Costa Rica is a game of exploration, where your parties of explorers will traipse across the island through jungle, forest, and mountain, uncovering various animals to take home. You are trying to persevere in exploring long enough to take home many animals, but not so long that someone else runs off with them first.
COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
1 wooden leader token, 30 wooden meeples (6 each in 5 colors), many cardboard hex tiles, 5 cardboard player aids. All reasonable quality.
GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
A hex board is created by randomly laying out the tiles in a hexagonal grid 5 tiles on each edge. Tiles are of 3 landscape types, each of which has their own pair of associated animals which can potentially be on the other side. One explorer of each player's color is placed at each corner of the grid, to make 6 rainbow parties of explorers. A starting leader is chosen.
On your turn, you choose one party of explorers and lead them onto an adjacent tile, revealing it. You then choose from two options:
a) Retreat Home -- You remove your explorer from the board, and claim all tiles that have been revealed this turn. The remaining explorers in the party remain on the last space revealed.
b) Pass -- Opt not to abandon the expedition. If you choose this option, then each other explorer in the party may also choose to Retreat or Pass. If any other player chooses to Retreat, they follow the Retreat rules above. If all players pass, the leader moves the same explorer party to another adjacent space, and the choice is made again. This is repeated until someone chooses to retreat.
As the leader, you are forced to Retreat upon revealing the second Danger tile of the turn, and as a penalty, all revealed danger tiles are discarded rather than being scored.
Game ends when no explorers with legal moves remain on the board. Points are awarded for having multiple animals of the same type, with a large 20 point bonus for having at least 1 of each animal.
*Easy to teach and play. It doesn't get much easier in the rules department than "Retreat or Pass?", and the only other thing the leader has to is choose what adjacent tile to move to each time. The only other rules to keep in mind are the scoring, which is super-easy thanks to...
*Wonderful player aids. The small player aids have precisely the information on them that players need. On one side, a very simple illustration of the scoring, showing that you get arithmatically-increasing score for having multiples of the same animal (1x=1, 2x=3, 3x=6, 4x=10, &c.), and a 20-point bonus for having one of each. On the other side, a terrain-based components percentage breakdown so players know which two animals are found in each terrain, which one is rarer, and can have a rough idea of how likely they are to flip a double-animal tile instead of a single (more likely in mountains) and how likely they are to flip a danger tile (non-coincidentally, also more likely in mountains).
*A push your luck with some spite thrown in. While the main mechanic of the game may be the PYL set collecting, the game certainly becomes more spiteful with more players, allowing players the option of using one expedition's trail to cut off another. This added dimension gives the game a bit of a different feel than the usual PYL game.
*May break down at 5 players. Increasing the player count in Costa Rica also exponentially increases the spite, which may well be a positive for some as mentioned above, but will also likely be a negative for others. With the full compliment of 5 players, the game becomes exceedingly spiteful, with multiple expeditions almost inevitably being cut off and/or stranded.
More importantly, because the tile count does not increase with more players, with a full 5 players playing, even if every tile on the board were claimed (which usually does not happen), each explorer would net an average of only slightly more than 2 tiles. Consequently, the Leader can do far better than average simply by always choosing Retreat on the third tile, meaning that other players are incentivized to Retreat on the second tile. This often kills the PYL feeling, as the Danger tiles are usually irrelevant if only 2.5 tiles are revealed per tu rn, and the whole game becomes much less exciting.
*Bit of a pain to lay out. While the setup time for this hex board is really minimal in the scheme of boardgames, for such a light game it seems an annoyance that it takes a bit to set up.
I think the sweet spot for Costa Rica is 3-4 players. 5 has too many issues mentioned above, and although 2 has the interesting solomon's choice knowing that any Retreating will leave your opponent a solo explorer with free reign, the whole PYL experience just isn't as satisfying at 2. Then again, PYL has never been my genre anyway; this is likely a game I'd hand to non-gamers who want to play something light, explain it, and recuse myself to play something heavier.
IS IT FOR YOU?
Especially with 4-5 players, this is an exceedingly vicious Push Your Luck game. The guy at my game night who normally likes games with some spite said after a 5p game, "This is too vicious even for me!" So if vicious spite is a turn-off for you, or more generally if you're looking for a deep game, Costa Rica probably isn't for you.
On the other hand, if you want a fast, easy-to-learn, and colorful push your luck game with plenty of opportunity for evil, you could certainly do worse.
*review copy received from publisher