It has certainly been the season for bright and colourful number based games. First we had the gentle and muted but highly brain bending Hiroba, a Sudoku mechanical machine of gardens and carp. Now we have the quite frankly fabulous technicoloured glory of Pearladora. Which is like mixture of squares and battleships, where the true value of your diver is hidden from prying eyes until the very end of the game.
Squares is a game I played as a kid, where you would draw out a grid made of dots and then take turns to try to create squares by drawing one line at a time to create a full square that you would gleefully embellish with your initial. In Pearladora, you're trying to place down lines in order to carve out territories and place numbered divers in order to win those areas and claim the cache of pearls for your own team. Moves are simple, you're either going to place a diver with a number in order to try to claim an area of the ocean or you're going to place up to two pontoons in order to section off parts of the ocean. The minimum size you can have is an area of four squares, and an area is considered closed when all the spaces have been filled.
Just like a game of squares, it starts off relatively calm, with players trying to place pontoons with a view of carving up the sea while at the same time placing their divers, balancing their highest and lowest numbers in order to win as many caches as possible. At some point time will start to stretch, as the merriment of placing simply tokens turns into calculations, as you are trying to weight up dividing areas into smaller slices or trying to go for the victory by weight of numbers. All of a sudden Pearladora has you thinking, and at higher player counts where the divers and their values become scarce every placement really starts to count. You start to feel that all the bright colours and wonderful illustrated characters were a trick to make you feel like this was some kind of simplistic game for children. While it can be enjoyed by the younger players in the room, there are definitely moments when you will look someone straight in the eye as you slowly place down a couple of pontoons and gleefully block someone's best intentions.
For those looking to up the ante even more, there are some advanced rules that add some variable powers into the mix. You might want to spy on other player's tokens, or reduce the value of them. Maybe you want to be able to place another diver, or another pontoon. You can look on these as extras once you grasp the concepts of the main game. Their main goal here is to add in some additional longevity to the standard game. Though I'm not convinced that it is required.
Pearladora looks wonderful. Mehdi Merrouche delights with his strong visuals and illustrations. The pearl beads really add to tactile nature of the game as you are actively competing for what appears to be real life pearls. The rulebook is well laid out and presented and overall it's a delightful little package. Pearladora will work well with those looking for something that provides just enough competition and tactical thinking without the need to delve into an hour long game to decide who is the victor. The only irritation to be found here are sweet gameplay pearls.
You can find out more about Pearladora by visiting https://www.hachetteboardgames.co.uk/shop/per-en-std-pearladora-414
This review is based on the final retail version of the game provided to us by games distributor Hachette Games. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.