempting to play, the little white pawn placed next to one of the 20 numbers made all the difference. Each small tan disc had a number taped on it from 1 to 20. The small little white pawn was placed at number 5 in all the rows of numbers in the middle of the board. That meant that five was the first circled white number on the tiles called Free of Charge markers. Players began their choice of numbers.

As one looks at the board certain areas have to be considered in the four actions that can be taken. You have already received 10 reals or dollars, one captain of your color, and four action disks. Let's say you consider the board area with the personalities for your first action. You have already taken a tan disc labeled "4." Therefore, unless anyone chooses 1-3 you will go first in the numbered placement. You look at the personalities of King Manuel (extra turn), Dias (2 victory points and the player to start the next round), the priest, Francisco Alvares (one missionary weeble and one more at the end of the round), and the Merchant (right to send a merchant ship on a voyage and placed on a ship slot immediately). All personalities have their good and bad points.

Now, let's say for the first turn the orange player (color designate) chooses for his labeled "4" to work on the Projects Area. The project tiles (seven) are already laid down on their blank sides with two numbers showing. One of the ship projects is called the Sao Gabriel, and it is launched first in the sequence of 1-20 numbers with the lowest number placed on Sao Gabriel. Cost of projects from your Real supply is one for one project and four for two projects. Most people opt for paying one real for one ship project.

Let's suppose you as the orange player don't like the personalities or the ship projects as your first choice. You go for the reals Area and place your tan disc and expect reals for your efforts. These reals have already been determined for the Area by the Free of Charge tile drawn at the beginning of each round.

More choices still remain. The orange player as well as all other players are acutely aware that a ship to be launched from the ship projects needs to possess a captain and sailors. The sailors are determined by the project chosen in the project area. In the upper right hand corner of the ship project tile it will say "4," for example. That means you need four different colored sailors to launch that ship. They could be colored blue, orange, purple, or white (missionaries). Therefore, it is important to accumulate sailors of different colors for different voyages. The sailors assigned to the voyage are discarded back into the Discard Bag at the end of that player's turn.

Let's see what we have said so far. We have three phases to each round:

  1. Place action discs and choose areas for that placement, whether Numbers, Projects, Reals, Sailors and Captains, and Personalities.
  2. Take actions, including the purchase of projects, recruiting of sailors and cqptains, and allocating of expeditions of ships.
  3. Navigate with merchant ship and all project ships. If the merchant ship was not placed in Phase 2, have the player using the Merchant ship put out to sea.

For the time being, let's turn to the part of board for East Africa labeled with different numbers. These board slots allow us to place ship projects. When all horizontal rows are filled for numbers, then, the whole row is slid upwards. Therefore, some ships will not be able to slide upwards and will be "lost at sea." Examples will provide some ideas. Let's say you placed your ship on a white row space labeled "4." Then, on the next round you can move your ship project upward to "5," depending on whether the previous row was finished. Now in the upper rows, you might have a "7" project tile and only "9's" are available. You could not move your ship project to that space. However, if you have a "7" and "6" labeled spaces you could place your ship project.

As you look at East Africa let's take Mozambique, Mombasa, and Malindi. One always looks at the number of victory points and reals to be earned by the placement of your ship project on that row. In Mombasa, for example, you could earn two reals by the first placement of your ship project. By filling an entire row with yours or other ships you could earn three victory points. The name of the game is victory points. Now, let's suppose the black ships fills the last two spots while you have filled the first two rows with your ships. Black earns two points indicated on his ship project (little round circles on edge of tile) and three points for the landing. Black earns an additional three points for his other ship, which does not have any small circles on the ship project. The row is now complete and can be shifted to the next level in the next turn. It is important to be constantly aware of what ships can drop off the row because of weak numbers and 'lost at sea."

What I particularly liked about the game was the ability to steal personalities back and forth and use their abilities. Sometimes you are King Manuel and sometimes you are not. You have to constantly be concerned about having enough captains for your ships. You are alert to what other players are doing with numbered tan discs from 1 to 20. The dynamics of choosing these numbers needs to occur with each drawn new Free of Charge Action Marker to shift the blank white pawn around the numbers. It is important to launch enough ship projects for the rows . . . and just enough ships to pay for.

Suppose because of your low real account bank account, you can't carry out one of your actions. For example, in the ship project area you can't afford the ship after placing tan disc and must decline. You simply take the three reals and plan better next time.

