Radio Review #68 – Panamax

 

 

(Stronghold Games – 2014)

 

“So hoist up the John B’s sail….see how the mainsail sets….”

 

Traditionally, the Euro-game genre has consisted of isolated, solitaire type gameplay experiences, requiring players to work in their own confined play area, ultimately comparing their final tally of Victory Points with their opponents at the end of the game. If direct player interaction is present within the game, it is normally kept to a minimum. As the board game industry continues to grow, we’ve seen more and more how genres continue to merge and redefine how games are played, allowing for new ways in which mechanics are presented. Stronghold’s Panamax, designed by Nuno Bizarro Sentieriro & Paulo Soledade (Maderia) along with Gil d’Orey (Vintage), is alluring in this regard, providing a mixture of heavy Euro-game mechanics with a significant focus on player interaction.

In Panamax, players are placed in charge of their own shipping company, collecting and fulfilling cargo contracts of ships entering and exiting the Panama Canal. Players will complete actions that include collecting contract cards, loading company cargo onto ships, as well as moving these ships throughout the Canal. Completing contracts with particular countries will increase that company’s influence amongst that country, and can help to unlock bonus abilities and actions. Companies will also earn money based on the cargo that they can load and successfully export out of the Canal. The owner of the actual ship (if applicable) leaving the Canal is awarded additional bonuses. Players can buy shares in the various companies, even for those that they do not own. While players manage their own shipping company, investing in opposing players companies can pay out dividends at the end of each round. A player’s ultimate goal in the game is not necessarily to have managed the most profitable company (though this certainly helps), but to have gained the most overall personal wealth when compared to his opponents.

 

 

 

Components:

– Panamax game board

 

– Player Company boards

 

– Company Ship tiles

 

– Specialized Ship tiles

 

– Contract cards

 

– Financial Advisor cards

 

– Stevedore cards

 

– Captain cards

 

– Company Share tokens

 

– Country tokens

 

– Action Dice

 

– Player Dice (in each of the four player colors)

 

– Player markers (rail track & stock market track)

 

– Movement tokens (lock & waterway)

 

– Passenger, Bailout & Award tokens

 

– Money tokens

 

 

 

Setup:

There are a lot of moving parts on the game board during a session of Panamax, and at first glance it can be a bit intimidating for new players. I’ll attempt to break down most of these parts during this setup section, so that the various gameplay elements I discuss later on will make a bit more sense. Thought there is a lot going on, Panamax contains a fairly streamlined design, and one that can be easily grasped.

