Designed by Adam Buckingham & Ed Marriott | Art by Janos Orban
Published by Renegade Games
1-4 Players | 60-90 Minutes
During the gold rush of 1850, San Francisco was brimming with treasure seekers hoping to strike it rich. While San Francisco was booming, a flotilla, abandoned by gold-hunting crews, lay anchored off the coast.
Claimed by a few rouge business moguls, these abandoned ships were towed into the harbor creating a wharfside district housing waterfront buildings and businesses. This new district would become known as Embarcadero and later serve as the heart of this bustling city.
In Embarcadero, players take on the role of one of these business moguls, seeking to build their empire across the once abandoned vessels. Players will work to build their engine, earning resources they can use to purchase new vessels, and strategically build structures to earn wealth and power over their opponents.
HOW THE GAME PLAYS
Embarcadero takes place over 3 rounds, with 5 individual actions each round.
While there are a number of strategies available to earn victory points, players will have 3 primary areas of interest and 3 end-of-round scoring goals.
Embarcadero is an engine building euro, requiring players to manage multiple avenues to achieve success. Players earn recurring resources by drawing and building Building, Landmark and Ship cards. Building and Landmark cards will allow players to physically place 3-D structures in the harbor. Players earn points and benefits by aggressively and strategically jockeying for prime real estate. Position matters, and each built structure can provide critically important needs that may change throughout the game.
Before building anything, players will be required to bring in shipping vessels to provide the foundations for these buildings. Taking too much of the wharf will cost you, but can also provide residual benefits. You may even benefit from “sinking” a ship in the port, losing that vessel’s resource benefits, but providing a more concrete foundation for building.
The Council Track serves both a thematic purpose, where players work the local politicians, and a practical purpose by providing much needed bonuses and end-round and end-game scoring benefits. Players can advance on the Council track by building away from a wharf but adjacent to an opponent’s structure.
The end-of-round bonus can lead to big points for each player. Each round has a standard scoring bonus that includes structures built adjacent to the wharf, progress on the Council Track and a combination of the two. But, to keep things interesting, random end-of-round cards are available in addition to the standard end-of-round scoring that provides points for players with a variety of goals such as the most ships built or most buildings of a certain type.
Embarcadero has an interesting turn mechanic. During a player’s turn, they have 2 separate phases: The Action Phase and the Buy Phase. The Action phase allows players to populate the harbor from their hand or scrap a card earning an immediate benefit. The Buy Phase requires players to choose from a selection of Building, Ship and potentially Landmark cards available. Players will pay the required cost to bring the card into their hand. From there players must discard 1 card onto their personal player board. This will be done 5 times each round and the discarded cards will then become that players hand the next round. This is an interesting opportunity for players to plan beyond the round and work toward future building goals.
Each player takes on the role of a real life, late 19th century, San Francisco-based business mogul. There are 2 different play modes where all players start the game on equal footing or each player may use their character’s unique, asymmetrical ability that provide once-per-round and reoccurring benefits.
The game continues for the 3 rounds, contracting ships, earning resources and growing your empire. Ultimately, the player with the highest score is declared the victor.
This component-rich game definitely fills up the box. While some of the wharf/inland extension tiles (used to extend the wharf or provide a foundation for building without a ship) and resource tokens are a little small, there is plenty to get excited about here.
Cards and individual boards are up to the standard we’ve come to expect from a Renegade Game’s produced game.
The real standouts here are the ship pieces that feature individually beveled notches perfectly sized to house the building structures. This is a great feature, providing stability in a game that simulates building a model city. The individual structure pieces are all made of plastic and bring a ton of personality and fun to the game. Each player’s wooden scoring marker is shaped as a unique tool – another nice detail in the game.
There is a plastic insert in the box, but it only goes so far in a game featuring multiple decks, game boards, tiles, tokens, coins and plastic structures. Most of the components end up in plastic bags and can make setup and tear down a bit of a chore.
Overall, the components are high-quality, original and engaging… I’m a big fan.
The artwork in Embarcadero is simply charming. Artist, Janos Orban, has done a fantastic job capturing the time period. Everything from the characters, boards and cards immediately draw you in and richly immerse you in the theme. There are so many unique cards, each with their own illustrations that truly adds to the overall value of the game. Artwork gets a big, vintage thumbs up from me!
At first glance for me, Embarcadero gave off the impression of a serious, market-driven, euro-style game. I understood it was an engine builder, but it certainly had the vibe (at least for me) as grinder or a brain burner.
Embarcadero actually does a very good job combining it’s mechanics into a tight, smooth, thematic, light to medium-weight experience. This one took me by surprise at how down right delightful it is!
The source of the games appeal starts with its theme. The game’s production hits this one out of the park. Brimming with it’s turn of the century, San Fran empire-building personality, the detail given to the production isn’t wasted. So much attention is given to the artwork and components to ensure you’re fully emerged in this time in history. It’s a very nice looking, mature approach and it does a lot to elevate the experience. As I think about many of the game’s aspects, quality is a word that keeps coming to mind.
This carries over to the individual game cards. Each card features a uniquely illustrated ship, character or piece of property. Not only does the artwork succeed in producing a rich looking experience, the choices they provide give credence to the gameplay.
Gameplay as a whole was very straightforward and full of interesting decisions. But the decisions never bogged down the flow of the game. It’s fairly easy to get your engine up and running and really becomes an enjoyable experience versus a typical means to bigger and better things. Now Embarcadero isn’t just another engine builder. There are plenty of unique pieces at play here that boost the game’s strategy and personal investment.
I love how each turn requires you to purchase a card from the market and then play a card that will be available to you on a future round. There is so much involved in this simple mechanic. Not only are you playing for the present round, but you’re simultaneously charting a course for the future. Are the resources going to be available when the time comes to pull the trigger on that card you stashed away or will you be stuck with a brilliant scoring opportunity that never pans out?
The game plays fairly quickly, lasting only 3 rounds with 5 actions each round and it does its best to cram as much into the game without bogging it down.
The Council Track and end of round scoring objectives do give the game a euro feel, but don’t play too heavy. While they’re necessary for success in the game, they aren’t going to present choices that are too difficult or cause heavy analysis paralysis. This game isn’t trying to be super heavy – it’s happy sitting in the middle ground.
I think the only gameplay issue that really stood out to me was how the game plays at different player counts. While this is an enjoyable experience for 2 players, a lot of the potential tension (and fun) gets lost. You really need 3 or 4 to ratchet up the engagement and aggression as you race for the choice spots around the wharf. The Council Track takes on new meaning in a 3 or 4 player game as you receive additional points for players sitting in your rear view.
Setup can be a bit of a drag as well. While Renegade did their best to produce a usable insert, there are a lot of pieces in this one and opening and emptying 10 plastic baggies can be a pain. It’s not the end of the world, but it is worth mentioning. While I love the game’s components, some are pretty small and can be a problem for fat fingers. If you’re not careful, your city of 20 or 30 house structures can quickly come tumbling to the ground. The game’s producers made an admirable effort knowing this might be the case: Each ship tile is dual-layered with beveled notches to hold each house. This definitely helps the situation, but accidents can still happen.
Embarcadero is a medium/medium-light weight engine builder with a bit of area control and a small dose of euro-style track management. It all works together smoothly. Even if the theme doesn’t do it for you, I’d encourage you with this: this is a game of substance over style. If you’re enamored with the theme, the beautiful artwork and fancy components and fear it may be an empty shell of a game: this is a game of substance over style. Fans of engine builders will find plenty to enjoy here. Embarcadero is certainly stylish and this delivers if you’re in the market for a more sophisticated theme. While the game is plenty enjoyable at 2 players, there is certainly more meat on the bone at 3 or 4. This is a game that seems to be flying a bit under the radar – so if any of this seems appealing – I’d encourage you to give Embarcadero a closer look.