English language edition
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Java is a fascinating island with great potential for development. Of special interest is the undeveloped area of central Java with its fertile soil and rich natural resources. These riches are much desired by the rulers of the regions that surround central Java.
Each player is one of the Javanese rulers, who wants to claim and develop the region for himself. Each player wants to bring his culture and control to these undeveloped areas. The players irrigate the land and cultivate new rice fields. They found villages, build palaces to create cities from the villages, and arrange festivals in the palaces. Each player desires to be the dominant force in the development of this new area.
Players earn fame points for building and enlarging palaces, for creating irrigation systems, and for arranging palace festivals. They record these points on the scoring track. The most points are earned in the final scoring. The player with the most fame points after the final scoring is the winner.
You might notice that this review comes much later than the last one. I just had a gaming session where we played a War Game, Java, and a Light Strategy game. It became clear that Java is a truly deep, deep game, and I don't believe that anyone will realize this by just playing once or twice. It is not really fair to dismiss it as too complex for no return. I think the people who do that are/were looking for another Tikal or Mexica (Light, family strategy type games) which this is **absolutely** not. Just because there are so many different scoring strategies does not mean that one of them is not the best, on the contrary, the game becomes more like chess or go because you have so many different choices, but there is, in fact, a best move, and you probably WONT find it. I believe the beauty of this game, if it is EVER really discovered en masse, will become apparent some time later if people start to take it seriously. There is only a slight element of luck, that in the draw of the festival cards, so it is not a purely strategic game, but the luck gains and losses tend to be rare but dramatic. I think this just makes it FUN.
Without a doubt, analysis paralysis can make the game really drag, meaning that you have to be 'in the game' on everyone's move as much as you continue analyzing in chess or go.
Lets just look at the options in a turn:
6 action points
Actions you might take:
1. Enter a developer
2. Move a developer to a different terrain
3. Place a 3 hex tile
4. Place a 2 hex tile
5. Place a 1 hex tile
6. Place a Palace
7. Enlarge an existing palace
8. Place an irrigation tile
9. Draw up to 2 festival cards
You can take any action in any order.
By placing one tile you can break up a villiage or city, add to a villiage, join two villiages, join a villiage to a city, join two green areas, break up a green area, surround an irrigation tile, connect to an exterior area or increase the size of an exterior area, and usually 2 or 3 of the above PER TILE.
By moving/entering a developer you can move to an irrigation area for scoring, block a 'road' of single type terrain, position for palace building or improvement or scoring, block an area from being developed (you can't place a tile on a hex with a developer in it).
Build or enlarge a palace.
For comparison, chess has 32 pieces and 64 squares, go has 19 x 19 board (361 possible moves)while Java has 9 TYPES of move each with HUNDREDS of possibilities (a single 2 or 3 space tile can be oriented in six (hex) directions, and placed in approx. 70 positions (don't know the exact number)) times 6 different actions in one turn.
Java is a master level game. The players will separate very quickly into scientists and tinkerers. Successful patterns will develop, counter-strategies will emerge and the game CAN grow.
Unfortunately, the game was marketed to players of Mexica and Tikal as another game in that series. The 'rub' is that a casual player will have no chance whatever beating a serious player just like in chess and go, and the casual player will either lose interest or become serious. Given the number of games and the target market - losing interest is the path of least resistance.
It is impossible to talk about effective strategy in the space provided. The basics of the strategy belong in a book entitled 'Java: Basic strategies for the beginning player' and/or 'Java Openings' and/or 'The Middle Game in Java.' And so on.
Too bad the rating system only goes up to 5.
I agree with the previous reviewer. This game should not be pulled out when the group is half in the bag, munching on greasy pizza, and banging the table.
But I disagree with the most of my fellow reviewers who describe this game as an anxiety ridden experience with lots of down time. Yes, there are a number of strategies and variables one needs to consider in tile placement and developer movement, but you should be able to think about this while the other players have their turn.
I guess slow gamers try to think about the ideal placement, when in fact there rarely is one. There are variable strategic choices which have some immediate effects and some unforseeable effects down the line. Part of the pleasure in playing a game such is this is watching how this process unfolds. Another pleasure is in watching the individual who constantly takes 5-10 minutes for each turn, end up losing to players who simply choose a strategy and enact it. The only cure I've discovered for slow gamers is to put them on a timer. Can't finish your turn in two minutes? Fine, next player's up. That really gets their a$$ in gear.
There are so many considerations when contemplating ones move. Some games you get to know over time and eventually the best move seems clearly obvious, but Java is very intricate with may things to consider:
- Building brand new palaces
- Budding new palaces by chopping existing ones
- Upgrading palaces you're already in
- Using developers to block the veins of movement
- Taking the high ground for end-game positioning
- Maintaining festival cards
- Surrounding the valuable water tiles
Many more excellent options exist though they are too complicated to sum up in a blurb. To me the makings of a good game is diverse options and intricate game play. Java's got it!
Tikal and Mexica (brother and sister games that also use the action point mechanic) are good measures for how well you'll like Java. I love all three games and really enjoy contemplating my most efficient moves. If you enjoy this mechanic in one of the aforementioned games, I have no doubt Java will pleasure you the same.