The upper left corner of the game board represents the rail table, which will help keep track of turn order during and between rounds. At the beginning of the game, one of each Country token is placed on their designated areas on the left side of the rail table. Once players have randomly determined turn order at the beginning of the game, they will place a player marker of their color in the corresponding space on the rail table according to that turn order. Adjacent, to the right of the rail table is the movement track. The lock token and waterway token are placed here, and will be used during the game to help players remember how many of each movement action they have left to take.
The bottom right corner of the game board houses the warehouse space along with a dice pool area, and a section for the various Financial, Stevedore, and Captain cards. Players will use dice from the warehouse to represent cargo that can be loaded onto the various ships to complete Contract cards. Four of each player’s dice are placed in the warehouse, while all remaining player dice are placed in the dice pool area.
At the beginning of the game, each player will receive a Company board representing their color. While players will be in charge of managing one of the four shipping companies throughout the game, the company’s wealth (those located on the company board) and the player’s wealth (located away from the company board) are kept separately. On the Company board, each company receives a 1-slot company ship, a 3-slot company ship, 4 company shares, and $18. To the side of the board (the player’s asset area) the player receive a 2-slot company ship, $6, and 1 company share.
Players will place their 1-slot company ship in a designated area of the board, depending on the player’s turn order spot. There are separate spaces for each player (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th). A player’s company die is taken from the warehouse section and placed on this ship with a #3 facing. This dice represents a piece of company cargo on that ship.
There are two separate loading spaces on the board; one of the left side of the Canal, and one on the right. Each space is made up of a waiting area (light blue section) where ships are parked until they are ready for loading, and a loading area (dark blue section) where new cargo can be loaded onto the ships. After collecting cargo, ships can move out from the loading area and navigate through the various checkpoints of the Canal, eventually exiting out into the Ocean. There is a different loading area assigned for each of the four country zones (US East & Europe on the left side of the Canal, and US West and China on the right). A stack of Country tokens are placed at the top of these loading spaces as marked on the board and two specialized Ships are assigned to each loading zones at the beginning of the game.
Players will begin the game with a Financial card and a Contract card. Financial cards contain hidden goals, that if completed by the end of the game, will reward bonuses to the player. Each player is dealt two of these Financial cards during setup. Each players chooses one of these Financial cards to pass to the player to their left. Players then choose which Financial card to keep and return the remaining one to the Financial card draw pile on the game board.
There are two separate decks of Contract cards; a regular game deck and a setup deck. At the beginning of the game, the setup deck is shuffled and 1 card per player is draw face up, along with an additional card. In reverse turn order, players will choose one of the Contract cards, remove a number of their dice from the warehouse equal to the quantity listed on the card, and match the them to the die facings listed. These dice represent new cargo. Players can then load these units of cargo (dice) from the Contract card on ships in the loading areas or on the player’s 2-slot ship they received at the beginning of setup. If a player is able to remove and place all cargo from a Contract card, that contract is considered “complete” and the player is rewarded. I’ll discuss more on this during the gameplay walkthrough. After this step, the setup Contract cards are removed from the game.
The Stock Market track references the current sales price of a company’s stock (listed on the left-hand side), as well as the amount of payout in dividends (on the right-hand side). At the beginning of the game, each company’s stock starts at a sale price of $6. To the left of this track is an area for the Managing Director award tokens that are awarded after the completion of each Round, as well as Passenger tokens that will be obtained for each company passenger that completes a voyage on a cruise ship. These tokens are placed in a stack from lowest (1-point tokens) to highest (5-point tokens).
Actions are taken during the game by players removing white action dice from the center section of the game board. This section is broken up into two parts; the movement section (blue) and the cargo section (gray) depending on which actions a player wishes to take. At the beginning of the game, 12 action dice are rolled and separated into the 6 columns according to the numbers rolled. For instance, all rolled 6’s will be placed on the three available spaces of the furthest right column, all 5’s to the column to the left, and so on. If a column fills up and there are more dice of that number, there are special rules on how to place them within the rulebook.

 

Above each individual column is a single space that corresponds to executive actions that can be taken. Executive actions are a bit more powerful and can be taken once all actions from the column below it have been resolved. During initial setup, once the 12 regular have been rolled and placed on the column spaces, the remaining 4 dice are rolled and placed onto these executive action spaces depending on the number rolled. Finally, players will shuffle the regular Contract cards and place the top three drawn onto cargo side of the action area. When removing dice from this area and taking cargo action, players can collect these contracts.

The remaining Contract card deck is placed in a space underneath the Stock Market track. The top card from the draw pile is placed on the space to the right of the draw deck. As Contract cards are removed from the action area, this single Contract card will be the card that replaces it, then a new card will be drawn and placed to the right of the deck to fill its place. This ensures that players are aware of the current Contract cards available, as well as the next two that will eventually enter play. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:

 

 

 

 

Gameplay:

A session of Panamax consists of 3 Rounds and each Round contains a number of turns for each player depending on the number of players in the game. For the purposes of this walkthrough, we’ll take a look at a normal 4-player game. Since 16 action dice are placed during the setup of each Round (12 normal actions and 4 executive actions), each player will be able to take 4 action turns per Round. As mentioned earlier, players will remove these dice in order to take an action, and regular actions are made up of either moving a ship or loading cargo/collecting contracts. Let’s take a look at how each of these actions work:

 

 

1.) Movement:

Throughout the game, ships will move from one end of the Canal to the other through a series of checkpoints. Arrows on the map represent the linear direction a ship must move depending on which Loading area they are moving into the Canal from. On a players turn, they are able to take a movement action if they wish, and can choose to move any ships located on the board, not just one’s owned by the Company they are managing. There are two different types of movements. Waterway movements are those where a ship moves through a space with the light blue icon (seen of the right side, in the picture above). Lock movements are those where a ship moves through a space with the dark blue icon (seen on the left).
The left (blue) side of the action area contains three columns that will be used for movement actions. When removing an action dice from one of these spaces, a waterway movement icon is revealed underneath the die that will reference how many waterway movements the player must resolve for that action. The lock movement icon is listed at the bottom of the column and references how many lock movements must be resolved when taking an action from that column. For instance, Player A chooses to remove the first available action dice from the 2nd movement column. This means that he will be required to resolve 1 waterway movement and 2 lock movements.

