Each Spiel in Essen, I organize in advance a list of the games in which I am interested. While at the convention, I make it a point to inspect, and possibly play these games, after which I make my decision as to whether I should purchase them. However, it is quite common to find a half-dozen or more games which initially did not catch my interest, or, indeed, of which I had heard absolutely nothing. Big Kini from first-time designer Guido Eckhof was one such game.
Released by Play Me Games, which is a retail game store in Germany, the game received little advance publicity. Indeed, it was initially only being sold at the small Play Me booth in the Messe (convention center). With so many small publishers permeating the halls, there simply isn’t enough time to view every game available. As such, choices are made, and many booths are simply by-passed. Unquestionably, I would have by-passed Big Kini had it not been one of the top-rated games at the Fair Play booth. That piqued my interest, so I scheduled a time to play the game.
While the rules explanation we received was sketchy, we succeeded in playing and the experience was quite good. Subsequent plays have confirmed this initial reaction: Big Kini is a fine game. The game is one of discovery and power, as players set sail across the seas, discovering islands and maneuvering their pawns into positions of power. The cartoon-like artwork belies the strategy game which lies within.
In spite of its cartoonish appearance, the game offers quite a bit of depth and strategic options. Players must attempt to maneuver their settlers into positions of power, but cannot overlook the value of making discoveries or collecting goods. Care must be taken to maintain strength on islands wherein you control the Bay Baron position, lest the office be ripped from underneath you. Conversely, performing such hostile takeovers on atolls controlled by your opponents moves you steadily closer to victory.
As mentioned, choosing which actions to perform each turn is critical, as is prioritizing these actions. You must also be ready to shift your planned actions when your original choice is no longer available. Adaptation is a vital skill.
Big Kini is one of those pleasant, surprise gems that helps make Essen well-worth attending. I honestly didn’t expect to be impressed … but I am. In fact, it falls squarely in the top tier of games from this year’s convention. In a game that involves exploration and discovery, the best discovery was the game itself!
I taught the game to Paul, Diana, Kevin and Alison, and they promptly set sail on voyages of discovery. They also jostled for the prime positions on the atolls, with Paul eventually emerging victorious.
Finals: Paul 43, Kevin 39, Diana 36, Alison 35
Ratings: Kevin 9, Paul 8.5, Alison 8, Diana 7
Greg, has the game ever lasted beyond the 6th or 7th turn? How have the "aggressive discoverers" done?
I played it twice this weekend with 4 players. The games went 10 and 12 turns. In one game we did not discover all the islands and the game clock ran out.
I can't imagine the game going only 6 or 7 turns - money is short and exploration is expensive; in addition there are so many other things that you want to do that will ultimately be worth more victory points than discovery. Exploring an island costs a minimum of 6 money units and that is for an adjacent atoll. If the atoll is further away, the cost goes up by 1 for each additional hex distance away - that would be 8 money units for an atoll that is 3 hexes away.
The only source of income is Tobacco Factories. Not every atoll has a tobacco factory and the best one produces 7 money units per action - the worse is 3 money units per action. In order to use the “double money” action you have to have control over two different islands, both of which have a tobacco factory. Since only one player can do the “double money” action per turn and there are only two other opportunities to get less money – I’d guess that the average amount of money entering the game would be about 18 money per turn – and that would probably only begin on turn 2 at the earliest.
Also, in order to produce money with a tobacco factory the player must have a control token in place on that island with influence over the factory. In order to move must have influence over the harbor and in order to make new control tokens must have influence over a settlement. All these things require control tokens – so at some point you must choose the “make babies” action at least once and probably more.
At a rate of 2 VP per island discovered, and the fact that all 4 players will certainly do their “share” of discovering because:
1. you only get two actions per turn,
2. you may not always get to select the “get money” action (there are only 3 opportunities, and one of them is at a reduced payout),
3. you may not always get the discover action,
Going with a “petal to the metal” discovery strategy seems like a loser.
In the unlikely even that a player could get a “make money” and a “discovery” action every turn, they would have only 2 settlers and would not be able to control any territory, because they would never be pausing to make new settlers, or vote any of their pieces into the position of “bay baron” which pays 5 VP at the end of the game, each of these being a separate action.
Here is the extreme:
In 6 turns a “discovery” player would have discovered 6 atolls for a total of 12 VP plus maybe earned 2 VP each for his 2 settlers – total VP of 16 points. In contrast, a single player, discovering 2 atolls, calling 3 elections and making babies a few times can easily score 20 or more points by “turtleing” and can do all that in 5 or less turns.
Remember that there are only 14 Atolls to discover! One player getting 6 is nearly impossible, unless the other three players are completely asleep at the switch.
I’m beginning to believe that the “discovery” strategy is only viable because folks are misreading the rules about influence and the cost of discovery.