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A review on desert exploring nomads
Some while back, Klaus Teuber (Settlers of Catan), created a game called Entdecker, some time after that, he released another game called Endecker, but this time he pasted "Exploring new horizons" to the title. It was the exact same game with a few additions. Same theme, some idea, just added a few elements that were meant to enhance the game experience, and if I’m not mistaken, also slightly changed the visual style.
Now, he grabbed the Entdecker game idea again and (re)designed two more games based on the Entdecker games. Im Reich der Wüstensöhne (In the reign of the desert sons) is one of them. I myself, after checking Dr. Easy’s game explanation on both this and the Jade goddess version of Entdecker, I opted for this one.
One of the reasons I bought this game is because I like the "Exploring new Horizons" so much, I think it is a very pleasant game to play, a good system, not a complex one, thus easy to grasp for people not too familiar with the boardgaming world. On the other side, it looked different enough to warrant the purchase for someone who, among the same playing style was looking for something new.
So how different is it from the original premises, and how good enough are the new elements introduced?
Note: I own the "Entdecker: Exploring new horizons" to which I will refer to as the original.
The looks of a game is obviously the most striking element on first contact. One is about islands in the vast sea, this one is about Oasis in the vast desert. So the original looks mostly blue/greenish whereas this one looks mostly yellow/greenish. But this isn’t really important. What truly makes this game differ from the original in its looks is the "board", since there is no actual board.
What you start with is a cross (just like the plus symbol in maths: + ). From the centre out you count 5 squares in each direction, which means that the playing field is in all 11 squares high and 11 squares wide, since the cross occupies the centre line and column, this means that the players will play in 4 5x5 grids which are all connected though by the same path system as in the original game.
Also, strikingly different are the game components, each player has much less game components then in the original. A player starts with a caravan chart that depicts 3 characters (each with special ability) and two camels (each with carrying capacity 2), also, instead of all those little cubes bases and HQ from the original, each player gets his/her own camel (works exactly like the ship), and four different sized (in height) explorers.
Then there is a trade-good chart which indicates the value of each of the 4 different trading goods, and those neat looking water stones, which are actual transparent cold-blue coloured glass tokens (and refreshingly different from the usual wooden tokens so often used in German boardgames). There are 4x10 goods, and then there are the ingenious gossip markers. Also (can’t recall right now and I haven’t got the game with me) some 10 camel markers with carrying capacity of 2 each.
You see that the theme inspired the designer to come up with a quite nice array of different gaming materials. But that doesn’t obviously mean the game is good:
So how does this play?
The basic idea is the same as in the original: you travel around the desert, place tiles from the different stacks thus exploring oasis in which you will place your explorers. Nothing new here, so far.
The big difference is how you score in this game. Other then in the original, you don’t score an oasis, instead, you collect different elements that can be found in them, and the larger the oasis the richer the findings. So what can you find? You can find water-stones, trading goods and camels.
The water stones are needed to activate character abilities (more below).
The trading-goods is where players get their Victory Points (VP) from. There are 4 different goods at 10 markers each. These goods are also depicted on a reference chart which indicates how much these goods are worth. By default, all goods are worth 4VP. But then there are these gossip markers that have an ear on the backside and a value (- or +) on the front side. These gossip markers work as value modifiers of the goodies’ base value. In all, the reference chart has place for 2 modifiers for each trading-good. That’s 8 spaces in all, but there are only 6 gossip markers to fill them with (1x[-2], 2x[-1], 2x[+1] and 1x[+2]), so in the end one trading good may be worth up to 4+1+2 (7) VP, or as much as only 4-1-2 (1) VP. I think this idea is neat, your explorers go around oasis and listen to the people, figuring out what they value most, at least that’s the idea behind the mechanic. When a player "scores" a gossip marker on any of the oasis, that player takes one random marker (face down) that hasn’t yet been placed on the chart, looks at it, and decides where to place it, this way, he/she may decide to place it where it favours him/herself, or where it may be damaging to your opponents.
Once all the gossip tiles have been placed (always face down), players still may chose gossip actions when scoring an oasis. In this case, the player who chose this action, may take any one gossip marker from the reference chart, look at it and then decide to take it off the chart, so the next player (might be the same) may place it back again on any of the now 3 empty gossip spaces on the chart.
Finally the camels: camels are needed to carry the goods. You start with 2 camels in your caravan, each have 2 square spaces to place your goods on (4 goods max at start), and for each new camel you get from an oasis scoring, you obtain 2 more spaces to carry goods. So the more camels you got, the more goods you can store, which means, you are prone to score more VP at the end of the game.
How players score
Many of the tiles players place depict one or more little squares that represent what the player can obtain by placing an explorer on it (one of 4 different goods, water stones or camels). Now each player has four different sized cylinder formed explorers. These come in tallest, tall, midsized and small. The interesting thing is that among each of the four different sizes, the peaces of the four players slightly differ in size, that is, one of the player has the tallest explorer among the tallest, but the shorter of the tallest is still taller then the tallest of the next sized explorers (weeeeeeee... my mind...). So in the four categories, one player has the tallest explorer of all among the tallest sized, but in the next lower sized explorers, that player has the shortest one and again the shortest one in the third category, and finally the tallest one among the shortest explorers. If you stack all explorers of the same colour though, you get four towers of the exact same height... neat!
