Navegador Review

One of the best things about a convention like Board Game Bash is that you get a chance to play games you’re not sure about yet. That was the case on Sunday morning, when I got a chance to review Navegador by stumbling in just as a group was setting up to play it.

I had played this Mac Gerdts game a couple of years ago at BGG Con, and had liked it enough that I was on the lookout for it the next year. Last year’s convention was a short trip, though, and Navegador was one of a couple of games I never got a chance to play. (The other casualty was my habitual play of Power Grid, alas!) Since then, I had drooled over the game in sales listings but wasn’t quite ready to pick it up based on just one play.

There’s a lot to like about Navegador, though. It’s an economic game with exploration and colonization, which is the kind of game I love. You play a 15th century explorer building fleets and sending them out around the Horn of Africa to India and Japan. As the game progresses, you explore the world, manipulate the goods markets, hire workers, then build ships, colonies, factories and churches. Everything leads to points one way or another, and the player with the most points at the end wins.

All that’s well and good, but the excellent Sail to India does many of the same things in a lot less time? What’s special about Navegador?

Round and Round the Navegador Goes

As is often the case in a Mac Gerdts game, it’s the rondel. Gerdts is a little obsessed with this system, and has made it work for him in a variety of games.

In a rondel game, you have a circular track that lists several possible actions. When you choose an action on the track, your next action will usually be two or three spaces down the track. If you choose to hire Workers, for instance, then your next action will be going to Market, founding a Colony, or claiming a Privilege, because those are the next actions on the track. (You can go further down the track to take a different action, but that costs precious resources.)

Rondels are great because they create a natural rhythm for the game. New players can focus on choosing between the two or three actions in front of them, while more experienced players can use the track to plan several moves ahead. You can also anticipate and counter opponents’ moves by reading their positions on the board. In a game where you can do seven different things in a turn, being able to winnow those choices down to two or three good choices makes the decision of what to do much easier.

As a result, Navegador feels lighter than it is. The game moves along, even with inexperienced players. You get a lot of strategy in a relatively short time, and your brain doesn’t hurt at the end. That’s a potent combination, and now that I’ve a had a chance to confirm that yes, I REALLY like this game, I suspect it’ll be on my own shelves soon.