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Through the Desert
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Through the Desert

2nd Edition

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Product Awards:  

Ages Play Time Players
10+ 20-45 minutes 2-5

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Product Description

In Through the Desert, two to five players each control a tribe of nomads vying for control of the desert. By establishing caravans and taking over oases, the players gain points as their tribes increase in power.

Strategy is essential in deciding how and where to build your tribe's caravans. There is more than one way to gain points, and several ways to win. Should you try to build the longest caravan? Or should you dominate the desert's oases? Don't forget to keep an eye on your opponents' caravans, or you may find your own tribe cut off from valuable water holes.

This new edition has the same plastic camels and trees as the first edition.

Product Awards

Deutscher Spiele Preis
4th place, 1998
Spiel des Jahres
Nominee, 1998

Product Information


  • 1 game board
  • 175 plastic camel playing pieces
  • 30 plastic camel-rider playing pieces
  • 45 water hole counters
  • 5 plastic oasis trees
  • 40 point-counting chips
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Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.4 in 35 reviews

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Through the Desert – More than meets the eye
January 03, 2006
When you first open the box of Through the Desert, and see all those pastel camels and severed plastic palm trees rolling around there, you may wonder whether you’ve made a mistake in picking up Herr Knizia’s own favorite design. Let me reassure you that you have not. In fact, far from it. In this game you will find many hours of engrossing gameplay hidden behind childish-looking pieces and straightforward rules.

First things first, what are you gonna’ get and what’s it gonna’ cost you? Through the Desert comes with 1 game board, 175 plastic camels, 30 plastic riders, 45 watering hole counters, 5 plastic oasis trees, and 40 point chips. The game retails for $29.95. That comes out to be about 17 cents a camel, which may seem a bit steep at first. The components of this Fantasy Flight game may leave something to be desired, particularly the game board, which never lays entirely flat, but what it lacks in presentation, it more than makes up for in gameplay. In the end, I think you’ll find the pastel pieces and clip-on riders somewhat endearing, and part of the game’s charm.

So what are you doing for 45 minutes with all these camels splayed out before you? First, the game setup is pretty quick and painless, and is the only random part of the game (which is my favorite kind of game, increases replayability, but eliminates the role of luck). To setup the game all you have to do is randomly place the watering hole counters on the blue dots, so that the counters with values of 1, 2, and 3 are randomly distributed. Then all that’s left is to reattach the tree tops to their bases and distribute those randomly across the oasis spots. Second, the initial placement involves every play putting down a camel of each color. There are five camel colors (blue, green, yellow, purple, and peach), and every play will be building a caravan in each color. To begin the game everyone starts with one camel in each color, and this initial camel for each caravan is bearing a rider of that player’s color. This initial placement is actually an extremely important part of the game. You need to situate your riders near oases and watering holes. But there’s more involved because the game is really all about developing strong positions in relation to your opponents, so you’ll want to be sure to react to what your opponents do during initial placement. Third, the game proceeds with each player alternating placing two camels (of any colors of their choice) on the board. The rules for camel placement are very simple, and pretty much amount to the fact that you must grow your existing caravans, and not merge them with an opponent’s caravan of the same color.

How do you win this game anyway? The scoring is what really makes this game (as in all Knizia games). There are four different ways to score points, and thus many different strategies for coming out ahead in the end. The four ways to score points involve: 1) claiming water holes, which are worth between 1 and 3 points; 2) linking to oasis trees, which is worth 5 points; 3) enclosing areas, which is worth the number of hexagons enclosed; 4) having the most of a camel color, which is worth 10 points, and up to 50 points if you were to have the most in all five colors. The scores are tallied when any one of the five camel colors runs out. The game length varies because sometimes all players are using a lot of a single color, and other times placement is more evenly distributed across all of the colors.

The key to what makes Through the Desert great lies in the fact that the rules are simple and the playing time is short, but the gameplay is engrossing, interactive, and constantly presents difficult decisions. First, the game is engrossing because downtime is limited. Players can begin planning for their move on other player’s turns, developing contingency plans and the like. Moreover, all that anyone ever has to do on their turn is place two camels. Finally, the actions of other players can affect you significantly, so you’ll always want to be paying attention when others are going. Second, the game is interactive because a lot of the strategy revolves around blocking each other. In many circumstances it might be more worthwhile to prevent your opponent from getting points, rather than getting points yourself. The board is a tight space that quickly becomes congested, and players’ caravans will weave tangled webs, as they feint and counter-feint across the hexagonal desert.

So how many people can you play this with anyway? The game is designed for 2 to 5 players, with slight rules modifications depending on how many players there are. However, the game is at its best with only 2 players. The game works reasonably well with more, but predictability and control decline as the number of players increases, which can make it more frustrating and less strategic. As a head-to-head duel though, the game is an excellent battle of wits to dominate the desert through a variety of scoring methods.

Through the Desert is very deceptive, with its pastel pieces, simple rules, and short playing time, the game may appear to be a light filler, but what you’re really getting is an excellent strategy game that gives players an enormous amount of control, presents them with many difficult decisions, and rewards them with far more than meets the eye.

Plonking camels is simple and delightful
January 17, 2004

This game is a fantastic warm-up for serious gamers or a delightful center-piece to an evening with family and friends.

If you are still on the fence about whether to throw down for another Knizia game, there are three standout features that make Through the Desert an essential addition to your collection:

(1) It doesn't matter how many player's you have; the game scales beautifully

(2) There is plenty of smash-mouth strategy. It is one of the most frantic games I've played.

(3) Finally, the plonk a pink camel here and a lemon camel there is simple and charming.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Tom
Through the Desert is a Keeper
March 15, 2003

Ok, I admit that it is a watered down version of GO. In fact, I suspect that is where the pastel colors came from. I am a fan of GO but cant find anyone to play with me. Through the Desert, however, is always well accepted among my family and friends. How perfect! The Germans have a great way of taking an abstract strategy game and making it appealing to a broader market buy slapping on a colorful theme and giving it first class components. As with any abstract strategy game it plays best with two players, but unlike most abstract strategy games, this also plays very well with three or four players. I have yet to play a five-player game so I cannot speak to how well that plays. Through the Desert may be a little pricey, but if you are getting tired of the roll of the dice or the shuffle of the cards determining a winner then it will be a welcoming addition to your game collection. I only give it 4 stars because it is not entirely unique; it is a derivative of GO.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.

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