Posted by: gschloesser | August 10, 2011

Proxima Obertura

Designers:  Oriol Comas and Jep Ferret
Publisher:  Impuls Comerc
2 – 5 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

I don’t know much about the gaming scene in Spain; indeed, I know practically nothing.  My only real familiarity is with the creations of designer Oriol Comas, which include The Antoni Gaudi Tile Game and Agora Barcelona.  Both of these designs have a connection with his native country, whereas his latest creation – Proxima Obertura – can be located in just about any city around the world. 

Proxima Obertura translates into “opening soon”, an appropriate title for a game wherein players collect the necessary commodities in order to open retail shops along a busy shopping avenue.  Trading and a bit of luck are required to acquire the right sets of commodities, and players must make judgments as to how to value and where to place their individual shops.  Proper timing is important, as waiting too long can result in the loss of prime locations and cost valuable profits.  

The linear board filled with whimsy caricatures depicts twenty retail locations, ten on each side of the board.  Each player receives five “business drive” markers with values ranging from “x1” – “x3”.  These will be used to mark a player’s store locations on the board, and serve as a multiplier for a store’s ultimate value. The driving force of the game is the commodity cards.  There are five categories of commodities – appliances, food, leisure, etc. – each having five types.  In addition, each type has five cards, with values ranging from 1 – 5.  The categories are color-coded and each type has a distinctive icon, which makes identification quite easy.  The object is to collect four cards of different types in one category in order to open a shop.  The higher the value of the cards collected, the greater the value of the shop.  Players each receive an initial hand eight cards, and four more are revealed face-up in an “exchange” row. 

Each turn, a player may entertain trades from his opponents or acquire one of the four face-up cards in the exchange row.  In order to trade with opponents, the player names two categories – colors – that he is interested in acquiring.  His opponents may then offer one or more cards.  If one of the offers entices the active player, he then offers one or more cards in exchange.  The owner of the offered cards must accept the active player’s offer in order for the trade to be consummated.  

If a trade is not accepted, the active player may instead take one of the four cards from the exchange row, but must discard three cards from his hand as payment.  This may seem a hefty price, but sometimes it is worth the cost in order to acquire a card that completes a set. 

The player then has the option of opening one shop, which requires four different types of cards in the same category.  These cards are placed alongside one of the board shop locations, and the player selects one of his business drive markers and places it onto the corresponding location on the board.  Selecting the business drive marker to use with a particular shop is important, as it will serve as a multiplier for the shop’s value.  So, if the set is comprised of high-valued cards, it is wise to choose a high multiplier.  However, these are limited, as a player only possesses one “x3” multiplier and two “x2” multipliers.  However, conserving them too long can be costly, as the game can tends to speed to a conclusion, ending at the end of the round when the 15th shop is constructed.  Being stuck with your higher-valued multipliers un-played is akin to disaster. 

There are some restrictions that must be followed when opening a shop: 

  • There can be no other shop of the same category (color) on either side of the planned location, or on the three adjacent spaces located across the street.
     
  • There are not four shops of the same category already open. 

Initially, it is easy to find a desirable location for a shop.  As the game develops and the board fills, however, it becomes more and more difficult to find a lucrative location.  So, while it can be tempting to delay the opening of a shop in an attempt to gather more valuable cards, waiting too long can be costly.  Not only can space be difficult to find, but bonuses may be lost.  You see, a player can earn up to 50 points in end-game bonuses by owning adjacent shops or multiple shops in the same category.  

In addition to opening one new shop each turn, a player may also improve one existing shop by adding the missing card type.  This will increase the value of the shop.  

The final two steps weigh-in heavy on the luck scale.  The player rolls two dice, and the players whose colors are rolled each receive one card.  While the rewards should be evenly distributed during the course of the game, in each game I have played one player seemed to suffer a dearth of cards.  This can be significant over time, but I don’t think it is an insurmountable obstacle.  The active player ends his turn by drawing three replacement cards.  Again, there is a significant luck factor, as a player can simply get lucky and draw the cards he needs.  Again, while there may be aberrations, this should even out over the course of the game. 

Another aspect of the game is the shoplifters.  Four of these cards are mixed into the deck, and when they surface, they require players to discard down to a specific number of cards.  This number decreases from twelve cards to eight as the game progresses.  This mechanism prevents players from hoarding cards, and inserts a sense of urgency in the construction of the shops.  

As mentioned, the game ends at the conclusion of the round when the 15th shop is constructed.  Each player tallies the value of his shops, as well as any bonuses earned.  A shop’s value is the cumulative total of the cards it contains (4 or 5), multiplied by the value depicted on the business drive marker.  For example, if a shop contains cards valued at 5, 3, 3, 2 and 1, with a multiplier of “x2”, the value of the shop is 28 (14 x 2 = 28).  Bonuses, as described above, enhance a player’s overall score.  It is a wise tactic to attempt to construct adjacent shops and shops of the same category in an effort to earn these lucrative bonuses.  The player with the greatest total value is victorious. 

Some folks have complained that the luck factor is too high.  I cannot agree with that assessment.  Yes, it is possible to get lucky and draw numerous cards that you need.  It is also possible to get unlucky with the dice rolls and receive very few bonus cards.  However, this is not fatal, and shrewd trading can overcome all but the most outrageous luck.  Can such outrageous fortune occur?  Sure, but it is highly unlikely.  The luck factor can in all but the most extreme cases be managed. 

Proxima Obertura is a pleasant game that contains some interesting mechanisms and choices.  The rules are simple, making it easy to teach, learn and play, yet there are enough decisions to give players a degree of control over their own fate.  Dedicated gamers will consider it on the light side, but not too light so as to dismiss it.  Its niche, however, will likely be the family market, where the game seems well suited.

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