Author: Franz-Benno Delonge


Awards: none



G@mebox author Doug Adams writes about the game:

Manila takes place in the Spanish-controlled Philippines, during the early 19th century. Players are businessmen forced into the world of the black market and smuggling in order to make their Pesos grow. During the game, punts will be loaded with ginseng, silk, jade or nutmeg, and sent on smuggling runs into Manila harbour. If the punts make it safely to port, the black market prices of their cargo will rise, potentially enriching the players.

The game is played over rounds. During each round, three punts will attempt to each carry a different load of wares into the harbour, moving at the whim of six-sided die rolls. To make it to harbour, each punt will need to move fourteen spaces with three die rolls, so the odds are not good! Before each die roll, players may pay Pesos to place an accomplice (i.e. a coloured wooden pawn) onto the board. This is either placing a bet on the outcome of the smuggling run, or purchasing an option to influence the outcome of the run. After three rounds of placement and movement, the payoffs are assessed, and another run commences.

The overall quality of the components is excellent. There are two full colour, 8-page rulebooks - one in German and one in English. The English rulebook has a sentence or two in German that missed translation, but it's not a problem. Eight pages sounds like a lot of rules however do not be alarmed. Half the rulebook is lavish illustration and examples - this is not a difficult game to play.

A beautiful game board clearly displays the three paths into Manila harbour, along with the various spaces where pawns can be placed. All the pertinent game information - the numbered paths for the punts, the costs and payoffs for the pawn spaces, and the black market price chart - is all clearly presented and easy to read. The punts themselves are hefty pieces of wood, nicely fashioned into the shape of a barge. The four different ware tiles are rectangular, and sized to lay flat on the punts with no danger of falling off. The ware tiles contain positions for the player's pawns. The pawns are very nice - larger than your typical "meeple" playing pieces, and complete with Asian conical hats!

Each ware type also has its own movement dice, so there is no confusion as to what dice will move what punt. A black market price indicator and a deck of black market cards for each ware type are also included. These represent a player's private interest in the four different wares in the game - they are essentially shares. Rounding out the package are the attractive and chunky plastic Peso coins. These have a genuine heft factor, and feel rather like poker chips as they are tossed into the bank. Finally, there is also a CD-ROM that comes with the game. It contains an interactive rulebook, description of the game, and an example of one turn. It is a great addition to the package, although it is only in German.


The object of the game is to acquire wealth, through making cash during the game, and by increasing the black market price of the wares you have a share in. Two shares are allocated secretly to each player at the beginning of the game, and more can be obtained during the game. The game ends when one ware price hits 30 Pesos - five steps up the black market price ladder.

At the beginning of each round of play, the role of Harbour Master is auctioned. The auction is around-the-table style, bidding in Pesos, with the highest bidder taking on the Harbour Master role.

The role of the Harbour Master is an extremely powerful one. First, it allows the player to purchase an additional share in the black market - the only way additional shares can be obtained. Secondly, the Harbour Master chooses which three wares will be loaded aboard the punts on the run into Manila. The ware left out has no chance of increasing in value on the black market this turn. Finally, the Harbour Master is given nine points of dice movement for "free" which must be used in setting up the three punts on their starting spaces. The punts can be set up on any space between zero and five. Setting up a punt on space 5 means that punt only has to move nine spaces to reach Manila, instead of fourteen, dramatically increasing its odds of success.

Then the wares are run into Manila. This takes place over three rounds. During each round, players may pay a fixed price to place one pawn on a vacant space on the board, then the Harbour Master rolls the ware dice and advances each punt the indicated number of spaces towards safe harbour.

  • If a punt moves past space 13, it's reached safe harbour and moved into the next free port space.
  • If a punt fails to reach space 13 after three rounds, it is damaged and moved to the shipyard for repair.
  • If a punt lands on space 13, the Pirates decide its fate!

Invested pawns can be placed in five different areas of "speculation".

  • They can be sailors on the punts, speculating they will receive a share of the cargo's profits if that punt reaches safe harbour.
  • They can be workers on the wharf, speculating that one, two or three punts will reach safe harbour. The payoff reflects the odds - you can play safe and pay 4 Pesos on one punt reaching safe harbour (payoff 6 Pesos) or run wild and pay 2 Pesos on all three punts reaching safe harbour (payoff 15 Pesos).
  • They can be shipwrights in the shipyard. This works in exactly the same way as the wharf, except you are speculating on ships not reaching safe harbour.
  • They can become pirates, for a sizable payment of 5 Pesos. If any ship stops on space 13 on the movement track, pirates can either join the crew on the run in, or plunder the ship (basically kicking the crew off the punt and taking the profits for their own).
  • One pawn can become the insurance agent, taking an immediate payment of 10 pesos. However, the agent will have to pay all the pawns that become shipwrights and are due payment.

Pawns can also become either the small pilot or the large pilot, leaping aboard a barge immediately before the final movement roll and nudging them forwards or backwards a space or two. There is no payoff by being a pilot, but they can dramatically affect a punt's chances of success or failure.

When the three rounds of pawn placement and punt movement are completed, the payouts are assessed. The black market price of any wares that successfully reached safe harbour is increased by one rank, and the board is cleared ready for the next round.

It is quite feasible that players will run out of funds, especially early in the game. If this occurs, players are allowed to mortgage their black market shares and take 12 Pesos per share as a loan. The downside is the share has to be revealed to everyone, and it will take 15 Pesos to pay off the loan.

The game ends when at least one ware has increased to 30 Pesos on the black market. Each player's final score is share value, plus cash, minus 15 for each outstanding loan. Obviously, the highest score wins the game.

I certainly enjoyed the game, however I do have some concerns. The game does run on longer than it should. The game tends to run over an hour, whereas around 45 minutes feels much better. One solution is to begin the black market index on the zero space, not below the zero space. This shaves about 15 minutes off the playing time and makes it more palatable.

Another possible niggle is the share distribution. Being dealt a pair of identical black market shares is not a good thing, as you likely have to work this commodity up the black market price chart on your own. I've noticed that players who are holding a pair of shares do not seem to fare well when the game ends.

Manila is a good, solid speculation game that is suitable for families, or gamers who want something a little lighter to play between meatier offerings. This is a very nicely presented game that plays cleanly. We had no issues with the rules, leaving you able to concentrate on the game play. The game generated lots of laughs and groans, as we urged the punts up the board and into harbour.

I'll happily play it, however will probably insist on starting the share prices on the zero space in future.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany