Been teasing this one for a while. Here it is, my review of Panamax!
Producer– Stronghold Games
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 60-90 minutes (2 to 4 players)
TL; DR– Lots of fun stress between your life and the company. 94%
Basics-All Aboard! Panamax is a game of becoming the best shipping moggle out on the Panama Canal. The game even gets its title from a shipping designation Panamax which means the largest measurements a ship can be and still go through the canal. This is a relatively simple to play Eurogame. During set up, players get personal stock and money, and their companies also get money as well as shipping contracts and starting boats. The shipping contracts are represented by dice on a small card with one to three numbered boxes. The numbers on the boxes are used to indicate the face up side of the dice placed on them of your color. Boats have numbers on them ranging from 2-5, 9-18, and so on. These are the minimum and maximum total dice value that can be placed on a ship. Players get a chance to load up their dice on ships on the proper sides of the canal during set up. When a player clears a shipping contract, either in setup or the regular game, they get to place a country flag marker on their companies’ board. The markers may cover extra powers such as adding shipment dice to the rail board, moving ships, buying stock, and loading extra dice. Then the main game starts. For a four player game, twelve dice are rolled, and the dice are placed in columns covering the die face it rolled to indicate different actions a player can take. At its most basic level, this game is an action selection game. Players select a die, do the action associated with it, and the turn passes. You draw three dice a round, and then pay for where your company’s cargo still is and get money from your stock options for the different companies stock you own. Sides one to three of the action dice indicate ship movements. When a ship has enough dice on it to cover its minimum value, the ship can be moved. There are two types of movements: lock and waterway. Each movement is well indicated on the board with different icons. When you select a movement die, you use a small tracker at the top of the board to show what movements you have left. When a player selects movements, they have to move all the ships that they can possibly move. Hidden in movements in a major factor of the game-pushing. The title of the game refers to how large a ship can be, and that’s the most important factor for pushing. When you move ships out of a large body of water like an ocean or lake, you can group ships together. The ships come in sizes ranging from one dice to four dice. The maximum size that can fit in one lock is four dice. So, if you would move a group of three wide ships into an area where a three wide ship already is, you push that three wide ship ahead one space. This can result in chain reactions where tons of ship will move through the canal. Mastering this will get you the win! When a ship crosses the canal, players earn money from the die’s values on the ship, and the player who owned the ship can get cards that give you extra moves, load cargo, or give you extra money at the end. Sides four to six of the dice represent loading cargo actions. Just like in set up, you take a card with different cargo values on it with the different countries. The dice you pick up will also show you how much cargo you can load this turn ranging from one to three dice. If you don’t load cargo from the warehouse, it costs lots of money per die, while having cargo waiting to go into the canal still costs a ton, but slightly less. Having cargo moving through the canal is slightly less expensive. And, just like setup, completing country cards will get you markers for each country. In addition, four more dice are rolled and these are placed on a separate area for executive actions. These extra actions allow you to buy more stock, have three unrestricted moves, load new cargo/take country cargo cards, and change the value of your stock. You can only take an executive action die after all the other dice of that number have been used up. While that’s a lot of words, this game is surprisingly simple, but deviously complex. Know when and what to do will help you maximize your income. There are also military ships, cruise ships, and rail cargo. Moving military ships will earn you a once per turn money bonus equal to the number of country cargo markers on your company’s board. Cruise ships earn your cruise ship markers that have values from 1 to 5, and you get to place that marker on your company board earning your permanent powers like extra loads and extra cargo cards to choose from. Some cargo has a rail icon next to it, and you place that cargo on a separate section of the board. Rail cargo dice number is used to change what player goes first and get you extra country cargo markers. After three rounds, you sell off your stock to the bank, count all your money, and just like life, player with the most money wins!
Mechanics– This is a hard Eurogame. Nothing is too difficult here once you get the hang of it. However, knowing what you need to do make this game some brain burning fun. This game has two levels to it: your personal money and your companies. You might be the best player in the game, but if you don’t invest wisely, you could lose. Those levels of the game make this much more interesting that just who has the largest company at the time. Also, these different levels of play make a player have to consider when that player will take stock market options to be selfish and when a player will take actions to better his company. Constantly having smart choices to make makes this an amazing experience. My only problem is you will most likely only get the option to buy stock on round one and round three. I haven’t found a way to buy stock all three turns. Wish there was a way to make a bit more personal money. 4.75/5
Theme- This game does make you feel like an executive at a cargo company. Do you better your own company or do you better your own stock portfolio? Focus too much on one you will fail. Focus too much on the other and you won’t have enough personal money to win. Choosing what to do makes you really have to think and adds a tension to the game you will enjoy. Also moving all the ships is fun and does make you feel like a shipping magistrate. All said and done, it’s a blast. 5/5
Instructions– This game plays like chess, and to win you need to really understand the rules. The rules do a decent job of communicating the game, but lots of little details are semi-hidden in the rule book. They are there, and after two read through of the rules, you will get them all. But that’s after two good read throughs. 4.5/5
Execution– Stronghold Games makes great games, but for some reason, their Eurogames tend to get light-weight boxes. My copy of CO2 is flimsy and this box is flimsy as well. My copy of Panamax even came dented up. Inside the box, the game is great. AND IT COMES WITH BAGS! That right there is worth a 4! I did have a small problem with the layout of the game. I would have liked an area where my personal stuff went besides just in front of me, not on my clipboard. All told, few small changes would easily get this up to a 5. 4.5/5
Summary– I love Stronghold Games and the hardest working man in board games Stephen Buonocore. I’ve been waiting for Stronghold to make some more hardcore Eurogames. And, when this one came out, I bought it as soon as I could. I’m happy to say this is an awesome game that gives you a great Eurogame experience. Choices on what to do each turn, how to maximize your actions, and still get enough money to be better than the Joneses dominate this game and provide the positive stress that makes Eurogame so much fun. Want a new game that focuses on ships and international relations? This game is well worth the price of admission. 94%