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Pirates of Maracaibo

When we reviewed Alexander Pfister's Maracaibo (Capstone Games) back in 2019, we rated it as the designer's best game to date; even better than the much lauded Great Western Trail (Stronghold/eggertspiele) and our previous favourite Mombasa (Pegasus Spiele); the latter since re-themed as Skymines (Pegasus Spiele/Deep Print). Maracaibo is a relatively complex game tho' that rewards an investment of time so you don't see it at its best on first play or if you break it out for just occasional casual play. Addressing that is perhaps the rationale behind Pirates of Maracaibo, for which Alexander Pfister has been joined by Ralph Bienert and Ryan Hendrickson.

Pirates of Maracaibo is not an expansion for Maracaibo. This is a standalone game. It's also not a reimplementation of Maracaibo. Instead, Pirates of Maracaibo mirrors the earlier game, making use of similar concepts and mechanics but in a shorter, simpler tho' by no means lightweight game.

You'll immediately notice that Pirates of Maracaibo dispenses with its predecessor's central board. Instead it's played using cards that make up a modular board representing the Caribbean. Over three rounds, you'll be sailing your ship across the Caribbean towards Maracaibo. The actions you take depend on where your ship movement ends but can include installing improvements in and upgrades to your ship, constructing a residence, raiding and gaining treasure. You can bury your treasure, where it will score additional end-game points. Your explorer meeple moves along a track where it will gain actions or rewards for the spaces on which it ends its movement. You can also gain quests which will contribute to your end-game scoring.

Pirates of Maracaibo may be more immediately more accessible than its predecessor, and, at around 20-25 minutes per player it plays more quickly, but, as you can see, there is still a lot going on so this is still a medium-weight game. This game's theme and name inevitably invites comparison with Alexander Pfister's 2019 game, so how does it compare? Playing the original Maracaibo, particularly in all its glory as a campaign game, remains the more rewarding experience. However, if you're not able or willing to make that commitment, Pirates of Maracaibo offers an excellent alternative that much more suited to occasional play so, paradoxically, a game you may well find you're able to bring more frequently to the table. If you already own and enjoy Maracaibo, you'll almost certainly like this game. And if you've never played Maracaibo then you should certainly jump in and give Pirates of Maracaibo a try.

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