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Navegador - a review by Neil Walters

As a fan of the rondel mechanic, there was little chance that I was not going to like this game. The only question for me then was, what does Navegedor add to the series, particularly compared to Hamburgum to which it more closely resembles in play, to make it worthwhile buying or indeed playing. Without knowing the precise answer why, I do feel this is a better game than its predecessor. The only thing that I can possibly pin it down on is that Hamburgum seems a tad too scripted in what actions you need to take to do well. From plays so far this certainly hasn’t been the case with Navegador. What I am absolutely certain about however is that I’ve already played Navegador twice as much as ever I did Hamburgum in the four weeks since its Essen release, so that must say something I suppose.

Many of you reading this will know the rondel series well, but for the uninitiated it is a very clever but simple device for controlling all the player’s actions. It consists of a circle drawn on the game board divided into eight segments. With the exception of one particular segment, the Market action, which occurs twice, each of the other six are completely different. In your turn you advance your marker up to three segments (you can move further but it’s prohibitively expensive to do) and complete the action on the segment you finally decide to land on. There is no blocking so you have the freedom to plan your future moves as you wish. It also has the advantage that you can see what your fellow players are up to as well. Tension comes with those actions where there is an incentive to get to a particular segment first, as some actions have a limited number of resources or benefit to pick up, or the resources become increasingly more expensive as cheaper ones have already been taken. In my view it is one of the most innovative mechanics to have come out in the last ten years. It’s clean, simple and totally transparent with the added attraction of very little down time in play. Even in five player games it’s your turn again before you know it.

But it’s not good enough having a great mechanic if the rest of the game doesn’t cut the mustard. No fears here either. Set in the 15th century, you are a Portuguese explorer building a colonial empire. You can explore the seas and oceans going east, found colonies, sell sugar, gold and spices for profits to invest in ever more ships to continue your quest eastwards. Or not. You could also be that “stay nearer to home type” of explorer. After all sailing long distances is time consuming and expensive. So why not hang back a little and snaffle up a few colonies that the others have left behind, and perhaps build lots of factories to process the goods for lots of cash instead. Both alternatives might work and can work. I’ve seen both happen successfully. Along the way you can also build churches to recruit workers, shipyards to build your ships and also obtain privileges for instant cash and future victory point potential. It is a game of maximising the efficiency of your actions both in your selection on the rondel but also the volume of benefits you can manage to reap in a single turn. It is also a game where you have to keep a close eye on what the other players are doing, as the market for selling and processing goods is dynamic. Prices could easily have dropped by the time your turn comes round again. You need to be particularly aware of what your right hand neighbour is selling, and be prepared to adopt a flexible strategy. All this adds up to just my type of game.

On the components front, the wooden and cardboard playing pieces are what you would expect of a modern euro game. The artwork on the board is the very best combination of great to look at and total clarity. To be honest, I’m really struggling to come up with any negatives to say about Navegador. There may be some, but if so they’re not immediately apparent to me. Navegador is not totally original of course, but my feeling is that there is a natural progression in the rondel series and on this evidence the games keep improving as they go along. If you liked Hamburgum, you will certainly enjoy Navegador. If you haven’t tried any of the rondel series before, then I think you should consider treating yourself to this one.

As a footnote, I also need to play Hamburgum again as well just to check it out and remind myself what it does different, perhaps with the new Antwerp expansion that apparently includes some new rules. If I do, I’ll let you know.

Guru note : I am in total agreement with Neil. Navegador is my most played Essen game, every game has evolved differemtly, all have come in at about 90 minutes. The best Mac Gerdts design so far.

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