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Subject: light, enjoyable game of geography rss

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Lowell Kempf
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Alan Moon certainly has a knack for designing games about traveling, be it through a fantastic location like Elfenlands or in the conventional world we’re used to like Ticket to Ride.

His 10 Days games, designed with Alan Weissblum, are easily the simplest of his travel games, although they do manage to cover a good chunk of geography. They also happen to be enjoyable light games that are educational to boot.

10 Days in Africa is the second game in the series I’ve played, with 10 Days in the USA being the first. While the games are quite similar, having pretty much the same rule set, there are a few differences between them that makes them more than carbon copies with different maps.

In all of the 10 Days series, you play the part of a traveler trying to plan a ten day trip through the geographic area in the title. You can travel by foot, automobile or by plane. However you travel, though, your goal is to make a travel plan that is continuous.

Inside 10 Days in Africa, you are going to find a board that shows a map of Africa, four sets of tile racks, and a set of tiles, made up of countries, planes and automobiles. All together, it makes a surprisingly heavy package. Out of the Box doesn’t make components that are equal to the top of the line European games. However, for their relatively low price, their components are great.

One of the more amusing aspects of the 10 Days series is that you never play on the boards. The board simply is there to serve as a reference for the players. Theoretically, you could play without the board if you memorized the map of Africa. That’s not something I expect I’m going to be able to do any time in the near future.

The map shows the continent of Africa broken down by country. Each country is one of five different colors, no color ever next to itself. Those colors are important for the use of planes.

Each set of racks consists of two racks that have ten spaces between the two of them. Each space is marked with a day number, one through ten. They’re made from a nice solid wood and are fairly sturdy.

The tiles are thick pieces of cardboard. Most of them show the name and shape of a country with the color of the country matching the country’s color on the map. The country tiles also give the capital city and population of that country. Five of the tiles show an automobile, which looks an awful lot like a jeep, while there are two planes for every color.

There are forty different countries on the map and there is a tile for each of them. However, five of the countries (Chad, Mali, Niger, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo) also have a second tile. Those five countries each border a number of other countries, making them useful countries to have on your racks.

To start the game, shuffle the tiles and then spread them out, face down, so that all of the players can reach them. Then, the players take a tile, one at a time, and place it onto one of the open spots on their racks. Once a tile has been placed, it cannot be moved and you cannot look at the next tile you pick up before you place the one you have in your hand. In this way, all of ten spaces on everyone’s racks will be filled. Players should not be able to see each other’s racks.

You will take the remaining tiles, keeping them face down, and use them to form a draw pile, which you will set beside the board. Then, you turn the top three tiles of the draw pile and lay them face up beside the draw pile to form three separate discard piles. Now, the game is ready to begin.

The goal of the 10 Days in Africa is to create a continuous journey across Africa over the course of ten days, the ten days marked out on the player racks. You must journey from country to country by foot or automobile or by plane. To have a winning journey, each tile must be followed by a tile that is legal to play. The first and last day must be a country and not a transportation tile.

The simplest form of transportation is foot. If two countries are next to each other, then you can simply walk from one country to the other. Yes, that can sometimes mean you are a very impressive hiker. So, the tiles for two adjacent countries can be placed next to each other.

You can place an automobile tile in between two country tiles. An automobile can allow you to drive through a third country in order to travel from one country to another. Those three countries must be effectively in a row, although you can drive to an adjacent country through a country that borders both of them. Automobiles are very powerful tiles.

Plane tiles can also be placed in between two countries. As I mentioned before, there are two planes for each of the five colors on the map. If a plane is placed in between two countries and all three of them share the same color, than the player flew from one country to the other.

Now, here’s how you can rearrange the tiles on your racks. On your turn, you can draw a tile from either the top of the draw pile or the tile from the top of one of the three face up discard piles. You can then swap the tile that you drew with one of the tiles on your rack, placing the old tile face up onto one of the discard piles. If you’re unhappy with the tile you drew, you can just discard it.

You can never eliminate one of the discard piles. If you took the last tile from one, the tile you discard must replace it. If the draw pile runs out, you will reshuffle the deck.

If you complete your journey at the end of your turn, you announce it and reveal your racks so that the other players can verify that you have and curse your name and ancestry because you are the winner.

I like the 10 Days series. The games move very fast and the rule set is simple enough that anyone can easily learn it and enjoy it. They play two to four players well. There is a fair amount of luck involved but the three discard piles give players enough options that they aren’t completely at the mercy of the wheel of fate.

Despite the simple rule set, the 10 Days games also manage to generate a fair bit of tension as you get closer to completing your journey and are hoping that no one goes out before you. The three discard piles generate a degree of player interaction, making the games more than just multi-player geographic solitaire.

The 10 Days series also has a nice educational element to them as well. While many board games are forced to distort maps in order to make them conform to the game design (I have seen Chicago in Indiana more than a few times), the very nature of the 10 Days series makes accurate geography an intrinsic part of the game.

One of the real questions I think you need to ask yourself is if you need both 10 Days in the USA and 10 Days in Africa. (I haven’t played 10 Days in Europe yet so I can’t make a judgment call.) To put my own opinion in perspective, I think Ticket to Ride and Ticket to Ride:Europe are different enough games that its worthwhile to own both while I don’t feel the need to own both TransAmerica and TransEuropa.

In the end, I think both games are worth having. 10 Days in the USA is a more difficult game because it does not have any duplicate state tiles and it has several fiddly rules to cover tricky pieces of geography like Hawaii or Alaska. 10 Days in Africa, on the other hand, with the duplicate tiles and not needing any specific rules, has a more relaxed play.

In addition, 10 Days in Africa uses a map of Africa. That lets players learn a new set of geography and a definite goal of the game is education. Besides, Africa is an interesting place.

In summation, 10 Days in Africa is an enjoyable light game well worth the price of owning.
 
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