Manila

Another Finnish review up: Manila.

Manila is an exciting game of gambling in the black market ports of Manila. Players bet on punts that arrive bringing goods in. Unfortunately not all of them make it to the harbour and it’s up to players to bet on which punts make it and which don’t.

One of the players is chosen as a harbour master — there’s an auction, and it tends to be an expensive post. Harbour master gets to buy a share in one of the four goods that are brought in. The master chooses three of the goods to load on the three punts and starts the action.

Jobs available

In turn, players place one accomplice on one of the jobs on the harbour. Jobs have a payment and a return value. You get better returns for lower payment in the more extreme jobs — for example, a job in harbour that’s basically a bet for at least one punt making it provides a return of 6 for a payment of 4, while betting for all three punts making it costs 2 and pays off 15. There are different jobs, some more secure than others. The pirate is the ultimate lucky job: with good luck, pirates can get huge returns for their investments, but usually they fail.

After each round of placing accomplices, the harbour master rolls the three dice, one for each punt, and moves the punts according the dice. This is repeated so that there’s three rounds of rolling. If the punts make it to the harbour, the value of the good they were carrying rises. Players collect their winnings and a new harbour master auction begins.

Playing with probabilities

The game ends when one good rises to the maximum value of 30. At that point all shares are sold and the player with the most money wins. If someone has more than one share of the most expensive kind, there’s a likely winner.

Manila is a luck-heavy game, but it’s also about probabilities and taking risks. What’s most important, it’s fun. Since the dice are totally out of players’ control (harbour master can make life easier for chosen punts, but still, everything is possible), it’s all very exciting and you can hear people rooting for their favourite punt when the dice are rolled.

Potential problems

There are some problems, though. If you don’t get to be the harbour master, the game can be boring, as that’s really the key role in the game. Early harbour masters get cheaper shares and better return for their investment, too. However, usually everybody gets their turn as the master, and that’s not the biggest problem in the game.

Length is the number one issue. It is possible that no punts make it to the harbour, in which case the game doesn’t move forward at all. Manila is a bit like Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck, actually: both are dice games, with luck and probabilities involved, and both are great fun if they stay short. If Manila drags on, it gets boring. A typical solution is to shorten the game by starting the goods one step further on the track (there’s two steps valued 0, so it doesn’t make that big a difference). That works well enough, but the game might still fall a bit flat sometimes.

Overview

Despite the potential problems, I think Manila is good. While the strategies aren’t that deep, the game certainly is fun. If it takes too long, the experience will suffer, but at its best, it’s a really good, fun game. The top-notch production from Zoch adds to that; the game is quite gorgeous (the coins are particularly impressive).

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