Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Authors: Laurent Escoffier &
Sébastien Pauchon


No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



In recent years French publisher MATAGOT was able to surprise the public with some outstanding and truly beautiful games like Giants, Origin or Cyclades. Of course, not every MATAGOT-game is an absolute smash-hit, but an outstanding feature which is common to all their products is the high degree of originality and fresh new ideas which have been converted into some rather charming games.

In 2013 MATAGOT once again proved that they do not shy away from publishing games off the beaten track, and with Corto they have chosen to release a rather unique adaption of Hugo Pratt’s famous comic character Corto Maltese. Before looking at the game itself, let me first tell you a bit about this character, because the game actually will be appreciated even more by people who are familiar with Corto’s background: Born in the year 1887, Corto’s adventures begin in the early 20th century with Corto being a sea captain who has adventures at exotic locations all around the world. Being a hero and a rogue at the same time, he is tolerant and sympathetic to underdogs, and although he maintains a neutral position during the political conflicts of his time, he instinctively supports the disadvantaged and oppressed. A rather interesting feature of the stories is the fact that – just like Forest Gump – Corto meets many real-life historical figures, including Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Butch Cassidy, James Joyce or Manfred von Richthofen. In historical context, the first adventure happens during the Russo-Japanese War, and in later albums Corto is involved in the Great War, participates in the Russian Civil War after the October Revolution, and appears during the early stages of Fascist Italy. All this is presented in Hugo Pratt’s rather eccentric drawing style, using a sketch-like imagery which are standing apart from the usual comic book illustrations.


The MATAGOT-boardgame by Laurent Escoffier and Sébastien Pauchon is as unusual as the comic books, and in fact it challenges two to four players to play through a series of Corto’s adventures. These individual adventures are presented by long storyline boards, and depending on the number of players three or four of these boards are chosen during setup and arranged on the table to form a playing area with the storyline boards lying next to each other. To each storyline board belongs its own deck of Adventure cards, and each player draws a staring hand of four cards from one or more decks of his choice. Apart from a few objects and other cards, these decks are mostly composed of different characters belonging to the individual stories, and during his turn a player can place one or more of the character cards from his hand onto the matching storyboard(s). These cards must be placed either at the board’s left end or adjacent to already placed cards on the same or a neighboring storyboard, and so the boards will slowly be filled with characters from left to right.

Whenever a character is placed, the active player places one of his player tokens onto the new character, and he may then perform a special action depending on the alignment of the character. If the character is good (white border), the player is allowed to place an additional player token onto a neighboring character card, whereas an evil character (black border) allows the player to remove a player token (preferably an opponent’s token) from a neighboring character. These tokens are placed to gain control over characters with the aim of forming groups of adjacent controlled characters, and at the end of the game the players will turn their groups of controlled characters into gold (victory points) to determine the winner of the game.

One or more Object and/or Advantage card(s) may be played alongside with a Character card, and these cards can be used to place or remove even more player tokens, regardless of the alignment of the character. If all tokens from a character have been removed, any further attack with a black card will kill this character, removing him from the game but counting as one gold for the player who has performed the attack action.

Each card deck also contains a number of cards depicting Corto Maltese and his archenemy Rasputin, and these cards can be used to move huge busts of both characters over the gameboard. After moving one of these characters, the active player is allowed to perform a special action, and in case of Rasputin this is an instant kill (regardless of the number of player tokens on the attacked character). Corto on the other hand initiates a scoring, rewarding all players with a majority of tokens on adjacent characters which are friends of Corto (as depicted on the card) with some gold. In addition, the player who has moved Corto will also be allowed to place two additional player tokens on adjacent characters, but only after the scoring has taken place.


This mechanism of card-placement is the backbone for the game, but it is further spiced up by some Advantage cards which allow special actions and by the special rules associated with each of the six different story boards. Not only the characters of each deck of Adventure cards belong to the individual adventures, but in addition each adventure features a unique specialty which is closely connected to its story. So, “The Ballad of the Salt Sea” sees our hero travelling between different islands in Melanesia (Solomons, Fiji etc), and in gaming terms the adventure features a ship which is travelling between the different storyboards, allowing the placement of additional player tokens alongside its course. In “Corto Malese in Siberia” Corto tries to seize a train full of gold, and in the game this train is moving stepwise from right to left on the corresponding storyboard. A player who uses a neighboring black character card to attack the train may take a Carriage token, and at the end of the game these carriages also will be turned into gold. As indicated, such individual rules exist for each of the six adventures, and in most cases these rules allow the players to collect some additional gold during the course of the game.

The game is over when two of the storyboards have all their slots occupied with Character cards, and now the players will sum up the amount of gold they have collected during the game. In addition, they will score gold for groups of two or more adjacent characters under their control, and the player with most gold will have won the game.

The rules of Corto may sound fairly straightforward, but the challenge to keep an overview of the different scoring options should not be underestimated by the players. So, the players need to balance short-time gains which can be made during the game against character control which mostly pays off by the end of the game, and here the options available to the players form a moderate entry threshold which may first sound confusing to new players. As can be seen by the outline above, Corto is one of the rare species of games where a rather abstract playing mechanism is encased by a well-matched background story, and it is clearly visible that a high degree of devotion has been made on the side of the authors and the MATAGOT design crew to perfect the game on both aspects. In terms of playability gameplay is challenging and resourceful, and this is evenly matched by beautiful playing components using Pratt’s illustrations and two marvelous busts of his two main characters.

But players who are not familiar with Pratt’s character should beware: getting in contact with this game will make you curious to learn more about Corto Maltese, and the short snippets of background story given with each adventure in the enclosed Adventure book will whet your appetite even more. I ended up buying a collection of comic books, and I even spent some days to hunt down a hard-to-find DVD-box featuring a series of Corto Maltese’s animated adventures which had been broadcasted and published by French TV station Canal+ almost a decade ago…

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany