What is this game about?
Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture is a quick little engine builder about being an expert craftsperson in Oaxaca, Mexico. Your goal is to score big by creating beautiful local art to sell to tourists. Across three rounds, you will roll and manipulate dice, as well as craft pieces of artwork that will give you both points and special abilities. Each type of craft—pottery, jewelry, wood, tin, and textiles—can impact your game in interesting ways, and you'll find yourself developing new strategies each game in response to how you roll the dice.
Mechanically, the game is simple: Roll your dice, and take your turns deploying them to either 1) gather materials and put crafting projects in your workshop, or 2) work on crafting your objects so that they can be placed in your market stall. Some dice are wild and allow you to take more flexible but less powerful actions. You can also make use of common "tourist cards" and the special abilities on items in your market stall to build your engine and extend your ability to take actions. The mechanics are supported by bright and beautiful art that is evocative of an actual market in Oaxaca, but without ripping off the actual work of artisans there—a real effort was made to show respect for the craftspeople who inspired this game.
How does it play solo?
In the solo variant of Oaxaca, turns play out more or less as they do in the multiplayer game. However, you roll an extra set of dice to reflect what types of crafts tourists want to buy, and at the end of each turn, you need to make a decision: Should you sell an item for points now, or should you hang onto it and use its special power a little longer before you do? You also have the option of hunting down cards that allow you to place wooden cubes next to certain craft decks—a move that gives you additional bonus points for selling crafts of that type. Although the solo game is a "beat your own score" type of game, the rulebook provides score ranges that give you an indication of how you did. (A lot of the time, my crafts are... unremarkable. Sigh.) The solo variant has clear rules and is a natural extension of multiplayer gameplay, which I appreciate as a solo player.
Oaxaca is a highly engaging little engine builder, and overall I like it a lot. Although you are in some ways limited by the luck of your die rolls, the game gives you plenty of options to mitigate your luck, and it definitely rewards clever gameplay. I like that Oaxaca's solo variant gives you a few different strategies to try. Will you just try to craft whatever seems best in the moment? Or will you try to specialize and gain bonus points for excellent work with a certain type of craft? Will you try to craft a lot of jewelry, which tends to give you bonus points at the end of the game? Or will you craft less point-heavy objects that give you more abilities, like dice manipulation? There are a lot of choices here, and all of them are interesting, even when they don't pay off when it comes to your final score.
My one issue with Oaxaca is that, while brevity is the soul of wit, this engine builder might be just a little too short. I am intensely engaged during the game, only to find that it's already over. I only ever seem to get a taste of success, never quite revving the engine I've built as loudly as I could. I know that Sarah and Will Reed extensively playtested this game and that limiting the number of rounds was a deliberate choice. At four and five rounds, Oaxaca seems to have overextended its welcome. But I can't help wanting just a little bit more from this game. It's like an amuse bouche that you wish could be an entire meal.
Do I recommend it?
Yes. If you're looking for a quick engine builder with a unique theme, then Oaxaca: Crafts of a Culture is for you. It's a strong "filler with teeth." Just don't expect to be full afterwards.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.