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Subject: Oltre Mare found to be fun! rss

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Viktor Haag
Canada
Kitchener/Waterloo
Ontario
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This weekend, the game group was happy enough to crack open my just-purchased copy of Emanuele Ornella's Oltre Mare, in its second edition published by Amigo (and Rio Grande here in North America).

I got my copy for 35.00CAD, and think that this is a little steep: the game is fun and I think worth the cost on that basis; however, given the game's component requirements, the box is too large and the game feels overproduced. I'm pretty sure that it could have fit into a "half-size" box, like Carcassone or Tyros, with simple wooden ship tokens instead of the plasticky make-your-own models. This probably would have reduced the cost nicely from most any German publisher except Amigo: all of Amigo's board-games seem to come in those large boxes, so it would probably cost them more to offer it in a smaller box. ::sigh::

Accordingly, the game doesn't have the "great value!" feel that I got from Shadow Of The Emperor (this only cost 24.50? wow!).

But, that said, it's still fun.

If you've played Bohnanza, then Oltre Mare will feel very familiar to you. It has the same general kind of overall mechanism: you collect renaissancey Mediterranean "trade goods" of varying "value" (rarity in number of cards in the deck). You sock away these goods waiting for a scoring phase. The more cards you sock away of a particular good together, the more the collection is worth. Just as in Bohnanza, there's a critical break point to collections: 2 jewel goods together are worth 5 coins; but three jewel goods together are worth 5 coins--if you separated those three jewel goods into a set of 2 and a set of 1 (by interposing another set between), it would be worth six coins.

However, the game also has some additional chrome that adds things to think about.

Unlike Bohnanza, all your collections are stored in one big stack. When the scoring phase arrives (and there's only two in the game), your stack gets dismantled into groups, and the groups are then scored. Also, unlike Bohnanza, you can't survey your entire current inventory -- you can only look at the last card on the top of your stack. So, you have to remember how many cards you've got in your current "trade group" -- you don't want to waste by under stocking or (worse) over-stocking a group.

Also, the last card you push onto your trade stack governs (a) your hand limit for cards in the following turn, and (b) the number of cards you may play in the following turn. Clever.

Finally, there's also a side game going on: the trade good cards you play let you take actions in the side game. With these actions you can collect money, move your ship around the board, draw cards into your hand, and be forced to push cards onto a personal "pirate card stack" that sits beside your trade good stack(you can cleverly sock away cards into this stack, but having cards in the stack at the end of the game will cost you victory points).

What can you do with money? Well, you can buy cards: either from the draw pile, or your personal pirate card stack. You can also use money in trades, and bribes. And money is also victory points, so by spending it, you hurt your chances of winning.

Just as in Bohnanza, only one player is "active" at once, and that player must always form one half of a trade. So Active can trade with Bob; Active can trade with Carol; Bob can only get to Carol's cards by going through Active.

So -- the turn structure goes like this: (a) discard cards over your hand limit and push them onto your pirate stack, (b) trade and buy new cards in any order you like, (c) play cards and do their actions, (d) push the cards you've played onto your trade good stack, (e) pass the active player role to the next player on the left.

Finally, for yet more chrome, one of the actions lets you move your ship around on the board to snarf up little "benefit" tokens -- each token gives you a rules bennie (you get more gold, you don't get hit by pirates, etc, etc) while it's active (not very long), and you gradually collect these bennies (when you get a new bennie, the old one de-activates to make way for the new one). At the end of the game, people get VPs for collecting the bennies (most gets more). And, every time you make a trade with the active player, you get a prestige chip; every scoring phase, people get VPs for collecting prestige chips (most gets more).

Oltre Mare thus starts with the very simple "stack-oriented" collecting mechanism of Bohnanza, re-themes it, and adds several other mechanisms interleaved with the set-collecting game. The secondary mechanisms (trading for prestige, collecting bennie chips, speculating and trading) all interleave: you can't lean too heavily on any one factor without sacrificing too much in another arena.

Oltre Mare is a wonderful entry in that category of games that are "slightly crunchy family games". There's not a great deal of strategic depth here -- it's mostly about good money management, good trading skills (always be friendly, never over pay, always try to get one more dollar from a trade than it's really worth), but it's not as light as its inspiration Bohnanza and other family style games of that ilk.

If you like Hansa, Settlers, Alhambra, Ticket To Ride, and other games of that general level of complexity, then I would say Oltre Mare is a good candidate for your group. If you don't like games that involve trading skill (and there's more trading skill required in Oltre Mare than in Settlers, since you can trade not only goods, but also money; this opens up avenues to bribing active players not to make trades with others, as well...), then you probably should steer clear of Oltre Mare as easily half the game is wrapped up in the trading aspect (because you set up your own socking away of trade goods, but also, you have to manage the "prestige chip" system; sometimes you don't want to trade with another player because you don't want to give them a prestige chip, and you nearly always want to trade with other active players because you want to collect prestige...).

I'm looking forward to playing Oltre Mare again, and also looking forward to Ornella's second game, Il Principe, which I understand is slightly crunchier (and longer) than Oltre Mare (it's available from Z-Man in North America).

You might get better value for your gaming dollar spending it on other great games that are also cheaper than Oltre Mare; however, if you quite like the basic mechanisms in Bohnanza (its mix of stack-based management and trading), then I think you should consider this review a strong recommendation for Oltre Mare.
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Luis SG
Spain
S.S. Reyes
Madrid
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I was thinking about getting this game and after reading your review ill definitely get it. I love bohnanza but i wanted a more "serious" game, the rules have some similarity and a few twists that i think ill love too. So thanks for the review (thumb's up!!)
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Johan L
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Quote:
I'm pretty sure that it could have fit into a "half-size" box, like Carcassone or Tyros, with simple wooden ship tokens instead of the plasticky make-your-own models.


You aren't too far off there. The first edition box is smaller than the size of one of the Carcassonne expansions...
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Derek H
South Africa
Pretoria
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viktor_haag wrote:
You might get better value for your gaming dollar spending it on other great games that are also cheaper than Oltre Mare...

or simply buy the original, much cheaper version - a win-win situation!
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Dana More
United States
Garden Grove
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Nice review.

Quote:
I got my copy for 35.00CAD, and think that this is a little steep: the game is fun and I think worth the cost on that basis; however, given the game's component requirements, the box is too large and the game feels overproduced. I'm pretty sure that it could have fit into a "half-size" box, like Carcassone or Tyros, with simple wooden ship tokens instead of the plasticky make-your-own models. This probably would have reduced the cost nicely from most any German publisher except Amigo: all of Amigo's board-games seem to come in those large boxes, so it would probably cost them more to offer it in a smaller box. ::sigh::


Agreed. I bought the Amigo/Rgg edition, and thought, "This is a lot of money for a (admittedly very good) card game". I ended up trading it a while back.

The original edition is perfectly sized, and good quality, IMO. The board is small, about one square foot, but that's all it needs to be, since what is happening on the board is a relatively minor part of the overall gameplay.

As it turns out, the MtM edition is available cheaply at Boards & Bits for about $12. I happily grabbed a copy at this bargain price!
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