Take the best mechanisms of the superb Torres and Tikal, and what do you get? Last year's Best Advanced Strategy Game, which is still fertile ground for clever strategists who relish the challenge of spending their few Action Points on a rich array of choices. Place land tiles on the board, or even atop one other to allow your ambitious Explorers to climb both geographically and socially. Earn Fame Points by building a Palace in an area of connected villages where your Explorer stands highest. Buy Palace Cards, and use them in Palace Ceremonies where discarding the most cards of a randomly determined symbol earns further Fame Points. Position your Explorers on the highest peaks within villages to earn bonuses when the last tile is placed. The highest score wins. This is Kramer and Kiesling at the height of their powers!
The rich, fertile island of Java awaits your guiding hand. The thick, sturdy tiles you place on the board (and sometimes on other tiles) represent villages, rice fields, and irrigation. You can place a numbered palace tile on one of a group of contiguous villages and hold a festival. At the festival, players compete to see who has the most of a specified symbol on their palace cards, with the winner scoring half the points of the palace tile. All of your activities, from placing tiles to building palaces, must be paid for with action points, which (as usual in such games) are barely sufficient to do half the things you'd like to do. When all tiles are used, the players whose developer tokens stand on the highest tiles within villages get extra points. Highest score wins. Java is truly a refreshmg, stimulating brew.
Ahhh--another game from the team of Kramer & Kiesling, by far my favorite design team. Their most recent collaborations, Tikal & Torres, were smash hits and personal favorites. So, it was with great anticipation that I awaited this latest release. OK, so I'm a bit biased--but not too biased. There are games from Kramer I am not terribly fond of, including Magalon.
One glance at the game and you immediately think 'Tikal'. The appearance is very, very similar, even down to the box cover artwork. That's not a bad thing in my book as I thought the artwork in Tikal was simply superb.
The theme is also similar: Java concerns the development of the interior of a remote island, while Tikal dealt with the re-discovery of a lost Mayan civilization. In Java, players must lay tiles to form the interior of the island and then send their developers into this newly discovered land to erect cities, build palaces, sponsor festivals and gain the most influence. The theme is certainly enticing, but it doesn't seem to evoke the same exploration and discovery atmosphere that is so prevalent in Tikal.
One can't quibble with the components, however; they are incredible. The 'heft' factor tips the scales as the hexes are some of the thickest pieces--1/8 of an inch--I've ever seen in a game. The pawns are lifted straight from Tikal, while there are four player aid cards which use similar graphics to help explain the actions a player may take on his turn. Further, there are 'extra turn' tokens and palace cards, each with appropriate artwork.
The board itself is yet another masterpiece from illustrator Franz Vohwinkel. The exterior of the board displays the 'known' jungle and mountain areas, while the vast interior is predominately plain turf with a few previously discovered lakes. The edges of the board are rimmed with the scoring track, illustrated with a motif relevant to the theme.
Players have six action points per turn, with a variety of actions available to them. These actions can be performed in any order, and players may perform the same action multiple times during their turn.
The tiles depict either rice fields or villages, or a combination thereof. Tiles can be placed anywhere on the board--even atop previously laid tiles. There are some placement restrictions (not covering palaces, not covering a previously laid tile with the same size tile, not joining two cities, etc.), but there is enough freedom of placement to allow a wide range of strategies.
Movement is a bit different than in most games, although, it is somewhat reminiscent of Warfrog's Lords of Creation. Developers may move along the same type of terrain (rice fields or villages) as far as they want for free (no action point cost)--provided they remain on the same type of terrain throughout that movement. Elevation doesn't matter. If they move onto a different type of terrain, however, they must expend an action point for each change of terrain. So, by carefully laying tiles and planning the land's development, it may be quite possible to zip a developer great distances without utilizing any action points.
New developers can enter the board from the already 'developed' area. If they enter from the plains, there is only the cost of 1 action point. If, however, they must cross a mountain range, the cost is 2 action points.
Once a palace is placed in a village, it becomes a city and earns the developer fame points equal to half the palace's value. This is one method in which to score points.
Players earn fame points for increasing the value of a palace in the exact same fashion as listed above.
The festival procedure is quite simple. One palace card is revealed at the beginning of the game. Each card depicts one or two symbols (drum, mask, etc.). To participate in a festival, a player must play a card containing at least one symbol which matches a symbol on this revealed card. Then, each opponent who is participating has the option of playing a card which matches one or more of these symbols. If he cannot, or chooses not to do so, then he retires from the festival. When play returns to the player sponsoring the festival, if there is another player who has played an equal number of symbols, he can offer that player a joint sponsorship, in which case they split the resulting fame points. Or, the player can opt to play another card which has a symbol matching the revealed card. This procedure continues until either one player wins the festival, or a split is agreed upon. In any case, all played cards are discarded, whether the player won the festival or not.
Fame points earned from hosting a festival range from 1-5 if won alone, or from 0-3 if split with a fellow player. These values are determined based on the value of the palace located in that city.
