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Port Royal: Big Box

Originally published by the Austrian Games Museum in 2013 as Handler der Karibik, Alexander Pfister's Port Royal appeared a year later published by Pegasus Spiele, since when it has become a modern classic. This new Big Box edition brings together the core game and all its expansions. The moulded box insert helps to accommodate the various elements and the cards themselves have had a facelift that makes use of new art by Fantasmagoria Creative. Eagle-eyed enthusiasts of the original game may also spot a couple of minor tweaks to the victory point values on some of the cards.

For anyone not already familiar with Port Royal, it's a push-your-luck piracy-themed set collection and engine building game for 2-5 players, tho' the players in this game are defending against pirates rather than engaged themselves in acts of piracy. The cards all have a gold coin on the back and, when face down, they double as currency. On their face they show either a ship, a sailor or citizen, or an expedition. On your turn, you flip cards from the face-down deck and you keep drawing until you choose to stop. If, however, you flip two ship cards with the same colour then you are bust and your turn ends. If you don't go bust, you get to draft to your personal tableau a number of cards from those you've flipped - the number being dependent on the number of ship cards you revealed in total. Drafting ships gives you extra gold; personnel will give you special abilities and/or symbols used in set collection but to take them you have to be able to pay the specified cost in gold. Most also give you victory points. Any expedition cards you revealed are placed into a separate central display where they'll be available to claim by any player who is able to exchange cards in their personal tableau that have icons that meet the expedition card's set collection requirements.

Much of the excitement of the game is in players' push-your-luck gambles but there are other elements too that keep things interesting. In an unusual twist, it isn't just the active player (the one flipping the cards) who gets to draft. Once the active player has chosen, other players can also take a card from those drawn but they must pay a coin to the active player in order to draft a card. Obviously, they also have to pay (to the bank) the cost of any personnel cards. And because you have the opportunity to draft on other players' turns, players are incentivised to pay attention throughout the game and not just on their own turns.

The game ends when a player amasses 12 victory points, and as in Alexander Pfister's other games, such as Great Western Trail (Stronghold/eggertspiele), Mombasa (Pegasus Spiele) and Maracaibo (Capstone), players can plot different routes to victory. It plays well at all player counts but, for us, Port Royal always seems to carry an extra frisson of excitement as a four - or five-player game.

But of course this Big Box edition from Pegasus Spiele isn't just a reissue of Port Royal. It also incorporates the game's subsequent expansions. Port Royal: Just One More Contract..., the first expansion, adds some new characters to the roster of personnel but, significantly, also introduces contract cards for which you can claim coins when you fulfil the contract requirements. And you get more for a contract the earlier you complete it... This expansion also introduced rules for solo and cooperative play.

Port Royal: The Adventure Begins... adds the option of play as a campaign game with a branching storyline. The campaign is playable either as a competitive or cooperative game, and you may well find, as we have, that the cooperative campaign game works better than the cooperative contract game in Port Royal first expansion.

Also included in this Big Box is The Gambler promo, which went out to Spielbox subscribers in 2016, and Port Royal: Make Sail! (aka Unterwegs), which is not so much an expansion as a simplified standalone version of the game for 2-4 players, tho' you can just treat it as an expansion by adding all the cards to those in the core game. The base game of Port Royal is fairly straightforward so this training wheels version may come across as oversimplified but it does have its uses as a super-easy way of introducing Port Royal to children or non-gamers.

If you don't already own a copy of Port Royal then this new Big Box edition is a perfect opportunity to get on board with this tireless modern classic. Even many of those who already have the base game may be tempted to grab a copy of this Big Box as a very cost-effective way of adding the contract and campaign expansions. It's a push-your-luck game you'll find you'll be returning to for many a fresh sailing.

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