Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Michael Rieneck


No. of Players:
2 - 4



A few years ago EGGERTSPIELE has released Michael Rieneck's and Stefan Stadler's strategic heavyweight Cuba, and during the following years the authors have built on this setting by adding both a rather successful expansion (El Presidente) and an independent spin-off game called Havanna. However, as it seems Michael Rieneck has become especially fond of this Caribbean island, and so he returns once again to yet another important city of Cuba - Santiago de Cuba.

Just like Havanna, Santiago de Cuba is played independently of Cuba, but in a way the game can be seen as being a younger brother of Cuba because some minor similarities between both games can be found. So, the new game also is focused on delivering different kinds of resources onto a ship towed in the harbour, and the players also can purchase and use different types of buildings and visit different Cuban characters in order to get their help. With these elements falling in place, the question might be raised whether such a "shrunken" version of Cuba really was necessary, but playtesting quickly revealed that Santiago de Cuba possesses a great attraction on its own because of its rhythm and mechanics.

Already the preparations during setup are quick and easy. Before the game starts, a set of characters is shuffled and placed randomly on available spaces around the harbour of Santiago, and in addition a set of buildings is also mixed and placed randomly in groups of three at spaces lying in the outskirts of the city. The players on the other hand start the game equipped with a figure and three markers of their colour, a bit of money, two victory points and one unit each of sugar cane, citrus fruits and tobacco. Finally, the starting player rolls a hand of five different coloured dice, and he chooses four of these dice to be placed at the ship in the harbour. Since the colours of these dice correspond to the five types of resources available in the game, the four dice placed on the ship depict which quantity of each of these four types of goods can be loaded onto the ship. The fifth dice was not chosen, and for the moment this type of resources cannot be loaded onto the ship.

The actions of the players are determined by a car which moves clockwise around the harbour of Santiago. At the beginning of the game the car was placed at the harbour, and during his turn the active player may move the car forwards for one or more spaces. However, only the first step is free, and if the player wants the car to go further he will have to pay one coin for each additional step he wants to take. In most cases the car will stop in front of a space occupied by a Cuban character, and now the active player is allowed to take the benefit offered by this character. So, some of the characters provide the basic resources sugar cane, citrus fruits and tobacco, whereas another character gives access to wood - a specific resource which may be sold to the ship in the harbour instead of any other of the five resources. Other characters provide money, victory points, or might even allow a small theft in form of a coin, victory point or resource from the competing players.


The active player gains these character-related benefits for free, but in addition he is also allowed to use one of the building tiles which had been placed in the outskirts of the city. For this reason each character token shows a small coloured symbol, and each of these colours is matched by a group of three buildings placed in the city's outskirts. Thus, whenever a player visits a specific character, he will first take the benefits associated with this character, and then he will be allowed to place his own playing figure at one of the three buildings matching the character's colour. The only restriction which applies here is the fact that the chosen building must be empty, and so no figure of another player may be present at that building.

When a building was chosen, the active player also will be able to use the specific ability associated with this building, and just like the characters the buildings give access to a wide range of special abilities which allow different kinds of special actions. However, in comparison to the characters, the buildings offer more sophisticated kinds of actions, whereas the characters usually give direct access to resources, money and victory points. So, for example, the buildings may allow the exchange of sugar cane and tobacco for rum and cigars (production), or they may offer the active player a free loading action in which he can deliver one resource to the ship in the harbour. On the other hand, one of these buildings also allows the consumption of rum and tobacco, and if a player visits this building he may hand rum and/or tobacco back to the bank and receive victory points for this.

Talking about victory points, the players usually will load resources onto the ship in the harbour in order to gain victory points, and a special loading round is triggered whenever a player decides to stop with the car at the harbour crane. Beginning with the active player, each player now may load one or more units of one type of resources onto the ship, provided the coloured dice on the ship show that this type of resources is still needed. After the delivery, the number of goods delivered will be substracted from the current amount shown by the corresponding dice, and so the ship will slowly fill its bays. The player who has made such a delivery usually will receive two victory points as a sales price for each delivered unit, and when the delivery has been made the next player in clockwise order also may make a delivery, provided he still owns goods which are wanted on the ship. The delivery round continues in this way until all players have passed or the ship is full, but both of these events will trigger different kinds of effects. So, it may happen that the ship is not fully loaded at the end of the delivery round, and in this case a special price marker will be adjusted one step upwards. When the next delivery round takes place, the players now will receive not two but three victory points for each resource they can still load onto the ship. This price rise also takes place when the active player decides not to stop at the harbour crane but drives further with the car, and following this procedure the price for the delivery of goods to the ship may rise up to a level of four victory points per resource. However, when this price is reached, another rise of the price will immediately force the ship to leave the harbour - regardless of the fact that its bays are not yet full.

When the ship leaves the harbour - either due to full bays or due to a rise of the sales price beyond four victory points per resource - a new ship will arrive. This means that the sales price marker is reset to two victory points per resource, and in addition the active player once again gathers up all five resource dice, rolls them and places four dice of his choice on the ship in order to determine which resources are wanted by the new ship. In addition, the arrival of a new ship means that a small ship token is moved forwards by one space, and the game will end when the seventh ship has left the harbour.

Despite the fact that the loading of goods seems to be the most important action in the game, the players usually will try different approaches in order to score victory points. So, it may be an idea to go for the three basic types of resources available directly from the Cuban characters, but due to the limited availability of each resource it may also be wise to try to exchange basic resources of sugar cane and tobacco for rum and cigars. Whilst these resources need to be produced, they usually are more rare than the other types, and this might still guarantee a space on the ship when the bays for the basic resources are full. However, these are only examples for the multiple kinds of approaches allowed by the combination of buildings and characters.

As a matter of fact, Santiago de Cuba is a rather variable and challenging game, since the players are constantly forced to adapt their playing style to the situation at hand and on the ship. However, this does not mean that the players are forced to act in a certain way, but instead the players are given a broad range of options which all might turn out to be effective. For example, some of the buildings in the outskirts of the city allow direct interaction with the ship in the harbour, and so the players may get a chance to adjust the sales price or reduce the amount of wanted resources displayed by one resource dice to zero, and all of this certainly has a great impact both on the player's direct strategy and the strategies followed by his competitors. On the other hand, a character which has not been mentioned yet is the lawyer who allows a player to place one of his ownership markers onto a building which has no owner yet. Whenever this building is used by another player, the owner of the building will receive one victory point from the bank for this use of his property, and so it may be profitable if an action is triggered even if the building's owner follows another strategy on his own. In addition, as an alternative to the placement of a new ownership marker a visit to the lawyer also gives a player access to one of the buildings he already owns, and so the players effectively may set up a strategy by using a building multiple times by visiting the lawyer.

Coming in a relatively small box, it is amazing to see how many good ideas and mechanics Michael Rieneck was able to squeeze into this little game. The players are forced to balance long-time goals and short time gains, and there is a high degree of competition since each move of the car (and the actions triggered by this) also will have an impact on the actions of the following players. All this takes place at a rather high pace, and in a way Santiago de Cuba is able to outclass Cuba on this grounds because its older brother plays slower and more factors need to be taken into consideration. All this makes Santiago de Cuba a perfect example of the modern trend to create challenging boardgames with manageable complexity and duration, and taken together with the rather versatile setup of characters and buildings many interesting gaming sessions should be guaranteed!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany