Cacao is a tile laying game about buying and selling cocoa beans.
At its heart it feels very similar to Carcassone. In fact, I've heard it described as Carcassone with the meeples built into the tiles, and that's not too far from the truth.
There is a shared "deck" of tiles in the middle and each player has their own deck of tiles that are identical, but shuffled. Each turn a player will play one of their tiles adjacent to the tiles on the board, and then fill in any spaces that border at least two player tiles. Player tiles can only be played adjacent to common tiles and it ends up forming a checkerboard pattern.
Player tiles each have 4 meeples arranged around the outside edge with between zero and 3 meeples on a particular side. Common tiles have cacao pods, markets, temples and other actions. These get activated when meeples get played adjacent to them or they are placed adjacent to meeples.
Money = points, and the player gets money by finding and selling pods, controlling temples, etc. The player with the most points/money at the end wins, of course.
Overall, I liked this game.
I thought it flowed very well. I was engaged when it wasn't my turn, because the board changes significantly and it helps to keep up with those changes. Temple spaces, for example, are competitive, giving points to the players who have the most meeples around them, so you need to know when they get played or added to.
That is also a problem with the game, however. There's a lot of information and if you aren't paying attention to what other players are doing, you'll have to try to analyze it on your turn. This game has a lot of "AP" or Analysis Paralysis. There are so many possible choices that in order to play "well" you need to send your brain down a lot of different paths. You've got three possible tiles in your hand and more on the table and you need to figure out where to place your tile, and where that lets you play the board tiles. Plus each of your tiles can be played in many different orientations with different numbers of meeples against the tiles on the board and the tiles you are playing next to them. Should you put two meeples next to the cacao farm to get two pods and one next to the market to sell one of them, or one meeple next to the farm to get one pod and two next to the market to sell that pod and another one you have in your stores. So many choices!
It's definitely a game that you should play once for practice. There will be a lot of moments where you go, "OH! That's how that works!" and you will definitely play better in the second game than you did in the first. You'll have a better idea of how Temples work, for example, and how many of each tiles are in the common deck, and how the "water man" works, etc. There are a lot of complex systems interacting here, and each one gives different numbers of points at different rates. You'll spend a lot of time weighing the number of points you can get from one action versus another one; weighing a quick gain on this turn versus possible points on later turns.
There is one other small issue. Different markets give you different prices for the pods you sell. Most of them give 2 or 3 coins each, but one of them gives 4 coins. Because there's only one of them in the deck, it's a bit swing when it comes out. If there are a lot of players, it could get consumed without all the players getting a chance at it. Also, it will depend heavily on whether you have pods to sell when it comes up. So it's got a lot of swing and a lot of luck and can definitely have a large impact on the outcome. I'd honestly recommend removing it or treating it as a 2 or a 3.
Play this game if you like tableau building, strategy, and balancing economies. It is a lot of fun, but I still recommend changing the 4 market.