The desert region of the Sertão, in the Northeast Region of Brazil, was the background for the deeds of the “cangaceiros,” men who embraced the way of the cangaço – from canga, which means yoke. As the bull carries the yoke, so the cangaceiro carried weapons and the deadly burden of that choice, leaving behind their loved ones, and living in the scorching hinterland sprinkled with arid brambles, the Caatinga, and desolate cliffs, the Serras.

Cangaceiros: run a band of Cangaceiros,
legendary bandits in Brazilian northeast.

The iconic figure of the cangaceiro goes beyond the stereotypical image of the outlaw, who takes from the rich to give to the poor; it was rather someone who fought to reaffirm their rights and to seek vengeance, an oppressed countryman who took up arms against the tyranny of the “coronéis” (the powerful landowners who owned the fazendas, large plots of land) – because their honor was more important than anything else.

In the strategic competitive game Cangaceiros, designed by Roberto Pestrin and created by Ergo Ludo Editions, published in the English edition by Ares Games, two to five players represent the Chief Cangaceiros and their Gangs, feared and respected across all the Sertão.

Each player represents a Gang and its Chief Cangaceiro, each with their own unique abilities and characteristics. There are 20 Chiefs in the game, each of them corresponding to a renowned outlaw, briefly presented in a dedicated section in the rulebook. Among them, the most famous cangaceiro, Lampião, also called “King of the Sertão” and his partner Maria Bonita – one of five women among the Cangaceiro Chiefs in the game.

Action Cards and a "Chief Cangaceiro" card.

The gameplay mixes the mechanics of area control, worker placement, and deck building. Each player uses a deck made up of seven Action cards, which allow them to attack the Volantes (the state police trained to kill them) or execute different actions – such as movement, collecting resources, placing a Garrison to control a region, assaulting the prison, training their Chief, and recruiting new members for the Gang.

The goal is to collect Fame Points through various means, such as getting rich, freeing cangaceiros from a prison, or eliminating Volantes. If a Chief is fully trained and the Gang has enough resources, a player can also achieve a Life Goal: once it is accomplished, the Chief retires, the Gang gets a number of Fame Points, and the player gets a new Chief.

Cangaceiros is played on a map board depicting the region of Brazilian Northeast with four distinct types of spaces in its main area: Sertão (desert), Caatinga (forest), Serra (mountains), and City (buildings). The territory is a crucial element in this setting. The dry forest Caatinga was a refuge, but difficult to access, full of thorns, and with meager resources. Caatinga and Serra have specific decks of powerful Action cards, and players with their Gang meeple in one of these spaces after playing their third card in a round can replace one of their Starting Action cards.

The Volantes are controlled by a deck of cards indicating the number of them in each City, how they are armed and protected, how many wounds they can suffer, and their value in Fame Points. They are spawned at the beginning of each round, and players may decide whether to attack them or not, considering the risks and the gain in the case of victory. Following player actions, it is time to the Volantes’ activation. They can move toward your men, targeting a Gang meeple or a Garrison, and then attack, wounding the Chief Cangaceiro in the former case, or arresting the bandits in the latter. When a Chief dies, the Gang immediately lose Fame Points equal to their bounty. Players also have the chance to corrupt a Volante to avoid an attack.

The map board depicting the territory, a crucial element in the game.

At the end of each round, events may affect the players, creating various hindrances to their Gang unless they deal with them. The game ends at the end of the seventh round, or when all the Life Goal cards are depleted. All players total up their on-hand resources and Serra and Caatinga Action cards claimed, the number of Cangaceiros on their player board and Garrisons, the number of Volantes defeated, training markers, and other resources. The wounds suffered by their Chief are subtracted from the total, and resources are then converted to Fame Points. The winner is the player with the most Fame Points.

Thanks to the twenty different Chiefs, the initial setup of cards and resources, the events, and Life Goals distributed randomly, each game of Cangaceiros is profoundly different from the others, offering high replayability. Get ready to show courage and honor, survive in the Caatinga, push back the Volantes, attack the corrupted cities, right the wrongs done to your Gang, and never forgive betrayal! Grow your fame and become the most famous cangaceiro in all the Sertão…

* This article was originally published by Game Trade Magazine, issue 277 (March 2023).

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