Board Game Previews

Review: Costa Ruana by R&R Games

Theme and What is it?

You and your friends are tribal island chiefs in Costa Ruana, and, luckily for you, the pirates of the seven seas have decided that your islands are prime real estate for stashing their loot. You know your islands better than they do, so you send members of your tribe, the natives, out to collect the loot from the poorly-hidden caches. All tribes must pay their respects to the Shaman among them, for he alone decides that which can bring you victory … or be your downfall.

Gameplay Mechanics

The game plays 2 to 6 players, and the game setup varies slightly for each number. More players = more islands. Each island has five treasures, except for two, which only get four. That rule stays constant, regardless of number of players. One player is chosen at random to be the Shaman, players set up their huts, take their meeples. The two “condition cards”, which represent day/night and high tide/low tide, are placed on the table where everyone can see. It does not matter which sides are face up.

There are 72 main cards in the game that allow you to manipulate treasures (move one between islands) and natives (place, move, or return). These cards will form your hand. The total number of these cards per game is dependent on the number of players.

In the setup phase of the game, each player, starting with the Shaman and going clockwise, places one native on any island of his or her choosing. Do three rounds so that each player places three natives. At no point in the game are you permitted to have more than seven natives per island.

There are five rounds in the game. In each round there are three stages: first, players must each place one card face up in front of any player, starting with the Shaman and working clockwise. Second, players must play one face-down card in front of any player.  Third, each player is permitted, but not required, to play one native on any one card on the table. The cards themselves affect the player whom they are in front of, but the native copies that effect for the player it belongs to. So if I place my red meeple on my husband’s face-up purple “place 3 natives” card, I will get to place 3 natives on the islands too … right?

Well, sort of. This is where the bluffing comes in. The Shaman controls the two condition cards. Purple is night, green is day, blue is high tide, and yellow is low tide. Day/night and high tide/low tide are two sides of the two cards. It can be day and high tide, but not day and night. That would be ridiculous. So let’s say when this round started, hubby is the Shaman. The purple side of the card, night, is face up, and the blue side of the other card, high tide is also up. Let’s say hubby is the Shaman. He has to choose one, and only one, of the two condition cards to flip, and he doesn’t tell a single soul which it is until the round is done.

 

So hubby played a face-up  purple “place 3 natives” card in front of himself and I figure, “Well, that’s pretty safe to say he’ll let himself do that, so I bet he’s going to keep purple up and flip the blue to yellow.” I play my cards accordingly, and place my meeple on his “place 3 natives” card.

 

He flips the condition card. Purple suddenly becomes green! He doesn’t get to place those three meeples from the purple card and now, neither do I! We all flip over the face-down cards to reveal that the little sneak also had a green “place three natives” card that he had played face down in front of himself!

After we get over our microaggressions, we now have to resolve our cards, starting with the Shaman and going clockwise. Order of resolution is as follows: move treasures, return natives, place natives, and move natives. The general rule is that the person with the most meeples on an island gets to take one treasure. If two people tie for most number of meeples on one island, the native argues so badly (this is what the rules say, I swear) that no one gets any treasure. If a third player has snuck a single meeple onto that same island, he or she gets to make off with the treasure underneath the arguing meeples’ noses. The player who gained the least amount of treasure is Shaman for the next round.

Game ends after round five is resolved. Each treasure equals two Respect points and each native in your supply (NOT on an island) equals one Respect point. The player with the most Respect wins.

Initial Impressions

I was pretty excited about having the chance to share this game with my husband and nine-year-old son. We don’t usually play games with bluffing mechanics, so I was curious how it would play out among us. There aren’t a million pieces and setup is simple, so we were geared up for a great time.

Game Build Quality

The instruction guide comes in both French and English, which amused my son, who was soon translating “Resolve the cards” into a horrible, mangled pronunciation of the French version. Cards are heavy enough to withstand repeated use, thin enough to shuffle well, and have a nice linen finish. The huts that you use to conceal your treasures are also made of cardstock, and I do worry a bit about the tab breaking off that keeps the hut together. We’ll just have to be gentle. The treasures, though, are awesome little yellow plastic gems that the kiddo might steal away from us in the night.

Artistic Direction

The box art evokes pretty stereotypical (at best) images of island natives. There are three figures on the box: the one pirate is all black (presumably in shadow); one native, a male, is black with blue; and the third figure, a female native, is a dark pinkish-purple. The male native has a large decorative ring through his nose. The male and female natives both have dark skin, “crazy eyes”, and weird, wiry hair.

The portrayal of these natives is somewhat problematic for me (as is the use of the word “native” throughout the entire instruction manual) mostly because I don’t like to see cultural groups stereotyped like this. I think the art could have been done in a more sensitive manner, but this game was not designed in America, where people are hopefully becoming more attuned to these matters.

Fun Factor

The first round of the game wasn’t super fun for us as we all three struggled to get used to the bluffing techniques and strategies that you can employ in this game. I was Shaman first and I kept confusing myself. More experienced bluffers will probably have an easier time with this. By round three — so halfway through the game — we all had figured out what worked for each of us, and we were able to relax a bit and have some fun. My husband and I enjoyed tricking each other, but our son wasn’t as big a fan.

Age Range & Weight

Once you get started, the game isn’t that difficult. There are pretty much just cards, meeples, treasures, and huts in the box. The rules are fairly simple, so it doesn’t take long to teach either. The box recommends ages 14+, but I’d go as low as 11 or 12 for the average kid. This is also definitely a game that an adults-only group can enjoy.

Conclusions

One of my favorite features of the game is how well they designed the cards to scale from two all the way up to six players. There are decorative notches in the art on each card in the upper right-hand corner. If you’re playing a four player game, for example, you take the cards with four notches, three notches, and two notches, and leave those with five and six notches in the box. It keeps the game nice and balanced, so you don’t accidentally end up with a deck that only lets you place meeples and not move them, or only has purple and green cards and no blue or yellow.

I’m glad I played this, and I fully intend to play it again when we have people over to the house next. It took us about 45 minutes to play through it the first time, which is, incidentally, what it says on the box. (That NEVER happens to me.) I like that it plays up to six people, which is good for when we host a boardgaming night at our place.

It’s especially a great game for when I have friends over that aren’t into boardgaming as much as I am. Something they can get into quickly and not lose four hours of their life to. For me, it’s one of those games the hubby and I can play after the kids are in bed around nine and still be done in time to get a good night’s sleep for work the next day. The art does still make me feel awkward, but I also believe that this can be used as a tool to teach others about racial sensitivity.

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