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Journeying on the Nile, nothing but pyramids to the left and right. Foremost is the goal, to make the opponents' pyramids collapse and acquire victory points by having the majority of your own pyramids on the building sites. In addition to a sharp mind, you also need skillful hands because the stones are flicked back and forth with your fingers. Ready, aim, fire!
Ive played hundreds of games with my teenager game club and have had great success with most of them. But above all, without a doubt, my most successful games in the club have been the dexterity games. Carabande, Loopin Louie, and Fubi have been the most popular, netting hundreds of games each. So when I am seeking a new game for the club, dexterity games catch my eye. The problem with dexterity games is that while great fun, the kids often get so caught up in playing them that I have a hard time bringing out other games. At times, Ill have to shut down the Loopin Louie games because theyve been running for over TWO HOURS, and its time for the kids to play games that make them think. When I heard about Cairo (Schmidt Spiel, 2002 - Gunter Burkhart), I thought that it would really hit the spot - a dexterity game mixed with a good euro game.
Unfortunately, it would appear as if Im the only person who likes the game. The game was not a great success with neither the youth game club, nor with my regular gaming group. The game didnt bomb in either one, in fact - both groups enjoyed it. The problem was that the game took entirely too long, and players ended up getting bored with the play. Its certainly a fairly difficult dexterity game, which doesnt help matters. On the flipside, the game play is good - the board and bits look fantastic, and Ill gladly pull it out anytime people request it! They just dont.
To play the game, the long, thin board is placed in the middle of the table, with a representation of the Nile River in the middle, and nine building sites arranged on each side of it. The sites are of different sizes, with two numbers in each - denoting their value. The smaller the area of a site is, the larger the two numbers. Each player takes a wooden ship token, and places it on the start space of the river, and takes 15 small wooden blocks, 1 large wooden block, and one die of the matching color - placing them in front of them. The youngest player takes the first turn, with play proceeding clockwise around the table.
On a turn, the player rolls a die, and moves their ship that many spaces on the river. If they reach one end of the river, the ship turns around and heads back. There are twelve spaces going upriver, and only six going back, so travel downriver is quite a bit quicker. If the ship would land on another ship, it would move to the next available spot. If the player is moving downriver, and any of their building components are in the land next to that river spot (but not on a building site), they may return them to their supply.
The player then may flick some of their supplies to any building site in play. They must use the corresponding finger to the number they rolled: (1 = thumb, 2 = forefinger, etc., with a six being wild). The player may flick either three small blocks, the large block, or their die. Whatever is being flicked is placed on the top platform of the ship token, and flicked with the appropriate finger, with the player trying to get the piece to stay in one of the building site zones. If the piece lands in the Nile, or goes off the board - it is out of the game for good. Players can kill other pieces by knocking them off in this way. If the player knocks over another ship (sounds stupid - but it happens), their turn immediately ends, and they must lose a block for being clumsy.
If a player manages to get a small block into a building site (even partway on), they can build a pyramid on that site. The pyramid must follow one of the diagrams in the rules, basically with each row having one less block than the row above. The blocks that are higher in a pyramid are worth more than those in a lower row - but pyramids can be knocked over by skillful shots, so the face of a building site can change also.
When a player runs out of building supplies, they must remove their ship from the board. When only one ship is on the river, the game is over, and immediately scored. One block from each player is placed on the river, which conveniently doubles as a scoring track. Each site is scored separately, and players total their value at that site to see who gets the victory points for the site. The small blocks are worth one point (unless they are on a pyramid - in which case they score points equal to the level they are on.) The big block is worth three points, and the die is worth its face value. The player with the most points for each site scores the first number on the site as victory points, with the runner up getting the second amount of points. After all sites have been tallied, the player with the most victory points is the winner! (ties broken by number of small blocks actually on the board.)
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: The game is really nice, and does draw a small crowd when brought out, due to its pleasing aesthetics. The five colors (yellow, green, red, blue, and brown) contrast nicely with the sandy colored board - although I can see color blind people having a problem distinguishing whose blocks are whose. The colored dice are an especially nice treat, as they match the colors of the blocks exactly - and are pretty fun to flick. A neutral colored die is included, for players to roll when moving their ships. The numbers on the board building sites are very large and clear - and the sites are of various shapes and sizes, making everything look less blocky. The artwork, both on the board and box, is very thematic, and has a slight cartooned feel with an Egyptian flair. The box is the same size as most Schmidt, Abacuss Spiele, and Amigo games, so is quite easy to fit on a shelf.
2.) Rules: The rules are not in English, but I was fortunate to get a translation of them (where else?) from www.boardgamegeek.com. The translation wasnt the best, but was fairly simple to figure out, and comparing it with the original book, I didnt have too many problems. The game is extremely easy to teach, as the rules are rather simple, and most people picked it up after a few turns.
