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Barrakuda

Dive shipwrecks, looking for lost treasure and valuable gold, competing with opponents for prime locations. But be wary, for a barracuda haunts these waters!

Published by Helvetiq, Barrakuda is a 20-minute game for 2-4 players, with simultaneous action selection, bluffing, and dice.

Gameplay

You take the six shipwreck cards, which are numbered one through six. You shuffle them and then lay them out on the table face-up in any configuration you choose, so long as each card is connected to another card along at least one side. You place the barracuda meeple on the card numbered six.

Each player then chooses a color and takes the meeple in that color, along with the five movement cards and the barracuda card in that color. You also take your color’s coin bag card and vault card and place two gold tokens on the coin bag.

Each round, players simultaneously select a card from their hands to play and reveal them. Movement cards are numbered one through five, and you move your meeple to the shipwreck whose number matches the card you played. If you played the barracuda card, you lay your meeple down flat on the card it was already on. You will not be able to perform any of that card’s actions this round. If you played a movement card, you place it in front of you. You keep any movement cards you’ve played in the order you played them from left to right. Barracuda cards are placed off to the side. If you have no more movement cards left in your hand, you pick all your movement cards back up.

Next is the barracuda movement phase. If no one played a barracuda card, or if more than one player did, then you roll the distance and the direction dice. The distance die says how many spaces the barracuda moves, and the direction die says which shipwreck card he moves towards. If only one player played a barracuda card, then he rolls the distance die and can move the barracuda up to that number of spaces towards any card he chooses. If the barracuda returns to his starting card, everyone gets to take their barracuda cards back into their hands.

Finally, there is the resolution phase. If you are alone on a shipwreck card, you get to perform both the special action and the general action on that card. Actions tend to include taking back the far-left movement card in front of you into your hand, taking gold tokens onto your coin purse, or moving gold from your purse to your vault.

If you are on a shipwreck card with the barracuda, you lose all your gold pieces and up to four of them are placed on that card. A player can collect them for free on a future turn. You cannot perform the special action on the card but you can perform the general action.

If multiple players are on a shipwreck card without the barracuda, you check who has initiative. The player with the most movement cards still in hand has initiative. In a case of a tie, no one has initiative. The player who does have it gets to either perform the special action or can choose another player on the shipwreck and steal all the gold tokens from his bag card. Everyone on that card then gets to perform the general action.

After the resolution phase, you start a new round. The first player to get eight or more gold onto their vault card wins the game.

Barrakuda Components

Review

Barrakuda is all about reading your players, watching out for the barracuda, and balancing risk/reward. A card’s ability might only help you if you’re the only one there — but maybe an opponent knows this and will move there, too, and steal the initiative from you. And where is the barracuda? How likely is he to reach the space you want to be on?

This is quite a small, fast game, but each decision is interesting, the choices are engaging, and the player interaction is excellent. Because the heart of the game is that player interaction, however, we recommend playing with 3-4 players rather than just two.

The fact that you can lay out the shipwreck cards in different patterns to increase or decrease the odds of running into the barracuda is also a nice touch. You can even go onto the designer’s website, where he has different card layouts and tells you whether they are more or less dangerous for encountering the barracuda. There are also additional shipwreck cards included that you can swap out with the standard ones, which have their own unique powers. This is a nice way to add variety to the gameplay.

There are one or two quite minor errors in the English language rulebook. The only one that gave us pause is the use of the wrong die image when talking about the distance die at one point. The dice are also a little lightweight and not quite as much fun to roll as they could be, but they are quite an attractive color, and the artwork for the game is fun.

Barrakuda is well executed. It’s quite portable, and easy to teach. Since there are limited actions in the game, the iconography is fast to learn. It’s a fun combination of elements and an impressive amount of game has been put into a small package.

Pros: Lots of player interaction, artwork, small game with plenty of gameplay

Cons: Minor errors in the rulebook, not as much player interaction with two players

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.