Build the Most Influential Neighborhood in ‘Aldabas: Doors of Cartagena’

Featured Gaming Reviews Tabletop Games

In Cartagena, Columbia, there’s apparently a long tradition of decorating doors with elaborate door knockers, or aldabas, as a symbol of status and influence. Now, the folks at Grand Gamers Guild have take this idea and made it into a fun tableau card laying game. 

What Is Aldabas: Doors of Cartagena?

Aldabas: Doors of Catagena is a game for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. After a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, it’s now available to preorder via Backerkit for $20.

Aldabas was designed by Nathaniel Levan and Joshua J Mills. It’s published by Grand Gamers Guild, with art by Josh Cappel and Juan David Vargas.

Aldabas: Doors of Cartagena Components

Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.

The game’s components. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Inside the box, you’ll find:

  • 81 door cards, in three colors and five suits. 
  • 48 cardboard coin tokens
  • 1 dock board
  • 4 vault tiles

The prototype I was sent appears to be very close to final quality. The cards are plastic-backed, poker-sized cards and are the primary component of the game. 

A sampling of the cards, showingthe variants within each suit. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The deck is divided into three colors: red, blue, and yellow. These colors restrict how the cards can be placed on each player’s block; more on that in the “How to Play” section below. However, in addition to the colors, the cards are also divided into five suits, representing professions in colonial Columbia: soldiers, fishermen, nobles, clergy, and builders. While the deckis evenly divided between the three colors, the professions are uneven: there are 27 fishermen, 18 nobles, 18 soliders, 9 clergy and 9 builders. All suits are evenly distributed between the colors. These suits are represented in the top left corner of the card with an icon.

A closeup of a card. Top right is the suit and influence value. Top is this suit’s final scoring. Bottom is the card’s ability. Image by Rob Huddleston.

It honestly takes a bit of getting used to the fact that the color of the card isn’t the card’s suit, but once you figure that out the design of the card is quite elegant. The suit’s icon also show the influence points that card gains the player that owns it, from 1 to 3. Next to that is a set of symbols that shows the final scoring for that suit; this is the same on every card for each suit and is perhaps a bit of overkill, but not having to dig into the rules or a reference card for this does make final scoring easy. The main part of the card shows one of the elaborate door knockers, which corresponds to the influence point value on the card, so for example all of the 2 point soliders have the same door knocker art. The bottom of the card shows the ability that card grants when played. Again, more on this later.

The coins. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The other three components are quite simple, but they don’t need to be anything else. The coin tokens are just what you’d expect, although the designers here do get a bonus shout-out for making the two sides of the coins different–something you don’t see all that often in cardboard tokens.

The dock. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The dock board is a two-piece (although that might be a prototype thing) strip of cardboard with spots for five cards to be played below it. The first two spots have nothing above them, while the third has a single coin icon, the fourth two coins, and the fifth three, showing the cost of buying the card beneath it. 

The vault tiles, showing both the front and back. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The vault tiles are also cardboard, with one side showing the outside of a traditional bank vault, and the reverse, a reference for the abilities granted by each of the suits. In a four player game, you’d have to pick this up to look at the reference side, thus revealing the cards you have stored beneath it, but then there’s no real reason you couldn’t as easily play the game with the reference side up all of the time. 

How to Play Aldabas: Doors of Catagena

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to end the game with the most influence points.

Setup

The dock setup before gameplay. Image by Rob Huddleston.

To set up the game, first take 12 coins from the supply per player in the game. With 4 players, that will be all of them. Then, shuffle the door cards. Deal out five cards to each player. Place the rest of the deck facedown next to the dock board, and then deal five faceup cards below the dock. 

Each player then takes a vault tile. They each select a single card from their hard and place it under their vault. This card will be used in the final scoring round. Players may then discard any number of their remaining cards and take a coin for each card they choose to get rid of. This is unlikely to be terribly meaningful the first few times you play, but once you’re familiar with the game, you can get an idea from the start if you have a good hand or if you’d rather get coins to buy cards from the dock to get started. 

Gameplay

Players choose someone to go first. On your turn, you perform two actions from a list of three. You can perform the same action twice, but you must take two actions every turn.

The first possible action is taking two coins from the supply and adding them to your “purse”, or your personal supply.

The next option is to buy one door from the dock. You can take any door you wish. The two doors furthest to the left on the dock are free, while the third costs one coin, the fourth two coins, and the fifth three. Over time, as you build your block, you may get abilities that reduce these costs, even to the point of making all five doors free. When you buy a door, you return the appropriate number of coins to the supply and take the door into your hand. Then, you move all remaining doors to the left to fill the now-empty spot and draw a new door from the deck to go into the right-most spot.

The final option for an action is to place one door on your block. The block is an imaginary grid that you will eventually fill with doors. This action is most of the strategy in the game.

An example of a finished block, showing the 4×3 grid with the vault in the corner. (Apologies for the illegal blue card placement.) Image by Rob Huddleston.

Your block is a grid four cards long and three high. Your vault makes up the bottom left space of this grid.

Example of placing cards around the vault. Note that two cards of the same color cannot be next to each other. Image by Rob Huddleston.

When placing a door, you have to follow a some placement rules. First, each door card you place must not be the same color as the door above, below, to the left, or to the right of any card currently in your block. This restriction is the reason for the colors of the cards, which you’ll recall is different from their suits. It’s OK for a door to be diagonally adjacent to a door of the same color. 

Second, the space to the left and below the door must not be empty. In effect, you are forced to create your block up and out from the vault. 

As the vault is the bottom left corner of the grid, your first door must be placed either above the vault or to its right. From there, you can build out first, then up, or up and then out, or move in both directions at roughly the same time. However, with only three colors, you are always going to be limited in your choices as to where to build.

