I had posted last week that I was really enjoying #Maracaibo solo and @cbrady748 asked if I was going to do a little write up on it. I've never really done something like that before but I figured it might be something I could try.
I've played Maracaibo 5 times solo and once multiplayer so I'm nowhere near an expert but I can do some contrast between solo play and the multiplayer play.
I will be assuming you generally know how to play the game as I'm just focuing on the solo aspects in this write up.
So let's get started.
Setting up the game for solo isn't too tricky. There are few extra steps outside of the usual rules.
The official solo rules allows for one additional player using the flip side of one of the player boards:
Here you see the upgrade disks, a spot for the solo players quests, a spot for the solo players combat tokens, and the rules around their scoring during and at the end of the game.
I found a variant for the game that easily allows for multiplayer automa players as well which I prefer but I thought I'd keep this reviiew strictly textbook.
You also need to pick the automa difficulty by shuffling different action cards together to make the automa deck. The A level cards are more basic with lower rewards while B and C get progressively better for the automa. I found Very Easy to be too easy and Medium could go either way so I'd say they are calibrated pretty well.
That's really the big differences for setup.
The player always goes first and plays as usual.
For the automa you flip over one card from their action decks
The top row of their action cards determines how many moves the automa will make. However, they only care about city and quest spaces! This means that depending on the board state the automa can move around the board in 3 turns sometimes.
Then if they stopped on a quest space they pick it up and their turn is done or if is a city they will either place a disc down on it (taken from the automa board) or take a card from the offering. After that they take the action below regardless of what space they are on. (The sample cards I have here show get one influence, move the explorer 2 spaces, and take a combat action.)
When a boat reaches the scoring section the automa scores the victory point shown on their last uncovered spot on the disc track, and one victory point for each card they have acquired.
At the end of the game they score 5 victory points for each quest they received and also score the influence track as normal. It also scores extra points if it gets ahead of you on the upgrades or the explorer track.
The automa does work with the story mode. You'll need to be careful to read the rules around how it interacts with some of the legacy mode tiles though. It ignores some of them but not all. It does always pick up story quests which can be handy. I did feel it is a bit fiddly on the story tile aspect and I am pretty sure I have run it incorrectly once or twice.
Difficulty of Running the Automa
Actually running the automa during the game isn't super difficult. It doesn't worry about money or cards so it keeps it quite simple.
I did find myself looking up things quite a bit initally and it was especially unclear to me how things worked when it hit the stop spaces at the end of the route. I definitely think the rule book could have been a bit more clear.
However, after my first game, a bit of rules looking up online and then my second game I now feel just fine with how it operates. That initial hump to overcome was maybe a bit steeper than it could have been but it wasn't too bad.
Overall Solo Impression
Overall I enjoy the solo mode with a couple of caveats:
1) The automa really whips around the board. It is more than possible for the automa to reach the end of the run in 3 turns. This is especially true if you are working with the starting board state. Now this does mean the games go faster but for me it also feels that I am missing out on being able to build up a good set of cards and tactics. (I can get a game in in an hour and a half including setup using the 2 automa variant no problem.)
2) The penalties for not keeping up with the automa on the explorer or upgrade track feel high to me. You really can't afford to focus on one area and neglect either of those two areas unless you can find a way to get a LOT of points in it. The good news is that, at least at the difficulty I am using, it's not too hard to keep up but I could see it feeling constraining.
The one multiplayer game I played definitely felt better as I had a bit of room to breath and really enjoy the possibilities of the game. (I had to actually try to unlearn some of my solo habits as paying attention to the other players tableaus and strategies was important and I had time to build up a good tableau of my own.)
However, I am not a big solo gamer and I have already played it 5 times in just over a week. I think the big reason for that is the story mode. Sure, the story isn't the best but it introduces new quest locations and tiles that create interesting tweaks to the board. I could really see just randomizing the tiles for a regular game even as some of them add a lot of variety to the board and just freshen it up a bit.
Recommendation as a Solo Game Purchase
While I definitely prefer this as a multiplayer game and highly rate it for multiplayer I do recommend this as a solo game purchase. Doubly so if you like a tight game that will really force you to eek out every little bit of value in your turns. Triply so if the thought of making small adjustments to the board between games makes you excited to give it another go to see what difference it makes in the next game!