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The Final Word On
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Namibia is an economic resource exploitation game designed by Brian Robson and published by Műcke Spiel. It plays 3 or 4 players and should take 90 minutes or so.

The box is quite small and square. The design on the front gives a clear indication of the game theme.

James: I really like the design of the box. It is a collage of images showing the industrialisation and exploitation of an African nation, complete with European colonist showing off his new found wealth dug straight from the ground. Like any good box it draws you into the theme of the game before you've even started.

Mike: I agree. Very appropriate artwork, compact box. It is not a bright cover that's going to attract a non-gamer, but it also would not be enjoyed by a non-gamer, so its a good choice.

The game contents are then fit snuggly into the box.


James: The game board is one of my favourites of any game. It's relatively small but it has the perfect balance between function and aesthetics. The land hexes are a wonderful desert beige colour, subtly gradiated to show dunes, and hints of green to show more fertile areas. Some small towns, roads, and rivers are also on the map. The sea is a murky blue, that darkens as the sea gets deeper. Not that those features affect the gameplay, it just makes for a great map which clearly shows the game-play features it needs.

Mike:
I also really like the map. He even anticipated the expansion. But the chunky, clunky components and the undersized rail markers easily jumble up the map a bit at this size. Too bad the mine heads were not 20% smaller. However, the blocks nice and big. Overall, compact, beautiful board a bit hampered by oversize components. Also, some discrepancy with the player score marker color and playing bits.

James: The board also contains the reputation track (score track), turn order, and the market for the different game resources. All nicely presented.

Mike: Yep, well thought out and easy to read.

James: The currency tokens in the game is a little off though. The value is purely indicated by colour. No value at all is written on the plastic coins. Easy fix is to use money from another game, or poker chips. I still keep the tokens that came with the game, just to keep the game 'complete', but they are useless and may as well be thrown away.

Mike: James, you are very kind. The money is simply awful.

The game has players bidding for turn order, then building mines, prospecting, laying rails, shipping commodities.

Mike: In the game each player runs a company that can mine and ship three of the four minerals. This is set-up so that there is only ever an over lap of two minerals with another player. Each round starts with a bid for turn order.

James: That auction for player order is brutal. It is a single auction, with first player to drop out taking the last available spot in the turn order. Last man standing is the winner. As the players must pay their bid before they dropped out must be paid to the bank then it's a real test of nerve and calculation. It's not just a case how how much are you willing to pay, but also how much are you willing to lose. It's a auction mechanism that can leave you feeling pretty stupid.

Mike: Really, really brutal. Make an error, and you can almost be out of the running. Lots of strategy in the bid: when to time your big outlay. How to bid to force others to drop out. My favourite part of the game: really agonizing.

James: I know I've lost games because I bid on turn order and still coming last. The money could have been spent buying some reputation, the games victory points.

Mike: Truly devious. However, winning the turn order auction loses you four reputation points. The bribes may be tolerated, but they are still frowned upon. Therefore you really need to use being first in turn order to your advantage and earn some money to buy that reputation back. The earlier you buy points, the cheaper they are, but the less money you have to work with for the rest of the game. Often it is this early VP purchase that determines the eventual winner. Beautiful balance.

James: The game is littered with great little tweaks on what appears to be standard mechanics. For instance, built mines cannot be used this turn, they must be completed next turn and the used. This has a large impact on the game. It changes the game from being a straight-forward economic game where you grab what you can knowing it will reap benefits later. You need to instead 'gamble' on future market movements and other players shipping intentions.

Mike: Remember as well, if other people ship through your port you gain reputation. Sometimes it's worth trying to tempt people into it, and they often can't resist because money can be so tight. It can be a cheap way to get gain reputation. Additionally, don't forget the position of the mine: sometimes you can get an extra cube if it is isolated.

James: See it's details like that I always seem to miss.

Mike: A good way to screw others is combining turn order and mine placement to ensure they will get limited resources in the future. Also, going last can actually be a strategy: you don't get to build train tracks, but if you set up right, you can get opponents to build what you need for you, and as last player you get more land to grab and can seed the board for the next turn. If you can get top bid next go, you could be in the driver's seat.

James: The combination of truck and rail as a way of transporting your goods to a port is a superb way of having players have a long term strategic build plan (through laying rails) and identifying some possible short term gains (placing the truck).

Mike: Too often, the truck choice seems a no-brainer, but nice to have the two options to consider.

James: Yeah, but the way it all fits together feels so natural, and fits so well thematically. The brief player aids are all you need once the basics of the game are learnt.

Mike: Yep, all except the market fluctuations. You get the hang of it eventually, but it is not the most obvious part of the game for me. I always have to think about how the demand/price markers interact. It seems a bit counter-intuitive at times.

James:
Oh man, yeah. How I needed to be reminded of that market. Saying that though all these inter-related elements gives you the opportunity to time your move in various ways. Hold back, save up, and calculate when to move. One turn, if played right, can turn a losing position into a winning one, or at least a close second.