 

Many of the areas in the Canal have a limited space in which ships can fit on. When moving a ship from one location to another, if there is not enough room, the ship will essentially push that ship into the next space. This can potentially set off a chain reaction in which moving one ship can result in moving multiple ships at the same time. When multiple ships are located in the same space and need to be moved (excluding the two central lake areas), they will move as an entire group, not individually. Once they are moved into one of the lakes, they can then be separated.

Continuing with Player A’s movement action (1 waterway and 2 lock movements), he chooses to move the green company’s ship to the next checkpoint. Because a 1-slot black company ship is also located in this space, both of these ships would move as a group together. Since they are crossing a waterway icon, Player A would spend his waterway movement to move them.

 

The next space already contains a 3-slot ship. It would not be possible for this space to hold all three ships, therefore when the green and black ship move into this space together, it would push the 3-slot ship into the lake area. After this has been resolved, Player A still has two more lock movement actions. He could choose to move the green and black ship into the lake area (which would cost a lock movement) or he could choose to move other ships on the board elsewhere.

 

Eventually, ships will make their way to the end of the Canal and move out into the Ocean. When this happens, the ship has completed its journey through the Canal and bonuses are awarded. Each company that has a piece of cargo on the ship receives $1 per amount of the Cargo itself. Therefore if a 3-slot ship had a green #5 die, a yellow #1 die and another yellow #4 die, both the green and yellow companies would receive $5 a piece. The company that actually owns the ship the exited the Canal (in this case, yellow) receives a bonus depending on the length of the ship:

 

 

– A company that owns a 1-slot ship that has exited the Canal can choose either $2 or draw 1 Captain card.

– A company that owns a 2-slot ship that has exited the Canal can choose either $3 or draw 1 Stevedore card.

  – A company that owns a 3-slot ship that has exited the Canal can choose either $5 or draw 1 Financial card.

– Specialized Ships are not owned by any company and have special rewards when they exit the Canal.

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Let’s take a look at each of the bonus card types and what they can provide a player:

 

 

Captain Cards

– Players can play Captain cards from their hand in order to make additional movements on their turn. The full amount of movement listed on the card must be resolved if played.

 

 

 

Stevedore Cards

– Players can choose one of two options when playing a Stevedore card. The first option allows the player to either load a #2 dice from the warehouse/dice area or load a dice from any incomplete Cargo card onto a ship in the loading area. As a 2nd option, players can choose instead to play this card at the end of a Round and get a discount on paying their normal cargo fees.

 

 

 

Financial Advisor Cards

– As mentioned earlier, Financial Advisor cards provide end-game goals and bonuses for completing those goals. Some bonuses may include extra money awarded for collecting a number of specific Country tokens, while others may award bonuses depending on the types of shares that players own.

 

 

 

2.) Cargo Actions:

The right (gray) side of the action area contains three columns that will be used for actions related to Cargo. When a player takes an action dice from one of these spaces, the icon revealed represents how many pieces of Cargo the player can load onto ships from Contract cards this turn. Also, the icon at the bottom of each Cargo column shows that the player can choose to place the Cargo card adjacent to that column into their play area for use, however they must have enough dice in the warehouse/die pool area to fill it.
There are two sides to every Contract card. One side shows a particular Country icon. Cargo accumulated on this side must be loaded on a ship in the loading zone controlled by that Country. Generic cargo can be added to the alternate side of the Cargo card and loaded onto any ship in any loading zone, however keep in mind that Countries will award players bonuses for completing contracts specifically for them. Therefore, players choosing to load cargo onto the generic side are not rewarded a Country token for completing the contract card. Players will choose which side to use when drawn.

 

Remember that when a Contract card is completely filled, the player is then allowed to load the Cargo onto ships in the Loading areas. Players are only allowed to have two or less incomplete Contract cards at the end of each of their turns. There are two important things on a completed Contract card to look for. If one of the die spaces on the Contract card shows a rail icon, when removing dice from the Contract card to load, this dice has to be placed onto the rail table instead of on a ship. This will help to determine the following Round’s turn order.

