Cartagena: Rules

Our game tries to reproduce a famous 1672 jailbreak of about 30 pirates from the supposedly impregnable fortress of Cartagena. It is said that not long after this astounding escape, a game celebrating it became popular in the pirate coves of the Caribbean; and that a faster, more chance oriented version was played in Jamaica, while a slower, more skill-oriented one was played on Tortuga Island. Which is why in our game, too, we offer two ways of playing: a "Jamaica way" in which chance plays more of a role and a "Tortuga way" based mainly on skill. As explained in the rules, the difference between the two versions is only in the layout and handling of the cards. In all other respects the two versions are identical.

The game in brief

Each player controls a group of 6 pirates and tries to have all 6 of them escape through the tortuous underground passage that connects the fortress to the port, where a sloop is waiting. As soon as a player has brought his 6 pirates aboard, the sloop sails away and the game is over.



• 6 board-segments printed on both sides. On each is a portion of the underground passage with a different sequence of the following 6 signs: a skull, a dagger, a key, a bottle, a pistol, a three-cornered hat.
• A small board in the shape of a sloop.
• A deck of 103 cards; on the face of one is an arrow; on the face of all the others is one of the 6 signs (17 of each sign).
• 30 pirates (pawns) in 5 colors, 6 of each color.
• Rules with one illustration in color on a separate sheet.


• Join the 6 board-segments so as to form a continuous under ground passage of 36 spaces (signs); this can be done in thou sands of different ways.
• Each player receives a set of 6 pirates.
• All the pirates are assembled at one end of the underground passage and the sloop is docked at the other end.
• Remove from the deck the card with the arrow (it is used only in the Tortuga version).
• Shuffle the deck and deal 6 cards to each player.

This is where the two versions differ:

The Jamaica version in which cards are concealed (more luck): The players hold their cards in hand (hidden from the other players). The rest of the deck is placed face down on the table to form a stock, from which players will pick new cards during play.

The Tortuga version in which all cards are face up (more skill): The players lay out their cards face up on the table, for all to see. From the rest of the deck, 12 cards are dealt face up in a row. The card with the arrow is placed under the row and shows the direction of the sequence - that is, the order in which new cards are picked up during play (instead of from stock). When the row is depleted, a new 12-card row is laid out. (See the illustration of a Tortuga game in progress).

How to play

Play in turn clockwise. The game is begun by the player who looks most like a pirate... (not necessarily an advantage). Whenever it is your turn, you may make from 1 to 3 moves. Two kinds of moves are allowed:

play a card and advance a pirate,
move a pirate backwards and pick up one or two new cards.

Moves may be performed in any order and in any combination but at least one move must be made at each turn.

The two kinds of moves

Play a card and advance a pirate:

Play a card to the table (discard pile), select one of your pirates (either one already in the underground passage or one who has yet to enter it) and advance him to the next vacant space marked with the same sign as the sign on the card you just played (vacant meaning not occupied by another pirate).

Example: in the illustration, if it is Yellow's turn, he might, among numerous other options, play a skull-card to the table and advance his pirate at 9 all the way to 23 (skipping the skull-spaces at 12 and 17 which are occupied by other pirates).

If there is no vacant space with the sign you selected ahead of the pirate you intend to move, you can advance him all the way to the end of the passage and let him climb aboard the sloop.

Move a pirate backwards and pick up one or two new cards:

Select one of your pirates and move him backwards to the first space occupied by one or two pirates, whether yours or belonging to an opponent. While moving backwards, vacant spaces and spaces occupied by three pirates are ignored and passed by. (Note that there can never be more than three pirates on a space.) If your pirate moving backwards lands on a space occupied by 1 pirate, pick up I card, if occupied by 2 pirates, 2 cards.

Example: in the illustration, Red could, among other things, move his pirate at 8 backwards to 6, occupied by 2 pirates, thus gaining the right to pick up two new cards from the face up row, etc.

But keep in mind that when moving backwards you are not allowed to skip a space occupied by one pirate in order to reach one occupied by two. In the Jamaica version cards are picked up from stock, in the Tortuga version from the row of face up cards. When the deck is depleted, form a new deck with the cards in the discard pile.

End of game

First to land his 6 pirates on the sloop wins the game. (He may signal this by moving the loaded sloop off its moorings... )

Examples of play

The illustration shows a game in progress in the Tortuga version. It is Blue's turn, and as invariably happens in this game, he has many options to choose from (remember that at each turn a player can make up to 3 moves). Below are three choices which he might consider at this point. They were chosen to give you an idea of the variety of possibilities the game offers at every turn.

1. Blue has 4 dagger-cards and may decide to play 3 of these and thus advance rapidly 3 of his pirates. With his 1st dagger-card he would move the blue pirate that had not yet entered the passage to 7; then, with his 2nd card, advance one of the two pirates he has at 6 to IS (skipping 7 which he occupied with his first move); and finally with his 3rd card, move the other blue pirate at 6 all the way to 24. But playing 3 cards with the same sign and advancing quickly 3 men in a row, while very tempting, is usually not a wise choice. In this particular case there is no immediate danger, since none of the opponents have dagger-cards, so that the choice may appear to be reasonably sound... But in fact it is not, because the 2nd and 3rd cards in the row on the table are dagger-cards, which his opponents might now pick up and use to advance even farther on the "road" Blue opened up for them (the 3 dagger-spaces he occupied and which can now be skipped).

2. Or else Blue might use a completely opposite tactic. Instead of using his cards to move his men forward, he could now pick up as many as 5 new cards by moving men backwards. 1st, he would retreat his pirate at 17 to 12 (picks up 1 card); 2nd, retreat his pirate at 18 to 17, where there are now 2 red ones (picks up 2 cards); and 3rd, retreat this same pirate again from 17 to 12, where there are now 2 pirates, including the blue one he retreated with his first move (picks up 2 more cards). Collecting so many cards means that he won't have to "refuel" again for some time. On the other hand, 3 of his men are being left far back (the two at 6 and the one who is still at the entrance); these are now in danger of remaining stranded.

3. While another option, no doubt sounder than the previous two, would be to balance his choice and adapt it to the actual situation on the board. 1st, he could play a bottle-card to the table and rush his pirate at 17 non-stop all the way to the sloop! (The "road" is open, because all the bottle-spaces ahead of 17 are occupied.) 2nd, he could retreat his pirate at 18 to 17 (where 2 red pirates are left after Blue's 1st move). This short step backward has two good results: he collects 2 new cards and at the same time vacates a bottle space, thus creating a gap in the free "road" of occupied bottle-spaces, to the annoyance of his opponents. And 3rd, he can play a dagger-card and move the blue pirate who has still to enter the passage to 7.


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This site is created and maintained by: Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson