16th Mar 2023 - Panamaxby Robin. Mon, 20 Mar (Updated at Mon, 20 Mar)
I was delighted to get Panamax back at the club this week. I'm a big fan of pick-up-and-deliver games generally, and this is a nice quirky one with some weird mechanics and lots of potential for messing with other people's strategies as well as your own. One of my favourites.
It starts off in a similar vein to the 18xx family, in that you are each running a company while personally investing in all of the companies, manipulating share prices and paying (or withholding) dividends. But then it goes off in a completely different direction: you play a ship owner and also the manager of a shipping company, fulfilling contracts to move containers across Panama - either by rail or, for the most part, along the Panama Canal.
The quirkiness comes with the movement actions, of which you get a limited amount: as a ship owner, you want to move your ships; as a shipping company, you want to move your containers, which are not necessarily on your own ships. And when ships are in locks, any new ships that enter a lock will push forward any that are already in there. So you may end up moving all sorts of other ships too.
Having got to grips with all that, the aim of the game goes back to 18xx - to amass personal wealth. If you've invested heavily in your own company, you want it to do well; if you've invested in another, you want to help that one. But unlike 18xx, it doesn't just come down to the value of your shares at the end. David E played the game perfectly from an 18xx standpoint, ending with comfortably the highest-valued stock portfolio; but I was able to beat him, having invested in ships at the very start and gained significantly more in ship income over the course of the game.
As we were reminded, the rules for this one are not particularly well-written: there are a couple of ambiguities, and one important rule that it's very easy to miss. For anyone who's familiar with the game, it's the "you can load only one dice per ship per turn" rule. I think I've played the game in the past without that rule, and everyone scored much higher. Or perhaps we all just played really badly this time. It's a lot of fun either way, though.
There was also what should have been a first appearance for Darwin's Journey - but amid much uproar it had not arrived in time, so that table played Tiletum instead. We also had Dune Imperium and a first appearance for the next tournament game, Mombasa. Panamax is not a quick game, but we were all packed up and done while Mombasa ran on - so it looks like we may be in for another heavy one there. And downstairs David M had recruited a new set of deputies who were busy shooting each other in the next instalment of Western Legends.
And the game quality was greatly enhanced by the new carpet in the upstairs room! All the tables but one were upstairs this week, enjoying the lush new gaming comfort and not losing any pieces down the gaps in the floorboards like we used to 🙂…