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



Michael Rieneck &
Stefan Stadler


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Cuba - for a tourist the sound of this name brings some associations of the Caribbean, of beaches and a bit of revolutionary history. However, even though it is not counted amongst the big producing countries, the island also produces a solid choice of natural products, and amongst these tobacco and sugar cane are ranking highest. Thus, the name of Cuba is also associated with the famous Havana-cigars and rum, and so the authors Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler have decided to take us on a trip to pre-revolutionary Cuba where they put us in charge of a rural community which tries to make a fortune by trade and building activities.

Okay, on its outset Cuba is yet another resource management game, with the players collecting different kinds of goods which are can be turned into victory points or money, or they can be used for the acquisition of new buildings which give the some special powers in terms of production or the generation of money or victory points. The players actions in the game are driven through a fixed hand of character cards, and during a round each player is allowed to perform actions with four of his five characters.


However, despite these seemingly well-known elements, the game includes a unique combination of extraordinary ingredients, and so the playing experience offered by Cuba is rather challenging even for players who claim that innovative games are short in supply because Caylus, Pillars of Earth and Settlers of Catan offer an all-embracing approach to the topic. Thus, let's have a closer look at these game specifics and the mechanics by which they are embedded into the general structure of the game.

In a game of resource management the first element always is the production of resources, and in Cuba each player receives his own small estate gameboard which shows a grid of three times four production parcels. The topmost left parcel contains a storehouse, whereas the other 11 parcels feature two production possibilities for tobacco, sugar cane, citrus fruits, wood and stones, plus one lake where water can be "produced". A player can trigger his production by choosing his Farmhand character card, but instead of a simple "all parcels produce" mechanism the procedure for production and harvest is a bit more tricky. Thus, each of the players has one Farmhand figure which can be moved freely to one of the 12 parcels, and production only is triggered on the parcels in the column and the row where the Farmhand figure has been placed. Thus, a player has to choose carefully which kinds of resources he wants to produce, and an additional restriction needs to be observed concerning agricultural products (tobacco, sugar cane, citrus fruits), since only two of these parcels may be triggered if the player does not spend a water unit for each additional parcel on which he wants to produce.

By the use of buildings tobacco can be turned into cigars and sugar cane into rum, but before we turn towards the construction and use of buildings let's first have a look at the possibilities for using agricultural products, rum and cigars. Here the character card of the Trader can be used by the players to initiate a trade with the central market on the gameboard, and so these goods may be either bought or sold at the market. The prices vary on the availability of these goods, and if the market is full with goods of a type these goods can be bought and sold only at cheap prices.

However, whereas the central market can be used for exchanging goods for money, victory points can be generated by delivering the goods to a ship in the harbour. During each round a ship-card is aligned to each of the three available quays, and each ship card lists the type(s) of cargo which can be loaded. To deliver goods to a ship a player has to chose the character card of his Mayor, and he then is allowed to deliver goods to one of the ships in the harbour. Depending on the quay at which the ship is harboured, the player receives one, two or three victory points for each good which can be loaded onto the ship, but the goods must be corresponding to the ship's manifest and the loading limits must be observed. If a ship is fully loaded or if it is anchored at the 3-victory-points-quay, it will leave the harbour at the end of the round, whereas a ship which is not fully loaded moves to the next better quay in the following turn. Empty quays first are re-filled with an open ship card which was placed next to the quays to symbolize an approaching ship, and any remaining quay slots and the approaching ship space then are re-filled with additional cards from the ship cards deck.

Buildings may be constructed using the Architect character card, and the construction costs are paid in building resources of stone, wood and water. However, just like in real life, building space at a player's community is limited, and so a purchased building must be placed at one of the parcels on the player's estate gameboard. Thus, the constructed building now blocks the former production capabilities of the parcel, and so the players slowly move their village from mere agriculture towards manufacturing goods. 23 different buildings are available in the basic game of Cuba, and the capabilities of the buildings range from turning tobacco into cigars or sugar cane into rum (manufactures),exchanging rum, cigars or other resources for victory points or money (shops and other locations), generating additional income (banks) or victory points (boarding houses) to influencing the approaching ship card (lighthouse).

