Fernando Pessoa is one of the most widely recognised Portuguese poets and one of the country's most important literary figures of the 20th century. I grew up in Portugal, where Pessoa is on the school curriculum. He's sadly not so well known abroad. Not only is Pessoa's work quite fascinating and worth reading, but what is especially intriguing is the way his poems have been produced by heteronyms that represent something like split personalities. Game designer Orlando Sá has taken these author personas and developed them into a very interesting light eurogame in which up to four players can compete as one of Pessoa’s heteronyms.
Players can take the role of Alvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Bernardo Soares or Alberto Caeiro and explore the different places in Lisbon the author visited the most during his life.
The board is split into four distinct areas: Café Martinho da Arcada and Café A Brasileira where players can draft more cards, the Bookshop where players can trade cards for points and/or upgrades for their player board, and Rossio Square where players create poems that will score most of their points.
Inspiration cards are one of the game’s currency. They come in three different colours numbered from one to five that players use at the Bookshop and Rossio. Energy is the other currency on each player's board track, allowing them to take over the Poet in the physical world, move in and out of the metaphysical world with their heteronym, and purchase new cards. The player boards can either be the same for everyone, or you can play with asymmetric boards that more closely reflect each heteronym personality.
At the centre of the board is a wheel that represents Pessoa’s mind (metaphysical space). The board spaces are the physical world. Heteronyms can travel between the two but only one player can be Pessoa and he can never move to the metaphysical space...
The metaphysical space is surrounded by a wheel split into twelve parts. This is what sets the game clock: every round, after each player has taken an action, the wheel moves. Each sector also contains the astral map, which is a couple of symbols that provide bonuses to players who spend cards in the Bookshop and Rossio with symbols that match.
Tho' the theme is unusual, Pessoa is a good choice as a family game because the mechanics are quite simple. That said, there is enough to entice older and/or more experienced players, especially when incorporating the advanced variants. Published by Pythagoras, the components and production quality are good, tho' the way the board tiles fit into the underside of the centre wheel can lead to some initial frustration during setup. The box insert is one of the best I have seen, with everything fitting perfectly to facilitate easy set up and tear down.
Pessoa is a solid game and definitely worth trying. Expect to enjoy Pessoa most at higher play counts but there's an option included for solitaire play. It can be quite funny reading the poems that are created with each card contributing a few of the words. However, do not expect to be blown away by their literary quality, especially when read in English. If you like the game tho', you might just be tempted to check out Fernando Pessoa's work...
(Review by Rui Marques)