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Subject: can you survive in the desert? rss

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nate ben-porat
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I own ‘Through the desert’ for only few days but I played 15+ times already. It became top favorite of three of my friends after few games and to me it stands right after ‘Diplomacy’ with the same line as with ‘Nexus Ops’.

During the game players will have to place wisely camels on different hexes on the board in order to get victory points that will indicate which player will win. The player with the most victory points will win, thus player are trying to stop other players from getting victory points and at the same time gain victory points as well.

In this review I’m going to talk about this excellent game, tell about my thoughts and try to explain it. There are some great, great reviews here but I wanted to show the game on a little different view, and of course another review can’t hurt.

Just note before reading the review: some of the things that are said here are opinions and not facts; please consider it while reading the review.

The Bits
The bits in this game look childish and funny, what gives the game right feeling when playing it. In all the Bits are from great quality and very fun to play with.

The Box
The box gets the lowest rating from all the bits in the game. The box is beautiful on the shelf and attracts the eyes right a way. Yellow, red, brown and white are all over it and, of course, the blue and silver of Fantasy Flight. The problem is that the box is too small. You can of course remove the carton that inside the box but then it’ll look ugly, so after you organize all the bits in different bugs you need to quiz them so they’ll fit in the box. Box rating: 8/10 for being beautiful.

The Board
The board is absolutely great. Its beautiful has all information needed on it so you can find it easily. The board is in the perfect size as well. It’s small enough so I can place it on my table and big enough so you can see what’s going on. When you fold it, it fit exactly to the box so no problem with that. The only downside of the board is that it doesn’t come flat. I had to hit few time to make it playable. Board rating: 9/10 it would had gotten ten out of ten if it was flat when I got it.

The Rules
The rules comes in eight different languages including German, English, French, Italian, Spanish and few more that I’m not sure , so there isn’t a problem usually with that. The rules are very colorful and have a lot of examples and diagrams that helps you understand what’s going on and make it easier to read. It’s written very well and after first read I was able to play without checking the rule book one time more. Rules rating: 10/10 for being so colorful and well written.

The Camels
The camels are the pieces that are used the most. The colors are horrible but they are made from a very good quality and look childish and funny which makes the game better in my opinion. The camels won’t break if the fall on floor and probably not if you sit on them. Camels rating: 9/10 would have been ten out of ten if the colors where better.

The Riders
The riders are colored nicely, differently from the camels and fit great when you put them on the camels. They’ll never fall off the camels during the game and yet you won’t have problem placing them on the camels or pulling them out. The only problem is that the riders’ quality is quite bad. If you press on them little too hard they might break in your fingers. Riders rating: 9/10 would be ten out of ten if they were from just a little better quality.

The Tokens
The tokens are great, simply great. Very good quality and they won’t rip nor break easily. They are all colorful and has all information needed printed on them. Tokens rating: 10/10 for being so useful and beautiful.

The Oases
The oases are represented by some kind of freak trees which are funny looking. The top fit perfectly to the bottom and they’ll rarely fall. Oases rating: 10/10 for doing their the job the best.

Bits conclusion
The game’s bits are great in all and are very fun to play with. The information is very organized so you can play without thinking too much about technical stuff. Bits rating: 56/70 = 80/100 which is a very good grade.

Well now you know how good the bits are, which can’t be a bad thing. Now let’s see how you put those bits before you play. The setup or preparation in this game can be painful if you don’t organize the bits in different bags, but you’ll find that after the bits are in the right places it will turn very easy and fast task. There are few setup phases that are listed here: (Note: in the rulebook the phases are organized differently, here I change the order to how I setup the game. I found that my way is faster and easier.)
1. Make 5 piles of camels, each one containing one color of camels only. So one pile will only have green camels in it while the second pile will only have purple camels in it and so on with the rest of the piles.
2. Do this phase only when playing 2 or 3 players. When playing 2 players remove 10 camels from each pile of the camels. When playing with 3 players remove 5 from each pile.
3. Each player now picks a color of riders he want to have and take all six of them. In addition each player takes one grey camel and one camel from each of the tile and places each rider on different camels. Each camel with rider on it (except the grey camel) is called caravan leader. Those are very important when placing them at the start of the game.
4. After each player has in front of him 6 camels, 1 grey and one camel from each pile take the 5 oases that are represented by weird trees and place them randomly on the board. There are 7 available (unless playing 2 players see later) places represented on the board by green trees, place all 5 oases randomly one on each of the marked trees. Now place on each blue dot a random water hole and on each oases mark that doesn’t have oasis face up so all players can see how many points each water hole worth.
5. Now place the rest of the scoring tokens near the board. They will be used a lot during the game.

