Board Game Review: Navegador—Master of the Rondel | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Navegador—Master of the Rondel

For the new year, I thought we’d explore what I think is an instant classic that came to my attention last year. In Navegador, the players attempt to explore, colonize, and dominate the sugar, gold, and spice markets. Navegador brings a lot of strategy and depth to play without being overwhelming. It’s one of the better “euro” style games to arrive on U.S. shores.

The Basics. Navegador uses the Rondel mechanic. Rather than having all actions available each turn, or all actions cost action points, the players are beholden to the Rondel. Every action is listed on the eight-space Rondel (one is listed twice). The player takes the first action of his choice. But from there on out, he can only take one of the next three actions listed clockwise.  If you skip over an action to take one further along, you’ll have to go all the way around the Rondel before it is available again.

All hail the Rondel!

The players then spend their turns hiring workers, constructing buildings, launching ships, exploring new lands, colonizing those lands, and selling raw and refined goods on the market. The market, in fact, is nearly always available (since it appears twice on the Rondel) and is one of the most interactive aspects of the game.

When you go to the market, you can either sell your raw goods (secured from your colonies ) or refine the raw goods (achieved through your factories). Refining goods means there are less raw materials available, so the price for raw materials goes up, potentially benefiting other players. Conversely, if you sell raw materials, the price goes down, but the reward for refining those goods at factories increases. So the prices of goods will fluctuate over the course of the game and it is up to the player to make the most of those swings.

When the last region is explored, the points are tallied and the game is won. Each player also has a mini-board where he or she can accumulate bonus points. Thus you can take bonus points for whichever strategy you pursued during the game.

Bonuses are available for colonies, factories, exploration, shipyards, and cathedrals.

The Feel. Navegador is a tremendous game to play for two reasons. First, it has a wide variety of viable strategies. Colonizing, shipping, exploring, and building are all fine ways to go, and each may prove the most successful in any given game. With so many legitimate paths to victory, you will not only be able to try your hand at what you like, but you will always be figuring out how to play off of your opponents’ choices—especially in the market.

And, second, the Rondel is used brilliantly in this game. The wide variety of actions allows for strategic depth and focus. But the Rondel restricts you to only three choices on a given turn. That means that AP is considerably reduced from what it otherwise could be. It also means that part of the strategy is knowing how far along the Rondel to move on your turn in order to set yourself up for better turns to come. It further prevents a player from repeatedly taking one action. Some amount of differentiation is necessary.

This market just screams out for manipulation, doesn't it?

Like most euros, the theme is not especially exciting. You’re exploring, colonizing, and selling goods. The gameplay, however, is exciting. Trying to corner a market and become a money machine is as challenging as it is potentially lucrative. Watching how your opponents play is essential—even though there are no direct attack effects.

The game also has an exceptional balance of long-term strategy and short-term tactics. Over the long haul of the game, you’ll see your general strategy evolve into a bevy of points. But, in the short term, sometimes its necessary to go farther or shorter on the Rondel than you’d like in order to hinder an opponent, or take an especially attractive market action. Every turn is filled with meaningful choices.

Components: 4 of 5. Navegador comes equipped with the standard quality you’d expect from Rio Grande Games. All the pieces are wooden bits and colored appropriately. The board is on the big side (though that’s a good thing with this game) and the artwork is nice. It reflects the marginally correct maps of yore that combined cartography with guesstimates.

Africa? Close enough for cartography work.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 5 of 5. The only luck present in the game is in the initial placement of colonies. Different colonies cost different amounts and are placed face down randomly. They are not revealed until the first person explores an area. This reinforces the uncertainty with exploration, but is the only luck in the game. In fact, it is mitigated by granting the explorer a bonus equal to the cost of a colony.

Other than that, every decision is made solely by the player and affected by how quickly he or she speeds around the Rondel. The interaction of other players, especially in the market, may produce uncertainty, but it is all player driven.

Mechanics: 5 of 5. “Elegant” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in game review. So, let me give you my definition. A game’s rules are elegant if they are: (1) simple to understand; (2) provide a wealth of decision-making opportunities; and (3) the game encourages quick selection —in other words, AP is limited. Navegador meets this definition.

Everything flows together nicely, and the Rondel both provides a large amount of choice and ensures that the player isn’t presented with everything at once. Plus, the interaction between actions is fantastic. Workers are needed to buy buildings or colonies and to get privileges. Building Ships is needed for both exploring and colonizing strategies. And everything circles in to the Market somehow. That interconnectedness is a real pleasure to behold in Navegador.

Replayability: 4.5 of 5. Navegador supports up to five players with relatively little down time. Combine that with the various strategies and tactics that can be employed and this is not a game that will get old quickly. While there is no randomness (other than hidden colony placement at the beginning), Navegador still manages to feel fresh each game because of the options and interactions with your opponents.

Spite: 3 of 5. There are no specific “take that”-style spite effects in Navegador. However, you can certainly influence the game in ways that will be detrimental to your opponent. Chief among them is the market. It is not uncommon for a player to take a market action that they don’t explicitly need just to ensure that the next player won’t get the big pay day he otherwise would have.

Overall: 4.5 of 5. Navegador is simply a brilliant euro. This will not only satisfy long time hobbyists, but will also be accessible to the casual or ameritrash gamer. Navegador seemingly effortlessly combines complex strategy, a host of tactical options, interconnected choices, and a reasonable play time. This game is definitely one to look into and I imagine will achieve “classic” status quickly.

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