After one play of Goa, all I can say is “wow”. I’m not really sure what that means: “wow, that was great!”: or “wow, I didn’t know the Germans were still making games that could take 3 hours”; or “wow, that game has a lot of stuff going on”; or “wow, my head hurts”.
One thing I’ll say for sure, though: this is a complex, involved, meaty game – more so even than Amun-Re, Hans im Gluck’s last serious big-box game. I’ve had a couple people tell me that there is a trivial broken strategy which they have somehow managed to detect after playing once, and all I can think is that they are out of their minds. Not that’s it’s not possible such a strategy exists, but there is just so much going on here that it’s hard to imagine being able to tell without playing a few times.
I should mention that it does seem like the strategy being posited here – run up the Discovery track at the expense of all else – certainly seems like it might be a strong one. Goa has 5 “technology” tracks which represent your capacities in various areas – generating Spices, building Ships, Taxes, Discovery, and Colonization. This is similar to the tracks in Industrial Waste. One of the minor flaws in that otherwise fine game, though, was that it seemed to unduly reward focus on a single track over balance. Here in Goa, there is a huge difference between just saying “run up the discovery track” and actually doing it. You need lots of ships, which means some commitment to that track. You need lots of spices, so you’ll need to advance that track also. Doing all that requires harvesting at least some of all the spices. It simply isn’t possible to just push one track.
At any rate, I won our first game advancing all my tracks to three, but maxing out (at 5) none of them. It seems to me to be a game that rewards having some focus, but still requires a great deal of short-term flexibility – much like Herr Dorn’s other great game, Traders of Genoa.
Bottom line, I liked Goa quite a bit. It’s a bit dry and has a less successful theme when compared to Puerto Rico, which is kind of a shame. But it works as an incredibly deep game that reminds me (in terms of weight anyway) of Die Macher, but without the excess and the somewhat heavy randomness of that longer game. The game length (almost 3 hours) was a bit unsettling, but it never felt like it was dragging even though we did play a touch slowly and had no idea what we were doing. I do expect the length to come down. I would be surprised if it comes down to the 90 minutes advertised on the box, though, but 2 hours would still make me quite happy.