Review: Madeira – trading under the Portuguese flag

Madeira - packaging

Damn, cursed captain, when he saw arrival of another ship in the port of Funchal. He did not want some other businessman to steal his almost agreed trade. Wine is waiting in boxes in a warehouse near the coast, but promise from yesterday might now not be enough. Should he go higher with his bid? If the newcomer offers better conditions of transport, he will surely seal the trade.

Fortunately turned out, that this particular ship is bringing only business and workers. But who knows, which one will drop anchor in next hour? is now full of bustle everywhere. There is a number of new buildings, that will produce goods for export and new vessels are built at the port. The captain obviously feels threatened, because his livelihood is transporting goods. And Madeira may cease to be the paradise, which it once was.

But on the contrary, players arrived on the Royal Glory ship as the newly appointed developers will be happy. In the board game Madeira, they will be able to directly participate in it. This chance was granted to them by authors and and of course publishing house What’s Your Game?. These guys are known for complex games, such as last year’s Asgard (review). And Madeira looks also challenging, just like previous games and they also share an illustrator .

Madeira - game is ready

Games welcomes us with picture of such a port, with a pair of rocking boat, vineyards and city in the background. Inside, everything is overlapped by folded game board. It shows one large and one small island, developmental city scales (lower left corner), market (bottom right) and then a smaller top box for city patrol and windmill. Each of these places has many boxes of different colors to make your head dizzy.

And you still should look further, because it all just begins with the board. Other elements start with a large guild board. Each guild has its heraldry printed, with places for laying dice, but also decorated box on the side for maintaining order of players.

Box then contains a small pile of cardboard components. Well.. Small pile is kinda a wrong word. Let’s start with four characters. This leads us to smaller tokens, that players must punch out from the sheets and there is a total of 260 of those! It continues with royal demands and rewards (wheat, sugar and wine), favor guild tokens, wood, bread, as well as forty numbered round pirate tokens or other forty coins representing reals. At the very end of our listing are green guild dice, black pirate dice, and then wooden pieces for each player – tokens for actions and monitoring, and last but not least – for Madeira important ships.

Madeira - game is ready

So now we have a huge list successfully behind us, but we have perhaps most challenging thing in front of us – game preparation. Rules dedicate a total of four pages to setup, and we will significantly shorten it for review purpose. Everything starts as always by lining both boards (main and guild) in the middle. Along with them, also characters, dice and supplies of all goods are placed on the table.

Players will get not only all wooden pieces of chosen color, but also one token from every products. Their chance on winning will still be improved by five reals, four loaves of bread and one randomly selected starting royal demand (which simultaneously determines starting player). Everyone then places his token on the scoring track, a windmill and player order. In turn, players receive compensation for inferior position in the form of several other coins.

Preparation of side panels includes only random distribution of twenty royal requirements in rows of five. Each guild gets five tokens. In contrast, individual guilds will be randomly assigned to cities, where they workers can set out during the game. Players will send only one of his pawns there and stand other two on the field of city watch. Colonies then receive tokens of royal rewards.

Madeira - game in progress

Bigger island is divided in half into two regions. Each of these areas, as well as on other island, have their territory split into several fields with symbols of the production of certain goods. Some of these will receive (according to printed numbers) wood tokens depending on number of players. Before start of the game, players can deploy two of their workers on any field on the board and game of Madeira should begin.

Players can expect a total of five rounds and each of them must be specially prepared. First, it means rolling the dice and assigning them in threes into each guild row on the auxiliary board. Players can later take them for themselves (and be careful not to change their values) and at the same time show his support to this guild – take one request, get back some favors and change order for the next phase.

But before you get to it, they must randomly place big character tiles on buildings on the board. Although there is five of them, each round one spot gets a vacation. This does not mean, that it can not be used, without placed worker. At the end of round preparation, players roll a trio of black pirate dice.

Madeira - game in progress

Then players simply take dice and select a character on the game board, where one of dice is placed. This will allow them to activate not only ability of profession, but later also event of building, where this character is located. But there is one important limitation about the value of the dice. It can be placed for free only on spot, that has a lower or equal value printed. Otherwise, player must pay the difference in bread.

Actual characters provide players with abilities to move workers on fields, gain locations, earning favors of guilds or move their ship. Most activities have to be paid for, whether with wood or wine. Instead of placing dice, players can choose to harvest the entire region, which belongs to chosen building and get timber or goods of his choice for each worker in the area.

Another part of the turn is usage of buildings, depending on the region, where players are. But here’s the problem, because each site requires payment of a certain amount in reals. Otherwise, player receives a pirate token, which will be worth negative points in the end. In the case of payment, player can immediately perform action of the building. Again, they can get different benefits ranging from baking bread to movement of workers to the colony or city district.

Madeira - game in progress

At the end of the round, player with the highest proportion of workers in urban patrol gets reward for protection of the city, all the workers in the colonies bring goods to their owners, but they also become hungry. Players need bread to feed all, who work (is placed on board) and repair their floating vessels by paying one wood. Then players can select and use one of the crown requirements, that lie ahead.

Another round goes in the same way. Every effort ends after fifth round, when the players transfer their assets to victory points. At the same time, they lose some for pirates up to 16 points! Winner is player, who even after this acquired greatest number of points.

Rules clearly suggest, that Madeira is not a game for a sharpener. Similarly even first match will not leave you in no doubt about difficulty of this game, although experienced players will have all the mechanisms in their blood relatively quickly. That does not mean, that they will learn it fast and you should prepare definitely more than two hours of your time for first match. This game is definitely not for beginners, because number of possibilities and combinations is really vast.

Madeira - game in progress

In addition, a lot is swallowed by actual preparation of the game. It is not entirely intuitive and involves a number of steps, that you initially do exactly as instructed. Fortunately, all this makes sense, because through diverse grid-layout, every game is ultimately different. And that’s not so so standard, when it comes to challenging strategy games.

Whole game offers players a lot of interesting decisions. It all begins with choice of dice, that could have shrunk to only collecting highest value. However, choice has far-reaching consequences, because it affects also your connection with guilds.

Each round is surprisingly different, as the characters move randomly around the buildings. Some combinations will appear twice in the game, while others not at all. This game gets really interesting, and players must also skillfully combine their desire for character action with practical skills of buildings. Final decision of place will affect their entire turn. When choosing activities, you should also well consider position of your workers on the board. And it is not easy to combine this all together to click, if you do not know, what character layout is in store for the next round!

Madeira - board detail

Everything in this game is linked very cleverly and quite subtly at first. But as you begin to plan, everything suddenly fits together and you need to think very carefully. Any chances of winning depends on the ability to meet requirements of the royals or use special guild favors. These brings the main point of revenue, that player separate from each other in the end.

But then pirates come into play and you should not run into trouble with them. It is important to monitor other contenders and their numbers. Sometimes, you just can not afford another pirate ship without danger, but be careful: sometimes you can even get rid of some tokens and you certainly do not want to be the one, who has the most of them in the end! However, its quite simple to get rid of them, so ultimately they do not have such a profound impact, as you would expect, but its still interesting concept.

Interaction, except men floating under crossbones, is now only filling positions other players wanted. Nevertheless, good news is the fact, that from time to time you must put your plans aside and look out for opponents. The whole game is framed slightly by luck, based on dice, but its a good random.

Madeira - tokens

Madeira is a good news for all those, who like advanced board games. It offers a huge portion of challenging fun for everyone strategist. It has really interesting illustrations and processing. When we collected comments for this game from our testing groups, we realized, that it actually has no cons except discouraging beginners and longer setup. There is nothing else to complaint about. And that is certainly excellent news for this comprehensive strategy game. Madeira should be in every collection of euro game enthusiastic.

DesignerNuno Bizarro Sentieiro, Paulo Soledade
ArtistMariano Iannelli
PublisherWhat's Your Game?, 999 Games,, IELLO, Red Glove
Year Published
# of Players2 - 4
User Suggested # of Players Best with 4 players
Recommended with 2, 3, 4 players
(97 voters)
Playing Time150
Mfg Suggested Ages12 and up
User Suggested Ages14 and up
(31 voters)
Language DependenceNo necessary in-game text
(22 voters)
CategoryDice, Economic, Farming, Nautical
MechanicArea Majority / Influence, Dice Rolling, Turn Order: Pass Order, Turn Order: Stat-Based, Worker Placement, Worker Placement with Dice Workers
ExpansionMadeira: Expansion, Madeira: The Ambassadors, Madeira: The Harvester
FamilyCountry: Portugal, Digital Implementations: Board Game Arena, Islands: Madeira (Portugal), Theme: Colonial
Primary NameMadeira

Infos courtesy of More Infos.

Review: Madeira – trading under the Portuguese flag
Final word
Madeira offers a trip to islands to those, who enjoy challenging board games. Such, that will not forgive you any mistake and keeps you thinking at full speed from start to finish. Game contains a true pile of possibilities and combinations, some of which are mind-boggling, yet are always a little different, than we are used to. Players must position their workers and boats well, so that they could use them to their advantage next round. The course is greatly influenced by a combination of characters and buildings, that go along with the choice and are decided by luck. Interesting and unpredictable element. Game contains a slice of randomness in the form of dice, but it gives the game even more positive points and atmosphere. Preparation is a bit longer and game is not suitable for beginners, but it will enchant alladvanced players. Madeira has simply succeeded in doing, what every euro-player likes. It should not be missing in your collection, because playing it is pure fun and joy of your own abilities. But only if you are able to win.
Reader Rating0 Votes
sufficiently variable
challenging fun
wWide tactical possibilities
difficult decisions
combination of characters and buildings
well-connected mechanism
longer preparation
not for beginners
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