Editor’s Note: My full review of Anasazi will be published after further playings. The following is based on my initial playing.
The Anasazi were a fascinating people. Their legacy includes a litany of intriguing buildings constructed in the deserts of the American southwest. After flourishing for centuries, the civilization vanished rather suddenly, leaving a mystery that endures to this day. This mystery is the stuff of legend and makes for a wonderful story, and perhaps even an outstanding board game. Sadly, Anasazi by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, is not that game.
Over two dozen mesa tiles are arranged on the table in concentric circles. Treasures of four different colors are placed on the pueblos depicted on the mesas. In addition, sixteen towers are placed on pre-designed mesas. Each tower depicts one of the same four colors as the treasures, but the identity of each is initially concealed. Towers serve both as a trigger to ending the game, as well as the determining factor for the ultimate value of the treasures collected by the players.
Game play is quite simple. Each turn, a player perform two actions, including, if desired, performing the same action twice.
Build a campsite. A campsite is placed onto the table between mesas. After placing a campsite, the player may secretly look at the color of one of the towers. This information can be quite useful when playing expedition tiles.
Guide an Expedition. The player takes one expedition marker and places it onto the table. Expeditions begin at one of the six base camps, and extend from there. The slender, rectangular tiles are laid end-to-end, with each one slightly overlapping the previous tiles. The tiles may be turned at various angles, allowing the path of the expedition to be redirected at the whim of the players. The idea is to reach pueblos and collect the treasures – and perhaps towers – located thereupon. Treasures are kept by the players, while towers are revealed and placed upon the scoring tile.
If an expedition tile touches a mesa for the first time, the player may secretly look at the tower on that mesa, noting its color. It is important to remember the identity of the towers, as players will want to avoid collecting towers that match the color of their secret “goal” card. Having as few of these colored towers placed to the scoring tile as possible is highly desirable, as it will increase the value of that treasure.
When a player places an expedition tile that touches one of his own campsites, he may steal a treasure of his choice from an opponent. This is the major incentive to placing new campsites, as this theft can deny several points to an opponent and increase your own victory point tally.
The scoring tile depicts four tracks with five spaced each, one for each color. The game ends either when all expedition tiles have been placed, or when one track has four towers upon it, at which point the value of each treasure is determined. The value of a treasure is equal to the number of uncovered spaces upon its corresponding track. For example, if two yellow towers have been placed upon the track when the game ends, there will be three uncovered yellow spaces. This means each yellow treasure is worth 3 points.
Each player tallies the value of his captured treasures, doubling the value of the treasures that match his goal card. The wealthiest player is victorious. They also gain the ignominious distinction of being the most prolific looter of ancient treasures.
In spite of its appealing subject matter, Anasazi falls flat on several levels. It fails to evoke the rich mystery of the culture. There really isn’t much atmosphere here. Further, it is difficult to balance the slim expedition tiles when overlapping them. They constantly slide off, causing the tiles to move and shift. In a game where centimeters are critical, this is quite problematic. The art on some of the tiles is also difficult to discern. Expedition tiles depict a tiny human figure atop a ladder, but it is a bit too diminutive for my aging eyes. The color of the base camps is also difficult to discern. Brighter colors would certainly have been easier.
Unfortunately, game play is also lacking. Players are hesitant to move an expedition close to a treasure lest an opponent use his turn to reach and claim the prize. Sadly, there really aren’t many alternatives, as inevitably someone will eventually begin moving the expedition towards the treasures. More often than not, being able to grab a treasure is due to the tile placement of the player immediately preceding your turn. There is no disincentive to collecting treasures, so players will grab any treasure within reach. Perhaps if certain treasures were harmful to a player, then there would be an incentive to exercise other options. As is, there aren’t any.
Further, for the same reasons as described above, once one expedition begins, it is often the best move to simply continue that expedition as opposed to beginning another one. So, one expedition tends to grow swiftly, while others either don’t begin, or progress slowly. This greatly restricted a player’s viable options and made for a lackluster game.
Fortunately, Anasazi plays to completion in 30 minutes or so. Its short duration, however, cannot overcome its flaws and general blasé feel. There simply isn’t anything exciting here. It is truly disappointing that the game couldn’t have done more justice to such a fascinating culture and subject.