Friday, October 19, 2007

A Short Rules Comparison of Cuba and Hamburgum

As usual Essen will be showing gamers some resource-churning games that will come our way in the next month or two. Two of the more promising ones are Cuba from designers Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler, and Hamburgum from designer Mac Gerdts. In Cuba players try to earn the most victory points by shipping goods, constructing buildings, and paying taxes. In Hamburgum players produce and sell beer, sugar and cloth to gain the money needed to build the citiy’s churches. The player who makes the biggest contributions to the churches will win.

I’m not going to examine the rules of the games in minute detail here, but instead I will show how they handle some of the same basic game mechanisms.


In Cuba players each have a set of five cards that they use each turn to take actions. The cards are the Worker (who produces resources), the Tradeswoman (who buys and sells resources), the Architect (who constructs buildings), the Foreman (who activates buildings), and the Mayor (who sends merchandise to ships in the harbor and thus generates victory points). Each round, each player will use four of these five cards, and save one card for the Parliament Phase. Each card is worth a certain amount of votes in the Parliament Phase, and the player who has the most votes (votes can also be purchased for cash) will be able to enact certain laws that apply to all players. Note: each of the five action cards has a secondary ability that only one or two players can use each round.

In Hamburgum, Mac Gerdts once again uses his favorite mechanism, the rondel. On their turns, players can move their marker on the rondel from one to three spaces for free. Players can move their marker further by paying prestige points. Three of the spaces on the rondel are labeled Beer, Cloth, or Sugar. Landing on these spaces causes a player to produce the named product. The Trade space allows a player to buy or sell his goods on the market. The Guildhall space allows players to construct buildings. The Dockyard space allows players to build ships in the harbor. The Church space allows players to make those all-important donations to the churches of Hamburg and thus earn prestige points.


Cuba resembles Caylus and Puerto Rico in the wide variety of buildings available to players. There is only a single tile available for most buildings, and so only one person in the game will usually own each particular building. The cement factory, the saw mill, and the golf course turn certain resources into victory points. The hotels and the inns create victory points directly. The small bank and the large bank generate cash every time they are activated. The cigar factory and the distillery turn tobacco into cigars and sugar cane into rum, and certain cafes turn cigars and rum into victory points. Other buildings are helpful getting goods onto ships in the harbor, generating extra votes for the Parliament Phase, or have other special abilities.

In Hamburgum players can construct buildings for a variety of purposes. Constructed buildings are placed in front of each player, and a citizen marker of the constructing player is placed on the board. Production buildings increase beer, cloth, and sugar production. Merchant buildings generate a one-time cash payment. Councilman buildings generate cash for every citizen marker on the board. Vicar markers generate cash for every donation made to the churches. The Lord Mayor building generates cash for every church that has been completed. In Hamburgum, players may build more than one building at a time (and the strategy tips in the rules encourage this). This could lead to dramatic shifts in the kinds of buildings available as players build three or four buildings at a time.


Both games have special rules that constrain players or offer them special opportunities. In Cuba, each player has a plantation board with a grid of spaces that produce various resources. When a player uses his Worker card, he places a worker marker on his plantation board. He can then activate only those spaces that are in the same row or column as his worker. As the game progresses, players will construct buildings on spaces on their plantation board, and will thus cover up and eliminate certain resource spaces. Because the Foreman can only activate buildings in the same row and column as the playing piece, careful placement of buildings is important.

In Hamburgum, players making donations to churches get a bonus tile. The first bonus tile for players contributing to a particular church is always worth five prestige points. But the remaining four tiles generate contingent prestige points: one tile generates 1 point for every donation tile that the player already has; one tile generates 2 points for every ship a player has in the harbor; one tile generates points for every citizen that the player has in the church’s district, and one tile generates points for every building that the player has in the church’s district. Players will constantly wonder if they should place a few extra citizens or ships before making the big church donation, but by waiting they risk having another player snag the desired tile first.

Both Cuba and Hamburgum seem like intelligent variations of the resource-churning genre of games that have been so popular the last few years. I look forward to trying both of them. Rules for these games are available online if you want to check them out.

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