by Allan "Sven" Sugarbaker
Published by Z-Man Games
Designed by Emanuele Ornella
Illustrations by Arnaud Demaegd
Graphic design by Stefano Susini
Contents: 1 game board, 8 wooden pirates, 1 linen bag, 96 souvenir tiles, 16 map tiles, 3 joker tiles, 2 counters, rules.
2 players. Playing time: 30 min
Pirate-themed games are somewhat common in the tabletop gaming realm, as
are treasure hunt games. But rarely do said games cut to the chase and
immediately start digging for buried treasure, gathering goods from the
very start. Rarely does such a game have strategic elements that are easy
to grasp, while still maintaining just enough theme to help players stay
invested in the gameplay. Martinique manages all this, and is
quick playing, too.
In Martinique, each player takes on the role of a pirate captain,
searching for the "Lost Treasure" – the big score, the treasure trove
whispered of in legends. To find it, each captain commands four pirates
that search the island of Martinique for clues to its location, picking
up other trinkets along the way. At the game's end, if a player guesses
the location of the Lost Treasure, he wins; if not, players count up
points scored by gathering trinkets, and the highest score wins.
Thar Be Treasure
A game of Martinique looks simple enough at first glance. A
tropical island is divided into an 8x8 grid in the center of the
full-color game board. The grid rows are numbered 1-8 in one direction,
and marked with A-H the other direction (these provide coordinates that
will be important later). During setup, nearly all of these spaces are
covered with random Souvenir tiles – skulls, rifles, kegs of rum,
parrots, and so on – placed face up. The only exceptions are the 12 Map
tile spaces, which get placed face down, and the four center spaces
where The Hook, the island's bar, is situated. These center spaces
remain clear, though the bar is also depicted along one side of the
board, complete with bartender and eight stools. Two Map tiles and
three Joker tiles get placed in the bar as well.
Each player controls a crew of four pirates, at least three of which
must be placed around the island on shore spaces before that crew can
begin exploring. To move, a pirate simply looks at the Souvenir or Map
tile he's standing on for a number (1, 2, or 3) and moves that many
orthogonal spaces. The player then removes the tile just vacated,
leaving an empty space. Since the island is covered with tiles – the
face-up Souvenir tiles and the Map tiles – and every tile displays a
movement number, players can plan their move to both gather the most
useful tiles and outmaneuver the opposing crew.
Maneuvering is especially important when it comes to Map tiles. Prior to
placing any Map tiles on the Martinique board, they are sorted
into numbers and letters, and one of each is randomly placed in the Lost
Treasure spot next to the island. Determining the treasure's location is
the game's primary goal, and much like Clue or other
investigation board games, this is done through the process of
elimination: if you uncover a Map tile, you know the Lost Treasure isn't
buried in that row or column. Obviously, claiming Map tiles before your
opponent is extremely important, and if one player grabs a majority, it
could be a huge advantage. The pirates are sneaky fellows, though, and
are able to permanently reveal one of the opposing crew's Map tiles each
time a pirate token moves through a space occupied by an enemy token.
On either side of the board is a pirate ship, one for each player. If
you think these long vessels would be the perfect place to put treasure
claimed on the island, you're right. But not so fast – your crew can't
just throw whatever they gather into the ship's hold. Instead, players
use their pirates to gather certain combinations of Souvenir tiles and
match them to randomly selected Small Treasure sets of 2, 3, and 4
tiles, respectively. Displayed along the fourth side of the board, these
sets are worth points to the player that collects them, and are randomly
reselected each time a set is scored. These Small Treasure sets get
placed in the ship's hold, kept together as a set, and may help the
player win if no one finds the Lost Treasure.
If a pirate token ever lands on an empty space, whether by accident or
choice, the lazy pirate gives up searching the island and retires to the
next unoccupied seat at the bar. While going to The Hook removes a
pirate token from the treasure hunt, a timely arrival at the bar can be
well worth it. Remember the two Map tiles and three Joker tiles placed
in the bar during setup? Those are up for grabs – first come, first
served. Joker tiles can be useful to score Small Treasure sets, as they
act as wild card Souvenir tiles.
Grabbing these extra tiles at the bar can be helpful, but the most
significant reason to retire to the bar early is to claim the first
stool. At the end of the game, when all the pirate tokens have run out
of places to move and end up at The Hook, the players begin guessing the
coordinates of the Lost Treasure. The first guess goes to the player
whose pirate token is on stool #1, the second guess to the player on
stool #2, and so on. Each space can only be guessed one time, making the
first few guesses extremely important. Once both players have taken
their pirate tokens from the bar, made their guesses, and placed them on
the island coordinates they believe the Lost Treasure to be at, the
location of the Lost Treasure is revealed. If either player guessed it
correctly, that player is the winner.
If neither player guessed the Lost Treasure's location, it comes down to
which one got the most points. For each Small Treasure pile loaded into
a player's hold, he scores 2 points. Each Souvenir tile that was part of
a Small Treasure also provides the player with points equal to the
number on the tile. Finally, every set of two duplicate Souvenir tiles
left in what the player claimed grants him 2 points. Each side of the
board has a scoring track to make final count-up easier. If the players
tie, the winner is the player that scored the most Small Treasure piles.
If the number of piles is also tied, no one wins.
Choosing a Course
There are several strategic choices to make in Martinique. Do you
stay away from the opposing crew and cut them off, thereby keeping them
from sneaking a look at your Map tiles? Or do you stay close, undercut
them for the best Souvenir tiles to score Small Treasures with, and
cross paths often to reveal their Map tiles for your endgame guesses? Do
you keep your pirates in play to grab tiles quickly, or send them to the
bar early to claim the first chances at guessing where the Lost Treasure
is hidden? Do you go after Map tiles to the exclusion of all else, or
hedge your bet and pick up Small Treasure sets along the way in case the
winner is determined by points? Each player will come up with the
combination of priorities that works best for him, as no single strategy
wins every time.
Some of the most amusing sessions of Martinique came about when
one of us failed to get a strong sense of where the Lost Treasure was
hidden. It then became a cat-and-mouse process of watching where the
other player placed his first guess, and placing a few guesses nearby.
Not the best plan, of course, but it might work...
This unassuming game of hunting for treasure has far more depth than one
can see at first glance, but is easy to explain to gamers of all types.
The game's attractive presentation and clear rules make it an excellent
step into the greater world of board gaming for those who only know
mainstream titles, and its similarities to Clue will be
reassuring. Martinique combines the best elements of deduction
games with some positional strategy and a hint of resource management to
create a fast, unique and enjoyable game that will be brought out to
play on a regular basis.