Import/Export is a difficult game to do justice by review, at least in the author's opinion. For a start, the dry title and theme will turn some otherwise enthusiastic board gamers off, and perhaps understandably.
However, peel back the charmingly-themed shipping crate lid and you'll find a huge amount of gameplay nestled in a modestly size box. Playing up to six, and with generous replayability at that, this is one of my hidden treasure games.
A relative, or at least 2nd cousin, to Glory to Rome, the main “meat” of the game hinges around 100 main cards. Each card, in 5 categories, performs quadruple duty to the player depending on where and how it is played or made available in the tableau.
A card played from hand, for example, allows the player to perform one of the 5 actions of the game. A card on a player ship may be a prospective Shipment or one of the Goods that help complete that shipment, depending on the action that moved the card there. Completed Shipments take the Loaded Goods into the centrally accessible “Sea”, allowing all the players to attempt to Import the cards back from the player Ships for extra actions or bonus credits at the end of the game, storing the card under the player mat permanently. Cards are claimed from the deck by players to their hand by drawing, of course, but there's also a steady trickle to the “Supply Island”, in case the players are struggling to get tempting Goods in the central Sea from shipments.
I'll be frank - the flow of cards through the game is the most challenging part of the gameplay loop to understand. The first 4 player game, even with frequent game-players, will laugh at the listed 45-90 minute gameplay time. The second can be wrapped up entertainingly in half an hour, and in my experience is normally demanded! The manual calls for a practice round, and I would definitely agree.
The core action loop itself is straightforward. A player (equipped with, appropriately enough, the “captain” card) will either draw some cards to their hand (drawing up to 5, or an extra card if at 5 and above) or play a card to act as an action. The other players will then either play a matching card type to follow that action or, as above, draw cards to hand. After all players have drawn and/or followed the action, the captain card is rotated to allow the next player the chance to lead an action. Later in the game, some players may have access to bonus actions of a type (for example, an additional Pirate action) that allows them to make better use of a turn. Cards can be applied in matching pairs as wild cards to allow a player to perform an action they really need, at the cost of card economy.
The tension between what duty a player wants a card to be used as makes up a large part of the entertainment – Do you use a red card now as a Pirate action for limited benefit, robbing another player of the chance to complete a large shipment by snatching a card he needs from the central Ships, or Load the red container to complete your own shipment of Shotguns and Onions (there's a joke about Gordon Ramsay buried in there, somewhere.).
Money is the root of all evil, apparently, but in Import/Export, money is the primary track to victory; 50 credits in hand is one of three end game conditions. Completing exported Shipments yields cash credits to the players, essential to victory, but more interestingly they offer a selection of abilities and perks. The completed Shipment powers run from the sublime to the ridiculous – a handful offer different ways to instantly win the game, for example, while others offer the rather more sensible ability to use cards in different ways, or take bonus credits. Every card (100 in the base version) has a different Shipment ability. A large portion of the game's replayability comes from the differing available engines to the players, and there's little attempt to make “broken” combinations fair, which may be off-putting to some groups and energizing to others.
Aesthetics & Components
Components are satisfying, with the main list item the deck of action cards (not including a handful of references, player boards, and ships) and 2 style of tokens for tracking the player's wealth in 2 and 10 credit denominations. The tokens are small but solid for their size, and feel simultaneously sparse and generous – that's a lot of alliteration to complement the tokens! All card stock is robust and the cards in general benefit from minimalist but attractive art, with a few Easter eggs throughout (the Big Cats shipping crate looks rather, well, clawed). They're distinctive enough that the sea of main deck cards that covers the table by close of play are individual enough to recognise, while reference cards are crammed with information to keep footprint small.
Here, I think, the aesthetic is optimistic – while the manual is clear and straightforward to understand, the initial array of player boards and cards can be quite difficult for novice players to pierce. The main deck cards feature a bevy of information, as befits their quadruple duty, and small prompts on the player cards (an elusive 1:1, pointing to the confusingly named “Imports” space) give information that players are likely to recall only when familiar with the game, although YMMV. Player prompt and reference cards are functional and to give credit where it's due, there's very little “spare” card space where it can be helped.
Import/Export is, for its' size, a meaty but accessible “follow-the-leader” role selection game. The internal game economy responds satisfyingly to player actions and plays differently each time, particularly with the rich selection of Shipment abilities available.
That concludes our thoughts on Import/Export. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Import/Export today click here!