Editor's Note: This review first appeared in Counter Magazine, March 2004.
Designers: Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum
Publisher: Out of the Box
2 – 4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
In early 2003, Schmidt Spiele released Europa Tour, a game designed by Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum. In my review, I described it as “Rack-O with a geography lesson”. Although the game was short on strategy – as is Rack-O – I still found it to be quite enjoyable, particularly in a family setting or as a light filler between meatier games.
Shortly after the game’s release, Out of the Box announced that it would be releasing two new versions of the game, both set in different geographical locations: Africa and the United States. Now, nearly two years after their release, Out of the Box has introduced a third installment in the series: 10 Days in Europe.
Since all three games utilize essentially identical mechanisms, I thought it would be wise to discuss the entire series in this review. I’ll mention the differences between the versions where appropriate. You may also notice that much of the description of the games’ mechanisms is similar to that used in my review of Europa Tour; no sense reinventing the wheel! Well, unless, of course, you happen to be Goodyear!
The comparisons to Rack-O are inescapable. However, instead of attempting to get numbers in the correct sequence, players must plan a cohesive and logical vacation through the countries of Africa / Europe / U.S.A. This vacation will be planned by each player on their private rack, into which they will place the country and transportation cards in attempts to form a logical path for their whirlwind tour.
The racks in the Out of the Box versions are constructed of sturdy wood. This gives the game quite a bit of weight. They are linear as opposed to the curved plastic racks in Europa Tour, so they do occupy a bit more table space. Still, the feel of those hefty racks is quite nice!
The tiles, too, are very thick and nicely illustrated. The tiles in the Europe version were initially stuck together, and took a bit of work to separate. Fortunately, they were not marred. Each tile contains a snippet of information about the country or state, including its capital, population and geographical size.
Unlike the board in Europa Tour, which was so small that it made it difficult to distinguish the various countries, the maps in the Out of the Box versions are large and colorful. The various countries are easily distinguishable, with the colors used being bright and very distinct. Not all of the countries in Africa or Europe are depicted on the map, with several of the geographically smaller nations being deliberately omitted to better facilitate game play. None of the 50 states in the U.S.A. version were omitted, although future expansions may delete California and Louisiana, as they are both likely to slide into the sea sometime in the near future!
On all three maps, the countries and states are divided into various groups by easy-to-distinguish colors. Missing is the delightful cartoon artwork that was endemic to each of the countries in the Europa Tour version. Granted, that likely would have cluttered the boards a bit, but it was amusing trying to figure out the meaning of each of those drawings.
Countries (or states) can be connected in one of three ways:
Land: If countries / states are geographically adjacent and share a common land border, then they are considered adjacent. In the Europe version, there are lines connecting a few countries that are separated by a narrow sea. For example, England and France are connected in this fashion, apparently in recognition of the “chunnel”.
Air: If two countries / states have the same color, they can be connected by an air route, provided a player places an airplane card of the same color between the two countries on their rack.
Car: Any two countries / states can be connected by car, provided there is one intervening country or state that shares a common border with both of those countries or states. For instance, a player can travel from Texas to Kansas by car, since Oklahoma shares a border with both of those states. Of course, a player must place a car tile in their rack between the Texas and Kansas tiles.
Ship. The new Europe version does not contain cars. Rather, it contains ships that can traverse one of three seas: Atlantic, Mediterranean or Baltic. Any two countries that border the same sea can be linked by the appropriate ship.
The game begins with each player randomly drawing tiles one-at-a-time from the face-down stacks until their racks are filled to the ten tile capacity. As in Rack-O, a player may not move tiles around within his rack. Once they are placed, they will remain in that position unless discarded on a future turn. The challenge, then – and the frustration – is to get them into the proper sequence.
From the remaining tiles, three are revealed and form the “draw” piles. On a turn, a player may select one of the three face-up tiles, or take the top card from the face-down draw pile. He must then discard a tile from his rack and replace it with the newly drawn tile. Or, if he so chooses, he may simply discard the tile he just drew.
The idea is to form a connected network of countries / states. Countries (or states) that share a land boundary need no intervening form of transportation between them. However, if a player wishes to travel by air between two countries, these countries must be of the same color and a player must play a plane card of the same color in his rack between those two tiles. There are only two plains of each color in the mix, so this can be tricky. If a player wishes to travel by car between two countries or states, the player must place a car tile between those two countries or states. Remember, there must be an intervening country or state between these two which shares a common border. Car tiles are not color-sensitive. Since many countries and states share common borders, it is possible to reach numerous other countries or states via the use of an automobile. Thus, these tiles are very valuable and should be scooped at every opportunity. They rarely go to waste. Ship tiles work in a similar fashion, but the ships are limited to specific seas as listed on the tiles.
The first player to complete his vacation by logically connecting all ten tiles on his rack is victorious and enjoys the fruits of a will-planned vacation.
My summary of these three games is the same as that of Europa Tour. These new versions are not rocket science. There are no deep levels of strategy or numerous tactics to be employed. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are completely bereft of strategy. One should place tiles so as to keep as many options available as possible. For instance, in the Africa game, placing Chad of the Democratic Republic of Congo near the center of your rack is usually a wise move since these are connected by land to numerous other countries. Madagascar, on the other hand, is much more restrictive, with only two land connections. So, spot the countries that give you the most options and try to utilize these in your rack.
Further, when discarding a tile from your rack, you are usually free to discard it atop any of the three revealed stacks of tiles. Try to cover tiles that you don’t wish to use, but which may be beneficial to your opponents. This will thwart their plans and often force them to completely rearrange their itinerary.
As in Europe Tour, there is certainly a degree of frustration involved. It can be quite maddening to never have the tile or tiles you need surface, or to have them scooped by an opponent before you have the opportunity to grab them. Often, you find yourself being forced to re-plan your itinerary, which is time consuming and fraught with its own perils. And, there is always this nagging feeling that your opponents are one step ahead of you in the rust to complete their vacation plans. These elements are what makes the game “click”, however, and help make the game quite enjoyable and moderately tense.
The game can be played with 2 – 4 players and is quite enjoyable with any number. With two players, however, it is a bit more strategic, as you can plan your discards and control your tile choices with a bit more certainty. Maneuvers can be made wherein you discard a tile, only to pick it up on your next turn in order to position it in your rack more advantageously. With 4 players, this tactic is much more difficult as the likelihood that the discarded tile will be taken or covered by an opponent before your next turn arrives is far greater.
However, there is no escaping the fact that, like Europa Tour, these versions are primarily light, family games. Don’t enter it expecting it to rise to the same level as meatier games such as Age of Steam or Puerto Rico. Rather, these games are much more appropriate in family gaming situation or as light fillers. Further, there is a healthy dose of luck involved, and some folks might find this aspect not to their tastes. I’ve always enjoyed Rack-O, however, so I can enjoy any of the ”10 Days” games for what they are: Rack-O with a geography lesson.