Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Africa - 999 Games

Wendy, Alan and I had a 3 player game session the other afternoon after we had been birding where I had found myself as Mosquito dinner. We managed to get through 3 games, the first was Kingsburg where I was a little cross with myself that I made a misplacement, I knew where I was to go, I just did not do it, this led to a missed crucial build which would have given me an extra 6 resources throughout the rest of the game. Added to this my last roll of the game was a 9 and that was with 4 dice (average 14), beaten by the other 2 who were rolling just 3 dice. The game ended with a well deserved draw between Alan and Wendy. I made a mistake and suffered by it.
The second game we played was Offrandes, where I was introduced to a correction of two of the rules. First off Alan put one set up for auction which Wendy won, but decided to end his turn there. A check of the rules revealed that he MAY put up another set for auction if he does not win the first set. The second rule query was in relation to the sacrifice, I read the rules on value being in relation to the value of the sacrifice, when in fact it relates to the individual animal value. My advice is when playing for the first time make sure you read the sacrifice criteria carefully. Despite all my misunderstandings I managed to pip Alan to the post by concentrating on sacrifices at the higher value altars. Wendy came last, again falling foul of the Briber in the first turn.

The third game was Africa, designed by Reiner Knizia, my version is by a Dutch company, 999 Games though the copywright shows Simba Toys. Takes from 2-5 players aged 10 or above and plays in just under an hour.

Africa - Box Lid (not a spelling error, this is the Dutch edition)
The game contains a game board, playing pieces (2 for each player) 20 plastic pyramids, and a large number of printed discs. The game board is a map of Africa, over which is laid a hex pattern, there are enough printed discs to place one on each hex, at random, face down. One of your playing pieces is an explorer who will move around the map collecting the discs, the other becomes your scoring token. Each player also receives two pyramids. The rules are clearly laid out, in explaining the game to others though I have noted that there sometimes is a little confusion about scoring in relation to Nomads and Animals, so read that bit carefully.
The playing pieces
On your turn you can either for your whole turn, teleport to a new location, or you get to move your explorer twice. After each movement of one or two spaces, you may reveal an adjacent token or take an action, namely drop a camp or move an animal or move a nomad. In moving though you are not allowed to travel over or onto any unexplored disc. So what is on the discs. A disc will only contain one symbol which can either be one of 5 different Animals, a Nomad, an artefact, Gold value 1 or 2, Diamond value 1 or 2, or a Monument. You score 1 point for an animal plus one point for every adjacent animal of the same type; you score 1 point for every vacant hex adjacent to them; you score 1 point for a 1 Gold or 1 Diamond, 2 points for a 2 Gold or 2 Diamond; an Artifact comes off of the board into your possession and scores at the end of the game; finally a Monument gives you a pyramid.

The Game Board
The game continues until the 11th monument disc is uncovered, the explorer gets a 3 point bonus, but the game ends immediately and final scoring takes place. During the game you can get bonus points from dropping camps (pyramids) onto the board, they score 1 point for each adjacent monument, animal or nomad. Dropping a base camp can also be used to take possession of all diamond and gold tokens. If you chose to move an animal or a nomad, the score you obtain must be greater than what it currently has and you only obtain the difference. The artefact sets gain you 1,3,5,8,12 points depending on how many you own in a set, during the game you may swap artefacts with other players artefacts, but swap criteria is quite restrictive.

The Discs
So how does it play? The actual mechanism is fairly straight forward, but luck does play a part on what symbol you reveal, I find that on average animals score about 1-3 points, nomads 2-4 points, gems 1-2 points, but having the most at the end of the game gives a 10 point bonus, 6 for second place. Artifacts generally give a score of about 2-2.5 points each. As all this point grabbing seems to average out during the course of a game, tactics actually do come into play. I believe in area control and usually manage to leave myself more unexplored tiles than my opponents leaving them to waste a turn teleporting, I also try to gain control of Gold and Diamonds; Wendy excels at utilising Nomads and never misses an opportunity to maximise her scoring during a turn.

An example of  (from left - right) Animal, Artifact, Gold, monument, Nomad, Diamonds
This game ended as a close run thing, Wendy won with one point separating each of us, myself just ahead of Alan. So was it luck or skill? Africa always leaves me in doubt on that question, but I cannot help feel it is luck, but when I look at how Wendy beats me (and she often does) it must be skill and she is the better "Africa" player. No matter whether luck or skill, it is a light fun game and generally gets a regular airing.

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