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Subject: You can lead a camel to water... rss

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Jim Cote
United States
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Through the Desert, by Reiner Knizia, is one of those rare gems. It's small, pretty, and you want to show it to everyone. This time, I'll dispense with the rules and get right to the heart of the matter.

Why are you here? Because you are interested in this game, and want to learn more. This game has some incredible forces at play, yet does not overwhelm the casual player. It is a good compromise for mixed groups of gamers, providing a simple fun time, as well as some reasonable depth. This may feel somewhat like a strategy guide, but my intention is to explain some of the thinking that goes on, so you can decide if you would like this kind of game.

Ok. So it's your turn. You have 2 camels to play. What kinds of things do you need to be thinking about? First some numbers information:

2 players: 110 camels in play, about 28 turns each (max)
3 players: 130 camels in play, about 22 turns each (max)
4 players: 150 camels in play, about 19 turns each (max)
5 players: 150 camels in play, about 15 turns each (max)

5 points for each palm tree touched by each caravan
1-3 points for occupying a water hole
1 point per hex for enclosing a section of the board
10 points for the caravan of each color with the most camels (5 each if tied)

Setup caravan

Each player must place 5 camels in turn (4 in a 5-player game). This is the point where you decide in what way you wish to score, and how your caravans will interact with your opponents'. Two caravans of different colors can approach each other, and therefore can only completely block each other by filling in all relevent spaces. Two camels of the same color may not approach. Blocking is easier. Do you want to play a more open game, or a more blocking game? Maybe your choices will be different in different sections of the board.

Palm Trees (Oases) caravan

Each time one of your caravans (groups of camels with the same color) touches a palm tree for the first time, you get 5 points. Most starting camels end up near enough to one palm tree to make a fairly easy contact. Touching two palm trees with the same caravan, in my experience, is unusual. If you need spend a lot a moves trying to accomplish this, you are probably giving up points elsewhere unless other things are happening at the same time.

Water Holes caravan

Water holes are the easiest points to come by. They are all over the board. Initial setup probably positioned most of the starting camels near the 3's and 2's. Water holes are nice quick points when you are trying to do other things.

Enclosures caravan

If you enclose an area of the board with a single caravan (and perhaps the edges of the board or the interior mountain range) you score all the contents of that enclosure (palm trees and water holes) plus a point for each space. This can be huge.

Longest Caravans caravan

The player with the longest caravan of each color gets 10 points at the end of the game. Tied players each get 5. For me, it is rarely a goal until fairly close to the end. I prefer to focus on doing other things, until the positions start to solidify.

Blocking caravan

Anything that is good for you is bad for your opponent(s). Taking something before they do is a double bonus. Pushing camels between them and their target--especially like-colored camels which are not allowed to be adjacent--can be very effective. You can also close in a caravan so your opponent is unable to add more camels, preventing contention for longest caravan.

Combinations caravan

Every play does more than one of the above. Every time you add a camel to a caravan, you are helping to make it longer. You may be bringing it closer to a palm tree, or to a water hole. You may be enlosing space. Even if you do not succeed, you are creating various threats that your opponent(s) may respond to. Don't make it easy for them.

Trying To Do Everything caravan

Do not try to win by getting all 5 longest caravans, or by enclosing half the board, etc. There are only so many turns before one color of camel runs short. Do not use 5 of those turns trying to touch an oasis (unless you will also get the longest caravan, and even that might not be sufficient compensation). In general, balanced play is rewarded, but you also need to take advantage of opportunities. Tactics play a much larger role than strategy. You always have many many options. Your opponents will take some of them from you every time they place their camels.

Endgame caravan

The end of the game will come sooner than you expect if you are not paying attention. When all the camels of any one color have been used up, that's it. Do not get caught one space away from touching a palm tree, or one camel away from a large enclosure, or one camel short on a longest caravan...if you can help it. And if others are about to score big points and you can end the game yourself, do it.

Summary caravan

Through the Desert is a very nice game for the entire spectrum of gamers. Although you have dozens of choices on every turn, you are still just placing two camels. The only decision is where. I find this game has a much lighter feel than other games with multiple choices per turn such as: Euphrates & Tigris, Tikal, Java, Reef Encounter, or Torres. Althought I disagree**, it has been compared to Go. If you absolutely hate Go, do not let that keep you from at least trying this game out online.

Components: 6. Nice board, nice camels. That's the good part. The riders are too thin and not all of them stay on. The water hole chips don't have the same pattern on the back, so you can tell which are which when you are setting up the board. The box insert is one huge bin for the various 200+ pieces. Typical FFG junk.

Rules: 9. Very good. Color. Examples.

Overall: 8. Pure fun. The random setup makes the board different every game. Turns are usually quick. If you have a slow player in your group, you can always spit on them and blame the camels.


- ekted
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(from Valencia, Spain)
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My best-rated game: Tetrarchia, about the tetrarchy that saved Rome
Try my latest game: Big*Bang, a simple abstract about the first minutes of the Universe
Through the Desert is a very nice game for the entire spectrum of gamers. Although you have dozens of choices on every turn, you are still just placing two camels.

I've just played my 2nd game and I couldn't agree more! I played with my kids, and while the elder one (9) tries to guess my strategy and beat me, the younger (5) feels absolutely able to play on his own... He doesn't win, but he doesn't lose either (benefits from all the blocking among the others...). Very nice review and very good game.
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Ron Blessing
United States
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Just wanted to say thanks for the excellent interview. I happened upon it when reading one of your others (sorry, I read so much yesterday, I can't tell you which one started it). Anyway, I bought this game a year ago, played it once, and thought "it's OK."

After reading your interview, I played it last night with a friend. I am now loving this game. In essence, you renewed my interest, and the stars must've aligned.

Thanks, again!
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