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Reviews - Martinique
 
by Allan "Sven" Sugarbaker


MartiniqueMartinique (2010)
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
$29.99

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.

Martinique boardEach 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.

Martinique tile 2Grabbing 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...

Conclusions
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.

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