Andres F. Pabon L.
Designer(s): Leo Colovini
Original Publisher: Venice Connection
Version Reviewed: Rio Grande Games (2002)
Game board: The central game board is a nice six-folded piece of thick cardboard, that initially doesn't seem to be as big as it really is (as it fits in a tiny squared box and all). The board depicts 60 different regions, split in 12 zones (which are in turn separated by rivers and lakes). Each region has 1 of 4 different background images (forest, mountains, wheat fields and plains), and each zone has 1 region of each type (and 1 region with a repeated background).
Huts: 12 huts in each of the possible player colors (blue, black, red, green an yellow) are included. The huts are wooden, with an excellent quality.
Scoring markers: 1 short cilindrical wooden marker on each of the player colors, in the same material as the huts.
Bonus chits: 12 yellowish cardboard chits are placed in their corresponding initial places in the board (and are then taken as villages are formed).
Player tiles: 5 square thick cardboard tiles, each with a hut in one of the player colors.
At the start of the game, each of th players takes a player tile, and keeps it hidden. No player should know which color are the other players, which is determined by the player tiles. There's always at least 1 tile left (as the maximum number of players is 4), but with less players, more remain. These tiles are not used, and should be put away so no player knows which color(s) are not playing.
On a player's turn, the player needs only to move a hut, or group of huts, into a neighboring region with one or more huts. There are only two special rules for this movement: (1) huts can't be moved across lakes (but can be moved across rivers); and (2) if a group of huts has 7 or more huts, it cannot be moved unless it's other neighbors have a greater number of huts.
The central concept of the game is that of a village. A village is formed whenever a group of huts is surrounded by empty regions, and thus it can't be moved (and no other group can be moved towards the group).
When a village is formed, all colors present score a total number of points equal to the total number of huts (regardless of color) in the village. The only exception is if all colors are present, in which case all colors with only one hut have their only hut removed from the village (and thus, removin them from the scoring and lowering the general score of the village as less huts are counted towards the total).
As soon as a village is formed, the player who made the last movement (the one that caused the village's foundation) takes a bonus chit. The place where the bonus chit was taken determines the special scoring of the village: to the left is a region where a bonus is applied, and the numeric bonus (for instance, the first 4 places hav a forest and a number 1 to the left; so 1 point is added to the village score if the village is
founded in a forest); to the right is a region indicating that if the village was found in on of such regions, no color scores a single point for the village.
The object of the game is to score the most points in your color, by means of forming villages in which your color is present, and adding the points for every village you found (even if your color is not present).
The game ends when all 12 possible villages are formed (after taking the last bonus chit). At that point, all players show their true colors and add their bonus chits to the total of their colors. The player with the most points wins the game.
This game is really strange. At first, you just don't know what you should do: the rules are very simple, yet the tactics (and even some slight strategies) don't seem too clear. After a couple of plays, though, you start grabbing how to be present in most villages formed, while leaving certain colors outside.
But then is when the true beauty of the game starts to surface: which colors should you leave behind? Why, the ones of your opponents, of course. The problem is, how do you know their colors? Then you start realizing players try, just as you've been doing, to includetheir colors in the villages, so you can deduct their colors. Unless they, as you learn you should do, try to maskerade their color by including several other colors in their villages consistently.
The game, after grabbing the basic mechanics, turns into an excellent game of hide and seek, of bluffing and analyzing, which is playable in 20 to 30 minutes flat.
What's not to like? Well, there are some players who don't get past the surreal mechanics of village forming, so the game turns into a huge source of frustration for them. I can't blame them, though. The mechanics are trully bizarre, and certainly not very evident.
For the rest of gamers (and even non-gamers), this game is a very nice addition with all perfect advantages for a filler game: short play time, a very low price and even some deep tactics involved.
My advice: try it at BSW first, and if you like it, go ahead and get it!