Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 11 October 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Calimala

Game: Calimala

Publisher: ADC Blackfire Entertainment

Designer: Fabio Lopiano

Year: 2017

ADC Blackfire Games first came onto our radar as a publisher with War of the Buttons, which we demo'd at the UK Games Expo this year. Although they also make a lot of board game accessories, we're beginning to find out that they're a publisher to pay attention to for gamers who, like us, enjoy light to mid-weight euro games. With Calimala, we've certainly found another great mid-weight euro game, and since it's also been picked up for a reprint by Stronghold Games, other people are clearly noticing this game too! Not only that, but the designer, Fabio Lopiano has recently announced his second game, Ragusa, with some similarities to Calimala. So, let's take a look at the game and find out why we're so excited to share it and see it getting some more traction in the board game world.


At the start of a game of Calimala each player is handed a full set of cubes, discs, houses and boats in their colour, along with a handful of white discs. On their turn players will place one of their discs (coloured or white) onto the action grid, a 3x3 square of the available actions with a random order each game. Discs get placed on the space between actions enabling that player to perform the 2 actions either side. Placing a coloured disc allows you to perform each action once, while a white disc allows you do them twice. If there were any discs below the one you placed these also activate, giving the player of their colour a chance to perform additional actions. It's important to get your coloured discs at the bottom of popular stacks! Should you be unable to perform an action you get to drawn an action card, these can be used on your turn in addition to your disc placement to get additional actions.

There are 9 unique actions in Calimala, though many of them are very similar. Brick, marble, wood and silk all give you the relevant resources, it is possible to increase silk production, but everything else gives you 1 cube per action. Donating goods allows you to hand over wood/brick/marble towards the construction of 3 temples, while the art action lets you complete artworks for the same temples. Building lets you convert brick/wood into constructions: boats allow you to trade silk via sea, warehouses allow you to do it by land and silk factories increase your silk production rate. Finally trade via boat and trade via land both allow you to donate silk to one of the 3 sea/land based destinations.

Essentially, the aim of the game is to move your cubes into favourable positions of the board, every time a pile of tokens reaches 4 the bottom token gets moved over to the scoring area and a new area of the board is scored. For example if a disc was moved onto the London tile then each player would compare the amount of silk traded to London, with 3 points for 1st place, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd. All scoring during the game works like this, with the game ending either when every area is scored or all the discs have been placed. At which point any areas that didn't score are evaluated and finally each player reveals their secret location which scores again for extra points.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Calimala is not the first, and nor will it be the last, game about moving cubes around the board. So what makes Calimala special? It's certainly the use of the action board to generate a variable game every time. Sometimes generating marble is positioned next to making art, so filling up the 4 temples with art is a breeze. Most of the time things are not so convenient and you end up trying to calculate the most efficient way to place your tokens to ensure you can be putting your cubes out in the right place before scoring for that place is triggered.

In many ways Calimala is a constant race against the clock, you always want to be in a good position for the next scoring location, but as soon as it's scored you need to focus on something new. Is it worth skipping one every now and then to try an ensure that you get 1st place on future ones, or is it more important to make sure you at least score something every time points are dished out? All the while you know players are sitting on their secret end-game cards, so who is acting suspiciously? Are they putting cubes into an area that has already scored - well chances are they know it's going to score again - unless they are trying to bluff you into wasting even more resources!

On top of this constant shifting of objectives, the fact that other peoples turns can give you massive rewards keeps you engaged with the game at all times. If you have 2 discs on a pile and someone plays on top you might be getting more rewards than them. If people leave you alone then next time you place a disc there you could be getting 6 or even 8 actions!

Calimala is a fantastic game and I'd highly encourage people to give it a try, however you may notice on the box that it is a 3-5 player game. Howeverm, there is a 2 player official variant by the designer on BGG. In this case I can clearly see why this wasn't included in the game box, and I really appreciate that they decided not to compromise on quality and label the game as a 2 player plus game. The 2 player version is functional, it's still an enjoyable game, but it isn't the as fantastic you get with 3+. I'd still play it in a heartbeat if you asked me, but I'd rather be playing with 3!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

As Amy said, our biggest hurdle in getting Calimala to the table was the 3-5 player count. We mainly play with two and our core gaming friends always have hot new titles they want to play. When we finally did find a gamer who wanted to play an obscure title they'd never heard of, we were blown away by Calimala. We also found out it was quite a lightweight euro game (probably on the light end of what we would call mid-weight) so we found we could also play with some of our friends who are less deep into the hobby. After some great 3 and 4 player games we also found the designer's two player variant which is cleverly done, but definitely not quite as good for us. With that said, I currently want to play Calimala ALL THE TIME, so the variant definitely scratches that itch!

So what makes Calimala so good?! There are three core elements that sand out to me; the unique worker placement, the diverging strategies you can develop on your personal player board, and the way that Calimala makes me enjoy area control.

I love it when games give me a goal to focus on. In Calimala, that goal changes every time one of the objectives scores. I think this is why the area control is not a problem for me - rather than a game long struggle, it's my choice whether to focus on a particular location, or abandon it. Some locations will become more important to me, based on end game scoring or whether I've focused my strategy on that skill, for example building lots of boats and focusing on silk, but overall, it feels like there's plenty of chance for long term strategies, as well as a bit of early game opportunism that might help you get ahead.

One of the major strengths of Calimala is how you can be triggered to take actions, even when it's not your turn. The very unique worker placement mechanisms allow for this and the way in which you choose to use them by picking a specific spot to gain a specific resource and triggering yourself or other people to gain actions is an amazing feat of player interaction in a worker placement game - a genre that can often be quite 'multi-player solitaire'. It also means that, with more players the game can actually become more interesting as towers can develop in a variety of colours - the complete opposite of adding more players n most euro games, which adds more downtime.

Calimala is a game that only takes around 60 minutes, but in those 60 minutes it has my full attention, working out the puzzly aspects and working my tactical mind as the game changes and the pace accelerates. It's such a clean design and is so different from many 'cube-pushing' games out there. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Calimala as a refreshing new euro game for most gamer's collections.

You Might Like...
  • Always knowing the next goal to aim for.
  • Always being involved throughout other players turns, with the opportunity to trigger actions on everyone's turn.
  • There is good clarity to how you might build a strategy focusing on ports or cities, or particular resources.

You Might Not Like...
  • Calimala does not play two players out of the box, which is often a turn off for us, although the game is so good, that we still think it's worth keeping for 3+ players or using the 2 player variant.
  • The game has interesting artwork, but very simple component quality.

The Verdict

8.5/10 Calimala is a fantastic euro game with totally unique worker placement mechanisms. It also has its own take on area control that we found really worked for us, in spite of our typical dislike of area control mechanisms. We can't recommend Calimala highly enough and can't wait for it to get wider distribution through the Stronghold Games second printing, coming very soon!

Calimala was a review copy kindly provided to us by Blackfire Games.

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