Cornish Smuggler is a strategic board game that challenges you to build the most successful smuggling network you can. You do this by buying and selling goods for gold while employing a network of local characters, secret knowledge, hidden locations, bribes, dirty tricks and a healthy dose of cunning to evade the attentions of the customs officers and the other players.
This Euro game (see here) is the first outing from new games designer Henry Jasper and his company Grublin Games; it sold out at its launch at Spiel ’13 ( Essen) and continues to be in great demand. I was lucky enough to get to play it recently.
As with all Euro games the skill here is resource management, you have to to build a smuggling network with characters and storage in order to earn gold and influence. The winner is the player with the highest combined score of Gold and influence, so you need to keep an eye on both scores.
Your opponent may be poor financially but could wield much more influence than you or vice versa. This a neat little mechanic in itself and leads to a lot of suspicious looks at the poorer players and adds an air of shadiness that all smuggling games should have.
At the start you select your ships and storehouses, each one has a unique storage system for smuggling goods and the port you will operate out of, as you employ more characters you will be able to make new routes and may be able to reach new ports. You get goods by sailing out to merchant ships in international waters and buying directly from them without any of those pesky sales taxes or duties upping the price.
Landing the good is an issue, the larger the number of goods the greater the odds that a nearby customs official will confiscate your cargo. You can then transport your goods to a town or city to sell but if a customs official lands on the same square as your goods then you lose all your loot.
They get moved whenever they catch someone, so the longer the goods are on the road the higher the risk of accidental discovery due to someone else getting caught; players can also pay to move customs officials so beware of wealthy opponents.
If you lose everything you may have to resort to the dreaded Honest Work, which does mean no-one is ever entirely out of the running, which can happen all too often in other Euro games.
The Gold Wheel is one of two timing mechanisms built into the game, the gold players earn turns the wheel, every time that wheel completes a circle the marker on the customs track moves forward, making the customs agents more cunning and harder to get past.
When the marker reaches the end of the track the game ends. This leads to people who believe they are behind trying to avoid making gold in the later turns as it might end the game before they can make a come back.
The second timing mechanism is the game ends when the last Goods shape is bought the game ends. Why do I say shape instead of piece? This is a mechanic I can’t recall seeing before, which is a definite plus point, the goods all come in various shapes and sizes, you need to be able to fit them inside the spaces of your ship’s storage properly in order to take them, that’s on top of being able to pay for them. A lovely mechanic that leads to pleasing groans of frustration from opponents who realise they can’t fit that good they were after.
I’m a firm believer that a good game should always have a mechanic to allow players to mess with each other’s plans and this game has a particularly neat one in the Secrets cards. After a player sells goods, every other player draws a secrets card, this can give you a way to dodge customs with your own goods or, more importantly, a way to inconvenience the opposition.
There are other methods such as bribing customs officials to move to certain areas but none quite so paranoia incurring as scoring some Gold and every other player pulling a card that could damage your strategy.
I’ve used some broad brush strokes here portraying the larger of the many factors at play in the game, a special mention has to be given to the fact there is a nifty and appropriate soundtrack available for the game here.
The only real issues are that the starting player is supposed to be the player who smuggled something last, which may not work for law abiding citizens, while it does fit with the theme we chose rather that it was the person who had been out to sea the most recently. On a boat that is, planes don’t count.
The other niggle is that there was a rule change to one of the mechanics (Honest Work) that I only came across while writing this up (here).
That said, it is an enjoyable strategy game, with a wide variety of mechanics that keep the game balanced, with a decent sized board, quality art and components.
I’d certainly recommend it for older gamers though as it’s probably too complicated for younger players.
It has room for 2-5 players, 1 to 3 hours depending on the number of players and their experience levels.
Available directly from the Grublin Games site
4 out of 5 Nerds