Skip to Content

[Review] The Nacho Incident

No replies
Joined: 03/23/2011

Jim Doherty’s game themes always make me laugh, and I’m always impressed at how he manages to mix clever mechanics with the most inane themes that one could imagine, like in his tremendously cute and wily game Monkeys on the Moon. I fully expected The Nacho Incident (Eight Foot Llama, 2005 – Jim Doherty) to follow through and be a similar funny yet excellent game. The theme of the game is one in which Mexicans are constantly trying to avoid Mounties as they struggle to smuggle quality Mexican food into Canada.

Every time I mention the theme to a new player, they simply laugh, because the theme is that ludicrous – yet sounds like a fun game. And Mr. Doherty has not disappointed. While I’m not sure that it is as good as the wonderful Monkeys on the Moon (which is a lofty goal), The Nacho Incident is certainly a well-designed game, and plays quickly, yet offers real strategic choices. Humor and strategy can and do mix in this game.

Four Province decks (representing Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec) are placed in a line on the table, with the top one flipped face up. The face up card shows four types of foods that folk in that Province desire (beans, onions, peppers, tortillas, salsa, olives, corn, or sour cream) along with an associated price (from three to nine) that they will pay for these foods. Each player gets two cards (one for the “10’s” digit, and the other for the single digits) and a cube for each to track their score. Players also place four Cantina cards that match the Province decks in a row in front of them, along with two random food cubes that are drawn from a bag. These food cubes match in color one of the eight desired foods of the Canadians. Twelve Mountie cards are shuffled and placed in three face down decks, with the first one in the first deck flipped face up. Each player is given eight Smuggler cards from a deck, and the player who has the most interesting thing in their pocket receives the “Gemstone”.

The game is made up of three rounds, each which has four turns. At the beginning of each turn, players play a Smuggler card from their hand face down and then simultaneously reveal them. Each smuggler card shows one of the flags matching one of the provinces, a smuggler and his speed (from 1 to 9), and the amount of gold that smuggler costs (from one to four – depending on the speed of the smuggler). The player who has played the fastest smuggler goes first, then the player with the next fastest smuggler, etc. Ties are broken by the player with the gemstone (or closest to him). The player who has the fasted smuggler takes the face up Mountie and places it on their matching cantina card.

On their turn a player must decide which Province their smuggler heads for – it can be either the one that matches the flag on the smuggler’s card or an adjacent Province. A player then can sell one of their food cubes to the province if it is wanted there, placing the food cube on the card (preventing further cubes of that type being sold), and receiving the money shown on the card. All money is tracked on a player’s score card. The first player can actually smuggle a food cube from another player’s warehouse but then must give them all their food cubes in retribution. No matter if the smuggler delivered food or not, the player must pay the cost shown on the smuggler’s card.

The smuggler is then placed on top of the province in which they delivered their food cube to, starting a “Cantina” there. All players check their provinces for any Mounties. Each Mountie arrests the highest-numbered smuggler in their province (discarding both cards). If there are no smugglers in a province, the Mountie sits tight. However, two Mounties together cause one to wander off and arrest (discarding both cards) the highest-numbered smuggler in any province!

Any Province which has a food cube in all four spots is then discarded, putting the cubes back into the bag and replacing the card with a new one from that deck. Each player then can sell any cubes they have for one gold each, if they want; then draw food cubes until they have a total of two. The next Mountie card is flipped face up.

If the round is over (after every four Mounties), players compare the Cantinas that they have in each province. The player whose total is highest in each province receives a bonus that matches that province (+4 or +5) and must also discard all of their smugglers in that province. Each Mountie also is worth “-3” or “-4” points for any players who have them in their provinces. Players can refill their hand to eight smugglers, discarding as many cards as they wish before redrawing. The next round then begins, with the player who has the gemstone, giving it to the player with the lowest score.

After the third round, the player with the most money is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Once again, Jim has teamed up with Scott Starkey, whose cartoonish artwork is a perfect matchup for the Eight Foot Llama themes. The smuggler cards are particularly funny, with the slowest smuggler (#1) riding a unicycle, and the fastest in a UFO. Putting the flags on the cards was a nice touch; because even though the cards are easily recognized by their background colors, the flags helped differentiate for those who are color blind. The cubes are plastic cubes that match up very well to the colors on the province cards. A small felt bag is included to hold the cubes, and all the cards and bag fit easily into a small flat box that showcases off more of Mr. Starkey’s artwork.

2.) Rules: The rulebook, which is only four pages of color rules, including many examples, is clear and easy to understand. I will state that I missed a couple rules in my first game – in which I confused Round and Turn, but it really isn’t that difficult. All whom I’ve taught the game to have picked it up fairly quickly, although it usually takes them a turn or two to understand the long range implications of the Mounties. Even after four games, I’m still wondering if there are other strategies and tactics that I can be trying.

3.) Time/Players: The game works with two players; but as with most games with simultaneous selection, it’s much more enjoyable with three or four – both of which I would give equal credit to. It’s great for me to have a fun, fast, humorous game that plays three people well. And when I say fast, the game typically takes about thirty to forty minutes and keeps players’ minds occupied the entire time. Short and sweet.

4.) Smugglers: The key to the game, at least so I think, is to know which smuggler to play. There are benefits to playing the fastest smugglers – a player can be the first to deliver a food cube, getting a high payoff and blocking other players; they can steal a critical cube from a neighbor; and they can get a good Cantina lead in their province. However, there are also several disadvantages: the player has to deal with the Mountie and the negative effects it brings; they must go first, revealing their strategy; and they have to pay a high amount to the smuggler himself. All of this is balanced even further when players realize that they have a limited hand of smugglers, and every smuggler they use now will be unavailable later on in the round.

5.) Mounties: Every turn, the Mountie that is revealed changes the course of player’s actions. Sometimes a player simply doesn’t care if they get a Mountie, because it’s going to arrest one of their small smugglers that they don’t care about, thus negating its negative bonuses. But a Mountie can become a big pain – as they can effectively neutralize your largest Cantinas and give you negative points each round. They don’t go away! So a player could conceivably lose points from a Mountie three times in a game. Also, getting two Mounties together in the same province is a terrible idea, since they will arrest your best Cantina operator. To win, it’s usually a good idea to command a bonus in at least one of the provinces, and that’s often where a player's biggest Cantinas are. To have a Mountie destroy that can be annoying. So when a Mountie comes up that will hurt a player, they are tempted to play a lower card so as to avoid the hassles.

6.) Simultaneous Selection: And that’s why I love this mechanic so much! I might play a low card to avoid the Mounties and find out that I could have played a higher one, because Joe played a “9” speed smuggler. Or I play a “5” speed, confident that I’m not the fastest, only to find out that everyone else played a much slower smuggler. Attempting to read your opponents, trying to figure out what provinces they are heading to, and how fast they will travel, is a big deal. Scores are often quite close, with the Province bonuses playing a large part, so one mistake can be costly.

7.) Fun Factor: The games theme is ridiculous, even though some Canadian friends have assured me that good Mexican food IS rare up there. But it’s a theme that many people can relate to and laugh about, and the games mechanics actually fit the theme quite well. I’ve always been amazed at how Jim makes such a wonky theme yet makes it plausible in a game setting. Every time I’ve played the Nacho Incident, it’s been a fun time of laughter and easy going strategy.

All four of the Eight Foot Llama games that I’ve played have been quite enjoyable, but this one and Monkey on the Moon are my favorites. It has a silly theme, sharp mechanics, and still plays in less than an hour, offering some solid play time to three or four players. Don’t be scared off by the small box or the odd theming, because you’ll miss a clever little gem that you’ll be playing time after time. Boy oh boy, I love Mexican food; and while this game isn’t quite as good as a tremendous taco salad (my favorite food), it’s certainly a savory experience.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”

Syndicate content

forum | by Dr. Radut