Designer Mac Gerdts has more recently become best known for his game Concordia. Set in the Roman Empire, this is a game that has proved so popular that it has spawned a clutch of expansions offering tweaks and alternative playing boards. Before Concordia, however, Gerdts was best known for his rondel games: games where the actions a player could take are determined by the position of his marker on a rondel. Board’s Eye View has briefly featured Gerdt’s Imperial 2030 – a rondel game of geo-political economics – but here we’re looking at his 2010 game Navegador.
As you unpack the little wooden ships and see the table representing goods (in this case, sugar, gold and spices), your first thought is that this must be another of those pick up and deliver games where your ships collect goods and you drop them off at various ports around the Mediterranean.
Your initial impressions will be wrong, however. For starters, this is a game themed on the Portuguese exploration of the world. Just about the only sea you don’t see on the board is the Mediterranean. And though you are sailing your ships and seeking to exploit the produce of Africa and South America, you are not picking up and delivering goods. In Navegador, you are establishing colonies and selling or processing the goods they produce.
Central to the game is the rondel which dictates the actions a player can take. In a player’s turn, they can move their marker for free up to three segments around the rondel in a clockwise direction and they take the action available for the segment they choose. The positions of segments in the rondel has been thoughtfully planned, requiring players to carefully plot their transit to maximise their advantage.
Equally clever in this game is the design of the markets for sugar, gold and spice: players who take the market action can sell goods equivalent to their colonies’ production. They take the current value but their sale creates a glut that serves to depress the market so that the next of those goods sold is priced lower. Alternatively, players can use their factories to process goods. This increases demand and so raises the price of that good. It’s a satisfyingly elegant design that is commendably simple to operate.
Other aspects of the game will be familiar to those who have played Concordia. One of the segments allows players to sacrifice a worker in order to obtain a ‘privilege’. The privilege tokens function as points multipliers for specific aspects of the game: exploration tokens, colonies, factories, shipyards or churches. The multiplier effect means that it is the privilege tokens that are likely to make the largest contribution to scoring.
Like Concordia, Navegador is a game where you will find yourself choosing between an ever tempting range of attractive options, and numerous paths to point scoring success. In the game played here, the novice players made the mistake of allowing an opponent to focus almost exclusively on church building, yielding them a huge multiplier score. Even so, the final scores were close: showing that this is a game where you can follow lots of different paths.
Navegador is a game where there is quite a lot to take in initially but where almost all the actions are uncomplicated and intuitively comprehensible. Play is brisk because players will usually know which rondel segment they want to land on (there is no blocking in this game) and because each rondel action is straightforward.
This is a well-designed game that sadly seems to have been eclipsed by its successors. It continues to stand up well, however, so don’t just get seduced by the lure of the new: this game may now be a few years old but it’s definitely worth giving it a try.