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Posted by admin On November - 29 - 2011

Players: 3-5
Age: 12+
Actual Length: 30 mins per person

WARNING: This is a hefty game, so it’s only fitting that it gets a hefty review.

“Vanuatu,” a game that takes you to the Republic of Vanuatu where you can settle down on an island, bring tourists to your islands, deliver commodities, scuba dive for plunder, go fishing, and draw turtles in the sand… sounds like a good relaxing life…er… game experience.

Yea… not so much.

While playing “Vanuatu,” I found myself giving evil eyes to other players and almost developed the bad habit of nail biting.


After playing “Vanuatu,” I realized pretty artwork in a vacation setting was just a disguise! “Vanuatu” may at first seem like a typical resource management game, but it becomes an “oh my gosh I’m soooo screwed” game.

The theme, however, is really quite lovely. The artwork is appealing and built around the island nation of Vanuatu, located in the South Pacific Ocean. The game includes many characteristics true to the actual island nation including tourism, the currency (Vatu -VT) and the Vanuatu archipelago preserved unique tradition of sand drawing.

Excerpt “ The archipelago of Vanuatu, located 1750 kilometers east of Australia…an area of white sand beaches, coconut trees, an azure blue sea…and meager resources. Besides fish and a few long-forgotten shipwrecks sunk off their coasts, the islands are not very rich and their resources are at risk of depletion.

To prosper out here in the middle of the ocean, you’ll earn money by catching fish and selling them at the best possible price. You’ll gain prestige by recovering rare treasures from ships lost to the storms of yesteryear. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to guide tourists around this island paradise, steering them towards your market stalls and introducing them to Vanuatu’s traditional art form of sand drawing. You might even try the export business, bringing native goods such as kava, copra, and beef to meet the demands of foreign markets.

Ultimately though, whatever you decide, you’ll not likely become very rich here. In Vanuatu, you see, wealth is not measured by how much one earns, but by how much one gives away. And actions are not taken by those who think of them first, but by those who want them the most.”

On the left you’ll find a brief overview of the game from the rules book, So instead of giving a brief overview of the game, I’m going to dive into a few aspects of the game and why I think i’m really going to like “Vanuatu.”

First, there is A LOT to think about. From the characters you pick at the beginning of your turn, to the order in which you place your action tokens, to the current order of the players you are playing with, to your current money situation, to the slew of actions available, oh and how to turn this all into prosperity (victory) points!

Let’s break this down, shall we?

“From the characters you pick at the beginning of your turn”: At the beginning of each turn you get to pick a character, there are 8 different ones but they each have valuable powers, some more powerful than others, but all are

powerful nonetheless.

For Example, “Le Batisseur” or the Builder, allows you to build a stall (house) on an island for only 1 vatu instead of 3 when choosing the stall building action.

“Le Dessinateur” or the Artist, allows you to score 5 prosperity points rather than 3 when choosing the action to draw turtles in the sand.

It is imperative to try to obtain the character card that positively influences the particular actions you are going after for that particular round.

“to the order in which you place your action tokens”: This is probably one of the most important, if not THE most important part of the game. Actions of course allow you to progress in a game. If you are not getting those actions, you of course, don’t progress. Many resource management games such as Agriola for instance, allows you to take actions to either gain resources or improve your current state in the game. Players may take a particular action before you can get to it, but regardless, you’ll get to take some action in the end. Well “Vanuatu” is a little bit different. There are times in “Vanuatu” where someone may not only block you from taking an action, but worse, if you don’t pay very close attention to your order of actions, you may not get to take any actions at all that whole entire round! Tragic but true. Luckily, rounds are usually pretty quick so there isn’t a terrible amount of downtime, plus you’ll probably be grumbling in the process which usually will keep you occupied while all the jerks.. er… friends who blocked you get to take their actions.

How does this work? Well you are each given 5 action tokens to place during the action planning phase. Placed in a clockwise fashion starting from 1st player, placing two tokens each, and 1 token on your last action planning phase. You are allowed to place multiple tokens on the same place, and the person with the most tokens on that space gets first dibs to that action.

