Unless you've watched the recent Spanish TV series Sin Limites (renamed Boundless on Amazon Prime) you may be puzzled by this game's title. We've all heard of the 16th Century Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Much less well known, however, is Juan Sebastián Elcano. Magellan was actually killed partway through his expedition to circumnavigate the globe and it was Elcano who completed the voyage and returned home to Spain, which had financed the adventure. So does Michael Schacht's card game recreate the historic voyage of Magellan and Elcano? Well not exactly. Magellan: Elcano is only very tenuously themed around the 16th Century expedition. Magellan: Elcano is in fact a bidding game played over six rounds.
There are three decks of 'route' cards with six cards in each deck. Each round the top card of each deck is flipped and those are the three cards that are up for auction. The cards each show a value (2-7) in red, green or blue. The game will be won by the player with the highest value in route cards after all six rounds have been completed.
Meanwhile, players all have identical decks of 15 'crew' cards from which they draw an initial hand of five cards. The crew cards mostly show two values: one for one colour and a different value for another (the exception are the value 7 cards, which only have a single colour and value). You use your crew cards to bid for the corresponding colour route cards. The winning bid takes the route card, which will contribute to their end-game score, but they lose the crew cards they used to win the bid. Crew cards played that were losing bids are returned to hand. In rounds 2-6 players draw only two new crew cards to their hand so spend too lavishly on your bids and you could find yourself unable to compete in subsequent rounds.
In Magellan: Elcano, it's all about hand management. If you don't think you can win a route card, you will still want to push each other players so that they don't win cards too cheaply. And because the losing bidders get their cards back, pushing others to overpay is the key tactic.
Magellan: Elcano plays quickly. The core game is designed for 3-4 players but there's a variant rule to facilitate two-player games and an extra mini-deck of 'storm' cards used in a five-player game. For the storm deck cards, players bid with a face-down crew card, disregarding the card's colour. The card goes to the player who has bid the most face-down cards. The storm cards are mostly lower value than the route cards (worth 1-3 victory points each) and in our Board's Eye View plays we found players initially ignored them but competition for them hotted up when they accumulated, which, as with route cards, happens in the event of a tie.
Magellan: Elcano sports cartoon art from Olivier Fagnere and it is published by Geek Attitude and Pythagoras Games.