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Players seek valuable treasure within the golden temple of Eschnapur. Once discovered, a treasure shows two different point values, the lower one going to the finder, the other open to negotiating with money or cards or movement points. Money is necessary to buy symbol cards. Players need movement points to get around the temple. Resources are scarce and every player's turn involves all other players, so negotiation is an essential part of the game.
This game has a wealth of components: coins, oval stock tiles, treasure tiles, movement tiles, number cards, symbol cards, explorer figures, scoring stones and a giant budda figure. All of the components are very nice quality.
The object of the game is to score the most points (using the scoring stones on a track around the board). The only way to score points involves the treasure tiles. Only 15 treasure tiles are on the game board, and when 13 of them have scored the game is over.
Coins may be spent at any time. Three coins buys a card (either type) and two coins buys a movement tile. Coins are also used for bartering.
A turn consists of:
The underside of the treasure tile contains 2 numbers, one lower and one higher. The player who turns over the treasure tile gets to score the lower of the two numbers. Next, all players secretly select a number card. Whoever plays the highest number card scores the higher of the two numbers on the treasure tile. Whoever plays the lowest number card gets to keep the treasure tile.
After 13 of the 15 treasure tiles have been discovered, there is a final scoring. The player who has purchased the most treasure tiles gets to move 12 points; the player with the fewest treasure tiles must move -6 points. Then the game is over--the player with the most points wins.
The Buddha is for the player who is currently in last place. It allows the last place player to double all scores. If this takes the last place player out of last place, then the Buddha is passed to the new last place player.
I really like the way the many components in the game work together. The game has an auction component (with the stock tiles) but is not an auction game. Players are always involved in the game, even when it is another player's turn.
Another thing I liked about this game is how unique it is. I could not think of another game that is very similar. I would recommend this game highly!
Fifteen Treasures hidden in the Golden Temple await you. Follow me, intrepid traveler! Draw two Supply tiles--these offer movement, money, keys, or bidding cards. Keep one and either offer the other to the highest bidder or discard it for coins, which can be used to buy more supplies. If you move and stop adjacent to a Treasure, open it by discarding the necessary key and immediately gain Victory Points equal to the Treasure's lower number. To determine who earns Victory Points equal to the value of the Treasure's higher number, everyone now plays a facedown bidding card. Whoever plays the highest card (provided he has sufficient coins with which to pay the amount bid) wins the points. Lowest card bid gains its value in coins and the Treasure! Play ends when 13 Treasures have been revealed. Possessing the most Treasures earns a generous bonus; having the fewest results in a severe penalty. Anyone in last place during play grabs the Laughing Buddha and scores double, until someone falls further behind and invokes its blessing. Blessed are those who have a chance to play Eschnapur.
A little over ten years ago (around the time of Caf International), Eschnapur would have won the Spiel des Jahres hands down and we would have all revelled in the game's excellent presentation and interaction. Now, we are a far hardier bunch, cynics all, who expect nothing less than the standards set by, say, Modern Art, with each new release. As we grow more sophisticated in this search for Nirvana, a cup of Short Shrift is dispensed for games promising all but delivering little. Unfortunately, Eschnapur fits all too snugly into this category.
The game is not bereft of good ideas or a satisfactory, if slightly tired, premise--collecting treasure from within temple walls. In fact, a first run through earned universal approval. Later plays, have, sadly, pointed to a design flaw, hardly insurmountable, but with us being buried beneath a Euro Games Mountain, unlikely to be fixed.
And just what is this imperfection preventing a euphoric critique? And why isn't there the resolve to eradicate it? See what you make of the following:
Eschnapur is driven by a set of Number cards which feature when a Treasure tile is revealed. Each player must select a card (or pass), the spoils being divided as follows: The highest card (they are numbered from 1-30) obtains the victory points, but must pay the number of coins indicated. The lowest card takes the tile, and receives the coin value (if any). It is crucial to compete for these tiles, because they provide a decent bonus at the game's conclusion.
Number cards are replenished via the exchange of Stock tiles (see later), or may be individually purchased for three coins (at any time). All well and good, unless you consistently draw mid-range cards (from, say 12-20), when you are unlikely to gain anything. Players can still bluster along, picking up points, but will find the lead marker consistently out of reach. Which leads us to problem number two, which I suspect might have been the designer's response to this quandary.
Any player in sole possession of last place gains the monk symbol, and may double any points scored during his tenure, ended when he advances his position.
I alluded to the chance to potter along even if the decent cards fail to find your hand. By moving around the board, and playing the correct Symbol card, you may enter a temple chamber and claim the smaller of the two values shown on the Treasure tile. (The challenge process previously described then takes place for the larger.) Playing the pass card (returnable) earns four coins, and additional booty is obtained during the game's first phase, when each player draws two Stock tiles during their turn, one being kept and the other offered around the table (for any commodity). These tiles provide coins, either of the two card types or Movement tiles. In the event that they are not traded, they have a base value of two coins from the bank.
So, if all is not lost and you can move and stay involved, why nail the designer for one blemish? As I explained, the boffins amongst you will spot a low draw pile and move to maximise their hand from the soon-to-be shuffled discards. If you have remembered that, say, the 1, 2, 3, 4, 25, 29 and 30 have been used, then these will swiftly return to play. Doubling the deck size would almost certainly ease this weakness.
Eschnapur generates a decent atmosphere, and sufficient options to explore and barter. It is also a terrific looking package. But it involves this hugely frustrating brick wall into which I am no longer prepared to run.