Board Game Review: Cuba

The central board - the market full of goods.
Sometimes, you just have the urge to build an efficient and effective economic engine in a board game. Sometimes you wanna play politics and influence votes and policies. Sometimes you wanna ship stuff. In Cuba, you can do all three. That's right - a three for one special packed up in a nicely written, designed, and published game. Published by Rio Grande, I think Cuba does a nice job working in familiar mechanics with some slighty different options to give a fun experience. 

I don't own this game - my folks do - but I've managed to get 4 plays of it in thus far. (I never review a game before I've been able to play it at least 3 times, unless I tag it "First Impressions." It's like reading the syllabus to a college course and then immediately taking the final exam - you just don't know enough about the material to start commenting on it.) Nothing about Cuba is going to scream utter originality - worker placement, bidding, role selection, resource acquisition, producing goods, shipping goods, victory points - but the mix of the various mechanics feels pretty fresh.  The point of the game, of course, is to net yourself the most victory points. One mechanic - which is the worker role - was new to me. You place your worker in a specific square on your player board, which has 12 squares. You then collect either resources or products from the entire row and column that your worker is in.  It's an interesting way to make choices - which row and column will help me out the most?

The game is medium-weight, so it's going to take some time to learn. Once you master the basics, though, it's the strategy that will burn in your mind. Cuba runs for 6 rounds, each round consisting of each player getting the option of using 4 out of 5 possible roles. The roles are - worker, tradeswoman, architect, foreman, and mayor. Workers produce resources (stone, wood, water) and/or products (tobacco, citrus, sugar) from your fields. The tradeswoman allows you to purchase or sell products or goods in the market, or alternatively to select one resource or one product of your choice. The architect allows you to erect buildings, which replace your fields, or alternatively grants you 1 or 2 victory points, depending on what's available. The foreman allows you to activate all the buildings in range of your worker, or alternatively one single building of your choice. And the mayor allows you to ship products or goods for victory points, or alternatively gain some pesos. Yeah, that's a mouthful!
The buildings - lots of 'em!
The game play is a mix between your typical euro, with one neat little twist: at the end of each round everyone bids for influence in parliament.  Just like a real banana republic - the peso rules!  This is done with the use of your leftover role card (all of them have vote values) and money, which you chose secretly.  Then, based on the winner of the vote, 2 out of a possible 4 "acts" are passed.  These acts come across a little alien during a player's first read through of the rules and play, but they become absolutely pivotal to winning the game as a person becomes more experienced.  The first two acts always relate to paying either money or goods to gain VPs, which is optional - you can choose to ignore taxes if you want.  No repercussions!  However, meeting one of the two gets you 2 VPs; meeting both gets your 5 VPs.  In a game where most are decided by 4 or less VPs, you can see how important this becomes. 

The last two acts affect game play, such as markets and production and ships and such.  So, the player with the winning bid gets his crack at passing two acts of his choice.  You can see how quickly that can sway the way the game goes, if you're the one controlling the most beneficial acts or the most hurtful ones.  You can really lay your foot down and keep the direction of the game flowing in your favor, if you're willing to keep some influence and pesos in reserve for that round.

Overall, this is a pretty neat game.  The art and component quality is very high - the art is well drawn, the peices are all good quality, and the styling really puts you in the mood to hang out in the tropics.  All we need is some banana cocktails with those little umbrellas.  I honestly don't have any major gripes with the game, save the fact that it doesn't do anything super original.  That makes it just a tad...bland.  Like I said before, all of the mechanics in the game are ones I'm very familiar with, so I tend to lull a little bit into the "same old - same old" routine as I play it.  That being said, the game does what it does pretty well and provides one of my favorite things about any game - the chance to put together a well-oiled economic machine.
The player board.

What Cuba does nicely:
  • Great looking game, sturdy components
  • A nice mix up of familiar mechanics with a really unique and fun bidding mechanic that makes the game
  • Lots of tough decisions and points of strategy make a solid, medium-weight experience
Where Cuba is a bit stinky:
  • Lack of originality - mechanics are in essence re-washed from a lot of other games
  • A lot of down time between turns if you have some lengthy thinkers
  • You'll find yourself reusing strategies in multiple plays - there aren't that many different ways of winning
Final Thoughts: A fun, challenging game that is kept fresh through the bidding mechanic that shapes each game a little differently - that's where Cuba truly shines!