Gamers Games are Major Fun for the more experienced gamer. For one reason or another, these games are a bit more difficult or require a greater time investment than the games we generally award BUT we feel that they are well worth the effort.
St. Malo is not only an excellent entry point into the rich but daunting field of German-style resource management games, it is also an excellent example of a game that takes a moribund game warhorse and breathes some life into it.
Take 5 dice. Roll them up to three times. Try to collect patterns with the final result. Sound familiar?
St. Malo is a great entry point for gamers looking for more robust strategy games because the core mechanic is Yahtzee! Now don’t go running off quite yet. There is more to it, but the idea of rolling dice and keeping a certain set of results will not be foreign to anyone over the age of 8 or 9. St. Malo even keeps the idea of the individual score card. Everything you do is recorded on a nifty dry erase board that also has reminders of almost every rule you need to know. I’ll get back to the boards in a moment, but these similarities to Yahtzee! make the process of diving into resource management very smooth.
In short, players try to earn the most points by building various aspects of a walled city. There are homes and crates and churches and walls and all kinds of people that can inhabit your city. There is money to be earned and spent. All of these things are used to either earn points or fend off the pirates.
Oh yeah. Pirates.
Some points are earned immediately. Some points are earned when the game ends. The game ends when one player fills every space in his or her city.
To fill spaces in your city you roll 5 dice. Each die has 6 symbols: logs, crosses, people, walls, crates, and scimitars. As I mentioned before you get three rolls get results that you can use. I’m not going to go into what each of the symbols can get you. Most of them allow you to add things to your city and you will have to make some careful decisions about how you want to earn your points. The one symbol I will discuss a bit is the crossed scimitars—the pirates.
Whenever you stop rolling the dice you get to use one of the symbols to improve your city. IF there are any pirate dice showing, you record these on a central dry erase board. This acts as a count-down toward a pirate attack. In a two-player game the pirates attack when a total of 4 pirate dice have been rolled (this number goes up with more players). Their first attack is rather weak (1 point) but this increases each time. If a city has enough defenses (Walls or Soldiers) then the attack does nothing. If the city does not have enough then the Pirates damage the city which means the player loses points at the end of the game.
I enjoyed the hell out of the pirates. They really make this game pop. In general everyone will work to avoid the pirate dice, BUT if you have powerful defenses and your opponents do not, then throw open the ports and bring on the pirates!! It is one of the many balanced touches that I appreciated about the game. Defenses do not earn points but they prevent point LOSS and sometimes that is your best strategy.
The game itself is well designed. There are a fair amount of rules for the dice but is all laid out very clearly on just a few short pages. What I also love is that there are no pieces. Each player has a dry erase board and a marker. When you buy something, you draw a little symbol on your board. There are lots of symbols but they are really quite intuitive. Did you buy a house? Draw a little square with a roof. Did you spend some money? Cross off the coins you spent. Instead of having a table full of trinkets that will get lost the next time you drop the box, all you have to do is be able to make a few geometric shapes and letters.
It’s Major Fun for the experienced gamer and those looking to take their game up a notch. Clever, concise, and cut-throat.
For 2-5 players, ages 9+
St. Malo designed by Inka and Markus Brand. © 2013 Ravensburger Spieleverlag.