This is a game I should hate. Why? Two words: blind bidding. That I don't hate it, and am actually quite fond of it, is due mostly to the speed at which it can (or should) be played. Karibik is not exactly chaotic, but there's not a whole lot of control either and I think it's important for players to realize this lest they spend too much time thinking.
There are six pirate ships sailing about the Caribbean and the players will bribe them to do their bidding with barrels of rum. At the start of each round all players secretly allocate a bidding token to each of the six ships. These tokens show a number of barrels of rum numbering from -1 to 5. These bids are then revealed, in alphabetical order (the ships are labeled A through F), with the highest bidder being able to move that ship. Further, the number of spaces moved is equal to the bid. So, if your bid of 3 was the highest on the Diabolo, you may move that ship up to three spaces. This also explains the -1 bid—it reduces the amount that the ship is allowed to move. So if I win the Fuego with a bid of 4, but two other players bid their -1, I only get to move a maximum of two spaces. Since you have seven tokens but there are only six ships, you keep one in reserve in the event of ties. When these occur you may optionally reveal your tiebreaker token to see who controls the ship. (If this still results in a tie then the ship does not move at all.)
The whole point of moving the ships around the board is to pick up treasure from the 16 cities depicted on the map and return them to any of your three "secret harbours". Each treasure chest is valued from 4,000 to 8,000 doubloons and victory will go to the player who acquires the most over the course of the game. Movement and "combat" is very simple—the board is divided into areas and ships may move over any unoccupied space. If you move next to an un-plundered city you may take the treasure there (and get an immediate bonus of 2000 doubloons for your trouble). Attacking ships is just as easy, you simply take any treasure from a ship adjacent to the active one. If you can move a treasure chest back to one of your secret harbours you unload it and gain the indicated value in doubloons. The game ends at the conclusion of a round in which one player has amassed a certain number of doubloons (this varies with the number of players).
Pretty simple, pretty straightforward. It should also be pretty clear that you do a lot more hoping than planning when allocating your barrels of rum. Sometimes you'll have a very obvious move worth many points but there's no guarantee that you'll get to do it, even if you bid your 5 and keep your 4 in reserve. (It's rare that such moves are valuable only to you so the other players will usually work to thwart you.) Further, since the ships are operated in turn order, you can never be sure exactly what the board will look like once previous ships have moved. (e.g. You bid high to move the Caribic but since the Arriba and Bravo move before it, the treasure you were hoping to secure may be long gone.) The board is quite tight for space and so there's plenty of interaction among the ships, adding to the uncertainty.
The production standard is very good, especially pleasing are the three-part ships. These must be assembled and I advise doing so with a few drops of glue—they'll be far sturdier and they'll still fit back in the box. The board is clear although there were times when the ships obscured a border between zones. Rio Grande Games will be releasing an English version (titled Caribbean) but unfortunately the English rules are not particularly good. The biggest problem is that there is a direct contradiction over where you may unload a treasure; one section allows you to do so in an area adjacent to your secret harbour, another says you must be in your secret harbour. I've talked to Michail Antonow and he confirmed that the latter case is true. (I've also clarified that you may move a ship with a treasure through an opponent's secret harbour without unloading but if that ship ends its movement in an opponent's secret harbour, you must unload.)
Clearly Karibik is a light filler and it works fairly well when approached as such. If you happen to play with someone who takes too long allocating their bribes (and almost anything longer than instantaneous is too long) then the experience will suffer. It's this light, quick pace that saves the game from being the typical blind bidding horror that I normally hate. It's true that there will be rounds in which you literally accomplish nothing but this does not seem so terrible. For the most part you're only hoping to move one or two ships each round and so failing to do so is not such a horrible setback. Even when you do have a string of such bad luck, you need only endure a few more minutes before it's all over. (I'd say that the 30 minute rating for the game is quite generous.)
- Greg Aleknevicus