However, the buildings do not provide their benefits on an automatic basis, but instead a player has to activate his buildings using his Foreman character card and the Farmhand figure. Thus, the figure may not be moved when the Foreman is played, but instead all buildings in the row and column corresponding to the last position of the Farmhand figure will be activated. This mechanism is tricky, since the players need to think carefully where a new building should be placed in order to use Farmhand and Foreman to maximum effectiveness.

A certain type of buildings was not yet mentioned, and these are the church and the town hall which both can apply their powers in the parliamentary phase of a round. This phase is played after the players have finished actions with their character cards, and now the fifth character card which was not used in the action phase is of great importance. At the beginning of the round a set of four proposed bills has been revealed, and the player who has most votes in parliament choses two of the four bills which parliament will pass as acts. The unused character card gives the player a number of votes, and the players also may secretly bid money for increasing their number of votes. As indicated, the player with most votes gets to chose which two bills will be turned into law, and these laws now must be observed by all players until another act of the same category is passed, replacing the older act.

The acts of parliament fall into four different categories, and these are tax acts, duty acts, subsidy acts and miscellaneous acts. One bill from each category is available each round. Tax acts and duty acts work somewhat similar, listing either an amount of money or a specific type of goods which can be delivered to the state in order to receive victory points. And if a player pays both his taxes and duties, he will even receive an additional victory point (Praise the generous state tax authorities!). Subsidy acts work a bit different, since they list a certain kind of possession which will be awarded with victory points. Thus, depending on the act in play, a player may get victory points for each of his buildings, for money, resource parcels or water resources, but here the mere possession is enough to gain victory points. Finally, the miscellaneous acts deal with small adjustments to the playing conditions, and so the drought act requires additional water during production, the harbour law makes a full ship leave immediately (the other ships move up), or the corruption law prohibits the buying of additional votes. As indicated, the church and the town hall buildings have influence in the parliamentary phase, and whereas the town hall gives a player two additional votes, the church can be used to veto one of the four proposed bills each round.

The game ends after the sixth round, and the players now will receive two additional victory points for each of their buildings. The player with most victory points wins, but with the rules listed above it should have become clear that Cuba offers the players many ways to win. While it is true that players on first sight may be a bit overwhelmed by the possibilities offered by the game, the multitude of ways to go for victory is the real strength of the game. There are many different building combinations which offer nice synergy effects, and so the different types of goods which can be produced can be turned into victory points in quite a few different ways: delivery to the ships, consumption in shops, or even the use of favourable parliamentary acts all can be explored by the players, and so it is possible for a player to position himself quite differently from game to game.

However, it should be mentioned that a good haul of victory points only can be generated by careful planning, and this in turn means that the players - after getting familiar with the playing components by playing one or two games of Cuba - usually will try to choose a possible strategy right from the beginning. Thus, Cuba belongs to the category of games where players resolve to do something right upon the beginning, and later in the game they will partly change or adapt their goals because of intervening actions of other players. In terms of intervening actions foremost the limited availability of each building should be mentioned, since only two of the 23 different buildings actually are available twice. All other buildings are only available once, and so a player may be forced to change his plans because an essential building is no longer available.

Many games operate on such a "change your plans" mechanism, but it can be more or less pronounced and the players can be pushed gently or quite hard into a different direction. An example for a stronger push can be seen in Stone Age where multiplication-cards bought in the first rounds strongly determine the general direction a player chooses. Less pronounced is this aspect in games where players are left with a multitude of options, and here Cuba broadly falls into a category with games like Through the Ages, but its average playing duration of approximately 2 hours and the shorter, straightforward rules give the game a big advantage in terms of accessibility and acceptance for newcomers.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany