Amsterdam board game: A four-sided review

The Amsterdam board game is a reprint and retheme of one of my favourite Stefan Feld designs, Macao. It is a dice-for-actions euro game with some really nice twists. And while the change of thematic destination hasn’t done much to change things it hasn’t done any harm. It’s a 2-4 player game that takes one to two hours to play, with a suggested age range of 12-plus. This feels about right, as it is a fairly complex medium-weight euro game with a lot of moving parts.

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In the box, you’ll find a large mainboard, six smaller sideboards, 100+ cardboard tiles, 150 cardboard tokens, 240 wooden cubes, 20+ other wooden pieces, 130+ cards. six dice, four roundels, and a cotton bag. The game is expected to arrive in retail outlets in January 2023. Expect a price tag of around £60-70. Anything above that would seem steep. Because while there’s a lot in the box everything could’ve been smaller (more on that later).

Teaching the Amsterdam board game

I’m not going to do a full rules explanation here as much is identical to the original. If you want more on the base mechanisms check out my Macao review. Instead, I’ll concentrate on the differences. Rolling and choosing dice, choosing cards, and the cards themselves are largely unchanged except for Office Cards (now District Maps). They are still randomised, but you draw them each turn from a facedown draw pile. Also, more expensive (three and four-cost) cards give better rewards.

Balancing is quite a theme overall. A significant change is you can hold one cube back each round, making tougher but more fun cards more alluring. There are now VP thresholds you pass on the turn order track. Plus, the old Joker tiles have been replaced with a Black Market that gives you the same options but at the cost of discarding a good when you pick it up (only one good of each type can be used in this way each game). Card activation and usage are pretty much unchanged.

How has sailing changed in Amsterdam?

One of the bigger changes is shipping, or barging as it is now. Commodities are delivered in the same way and boat movement is also the same, but you need to load them onto your boat at a dock to be able to deliver them. There are also spots that take any good and you can pick up and deliver passengers for additional rewards. You get a VP bonus for the delivery of goods in the early rounds now too. Finally, the annoying VPs for Gold system (where you worked it out from the cards) has been replaced with a set of Market Tiles, some of which offer slightly more interesting rewards.

There are also four mini-expansions in the box, plus solo rules. The solo rules are OK, thankfully avoiding the ridiculously complicated efforts found in most euro games these days. The mini-expansions are largely forgettable, with the only one of note being an extra set of Market Tiles you can use. However, these seem to have been a little rushed and felt too unbalanced for us to want to keep playing with them. Luckily, the basic ones are fine.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I love Macao, but it certainly had its quirky faults. In almost every aspect Amsterdam has fixed them, while also making some old boring aspects of the game more involved. Overall the game feels more polished and a little more thinky while keeping the element of push-your-luck in the dice roundel that really set it apart. I found some of the production decisions baffling (see below), but mechanically it is simply a better game.
  • The thinker: Where Macao seemed like a slightly unbalanced luck-fest, which could degenerate into a boat-moving exercise in the later rounds, Amsterdam is a more measured product that loses nothing in the translation. However, it still isn’t the Feld game for me. Where most of his games have an often annoying push-your-luck element, this one revolves around it. And while Amsterdam does have more mitigation, it is still too swingy for me.
  • The trasher: While there are some elements of interaction in both Amsterdam and Macao, there isn’t enough to keep me interested. It’s a good game, and you do need to keep an eye on your opponent’s movements. But there’s no doubt that the core of the game remains in the engine building. It’s higher up the game list for me than most Feld games, and I’ll play it because it is a good game. But it’s not one I’d choose.
  • The dabbler: Amsterdam is more colourful and approachable than Macao, especially with the cards-with-words being replaced with cards-with-icons. But now everything in it makes you think, whereas before it had some easy bits around the puzzle complex ones. I wouldn’t have voted for that, but get why others like it. Amsterdam is now at the limit of my complexity chart, but I do enjoy playing it when I’m fully awake!

Key observations

Overall I see Amsterdam as being a series of small but significant improvements to one of my favourite games, which is all good with me. However, while I like the more colourful aesthetic generally, the main board is a mess and the cubes don’t stand out at all. And why does it have to take up so much space? You may as well throw the resource board straight in the bin and replace it with some little plastic cups.

And full-size cards? Really? They’re a ridiculous space hog which does nothing but makes the game hard to fit on all but the biggest of tables. And with all that space, why not also put text on the cards? It would beat the constant rulebook dives the unclear symbols create. This brings us to the price. Macao was pretty ugly, but it was at the right price point. Here you have loads of everything, including pointless expansions, all of which add to the price point while offering very little actual play value. It’s a shame that these production decisions take the shine off what is otherwise an excellent game.

Conclusion: Amsterdam board game

While it is going to be a genuine wrench to do it, I’ll be parting company with Macao and replacing it on my shelves with the excellent Amsterdam board game. The few issues I have with it are far outweighed by the positives. But would I pay what might be £80 to replace it if I had to pay for it? No. But if I had neither, I’d flinch but pay it because for me it truly is one of a top designer’s finest moments.

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