As players place exploration tiles depicting fragments of oasis, they may place their explorers on them; different players may be in the same oasis at the same time. So when an oasis is finished, all the explorers placed there, regardless of their colour, are placed in a row assuming positions according to height. So from left to right you got the tallest to the shortest explorer, the player owning the tallest explorer has to pay one water-stone to go first, otherwise he loses his tallest explorer and the next player starts without needing to pay the water-stone. Now, after explorer sequence has been determined, players start placing them on the oasis selecting which symbols they want to occupy, and immediately obtain what ever is depicted on the little squares their explorer occupies. One of the player has also a turban, which he/she places on hos/her tallest explorer, this explorer is always regarded as the tallest of all explorers, after the turban wearing explorer has been used to score an oasis, the turban is passed to the next player who places it on his/her tallest explorer, thus, the privilege to be the first scoring player, rotates from one player to another.
Movement and character abilities and an interesting aspect
Movement is done in the exact same fashion as the original game. You camel (representing the caravan) may run any distance with one exception. The tiles depict intermittent lines (just as in the original) but in two different colours: brown (on sand) and white (on oasis). You may move your camel any distance on brown coloured lines, but as soon as your camel is moved over a white line, you have to stop on the next tile. This can be quite important at some times, especially when oasis get larger and occupy vaster areas.
This is when the characters come in handy. There are 3 different characters: the caravan leader, the scout and the camel... er... dude (not sure how to call him in English). If you pay one water stone you can activate their ability:
- The leader lets you play one more complete turn (move camel, draw tile, place explorer);
- The scout lets you place one exploration tile any one of your opponents has in his/her layout (each player may keep up to 3 tiles in his/her layout to use at any time they think fit, instead of drawing one from the face down stacks). These end up in a player’s layout, when that player draws a face down tile that doesn’t match in any position with the tile his/her camel is currently on;
- The camel... er... dude... let’s you move your camel any distance regardless of the line being white/or brown.
This makes this game slightly more confrontational then the original as you may have figured.
An interesting thing is that the exploration tiles have all been numbered on there back and need to be prepared accordingly. So after the game preparations have been concluded, there will be stacks number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5! Players always start drawing from stack number 1 and start only with stack 2 after 1 has been completely drawn, stack 3 after 2 and so on. Some players may think this isn’t very good since this might make for some repetitive gameplay after some time. But this rule actually makes sense if you consider the following logic:
If you were to mix all the exploration tiles and draw randomly from the complete pool, you might, during the first rounds draw more oasis tiles depicting goods then anything else. So you end up with much more goods then camels, thus, carrying capacity. And in the end game you might get the camel when you have no more chance to obtain the goods you need those camels for. So this is actually a good way to iron out this issue, by carefully divide these different resources among the different stacks, guaranteeing that there will be drawn some camels and some goods, at the beginning more of one then the others, and at the end the other way around. But they are always short, so not everybody will get everything; hence, game is kept competitive and tense throughout. So I guess I’d give a thumb up to Teuber for remembering this issue.
I enjoy the original game very much. I think it is a light family oriented boardgame that keeps newcomers interested for about an hour and might very well serve to introduce potential geeks into somewhat more complex then monopoly. This adaptation feels to me exactly the same way. A light family oriented boardgame, with appealing looks, very good quality components (these are improved over the original game) and an original playing mechanic based on the core concept of the Entdecker game.
If you own Entdecker and enjoy playing it, I’d recommend this highly if you’re looking for a familiar feeling without feeling déjà-vu. It really is just the core concept that is similar, everything else feels pretty distinct to the original game, in a way that I would suggest you to buy it if you’re considering it, but you think that the similarities may be too much to justify the purchase of this game; this isn’t at all the case! The theme is different, and the new score mechanics are very nicely contextualized, I actually think that the gossip markers are a very nice thematic touch and well integrated into the game concept.
I myself own Exploring new Horizons as well as this one, I still enjoy playing the original game. The new one is slightly more fine-tuned, perhaps, in a few very subtle aspects that are not enough or too outstanding to make the original game feel out of date and at the same time make this one sufficiently different to warrant the buy.
For the great and light-hearted fun it provides, an excellent redesign of an older core concept, great game components and some original new rules thrown into the pot, I give this game an 8/10.
EDIT: a slight rule missinterpretation that I have corrected
- Last edited Thu Dec 18, 2008 11:49 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Dec 17, 2008 9:28 pm
The history of Entdecker and Catan is a little more complex than you noted in your review. Teuber's original game design was broken into three different games. These games are Entdecker (where you explore and discover new islands), Settlers of Catan (where you colonize the island) and Lowenherz (where there is conflict over territory).
The original editions of Entdecker and Lowenherz were published by Goldsieber in Germany. Rio Grande published Lowenherz in English. There was never an English edition of the original Entdecker.
Both Lowenherz and Entdecker were revised somewhat and released in new editions. The new editions of both of these were published by Kosmos, the same company that has published Settlers since it first came out. Mayfair published the new game in English and called it Entdecker, Exploring New Horizons. (The German version translates to "The New Entdecker"). Mayfair published the new version of Lowenherz in English as Domaine (the German version was still called Lowenherz, though it's a different game than the original).