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Updated: Apr 12, 2023

In this simple-to-learn strategy game by Christwart Conrad, the 2-3 players are competing factions of pearl divers. It can be played with four players but, in that case, it's a contest between two teams of two.

The board is a 5 x 8 square grid with eight squares on which groups of pearls are placed. Players each have a number of divers (tokens with a number printed on their reverse). The number of diver tokens and their values varies according to the number of players: in a two-player game, for example, each player has 10 1-point divers, three divers worth 2-points, and one each worth 3, 4 and 5 points. On your turn you can either place out one diver on a square (face down so that others can't see its value) or you can position up to two 'pontoons' to fence off sections of the board. Sections can contain more than one pile of pearls or even none at all, but a section cannot have fewer than four squares. At the end of the game (when all divers have been placed), the pearls in each section will go to the player with the highest value of divers in that section. In the event of a tie, the pearls are divided equally between the tied players.

This makes for a quick and easy-to-play area control game. There's more, however. Advanced rules give each faction an asymmetric power and 'back-up' tokens that can be used to manipulate the majorities in an area. These extra rules don't add much complexity so, unless you're playing with someone to whom modern board games are a complete novelty, we'd recommend incorporating them from the outset.

Within the context of a light family game, Pearladora is a tight tactical tussle for area control involving a degree of bluff and, just occasionally, some sneaky use of pontoons to cordon off an opponent to cut them off from scoring a valuable pile of pearls. The team game offers its own distinct dynamics because team-mates aren't allowed to show each other the value of the diver tokens they place out...

If the mechanics of Pearladora sound familiar, it's because this game is a reskin of the 2013 Armadora (Blackrock). That otherwise identical game involved fantasy races competing for piles of gold. Prior to that, in 2003, Christwart Conrad's Nuggets also had players competing for gold but in a Western setting. As you might guess, then, the theme in Pearladora is only a thin veneer on an abstract strategy game but, nonetheless, La Boite de Jeu have done a good job with the production of this new edition, with art by Mehdi Merrouche and lustrous plastic pearls in place of the lacklustre yellow wooden cubes in the 2013 game.

Pearladora is distributed in the UK by Hachette Board Games. No oysters were harmed in the publication of this review.

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