Also if players used the side of the Contract card that shows a Country’s icon, when the Contract card is completed, the player receives a Country token corresponding to the icon on the card. These tokens are placed on the leftmost available space of the Country’s track on the player’s Company board. Filling certain spaces on the Country track will provide special free actions such as extra movement or buying new shares.

Player B chooses to take a Cargo action and removes the last dice from the far-right column. This allows him to load three dice (cargo) onto ships from a Contract card. He also decides to take the Contract card from this space. The newly acquired Contract is from US East and shows two cargo containers.

 

B removes two dice from his Warehouse area and matches their numbers to the Contract card to complete the card. On a previous turn, he was able to load a piece of cargo off of the Contract card from China, thus leaving him a total of 4 pieces of Cargo that he could choose from the load this turn.

 

If he chose to load both cargo from the newly acquired US East contract card, he would complete that contract. By completing the US East contract, he acquires a US East country token and places it on the leftmost space of the US East country track on his company’s board. This allows him to buy a new share from any of the four companies.

 

After doing so, he must load the #3 die onto the rail track since the icon was listed beside that crate on the contract card. The #4 die can be loaded onto a ship in the US East loading zone. By loading it onto the 3-slot ship (as seen below), this ship now meets the minimum (and has not gone over the maximum) needed to begin its journey through the Canal. He would still need to load one more piece of cargo, either the #1 or #2 die from the Contract card from China.

 

At any point during their turn, players can pay $5 and $7 respectively to build their 1-slot and 3-slot Company ships. These are then placed in one of the waiting areas. Each ship provides spaces for placing dice (except for military ships). Ships can not move out from the loading areas until a minimum amount of Cargo has been met and Cargo must not exceed a particular amount.
Taking a look at the 3-slot green ship, we can see that it requires a minimum of 7 Cargo and can hold no more than 13. Therefore, if the ship contained 5 cargo from the red company (a #5 dice), it would have to remain in the loading area until more cargo was added. Once the green company however adds 4 more cargo, it has met its minimum and can be moved into the Canal by using a movement action.

 

 

 

3.) Executive Actions:

Once all the normal actions have been taken from either a movement or cargo action column, it is possible that a single dice remains above the column as an executive action. When taking an executive action, players can choose to either take a regular move or cargo action depending on which side they are on, or they can choose to take a market action, which involves either buying a share of stock (thus raising that stock by $1) or raising your own company’s stock by $2. At the end of each Round, these stocks may pay out potential dividends. The only other way in the game to purchase a stock is as a bonus provided by the Country track of a player’s Company board.

 

 

 

4.) End of the Round:

After all actions have been taken (all 16 action dice have been removed from the action area), the Round ends. There are various cleanup steps that must be completed before the beginning of a new Round. First, companies must pay cargo fees. Each space on the board along with incomplete Contract cards and warehouse spaces contain a purple number that represents how much a Company must pay in fees if one of their company’s die is there at the end of a Round. These cargo fees decrease the further along the cargo is to reaching its final ocean destination. Therefore, unloaded cargo in the warehouse will cost $5 per cargo there at the end of the Round. Cargo on contract cards and loaded on ships in the loading area cost $4 per cargo. Finally, cargo loaded on ships within the various checkpoints of the Canal will cost anywhere from $1 to $3 depending on how far along the ship is.

Companies may have to take Bailout tokens if they can not afford the required fees. Bailout tokens advance a player the needed funds to pay for the fees, but then will subtract that dollar amount plus interest away from the player’s total at the end of the game.
Player C has two of his managing company’s dice on the green ship located on a space in the Canal. According to the space, he would be required to pay a total of $4 in cargo fees since this space requires $2 per cargo.

 

 

Companies will then pay out dividends to the players that own shares in that company. The amount of dividends per share is noted to the number to the right of that company’s marker on the Stock Market track. A company will only pay dividends if it is able to afford to pay all shareholders. If a company can not pay its shareholders as a whole, its stock will drop $2 on the track.

