Cartagena takes as its theme the famous 1672 pirate-led jailbreak from the fortress of Cartagena. Each player has a group of six pirates, and you want to be the first to have all six escape through the tortuous underground passage that connects the fortress to the port, where a sloop is waiting for them.
To move a pirate, you need to play a card from your hand. Each card bears one of six symbols (gun, rum, parrot, etc.), and when you play a card, you move one of your pirates forward to the next matching symbol in the tunnel, leapfrogging over matching symbols where another pirate already stands. The only way to get more cards, however, is to move backwards; more specifically, you move one of your pirates backwards to the first space that holds one or two pirates, drawing one or two cards after doing so. Each turn, you take 1-3 actions, whether moving forward or backward or both. When you move a pirate to the end of the track, it jumps on the sloop where it must await the other pirates in its crew. With every step toward victory, though, you have fewer and fewer pirates to move each turn, possibly locking you in to actions you don't want, so be sure to plan ahead and not leave yourself empty-handed!
This version of Cartagena includes the classic base game mixed with Cartagena 2. The Pirate's Nest and several new variants. The game includes eight double-sided game boards, and to play the base game you use only six of them. Use more boards for a longer game, or fewer boards (and possibly fewer pirates) for a shorter game. To replicate Cartagena 2, you can flip over three or more of the game boards to create a secondary path that's separate from the first one. Now when you place pirates in the sloop, you can use an action to move the sloop to the start of the second path — and with two paths, you have a harder time making huge jumps from start to finish.
"Morgan" is a variant in which players can now draw cards by moving an opponent's pirate ahead, drawing one or two cards when the pirate stops at the first space that contains one or two pirates; this variant and all others can be used in any version of the game. With the "Filibusters" variant, whenever someone plays one of the twelve cards with a dark background, everyone other than the active player must discard until they have at most seven cards in hand.
Finally, the "Black Magic Woman" variant introduces special powers to the six symbols on the card, and when you play a card, you can use it for pirate movement like normal or use the card' power. You can play two parrots as if they were any other symbol, or use a lantern to look at the top four cards and keep one of your choice. With the gun, you steal a card of your choice from an opponent's hand, with them getting one free draw in return. The treasure chest symbol lets you pick up the treasure chest from the space where you stand, most likely drawing cards from the deck as a bonus, but possibly suffering a snakebite that will have you running back for rum to help you forget the pain!