Playing the Game
After you settled up the game you want to play! Well let’s see how do you do play it! At the start each player is placing one of his caravan leaders; after he did it the next player will place one of his caravan leaders and so on until all the players putted all of their caravan leaders. When you place the caravan leaders you need to think a lot because from that the caravan will start developing. (Don’t worry, I’ll explain what caravan means, I’ll get to it soon). There are few rules that limit you when you put caravan leader.
* You may not place caravan leader on hex that contains water hole.
* You may not place caravan leader on hex that touches hex that contain oasis.
* You may not place caravan leader on hex that touches hex that already contain other caravan leader (regardless if he is yours or not).
*You may not place caravan leader on hex that contains other caravan leader.
Those rules make caravan leaders’ placement more fair and interesting. As I said each caravan leader start a caravan from particular color of camels. As in other Reiner Knizia’s games players share colors. The colors of camels are shared and each player may put camel from a particular color on their caravan that matches that color. By placing camels wisely you gain victory points that will make you win if you have the most of them. in each turn player may put up to 2 camels from the pile to the board. They may be from different colors or the same color. It’s up to you. There are few rules that you need to follow when placing camels.
*You have to put the camel on a hex that touches other hex that contains one of your camels in the matching color.
* You can’t place camels on a hex that touches other hex that contains a camel with a matching color that is other’s player. This will not only stop mixing camels together but bring up important strategies when you want to block your opponent from completing tasks.
* You can’t put camel on hex that contains other camel or oasis.
Those rules limit you as well and make you really think when placing camels. “So why am I doing this hard work again”? You might ask yourself now because that not so easy to follow those rules and play the best moves because as I said you can’t do whatever you want. Well all those action will finally reward you with victory points. The better moves the more victory points that will make you closer to win. There are 4 ways of getting victory points and you can’t ignore anyone because all are balanced and important. If you are going to focus only on linking oases (see later) you’ll fall behind and lose not only because it’s get harder and harder to do that but because other players will get the point you could have got but you didn’t. There are 2.5 ways to score during game and 1.5 only at the end of the game (you’ll understand soon). Here are all the ways:

Claiming Water Holes
When you put one of your camels on a water hole immediately remove it from board and put it in front of you face down . This is the only scores you are going to keep hidden during the game so players will have to risk it when finishing the game (you’ll see how finishing game works later), don’t reveal it, it will harm your chances to win and will reduce the fun. You get the same amount of points are written on the water hole.

Linking Oases
When you place camel on a hex connected to hex containing oasis you get 5 points right a way. There is one trick here though. You can’t link and get points twice using caravans on the same oasis. Thus surrounding one oasis with one of your caravan will only give you 5 points. Note though that you can use the same caravan to get 10 points by expanding so it’ll touch 2 oases (15 points if the same caravan touches 3 oases and so on). Also you may link few caravans to the same oasis and by that get 5 for each caravan.

Enclosing areas
This is the trickiest way to get points. If during the game you circle area with only 1 caravan you get points, the bigger the area the more points you get. When enclosing area you may use the edge (or the mountains in the middle of the board) as part of the caravan you are enclosing the area with. Thus you won’t need to place camels on the edge of the board. When you finish you get 5 points for each oasis that was in the area you enclosed (if you have one) and you get all water holes that were there (if any). You may not enclose area that contains camels. At the end of the game for each hex that is enclosed that a water hole wasn’t on it or that oasis isn’t in it you get 1 point. Thus you get 1 points for every empty hex. So if you enclosed area that contain 15 hexes, 1 with oasis, 2 with water hole that worth 2 points and 1 hex that has water hole that is equal to 3 and the rest of the hexes are empty you’ll get 23 points [5 + (2X2 = 4) + 3 + (1X11 = 11)] .

Largest caravan
This is the last way to get victory points. For each caravan that you have the most camels at the end of the game you get 10 points regardless how much camels you have. So for example if you have 12 green camels and I have only 8 you’ll get 10 victory points. In case that there is a tie who has the most camels in a cretin color all players that are tied get 5 points.

Alright let’s see what you know so far… you know about how good the bits are. You know how to prepare the game before playing it. You know how to put caravan leaders and camels. You know how to get victory points and win. Oh! But you don’t know what the grey camels are, the special rule for 2 players and how the game ends. Well the grey camels are simply to show each player what is his riders’ color. Sometimes on games of 4 or 5 it can be very confusing so it’s a good idea that each that each player has camels that represent him (note the grey camels are not placed on the board. You simply place the in front of you). The game ending is simple as well. When of the camel pile is over the games ends right a way. So if I putted the last green camel now, for example, the game is end and players get now end game point and calculate who wins. Finally when you play 2 players game the board get smaller by a white wide line that is printed, that will make game with 2 players much more interesting.

My Thoughts
I think this game is amazing. Once I played this game in one day 5 times and still got sad when we had to stop playing. The game has special balancing strategy and during the game you need to be a ware of everything. Players will fight on the small land by placing cute camels ( I wish all wars were like that). I don’t say this is a war game just somehow managed to putt the word war in this whole review.

Who is the game suggested to?
Well I would say for all ages up from age 4. Yes. For some kids it might be little too hard but if I learned to play chess in age 4 there is no reason you kids couldn’t play this at age 4. The game is very interesting for adults too and actually this is my dad’s favorite game from second game even though he played chess all his life (I must admit I got a shock).

Little comment about game play?
Of course, the downtime is quite short usually, although brain burners can make the game little pain. One of my friends just sits and stares stare, stare until he raises his hand to the purple pile and the freeze and stare, stare, stare…. It’s actually quite fun to block your friends and look how they get so angry when an area they tried to enclosed for 9 turns is blocked or how you finish a game a moment before they reach that oasis they tried to reach all game. It’s really great fun. Game goes quick and the board changes all the time. As I mentioned you need to be a ware of everything all the time.

How much players are needed to have fun?
Well I find the game best with 3 or 4. When playing 5 players I find the game become much slower and kind of annoying because you can’t do anything. The game is surprisingly good with 2 and one of the best 2 players games out there in my opinion.

I find the game great for everybody; players, non-players, families and kids, for everybody. I give the game a big 10. Simply excellent game that is fun, simple and has a lot of depth into it.
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