The interaction with the other players makes the game highly dynamic and constantly absorbing. Once a person has mastered the intricacies of the three phases, the game moves at a fast pace with everyone vying for the best numbered tan discs to conserve income. I would rate the game highly playable, and Go, Diaz, to find the new world.

A journey well worth taking
February 11, 2010

Design by: Paolo Mori
Published by: What's Your Game?
2 – 4 Players, 2 – 3 hours
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser

Even if I ultimately do not enjoy the game itself, I am always delighted when I find a game that has an original mechanism. When the game proves to be thoroughly engaging, challenging and tense, then it will likely be a big hit and become a personal favorite. Vasco da Gama by designer Paolo Mori shows every sign of becoming just that – a personal favorite.

Published by What's Your Game?, Vasco da Gama casts players as wealthy ship owners vying to obtain the vast riches available along the African coast. In order to succeed, players must first obtain contracts, outfit their ships, enlist the aid of influential Portuguese nobles and hierarchy, and set sail for the African ports. All of this must be accomplished within very tight financial constraints. Players must carefully coordinate all of these tasks, while staying one step ahead of their eager opponents. Fabulous riches and lasting fame await the player who is the most successful.

Players each receive four action discs, a captain, one of the four special characters, and a starting supply of ten reals (coins). The game is played over the course of five rounds, after which the victor is determined.

First, let's examine the creative method and ramifications of selecting the numbers (there are twenty number tokens), which will ultimately determine the order in which players execute the various actions. Each round, a Vasco da Gama tile is revealed which indicates the number upon which the "free action" marker is initially placed. Later in the round, another tile will be revealed which will move that marker from -3 to +3 spaces. Every number that is located at or above the space occupied the marker is free to the players, while very action below where the marker is located costs the players 1 real per space below the marker. For example, if the marker is located on 10 space, then actions 10 – 20 are free. If a player has action #7, it will cost the player three reals to execute the action.

It is important to note that players will select the action numbers BEFORE the free action marker is moved. So, players must guess how far and in what direction the marker will move. As the game progresses through its five rounds, players can make an educated guess based on which tiles have already been revealed. However, one can never be quite sure just how or in which direction the marker will move. So, it is best to have enough cash on hand to pay for the actions if the marker descends on the chart, which is far easier said than done!

Beginning with the player who holds the Bartholomeu Dias tile, players alternate taking one of the available number tokens and then placing it along with one of their four discs into one of the four possible action areas. Players will do this four times, using all of their action discs. Each of board area can only accommodate five or six discs, so players must be sure to place their discs in the areas they desire before they are filled.

This number selection and action placement process is at the heart of the game and requires very careful planning. Not only is there the consideration of the potential cost of the action, but players must also plan the actions they will take during the upcoming turn. These actions often must be done in a specific sequence, as it is no use to plan on sending a ship on a voyage if the proper crew has not yet been assembled. More than once in each of the games I've played, players have improperly planned the sequence of their actions, much to their detriment. This is also the longest part of each turn, as there is often so much to consider, it takes players an appreciable amount of time to contemplate their options.

Now what about those actions? The board is divided into five sections, one of which houses the number tokens, bank and Vasco da Gama tiles, while the other four are the action spaces. These are the areas onto which players will place their discs to indicate the actions they desire to take. Players will execute actions in ascending order, so choosing a low number will allow the player to go earlier in the turn, but it carries with it considerable financial risk.

Recruiting Area. This area contains four windows, each containing up to five crew members. There are four different specialties (colors), and each ship must have a certain number of crew members, each of a different color. In addition, the area contains six captains for each player. When a player takes this action, he may purchase as many crew members from ONE window he desires. The cost depends upon the number of different colors he takes. If he takes crew members of just one color, he pays only one real, no matter how many tokens he takes. This cost rises up to a maximum of ten reals if a player takes crew members of all four colors.

In addition to crew, a player may also hire a captain. The cost is one real per crew member hired. Thus, the more crew hired, the more expensive the captain. Crew and captains do not have to be immediately assigned to a ship. Rather, they can be maintained until a ship is ready to sail.

Projects Area. Six ship contracts are available for purchase. Contracts list the number of crew needed – all of different colors – the rewards they generate when at sea (coins or victory points), and the highest port they can visit. I'll explain this when explaining the Navigation area. Players may purchase one or two contracts. One contract costs only one real, while two contracts cost the player four reals. Contracts are not complete until a player allocates the required crew and captain to it.

In addition to the six normal contracts, there is one special Sao Gabriel project. The cost to acquire this contract is one real per crew member the ship requires. However, the ship comes complete with a crew. Only a captain needs to be assigned. Thus, while this may be more expensive in terms of reals, it is often a good deal as it saves the time and finances of acquiring the required crew.

Navigation Area. This is where players launch their ships, sailing them to the six different ports along the African coast. Each port can accommodate a certain number of ships, with each space carrying a value ranging from 4 – 11. Natal is the lowest and smallest port on the map, with space for only one ship of a value of 4. The number of ships a port can accommodate increases the further up the map one progresses. For example, the port of Mozambique has space for three ships, with values of 6, 5 and 4, while Calicut – the largest port – can accommodate six ships with values ranging from 7 – 11.

As long as space is available, a ship can sail to any port the player desires. However, it can only fill a space if the number listed on the ship is greater than or equal to the value listed on the space. So, a ship with a value of "7" can land in any space whose value is 7 or lower. It is quite possible for players to land their ships so as to block the landing of their opponent's ships. Going earlier in turn order is certainly beneficial when attempting this maneuver.

When a ship first lands, it will earn a number of victory points equal to the value of the space. These points are significant, and they present the players with a dilemma: place a ship on the highest possible space in order to earn more victory points, or place it on a lower valued space to potentially block an opponent. In addition, a player earns a port bonus when initially landing a ship. The bonus varies by port, and can be an additional ship contract, a crew member, a captain or reals. Securing a needed item often takes priority over potentially higher victory points.

Character Area. There are four characters available, as well as two chests of reals. Players each begin the game with a character, but they can be recruited from them by another player. Characters grant a variety of abilities, including victory points, a missionary (which serves as a fifth type of crew), an extra action or a merchant ship, which can be used to acquire a port bonus and/or block an opponent's ship placement. The powers of the characters are quite useful, and skillful use of them can result in some very clever maneuvers. Instead of selecting a character, a player may opt to select one of the two chest of money available, the amount in each varying from turn-to-turn. Money is usually in short supply, so this is a good influx of income – if you can beat your opponents to it.

Once players have taken all of their actions, players receive income from their ships in port as specified on the counters. The ports are then examined from top-to-bottom, and if a port is completely filled, ships located there will attempt to sail to the next highest port. Before sailing, each ship in the filled port earns additional victory points (ranging from 1 – 5) as listed on the port. Beginning with the ship nearest the coast, players then move their ships to the next highest port, IF a space is available. They must follow the same placement rules as when initially landing, but no new victory points or bonuses are earned. Again, players are faced with the choice of landing the ship at a space that grants more victory points, or occupying a lower-valued space to deny an opponent the opportunity to land. Any ships that cannot legally land are discarded, with the captain being returned to its owner.

This navigation aspect encourages players to begin their initial landing of ships along the lower coast. Then, as ports fill, the ships will sail up the coast, collecting more victory points each time a port fills. The danger, of course, is that one might be blocked entry into a port by opponent's ships or merchant ships. Placing one's ship first in a port decreases this likelihood, but does not completely eliminate the danger.

After the fifth round, players may launch any ships to which they can assign the required crew and captain, receiving three victory points for each shipped launched. Additional victory points are earned for every three reals. The player with the most points becomes the wealthiest ship owner in Portugal, and wins the game.

Vasco da Gama is a rich game, filled with lots of options and difficult decisions. While the game does fall into the category of "worker placement", the game goes beyond that label. The system affords wide latitude for clever play by creatively combining the different possible actions and characters. I have been impressed by the clever maneuvers players have executed, and have performed a few myself. I always appreciate games that allow players to exercise some creativity in their actions.

I also appreciate the originality of several game mechanisms, particularly the method of selecting the number tokens that determine the order in which actions will be performed. There is a lot to consider during this phase, and the potential costs add a bit of risk to the proceedings.

The only drawback is the length of the game, which has been taking us 2 ½ - 3 hours to complete. I don't mind longer games, but it is an obstacle to many gamers. The estimated time on the box is 1 – 2 hours, but I don't see us getting under the two hour mark. There simply are too many choices to make. Again, I don't mind this at all, but for some, it is a turnoff.

I am excited about Vasco da Gama, and consider it to be in the top tier of games released in 2009. It has many of the elements that appeal to me, and it should be quite popular with folks who enjoy strategy-heavy games. It is likely a bit too involved and complex to be considered for the Spiel des Jahre, but it should be a strong contender for the International Gamers Award. It is a journey well worth taking … over and over again.

Other Resources for Vasco da Gama:

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