This placement would be illegal, as it puts a blue door next to another blue door. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Each card has an ability printed on it that activates immediately when played. For example, the 1 point fishermen card allows you to draw two cards from the deck, keeping one and discarding the other. However, when you play a card, in addition to activating its abilty, you also activate the abilities of the doors immediately beside and below the card you are playing. In this way, you may be able to activate up to three cards each turn. This is the other key factor in placing cards, as you want to maximize this ability activation each turn. 

The two soldier cards. Note that as with all cards, they are distributed equally among the three colors. Image by Rob Huddleston.

When playing or activating a soldier card, you can either move a coin from your purse to a card on your block with the one point card, or a coin to your vault with a two-point card. Both effectively remove the coin from play, as there is no way to take a coin out of the vault or off a card once played. Putting it on a card adds one influence point to that card in final scoring, while putting it in the vault makes it immune to being stolen by other players. Coins that you have left at the end of the game are worth points, particularly if you pay attention and collect nobles.

The fishermen cards. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Playing a one point fishermen card, as noted above, allows you to draw two cards, putting one in your hand and discarding the other. The two point fishermen lets you steal two coins from an opponent, or one coin from each opponent. Note that coins in players’ vaults cannot be stolen. The three-point fishermen lets you take three coins from the supply. 

The nobles. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The two point noble card (there is no one point noble) provides an ongoing ability: from that point on in the game, whether or not you play a card adjacent to this one, your soldiers can move one additional coin, either onto a card or into the vault, depending on the card. The three point noble card doesn’t do anything during game play, but provides a bonus 3 points in final scoring. 

The clergy card. Image by Rob Huddleston.

There are only one point cards in the clergy suit, and they allow you to take a door card from your hand and place it in your vault. This card will provide you with its given influence at the end of the game, which is a nice way to hide the total influence you are collecting in a particular suit from other players. However, the ability on the card–including the three-point noble’s bonus points–are lost.

The builder. Image by Rob Huddleston.

The builder suit is made up of only two point cards, but it’s perhaps the most useful of all. When played, you have the ability to immediately buy an additional card from the dock, in essence giving you a free action that turn. You do have to pay for the new card as normal, but the builder provides another useful ability: from that point on, all cards in the dock cost one fewer coin. So with this card in your block, the first three cards are free, and the fourth and fifth only cost one or two coins, respectively. If you have a second or third builder in your block, those costs are further reduced, so you can get to the point where all cards are free.  

Game End

The game ends when the general supply runs out of coins, a player fills their twelfth and final slot on their block (so, plays an eleventh card), or the dock cannot be refilled because the door deck is out of cards. When any of these occur, you finish the round so everyone has the same number of turns, and then move on to scoring.

To begin scoring, all players score two points for each coin stored in their vault. Coins are then moved to the players’ purse, as they may score again.

Next, players remove any door cards in their vault and place them next to their block. It’s important to note that these cards do not become part of the block. All players then add up their total influence for each suit by summing the numbers on the cards, plus any coins on the cards. Then, working through one suit at a time, players determine who has the most and second-most influence in each suit. 

The soldiers award three points for each noble in the first-place player’s grid, and one point per noble in the second-place player’s grid. Fishermen score one point per influence of the cards in the first-place players hand, and one point per two influence in the second-place player’s hand. Nobles give one point per coin in the first-place player’s purse, and one point per two coins to the second-place player. Note that this is where coins can score twice: if they were in the vault, they score two points each, and then if you’re first or second in the noble suit, they score again.

The first-place player in the clergy scores one point per three influence in the grid, which does include coins on cards, while the second-place player scores one point per five influence on the grid. Finally, the first-place builder scores one point per card in the grid that isn’t a builder, and one point per two non-builders for second place.

Should two or more players tie for first place in any suit, they each score the full points for first place, but no one scores for second place. Should first place be undisputed but there’s a tie for second place, each tied player scores the full points for second place. 

Players must have at least one influence to score anything for a suit.

Once all of the suits are scored, whomever has the most total influence scores an additional three points, and then anyone who played the noble cards that grant three points score those.

The player with the most total points wins. If there’s a tie, the player with the most coins in their purse wins, and if there’s still a tie, then there’s just a tie.

Why You Should Play Aldabas: Doors of Cartagena

Aldabas: Doors of Cartagena has surprising levels of strategy involved. At first glance, it seems like a lightweight filler game, but once you start diving you you realize it’s much deeper than that.

Yet with a game this deep, it was also surprisingly easy to learn. My family picked up the intricacies of the game quickly, and while it’d take several plays to really figure out the strategies it’s fun to play even the first time.

The basic actions available are very straight-forward: buy a card, play a card, take coins. And of course it’s that middle one–playing the card–that is the point of the game. But every card you place simultaneously gives you potential end-game points, actions in that turn, and limitations on future card placement, so you have to give a lot of consideration to exactly what that placement will look like. The fact that the suits and abilities on the cards are independent of the color, which dictates the placement, makes it that much harder to figure out the best place to play each card. And if you’re not careful, you can trap yourself–when we played the first time, I got into a position where for the last two turns I couldn’t play a card at all because I had limited myself to a spot where I could only play red, and no red cards were coming up (or when they were, someone else took it before I could.)

The game is also fast. When I mentioned that we were going to play a game from the same company that made The Artemis Project, my wife initially wondered if we had enough time. (I love Artemis but will admit it’s a long game.) I assured her, though, this would only take about 30 minutes, and it did.

Overall, Aldabas is a very fun game that’s easy to pick up and yet contains layers of strategy that will keep even more serious gamers interested. After its successful Kickstarter earlier this year, it’s now available for preorder.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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