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The Bambuti tribe has an annual competition where the villagers bring their most valuable family belongings--large, richly engraved wooden masks--which are constantly pushed back and forward among the participants until the sound of the jungle drums abruptly stops. Who has the most valuable mask?
Bambuti is one of my favorite 2-player games. I think it is as good as the best of the Kosmos 2-player series.
The 50 cards come in 5 colors and denominations from 1 to 10. Five of these cards are laid out on each side across from each other. The cards must be placed with the highest number in the middle and the cards next to it must be equal or lower in value to the edge. 1,6,8,8,5 would be a good sequence but 1,6,8,9,5 would not. This may sound confusing but it is easy to keep track of.
During your turn you place one card. You can play on any of yours but must keep the "highest in the middle and lower to the edges" sequence intact. With the above 1,6,8,8,5 sequence, if you were to place a 9 it could only go in the middle. If you wanted to play an 8 it could go in three spaces, over one of the existing 8's or over the 6. If you wanted to place a 6 it could go in any of the spaces except the middle one. Once again, as confusing as this sounds it really is simple. You can also play on the opponent's cards but you must keep the high-to-low sequence and the card played must match the color of the card it is covering. The only other rule for playing cards is you can not play cards of the same number across from each other.
Cards are compared for scoring purposes with the card directly across from it. The lower card number scores its value. The higher card scores the difference of the cards' values. As an example, if an 8 were across from a 5, the 5 would be worth 5 and the 8 would be worth 3 (8-5=3). There are cards that are provided that keep track of the difference so that the scores are always in view. In the above example the card would register the player with the 5 as having 2 points. This is the difference between the two scores (5-3=2). This keeps everything neat and tidy and makes scoring very easy. Just to throw a monkey wrench into the works: if the two cards are the same color, the player with the highest card gets the points. A scoring round is triggered when one player uses one of the 2 scoring cards he is given at the start of the game, or when the cards on one side are symmetrical color-wise, and at the end of the game.
There is a lot of give and take and the situation changes constantly. This gives the game a very interactive quality. The cards look very good and are laid out functionally. Recommended very highly.
The question of whose masks are finer must be settled by a contest. You and your opponent each place five mask cards in a row. The highest-valued card is in the center, with values decreasing toward the sides, a pattern that must be maintained. On your turn, you may play a card on one of yours, or on an opponent's card of the same color. Its number must differ from the one directly opposite it. When your display contains a symmetrical color arrangement, or when you play a drum card, it's time to evaluate the layout. The score for each card in a facing pair is the difference between the larger number and twice the smaller number. The game ends when each player has four cards left; the highest score wins. Bambuti presents a sly and subtle succession of swiftly-shifting situations to charm and beguile you for many an evening.
The library of two-player games that are not purely abstract or war simulations is quite thin. Yet, the demand seems to be growing with the large support of the [page scan/se=0546/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Kosmos 2-player series and smaller productions like Cwali's Isi. This is a great trend in my opinion, and now Adlung has jumped into the mix with Bambuti, a two-player card game that should be well received by fans of Shotten-Totten or Lost Cities. Bambuti is more complex and not as fun as those two, but the end result is a positive experience nonetheless.
The idea in Bambuti is that two tribes are having a contest to display their best masks. This weak theme allows for some nice looking cards that show a mask along with a number from one to ten in each of five colors. Players sit across from each other with opposing rows of five masks each and throughout the game will update their displays to try to better their relative position. Each mask is battling against the mask opposite it for superiority.
The way the masks are valued is one of the three key features of the game. It's simple but not intuitive. The lower numbered mask is equal to its value, and the higher numbered mask is valued as its number less the value of the other. Sound confusing? An example should clear it up: if a '5' is facing a '3', the '3' is equal to 3 and the '5' is equal to (5-3) or 2. Thus, the relative value of the '3' mask is +1, and a point indicator showing this is placed between the two cards. One goal, then, is to always try to position cards that are one less than your opponent's so that they'll be subtracting most of their value. A '9' facing a '10' gives the '9' an 8 point score (since 9 equals 9 while the 10 is equal to 10-9 or 1). However, if the two masks are the same color then the score is exactly reversed! A yellow '9' facing a yellow '10' would give the '10' an 8-point relative position.
The relative score at any given time is always shown by the point indicators, and if a scoring is forced all five indicators are considered. Before considering this, though, let's look at how the cards are laid how and how each can be adjusted. The second key idea in the game is that each of your five masks must always be positioned such that the largest value is in the center, and the card value cannot increase moving outward on either side. Initially, five cards are dealt face down to each player and they arrange them to meet this condition. So, if dealt 9-9-4-3-1, one of the 9's would have to be placed in the center and then each side would have to degrade from that. Thus, you could place 1-3-9-9-4 or 3-4-9-9-1 but not 4-3-9-1-9. When the first 5 cards and their layout is revealed, point indicators are placed accordingly and the game begins. This is the only time that two cards of the same rank can be opposing; as cards are played it is not allowed to create this situation.
On each player's turn, they play a card from their hand of seven on their own side, covering one of the existing masks and adjusting the point indicator accordingly. The fundamental placement rule of highest in the middle with no increasing values outward must be maintained, however. Colors can be changed, and there is often reason to do so. Alternatively, you are allowed to play on your opponent's row but only if you keep their positioning rule in place and do not change the color of their card. If positioned with my red '7' facing my opponent's yellow '5' (thus the indictor shows plus 3 for him), I can only play a yellow card on their '5' or else use any color to change my '7', again ensuring of course that the scaling hierarchy is not violated in either case.
Now the scoring comes in, and this is part three of the mechanic. Each player is given two scoring cards, and these can be played following the playing of a card to lock in the total score shown by the indicators. All five indicators score every time a scoring happens, so the time to play a scoring card is when you have a good relative advantage. The more interesting way to score, though, is when you create a symmetrical color pattern on your five masks. Symmetrical in this case refers to the colors from the center, like the numbering hierarchy. So, green yellow red yellow green is symmetrical, as are five reds. It is moving from asymmetrical to symmetrical that triggers the scoring; you don't continually score as you stay symmetrical and if this scoring forces you to take a relative loss then you are stuck with it. The last scoring is mandatory and occurs when the deck is exhausted and each player holds only four cards, and after this scoring the game is over.
As you can tell, there is a lot to consider in this game and thus it tends to move slowly. Every card play must consider the effect on the direct score (for the mask pair affected) and how this balances the total score (for all five mask pairs). Almost more importantly, you must carefully manage the number hierarchy on your mask row. If, for example, you end up with a '5' in your center space you will only be able to play any card from 6 through 10 on that space until you get more breathing room. This is a good way to use the option to play on your opponent's row; often looking only for immediate benefit changes will not be as useful as screwing up their overall positioning.
The color play is also vital. You're using the colors on your row to try to force scorings at times beneficial to you. Also, though, since common color mask pairs reverse the scoring convention this is often a good way to flip an indicator your way. It is a mistake to wait too long to play your scoring cards as well, since the deck runs out sooner than expected and any used cards are wasted. Added to all this, card counting helps to better determine your odds of getting the card you need or your opponent's ability to change a situation in their favor.
It is this continually changing landscape and the setup for a good card play that make the game interesting, but also tedious. This is why I think the game is not too fun to play, but it is a good game when you want something a little heavier. Among similar type games, I rate this a little below the two Knizia titles mentioned but solidly above DruidenWalzer. Adlung's games are good value, and among their recent offerings this is definitely one of the best. You won't lose for trying it.