As mentioned, players normally have six action points they can utilize in a turn. However, each player does possess three special tokens, which can each be surrendered for a further action point, but only one can be surrendered per turn. As with your 1- and 2-space tiles, use them wisely.
Play continues until all 3-space land tiles have been played. The player who placed the final 3-space tile completes his turn and takes his final scoring, after which each opponent may take one more turn (but are not required to place a land tile during this final turn) and takes their final scoring.
The final scoring is similar to Tikal, but in Java, only the palaces are scored. Players score points if they have developers in the highest or second highest 'rank' in the city (based on elevation). Points are scored based on the value of the palaces--full points if you are in the highest rank, or half points if you are in the second rank. After each player has taken their final turn and tallied their final scoring, the player with the most fame points is victorious.
So, after that lengthy description, just how is the game? Very enjoyable and quite tense, especially in the latter stages. With so many placement options, the game can develop in a wide variety of ways. My first game developed very slowly, with players content to found their own cities and to avoid interference with each other. To be honest, I found the early part of this game to be, well, underwhelming. It seemed that everyone was going for the quick score--placing a tile or two, get a developer into position, construct or upgrade a palace for quick points and host a festival. Further, the game was speeding along and I began mentally questioning the stories I'd heard about 'analysis paralysis' setting in, thereby extending the game to two or more hours.
However, as the board began to develop and the placement and movement options became much more varied, tough and downright agonizing. There were just so many ways in which to play and overlap tiles that it often boggled my mind. Some have made the comparison to the same thought processes as those required in El Caballero (Kramer again!) and I have to agree. I also found 'thought' similarities to those used in Torres. Instead of simply analyzing the consequences of one tile placement, you are forced to think about a series of placements and moves and the consequences these will deliver. It's certainly a 'thinking' game, one with rich mental teasing and corresponding rewards.
Subsequent games have developed quite differently. Players immediately began adding layers to previously laid tiles and the rush to upgrade palaces and hold festivals was intense. No one seemed content to settle for a 2 point palace, but were actively seeking ways to increase palaces by several levels and gain huge amounts of victory points. This made these games much more intense from the beginning. This intensity does take its toll, however, as the game takes considerable longer to play as players must analyze so many possible options before completing their turn.
Does Java have the same 'problem' that Tikal does? That is, is there significant 'downtime' between player's turns while each player studies the board and calculates their action possibilities? Yes, and it seems to be even more pronounced here. There are just so many options and possibilities to consider that even a normally fast-moving player will be forced to carefully analyze the ever-changing board before executing his moves. However, truth-be-told, I've never been overly bothered by this "problem'' with either Tikal, Torres or El Caballero. I consider the actions and placements an opponent makes on his turn vital to what I will do on my subsequent turn. If I don't watch carefully, I may well miss what actions he elected to take and thereby miss valuable scoring opportunities. So, I intently observe my opponent's actions and am keenly interested in what they do. I don't consider this 'down-time', but rather an essential component of playing these games well.
Now, I'm not saying that the wait between turns couldn't be excessive. If playing with excruciatingly slow players, I'm sure it could be. However, my tried-and-true method of warning players in advance of this possibility usually keeps the game moving along at an acceptable pace.
However, if you were one of those folks bothered by this 'down-time' problem in Tikal, you won't find relief with Java. On the other hand, if you are willing to utilize this down-time to your favor as mentioned above, then you will likely be well pleased with this new Kramer/Kiesling effort.
There are some things to watch for in the game. For one, as in games such as Fossil, one must be very careful not to set-up an opponent for easy scores. It is quite easy to play a few tiles, make a move or two and enlarge a palace, coming away feeling quite satisfied at the points you've earned. Then, to your horror, the next player swoops in with a brilliant play, which increases your palace to maximum capacity and earns double the points you worked so hard to achieve. Caution is paramount, as it is difficult to plan for long-range scores as it is quite easy for an opponent to swoop in and claim those points.
Further, the final scoring round can be extremely dramatic. Points come in avalanches. A comfortable lead can be shattered during this final round when scores of 60 or more points are not uncommon. So, it is vital that players keep a careful eye on the positioning of their developers, insuring that they are in the proper position to reap huge victory point benefits during this final round. Failure to do this will result in certain defeat.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, try to resist the temptation to use your 1 and 2 space tiles early. Although the scoring opportunities may seem too good to pass up, it is wise to hold onto one or two of these tiles for the final few turns of the game, especially the final scoring round. Often, the placement of just one of these tiles can spell the difference between victory and defeat.
My good friend Al Newman has used the phrase 'rich gaming experience' to describe such games as Torres and Tikal. I think that phrase applies to Java as well. It is a game which forces a player to study carefully, ponder various options and perform at a peak level throughout. It's certainly not a light romp or something you pull off the shelf for an evening of social gaming. No, this is much more than that. It is a test of one's skills and mental capacities. I don't want to make every game I play such a 'thinking' experience, but when I am in that mood, this game will rank right up there with those few games I bring to the table.
Could it be '3-in-a-row' for Kramer & Kiesling?