It’s important for a company to have enough assets to pay out dividends from Round to Round, not only to keep their stock price up, but also in order to be able to compete for the end Round managing awards. After dividends are paid, the player that controls the company with the highest stock price on the Stock Market track receives the managing award token that corresponds to the current Round. A player can only receive this award if they were able to pay out dividends to their shareholders for that Round. If multiple companies share the highest stock price, the award goes to the player that is managing the company with the highest amount of assets (has the most money).

After the 2nd Round is complete, Player D’s company is listed as the one with the highest stock price at $9. However, Player D was not able to pay out dividends at the end of the Round, because his company did not have enough money. Therefore, the award would go to the next highest company. Both companies controlled by Player A and Player C have a stock price of $8, and both were able to successfully pay dividends at the end of the Round. Because of this, Player A’s company would receive the managing award because his company has more money on the company board than Player C’s.

 

Finally, players will need to resolve the dice on the rail table before beginning a new Round. There are two different steps involved in this process. First, the dice are moved to the adjacent space, where the next Round’s turn order is determined by adding a company’s dice together, then setting the turn order from the highest value to lowest. In the above example, turn order for the next Round would be red company first (with a total of 7), then green (5), yellow (2), and black (0).
After the player markers have been reordered to represent the new turn order, the dice are then moved again to the far left space of the rail table. Any player who has at least one die on the space can choose a single Country token and add it to their Company board. For instance, even though the Red Player has two different dice, he would only be allowed to select one Country token total. These tokens are chosen according to the new turn order. The dice are then placed in the dice pool, then all company dice are moved from the dice pool into the warehouse space for the next Round. Finally, the 12 action dice and 4 executive action dice are rolled and placed on the action space, and a new Round can begin.

 

 

 

End-Game Scoring:

After completing the 3rd and final Round, the game ends. Players will total their player assets to determine the winner. Remember that a company’s assets and a player’s assets are kept separate. This means that any money that a company has at the end of the game is useless for the player, and is not counted toward the total. A player’s assets consist of:

 

– Total amount of money coins collected.

– By selling all their shares of stock at the current price for each stock.

– Any managing awards won during the game.

– Players can select two of their Financial cards (if applicable) to go
towards the total.

 

 

If a player had to use any bailout tokens during the game, this amount must be paid back before determining their final total. The player with the highest amount of assets at the end of the game is declared the winner.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

Panamax contains a lot of moving parts, but intuitively uses its theme to streamline the various elements in the game. One of the most important focal points for new players is learning how to separate the company they are managing from their own personal assets. It’s important to remember that this is not a game of company vs. company, but instead a game of player assets vs. player assets. Players must expand their portfolio and invest in various other companies in order to succeed. Buying shares in other companies can net a player extra dividends at the end of a Round, but only if that company is able to pay those dividends. Therefore, it is in the player’s best interest to help assist that company in making sure they able to do so, otherwise the company’s stock will take a hit, and the player’s shares become less valuable.

Other types of player interaction are found throughout the game as well. Because of the threat of having to pay large cargo fees for unloaded cargo at the end of a Round, players are forced to load as much as they can on whatever ships are available to them in the loading zones. Cargo fees continue to decrease from those sitting in the Warehouse, to those in the loading area, those on ships through the various checkpoints, and so on. This forces players to move ships they may not necessarily own (but have cargo on), simply to decrease the amount of cargo fees they’ll owe. Remember, its all about player assets at the end of the game, so minimizing cargo fees and maximizing dividend payouts are the base strategies in maximizing assets.

Even movement itself provides a sense of direct player interaction. When moving ships, players are required to push those blocking them forward to the next adjacent space. Players can use this mechanic to manipulate their desired end result. For instance, a player shouldn’t attempt to focus all of his movement actions on one ship. Instead of wasting these actions on one ship, a player can move multiple ships in a way that other players are forced to push and move them for the player during the following turns. Manipulating movement to force other players to do your dirty work for you is a thought-provoking and rewarding element in the game.

A session of Panamax can last upwards to two to three hours with a full 4-player setting (which I would recommend if only for the amount of interaction on the board), however the game moves along smoothly, and albeit any A.P. issues, never seems drawn out. For players that are looking to get into the Euro-game experience, but still enjoy aspects of player interaction, Panamax fits the bill perfectly. The gameplay provides a wealth of strategy, depth, and replayability, and is set to become quite a classic.

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