Type: Race

Time to play: 60 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Players (2-4 Players)

I hope that if you are reading this because you have read my other reviews you will understand that I will always seek to focus my review on the mechanics and themes of a game to express who the game might be enjoyable for and who wouldn’t enjoy it. The toughest reviews therefore are the ones where it probably isn’t to my taste – but I still think it’s important to include these. So please, if you read on, don’t see this as critical or negative but rather a tricky position to be writing from.

Okay, if you have read that you are braced for me to say that I like race games but this particular version of it hit the bottom of the list for me. However, I think there are some core mechanics and themes at play that make this very different to the Flamme Rouge or Viticulture style race games that I enjoy. Starting off with the fact that this game is thematically pulled from the bag of colonization games.

I didn’t really think about this point to much but I was listening to Ludology – a really excellent podcast – talking about the number of games that draw upon the colonization stereotypes of the old nations bringing technology and armies to lands, to harvest resources. The lands are often unsettled, but occasionally natives are removed in the game. The games often focus on city building, technology advancement, or map based dominance.

Hearing that podcast, I can’t help but feel that this game doesn’t add much to the genre. That’s not it’s fault but it can create a negative framing. The lead colonist of one of the nations races the lead of other nations to find lost treasures in a foreign land. Any native creature or person simply presents as an enemy to be dispatched through force. Lands are shown to be harvest and the treasure is to be possessed and taken home.

The positive of this theme is there’s no complexity, no explanation required for those familiar with other games will pick this up easily. Also, it makes the narrative not about a nation, a state or an economy, but about a leader. You are the individual leading the charge, and exploring new land. This links then across from theme to mechanics – the game is all about the individual, about the search and about the individual piece competing in battle. This is not a strategic war but a tactical battle.

So the mechanics. Well again it’s simple and straight forward, but in a way that revolves around random events. Specifically the random draw of tiles. I mean you are exploring so you have to expect this, but with a small number of tile types – most are useless, one is good for building your troops, and the other positive tile is the one that reveals the treasure! This limited band of options but the small number of positive outcomes can lead to a sprawling map, a painful gamer experience and eventually just a random bit of luck as to who finds the goal.

It’s not without tactics. There’s placement of the buildings, the positioning of the armies and the potential blocking of the opponent using those armies or indeed the map pieces. However, the importance of luck here is high and this is how they create the stories in each game. The time that your opponent revealed the cave (the location of the most powerful treasure), the time that all three other treasures were the other side of a river to your character! However, these are the stories of why you the game unfolded in a certain way with limited balancing.

For me, this makes the game less enjoyable but for some this makes the drama. The stories come from these moments, these surprises and for the roll of the die that gives you enough movement or the fight.

Last notes,

  • If you like games with lots of exploration, random paths and surprises there is something here
  • If you won’t accept that sometimes the game cannot be won… don’t start this
  • If you win, try again and try the asymmetric powers of another race