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Durch die Wueste

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Doug Adams writes:

Publisher: Kosmos
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Players: 2-5

Reiner Knizia has done it yet again! He has designed a game that is so simple it can be taught in two minutes, yet offers 30 minutes of engrossing play.

This time the theme is camel caravans crossing the desert (the title becomes "Through the Desert" or "Across the Desert". The similarity of Wueste to "Wurst" has seen the nickname "Through the Sausage" appear. I know, it's not funny at all).

There are lots of components here, dominated by 170 tiny plastic camels in the "kush", or kneeling, position. These camels are divided into five breeds of 34 each in the rather unusual pastel colours of pink, lemon, green, blue and mauve. Each player is handed a set of 6 plastic riders, all of one colour. At the start of the game, one rider is placed one camel in each of the five colours - these are the players caravans. The sixth rider is placed on a grey camel and sits in front of that player to indicate which colour they are playing.

A medium sized playing board is included, which depicts the desert in a drab brown colour. The board is divided into many hexagonal spaces, and has some out of play mountain ranges situated in various places around the board.

There are some cardboard counters in the game that have to be punched out. Some of these counters are scoring markers which are awarded during, and at the end of, the game. There are also 45 waterhole counters which are randomly placed in specified positions on the board at the start of the game. These waterholes have the values 1, 2 and 3 points, with the 1 value waterholes appearing very murky, while the 3 value waterholes are a gorgeous blue colour.

Lastly, five plastic palm trees are assembled (there are only two pieces) and placed on the board in the designated posiitons. These are oases, and are a prime objective during the game.

The game is all about scoring points. Points are scored through the cunning initial placement, and subsequent extension, of your five caravans. Before the main game gets underway, each player takes turns to place one of their caravans on the board. These caravans must be placed in a hex that is not adjacent to an oasis, or another caravan. There may only ever be one camel in any one hex.

After each player has played their five caravans (four in a 5 player game), the main game starts - although the initial caravan placement should not be underestimated! The game passes from player to player around the table. Each turn a player may choose any two camels from the pool and place them on the board. That's it! However, there are some restrictions, although not too many.

The restrictions are that the camels placed must be used to extend the owning players caravans of the same colour, and must not be placed adjacent to another player's caravan on that same colour. Extending caravans simply involves placing the camel adjacent to any camel of that colour in the players caravan. Caravans are usually extended in such a way as to earn points, as follows:

  • if a caravan is placed on a waterhole counter, the counter is removed and placed in front of the player. They've just gained a number of points equal to the waterhole value.

  • if a caravan reaches a space adjacent to an oasis for the first time, the player may take an oasis counter from the pile next to the board. These counters are worth 5 points each.

  • if a caravan encloses an area entirely with it's own camels and/or either the edge of the board or a mountain range, then the player earns area points. If an area is enclosed, the player may claim any waterhole counters within the area, as well as claim an oasis counter for each enclosed oases. At the end of the game, the player will be awarded bonus area points - one per enclosed space that isn't an oasis. Area points are where the big scores come from!

The game ends when all the camels of one single colour have been placed. By this stage the board is awash with colour, and is very pleasing to the eye with the caravans snaking across the desert. Any points for enclosed areas are now awarded in the form of bonus chips. An additional bonus of 10 points is also awarded for owning the longest caravan in each colour. Each player totals up all the counters in front of them and the highest score wins.

I really like this game. It's very easy to play, only takes 30 to 40 minutes, yet strategy can get very subtle. It suffers from the usual Knizia agony of wanting to do so much yet being able to do very little each turn. Do you go for oasis points ? Hit as many waterholes as you can ? Or do you attempt the big one - enclosing a 20 space area ? This last option can be risky, because as soon as it's apparent what you're up to, you can be cut off from your objective by an enemy caravan.

The 2 player game is marvellous. It plays in 20 minutes, on a reduced area of the board, and with 10 camels of each colour removed from the game. Game play is very quick, cut-throat and engrossing. It becomes a race to the oases before your opponents cuts you off from it, while the area strategy is a much more realistic proposition. After a few more plays, I may believe it's one of the best 2 player games I've played - it's that good.

In short, another hit for Knizia, and if you enjoy his designs, a must buy.

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