Which brings me into the “to the current order of the players you are playing with” aspect of the game. You perform actions in turn order. Each player selects an ACTION space where they have a a majority of ACTION markers, this doesn’t have to necessarily be the one with the most makers just a space where you hold the most markers (i.e. you could be the only person to play on the fishing spot, so you’d hold majority with only one action token). If possible, the player then performs the corresponding action. Then, the player retrieves all of their markers from the ACTION space, and play passes clockwise to the next player. Continue until no ACTION markers remain on the board. If a player has no ACTION markers remaining on the board, their turn is skipped. Furthermore, if it is your turn to take an action and ALL your current actions spots do not have the majority, you MUST remove your action tokens from a spot of your choice but do not get to perform that action. Bummer.  and the reason why this can turn into  an “oh my gosh I’m soooo screwed” game.

“to your current money situation”: You must deal with the fact you will always be poor. If you go above 9 Vatu, good for you! But it is then taken away from you in the same instance and turned into prosperity points (i.e. if you acquire 10 Vatu’s you get 5 prosperity points and go down to 0 Vatu, if you aquire 12, you would recieve the 5 points but go down to 2, so 10 Vatu = 5 points). Although the 5 points can be nice, they also leave you broke or close to broke, and you NEED money to perform actions. Be extra wary of you money situation especially at the beginning to mid game when money really matters.

“to the slew of actions available”: Actions include – Sail the Sea allows you to move your boat around the island, needed to do things like plunder and fish and get close to the islands / Build a Market Stall on an Island needed to perform other actions and give prosperity points / Explore a shipwreck and plunder giving prosperity points of quick cash / Go Fishing / Sell Fish at current fish market price wich dwindles as other players do it, supply and demand! / Buy and Export Goods gaining valuable prosperity points / Draw Turtles in the Sand is a quick and sure way to get prosperity points / Transport tourists a great way to gain Vatu while ALSO getting prosperity points at end game / REST and chose tokens allows you to take start player, gain prosperity and Vatu’s . This review is already getting close to comparison of a short novel so I’m not going to get into all the little details of the different actions, however, know the order you chose them in is important and the character cards can positively affect these actions. Furthermore, some actions give you money while others give you points.

Lastly the “oh and how to turn this all into prosperity (victory) points!”:

At the end of the 8th round, the game ends and the players earn final prosperity points in addition to the ones received during the game. A REST token give bonus at the end, 3 points for having the start player marker. Players who possess FISH tiles receive vatus equal to the sum of values on the tiles. As usual, convert 10 vatus into 5 prosperity points when able. In addition, each player then scores

- 1 prosperity point for for every 3 vatus.

- Prosperity points equal to the sum of values on their TREASURE tiles, multiplied by 2.

- 2 prosperity points for each of their STALLS, for every TOURIST pawn present on their island. So if there are 3 tourists and you have 2 stalls, you receive 6 points.

The player with the most prosperity points wins the game!!!!

Final Thoughts:

Although, i’m still a newbie, I think I’m going to REALLY like this one. It’s got a good deal of strategy with a nice bit of competitive stick that in your juice box and suck it, to put it nicely.

The game is in French, but the symbols are so clear, that it doesn’t really matter if your only fluent in English, unfortunately, as so many of us Americans are… There is a English version of the rules if you want to check it out. Or you can download my pdf version - vanuatu_ENG_pdf

Final Final Thoughts:

Quality: 4.5/5 (the only thing I didn’t like was the purple stall and purple commodity cubes throw you for a loop at times, making you think that there was a valuable purple commodity available when it was just a frakin’ hut!
Fun: Two scores 4/5 when you actually get to play your actions 2/5 when you are consistently getting screwed over, but this would really be partly your fault for not making good choices.
Substance: 5/5
Re-playability: 4/5

*Most images used are from KND (krok Nik Douil editions).