On a sunny September afternoon in Plainfield, The Wandering Dragon held open gaming. Players were moving from room to room, checking out different games, and evaluating how to spend their gaming time.
John, Ava, and Nelson were drawn in by the animals of the game Botswana. Sam quickly joined the game, so a 4-player round of Botswana started.
I explained that Botswana is a game by designer Reiner Knizia, and that the turn actions are simple but winning the game requires a bit of strategy.
John and Ava were arranging the animals on the table as I spoke, but once I mentioned that Reiner Knizia was the designer Nelson's interest increased.
A turn consists of playing a scoring card, and then picking an animal on the table and adding it to the player's collection. The scoring cards can be played in any order, and the game ends when six scoring cards are played for any animal. At this point, the animals are worth whatever card is the last played in that suite. For instance, if lions had a "1" card on top of their pile when the game ended, each lion would be worth 1 point.
Nelson and Sam were concentrating on the strategy of the game, and they were trying to plan out their plays so that they could get the most points from playing the highest cards late in the round.
Ava and John were happy playing with the animal pieces, and their cards were coming out in more unpredictable orders.
The balance between these two play styles created an unpredictable game. Nelson and Sam were both holding low scoring cards, assuming the game would be over before they needed to play those cards.
The round went a bit later in the round than Nelson and Sam were planning. They ended up playing "1" and "0" scores late in the game for animals they were collecting, and Nelson in particular was devastated to learn that his final score was 2. The other scores were close: 18, 17, and 14. John won with 18 points, but Nelson's 2 was a bit of a blow… Nelson promptly went and ordered the game, so he could hone his skills.
Botswana is a game that appealed to all play styles, because the gameplay is easy to grasp: take a card, pick up an animal. The more nuanced strategy comes from understanding what the eventual score will be of each animal type. John won precisely because no one thought he had a higher strategy at play, and yet at game end he had collected only animals that had high values attached to them.