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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Break Free from a Prison Yet Again in Cartagena: Escape Diaries

by W. Eric Martin

In the publisher diary for Zoo Vadis, Nick Murray of Bitewing Games joked about adding anthropomorphic animals to make the game more appealing, while also stating that yes, adding anthropomorphic animals to the game would absolutely make it more appealing.

That theory is going to be tested again with the announcement from Pretzel Games of Cartagena: Escape Diaries, a new version of Leo Colovini‘s classic game Cartagena in which each player now controls a group of animal pirates.

Are animal pirates more adorable than human pirates? Of course they are! Or maybe they’re more fearsome. I mean, I’d quail from a six-foot-tall parrot with an eyepatch squawking in my face.

Cartagena: Escape Diaries features multiple ways to play, starting with the familiar gameplay of the original design, which debuted in 2000:

In the original game, now dubbed the “First Escape”, each player has a group of six animal pirates, and you want to be the first to have all six escape through the tortuous underground passage that connects the fortress to the port, where a sloop is waiting for them.

To move a pirate, you need to play a card from your hand. Each card bears one of six symbols, and when you play a card, you move one of your pirates forward to the next matching symbol in the tunnel, leapfrogging over matching symbols where another pirate already stands. The only way to get more cards, however, is to move backwards; more specifically, you move one of your pirates backwards to the first space that holds one or two pirates, drawing one or two cards after doing so. Each turn, you take 1-3 actions, whether moving forward or backward or both.

When you move a pirate to the end of the track, it jumps on the sloop where it must await the other pirates in its crew. With every step toward victory, though, you have fewer and fewer pirates to move each turn, possibly locking you in to actions you don’t want, so be sure to plan ahead and not leave yourself empty-handed!

Earlier editions, with nary an animal to be seen

In the “Second Escape”, called “Follow the Captain”, you get to place a captain hat on one of your pirates and use the powers of this leader. In the “Third Escape”, “Risky Rafts”, you can take a chance to escape the fortress more quickly on a leaky raft — and risk sinking in the attempt. By combining the Second and Third Escapes, you have the “Fourth Escape” — “All Together Now!”

Cartagena: Escape Diaries is due out in Q4 2023, and as far as I know it’s the only game in which you can place a hat on an alligator — or is that a crocodile? Crocodile-hatting games are plentiful, after all, so these details matter!

I call dibs on green!


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