Matt hosted, and Dave and Mike and I showed up.
Up first, while Dave and Matt and I waited for Mike, was... Wyatt Earp. Someday I'll finish a game of this, but for now the game performs its appointed function of drawing in the rest of the players before the first hand is done (or shortly thereafter, as in our game). Once Mike got there, we pulled out Pizarro & Co for the first time I'd played this game with more than three.
Somehow, I ended up being the guy who got to try to keep Matt honest. I did get five of my six ships onto the board in the first round, but I was so short on cash that I needed a great pull in the second round to keep up. I didn't, the best draw was a six and the rest were twos and threes. To make matters worse, I didn't even do much to keep Matt from having two ships in two explorer's areas, and he had gotten so many cards that I simply couldn't compete against him. As such, he got both ships to the second level in both explorers areas, and that was that. Matt won, I came in second, and Mike and Dave somewhere in the middle.
The entire game is pretty much decided by the card pull at the end of the first round, at least as far as I could tell. What that means is that you have to be as economical as you can early on. Not having decent money at the end of that round, barring managing to grab all three ships in one area, means that you will be lucky to advance a single ship forward, and if you do it will be expensive.
This is not to say that I didn't like the game. I'd have to play again to figure out if I missed some basic tactic in the first round. However, I did sense that the real problem was that the person I had to take the bullet for was sitting to my left, and if that's the case I don't know you could avoid that situation. Of course, everyone else took the brunt of the "let Doug bid" strategy as well, so it didn't work out so well for them either.
Next up was Manila, which we'd played earlier with four as well. This game saw only one or two ships making it to port in the first several rounds (due to very low rolls), and so the game dragged on for quite a while. Two hours, in fact. Ships that started out strong sank, and the Pirate Sweepstakes seemed to come in at least once for each player. High bidding for the harbor master rarely paid off, and I ended up slowly eroding the $40 I managed to snag in an early round by the end of the game.
Again, I like this game, but two hours is way too long for a game of this stripe (I'd say 90 minutes was about the max). The central mechanism is pretty cool, and the theme really captures the money-under-the-table nature of trade in the Philippines (not to mention, say, New York), but it will be tough to get people to play this again without some guarantee that the game has a little more consistency. Perhaps using a Deck Of Dice might help...
By now it was close to 10:30pm, time to make the donuts. Thanks for hosting, Matt!