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Board game Review: Cacao

Posted by Sian, Jan, 2016.

Playing Cacao made me think of chocolate: it made me raid the chocolate supply. Did you know that cacao and cocoa beans are basically the same?

In the table-top game cacao, each player is a tribal chief who seeks to work with their people to grow and trade cacao beans. The goal is simply to make the most money by the end of the game. The game can accommodate 2 to 4 players.

Each turn, a player places a square worker tile alongside jungle tiles. Worker tiles have no more than three workers on each side and can only be played adjacent to (and not diagonal to), other jungle tiles. The same logic applies to the placement of jungle tiles.

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There are six types of jungle tiles in the game which  can all be used by players, to employ different tactics for winning the game. The plantation, market and gold mine tiles particularly help players earn money during each turn, whereas other tiles are likely to help players earn more coins at the very end of the game. Jungle and worker tiles can be easily distinguished and have attractive simple designs.

Generally, Cacao is very simple to play. Game play may involve orientating your worker tile so that one worker would be placed alongside a single plantation tile. This would deliver a cacao bean for storage. By contrast, if you situate two workers alongside the plantation tile, this would deliver two beans. It is also possible to gain money for cacao beans in the same turn. For example, if you have orientated your worker tile so that it is adjacent to a plantation tile and market tile, a single cacao bean can be traded at a certain rate, for each worker which neighbours the worker tile. 

At first, I found understanding the basic rules for the game challenging. This is because the rulebook is missing an introduction and presents information about tiles before explaining the basic goal and mechanics of the game. The separate overview sheet is not designed as a cut down version of the rules: it provides in-depth information about jungle tiles which should be covered in the rulebook.

There needs to be more emphasis that the number of workers alongside one side of a jungle tile determines the number of times that the action for the jungle tile can be activated. However, it is clear that the more workers placed alongside temple tiles can earn a player more coins by game end. This has proven to be a more effective way to earn coins than arranging worker tiles alongside water tiles that are relatively uncommon compared to temple tiles. 

Players are incentivised to place multiple workers alongside water tiles as it allows them to move their water carrier, resembled by a Carcassonne meeple, further along the water field track on their village board. At the beginning of the game, the water carrier is placed on a water field space with -10 coins, which could be a major penalty by end game. Moving the water carrier to zero is feasible in the limited number of turns, but placing eight workers alongside water tiles to earn sixteen coins seems a risky strategy as there are more effective and quicker tactics for earning coins. 

In relation to reasons above, I think Cacao would play well without the water tiles and the water track as it seems to bring little value to the game. Alternatively, placing worker tiles alongside sun worshipping tiles seems to work well in that it grants players the chance to place new worker tiles over previous ones that they have played. However, Cacao could encourage more competitive and flexible game play if players could play worker tiles over their opponents’ worker tiles as well.

Overall, Cacaco is a pleasant game to play and I wouldn't mind occasionally playing this now and again. There are several ways in which the rules and layout for the rules can be improved so that game play is more engaging. Whilst each game I've played as been a close call between who wins and loses, there seems to be little scope for gaining a significant competitive advantage upon your opponent during game play. This is mainly because jungle tiles in play are generally accessible to all players and there are usually several options for where players can place tiles. 

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