When I first saw the cover of the more information along with a short description and photos of the components, I was immediately intrigued to play it. The title seemed attractive too, as Cuba is very far away from my country (I live in Greece) and that just adds to the exotic and mystery atmosphere for which the country is already celebrated. Let’s go through some basic information about gameplay:
In Santiago de Cuba you are a broker in the city of Santiago, the second largest city of Cuba. Your goal is to make profit by making deals with the locals and visiting (or even buying) buildings in order to gather goods and load them to the ships arriving in the city’s port. Available goods are: sugar cane (white) citrus fruit (orange), tobacco (green), rum (red), cigars (black) and wood. On the game board there are 12 building tiles, which are always shuffled when setting up the game and then placed on the appropriate boxes in the outskirts of the city. There are also 9 Cubans who will help you out and are also shuffled and distributed randomly on the 9 boxes in the center of the game board. A street runs in front of the Cubans in a loop. A car, used by all players, will travel through this street and its 10 stops (stars), one for each of the Cubans and a stop at the port (yellow star).
There are 7 ships that will reach the city’s port one after the other and for each one, the type and quantity of goods it accepts to carry are determined by rolling 5 colored dice and choosing 4 of them to place on the ship. The color of the dice indicates the type of good and the number, the quantity required. There is a value marker on the board in front of the ship, indicating the amount of victory points you receive for each good delivered to the ship (2,3 or 4 victory points). This marker is initially set to 2 and for each time the car passes from the port (yellow star) without stopping there the marker is moved one flag to the right. However if the marker moves from the value 4 to the checkered flag, the ship leaves immediately even if it’s not full. Once a ship has all items loaded, it leaves the port and another one arrives.
At the beginning of the game, buildings and Cubans tiles are shuffled and placed on the board, each player chooses a color and the first player is decided. Each player is dealt 3 coins (pesos), 2 victory points and one sugar cane, one citrus fruit and one tobacco. All goods and money are hidden behind special player screens. The car is placed at the port and the first ship arrives. The player to the right of the first player rolls the five dice to determine the ships cargo. Each round a player must use the car to go to a location moving clockwise by moving as many “star” spaces they like. Only the first step to a new place is free. For every space beyond the first one, the player must pay 1 peso. By stopping in front of a Cuban, you usually get goods, money or victory points.
Then you immediately visit one of the buildings of the color indicated by the flower icon on the Cuban’s tile. In buildings, players do certain actions that help them advance in the game such as exchange different types of goods, get victory points or load goods to the ship. By stopping on the yellow star (last stop in the loop, port) players trigger a delivery round, during which all players can deliver goods to the ship. Players get victory points (the exact number is indicated by the value marker mentioned earlier) for loading the ship. Wood can always be loaded to the ship instead of any one other good but players receive only one victory point for each wood loaded. The game ends when all 7 ships leave the port. At that point any remaining goods are converted to victory points (1 vp for every 3 goods) and victory points are counted. The player with the most victory points, is the winner.
Upon opening the box, I was impressed with the beautiful artwork of the game board and tiles. Setup was pretty easy, following the well-written rulebook. Tiles shuffled and placed, colors chosen and here we go. The game flows smooth and turns are pretty quick as there are only 2 actions that must be made each round and choices are quite straight forward. Usually you don’t want to move many spaces forward with the car as this will cost a lot of money and then there is the choice of the building to visit that will depend on the specific needs of the player or may be a strategic choice as well. An interesting aspect is that players’ goods and coins are hidden behind screens, so one must be alert and try to remember what goods the other players have gathered. That is a big part of the game’s strategy. The game has great immersion due to excellent artwork and game mechanics. It all feels so much like Cuba! It also has much replayability due to the shuffling of tiles at game setup.
I haven’t played Cuba which seems to have a lot in common with Santiago de Cuba (the designer and the artist of Santiago have also worked on Cuba) so I couldn’t compare the two games, but after playing a couple of games of Santiago, I have a clear impression of the game which I am ready to share with you! Let’s go through our usual rating categories:
Game components are very nice and of good quality. The game board is like a painting, depicting the city and the port with great detail. The building and Cuban tiles are of similar quality from a design point of view and made of thick cardboard, as are victory point tokens, pesos (coins) and property markers. Playing pieces and goods are made of wood which feels very nice. All in all, the game components are all that one could hope for and even more. 9/10
The heart of every game of course. Gameplay is fast and there is enough space for strategic thinking and planning ahead. Upon deciding which Cuban to meet, you must make a few considerations such as the deal you will make with them, the buildings that are available to visit afterwards and what stop the next player might choose. You also have to think about which may be the most profitable buildings to seize with Alonso (the lawyer) which is also an interesting aspect of the game. Your memory skills will be put on a test with Santiago because in order to do well in this game, you must remember what goods your opponents have gathered. That will be a crucial factor in order to decide if you want to stop at the port or not and a miscalculation may cost you a few victory points. Just a thought about the building tiles: I think it would be interesting to have a building tile, working in the just opposite way from the Customs Office, that is to be able to turn a dice of your choice on the ship to whatever number you want (except 0). The game seems very balanced in its mechanics and there seems to be no apparent strategy that would always lead to victory. Shuffling of the tiles at game setup guarantees that every game will be a completely different one. 8/10
The rulebook is very well written and only 8 pages long, along with some illustrations and examples. After reading through the rules and playing the game once you will feel very comfortable about it and maybe never need to consult the rulebook again. 8/10
The theme of being in Cuba and act as a broker is very well supported by beautiful artwork as well as believable mechanics. The use of the car is a very clever idea that contributes to the theme too, making things feel more real. The buildings have been well thought, by linking the buildings’ use with an appropriate name. For example, it feels very natural and in-theme to go to the “Bank” building in order to get 2 pesos or go to the “Cigar factory” to trade tobacco for cigars. That is a great design element that enhances the feel of the theme inside the game. 9/10
Just a repetition here of what was mentioned earlier. Due to shuffling of the Buildings and Cubans tiles during setup, it is guaranteed that no two games will be the same. The general strategy of the game however will stay quite the same, as some buildings such as the Newspaper publisher or the Office and some Cubans like Alonso will always remain favorite destinations. I don’t think that is a minus though, it seems quite logical. All in all I think I will never be bored to play this game. 8/10
I had much fun playing Santiago although there isn’t any interaction at all between players except when visiting El Zorro (each player must give you 1 victory point, 1 good or 1 peso). It will be fun at points, when speculating about each others belongings and surely enough whimpering will be present when someone visits the Newspaper publisher to make Alonso inactive. Short gameplay (~40 minutes) will not tire players and makes the game easily be used as a filler between longer games. A great game for the whole family too! 8/10
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