Mike: You've had a couple games I thought you were completely out of, but made a huge comeback. I have not managed that yet: maybe I'm too obvious.

James: Nah, it just takes several turns of dumb mistakes before I eventually realize what I should do.

There is plenty of opportunity to mess with other players.

James: What makes me so bad at this game is not that you need to plan ahead, but you have to anticipate what the other players will do. Applying your strategy has to based upon figuring out what the board will look like next turn, not what the board looks like now. There is no randomization at all, so everything is predictable, except people of course. So this throws up some great opportunities to really screw over your competitors. Bring on the market manipulations.

Mike: Yeah, anticipation key, as well as where/when to place resources, where/when to ship, how to manipulate the market and get others to build the track you need. Screw them with the bidding, and at the end drop the value of their goods. Plenty of opportunity here. Not for the sweet players out there who don't want to take advantage of a neighbour's misfortune.

The game is a fixed length of six turns.

James: I usually prefer games where there is a player controlled win condition. A fixed turn order usually ends up with a very gamey last turn and long drawn out analysis paralysis and arguments over who to screw over. This game is no different.

Mike: Yep. One of the weaker points. Group think certainly can come into play. Also remember the number of turns increases to seven with the Uranium expansion. Which leads to my next question.

Beyond the basics.

Mike: I wanted to get your thoughts on the Uranium expansion.

James:
Sure, Uranium sounds fun.

Mike: This basically includes some purple Uranium cubes. These always go up in value, and can be shipped when anything else ships. There are some rules holes: do you have to give extra reputation for a Uranium shipment? But besides the rules, I felt the expansion only puts extra money in the game, but not a whole lot else. It changes some end strategy, and perhaps allows blocking of some metal veins, but overall I could take it or leave it. It also seems to add 20-30 minutes to play time for no real benefit. Thoughts?

James: For me it's a bit of an emergency banker. Grab the Uranium fields while you can and you know it'll never drop in value. If you are desperately short of money, which I often am, you can cash in and get some in your hands for the next auction. It makes the game a little less brutal, but is implemented in quite a balanced way.

A non-game related gripe

Mike: Maybe a review is not the best place for this, but I'm in a grouchy mood.

James: No change there then.

Mike: I think the designer hamstrung himself last Essen. Those that pre-ordered were promised a specific price, which increased 10 Euros (incl. expansion) on the day of the fair. The claim was the special offer had only been for an Italian show, and that we all had read things wrong. Hmm. Anyway, not too surprised he was still standing there Sunday with a huge stack of games. Unfortunate, and I hope the game gets more broadly distributed this year.

James: At the time it didn't really bother me. However, over the last year I've a few other companies back out on promises they've made to get some extra pre-orders. With margins so narrow on these short print-runs I can see why promises may need to be broken, but with such a limited market pissing off customers is not a good idea.

And The Final Word...


James: This has to be the biggest ratio of how bad I am at game to how much I enjoy it. Despite me sucking so bad, I really love playing this game. Have never turned down a game yet.

Mike: I've seemed to do OK so far, which is odd because I generally suck at the economic games. Maybe because of the high screwage factor?

James: Yeah, maybe. The box says 90 minutes playing time, and despite the amount of steps in a turn the game fits beautifully into that time frame. It has to be one of the deeper 90 minute games I've played. So much better than the s**te that pretends to be a heavy strategic game that's the usual latest hotness.

Mike: The time on the side of the box is about right. You get quite a lot going on in these 90 to 120 minutes. Longer would be too long, shorter and you just have a filler. Nice game, and allows time after to get your own back with something else. A game that deserves a bit more exposure as it is different enough and compact enough to be of interest to a wider audience of players looking for some stiff choices, cut-throat bidding, market manipulation, and clever map play. Feel free to give the expansion a miss.
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Brian Robson
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Many thanks for the positive review

TheFinalWordOn wrote:
Mike: I think the designer hamstrung himself last Essen. Those that pre-ordered were promised a specific price, which increased 10 Euros (incl. expansion) on the day of the fair. The claim was the special offer had only been for an Italian show, and that we all had read things wrong. Hmm. Anyway, not too surprised he was still standing there Sunday with a huge stack of games. Unfortunate, and I hope the game gets more broadly distributed this year.

James: At the time it didn't really bother me. However, over the last year I've a few other companies back out on promises they've made to get some extra pre-orders. With margins so narrow on these short print-runs I can see why promises may need to be broken, but with such a limited market pissing off customers is not a good idea.


'Fraid I had nothing to do with the pricing ... that was all down to the publisher. To be fair, Mücke Spiele are pretty new to the industry and are still finding their way. I do hope they shift more copies at Essen this year though!
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Eric Flood
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This review title is, at the same time: haughty, presumptuous, and contradictory (nearly so much as this statement).

The content is, however, of a mostly useful sort (rather unlike this statement, of course).
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