3.) Flicking: People like to flick things, as is evidenced by the most popular game I own - Carabande. People refuse to play, but after one game, they get hooked into flicking their cars around the track. The reason for this is that while there is skill in Carabande, its not that hard to flick the cars. The cubes in this game, on the other hand, are quite a bit more difficult. Not only are they smaller, with smaller targets to aim for; but have you tried shooting with your pinky finger? Its not easy, and a simple mistake in this game can cause the loss of your pieces - which is very irritating. In all the games Ive played, players have also flicked very aggressively. Instead of it being a trade war, it becomes actual war, as players aim their blocks at others pyramids, etc., trying to destroy them. This is not the best strategy for winning, but it makes people feel good to knock over others pyramids, and I havent seen too many pyramids make it to the end of the game. People will deliberately lose a piece to hurt their opponents.
4.) Dice: Flicking the die is fun, but theres really no skill involved. I practiced flicking it time and time again, with different fingers, and with a different side facing up - but the results were totally random. Its basically just akin to rolling a die.
5.) Strategy: Deciding what area to aim for sounds like good strategy, but really it just boils down to how well you can shoot. I try and spread my blocks around to the different sites to get as many points as I possibly can, but when I miss them all, does it really matter? Hoping that your ship gets you back some of your previously missed blocks is nice, but its kind of lucky that it will even happen. Therefore, I dont see much strategy in this game, just flicking skill and luck.
6.) Time Factor and Players: Its nice that the game can accommodate up to five players, but when a full compliment of five players is playing, the game can last a while. A player will roll the die, move their ship, then decide exactly what theyre flicking. Everyone has to move away from the table at this point, as the flicking player circles the table, eyeing the board for that perfect shot. Finally, they make the shot. But wait, they have two more shots! Multiply that by four, and you can sometimes have a long wait between turns. And since players have to stand back from the table, invariably their interests may turn to other things, unlike Carabande, where the action is quick, and your turn comes again in a hurry.
7.) Fun Factor: I had a lot of fun playing the game, as I liked switching fingers to flick with. Sadly, however, most people didnt share my views. They liked the game, but the downtime between turns was too long. Many people found the stacking of blocks to be a somewhat fiddly rule, and found that shooting said pyramids was more fun. I was actually surprised when halfway through one game, some very excited kids asked, with a yawn, that a different game be brought out.
So, apparently Im in the minority on this one. Playing a board game solitaire is not my idea of a fun time, so I doubt that this one will see much action around here. Every once in a while, Ill suggest it, and probably hook a few people to play it. And even though Ill enjoy the experience, I doubt theyll play it twice in a row. Nice components, simple rules - whats missing? Im not exactly sure, but Im still waiting for a game that mixes good game mechanics with a fun dexterity twixt. Its back to Carabande we go.
Manual dexterity with a flicker of strategy. Each round, a die roll determines how far your ship travels, and which finger you must use to flick cubes in your color from the vessel, aiming at one of the nine scoring areas on the Nile's banks. Cubes that land successfully may be used with others present, enemy or friendly, to start building a pyramid up to four levels high. Cubes that land in (or get knocked into) the river or off the board are lost. Play ends when everyone's cubes are used. At each site, a cube scores the value of its level in a pyramid. Each site offers points to the two players with the highest values in cubes. An entertaining introduction to the different capabilities of each of your fingers.
When I first heard descriptions of this game early in the year, I figured it would be one to avoid. Do we really need another flicking game? The fact that the game was designed by Gnter Burkhardt didn't help matters much as I haven't been a big fan of most of his games. However, he has scored at least one big hit with me -- Vom Kap bis Kairo. So, his stock is rising. Still, I took no efforts to seek out Cairo and play it.
However, while attending the Gathering of Friends, I saw the game in action and had to admit that it looked like fun. So, I seized the opportunity and gave it a playing. Even though we botched a few of the rules due to an early English translation that proved less than accurate, I still enjoyed the game. Although 'flicking' is certainly the central mechanism, there were key decisions to be made during the game that, for me, elevated it above most other games of manual dexterity. I knew instantly that many in our Westbank Gamers group would get a kick out of this one, so I purchased a copy.
The game is set in the land of ancient Egypt, with the Pharaoh having ordered the construction of the great pyramids. Boats sail up and down the Nile, unloading building blocks at various sites where the workers will attempt to follow the Pharaoh's wishes and construct the pyramids.
The board depicts a section of the Nile with various building sites stretching along both sides of the mighty river. Each of these sites has been surrounded by stones, with some sites being more coveted than others. These more coveted sites are a bit harder to reach and are usually narrower, making successful construction there a bit more difficult. The player who is successful in doing so, however, will be richly rewarded. The artwork on the board is a bit cartoonish, but it fits the 'feel' of the game quite nicely.
Each player possesses a ship, 15 small wooden cubes, one large cube and one die. The ships are all lined up on the Nile, ready to travel the river and unload the construction stones.
A player's turn consists of rolling the die and moving his ship the indicated number of spaces up the Nile. No two ships can occupy the same space, so if a die roll would force a player to land on an already occupied space, he simply moves his ship forward to the next open space on the river. At this point, the player must decide whether he will unload three small blocks, his one large block or his die. Unfortunately, the ship's crew is woefully inexperienced, so the unloading is often haphazard, chaotic and often quite dangerous. So just how is the unloading of the construction stones accomplished?
Flicking. The object to be unloaded is rested on top of the ship and the player flicks it off with one of his fingers. The idea is to flick the block into one of the construction sites. As if this isn't difficult enough, the finger to be used in the flicking is dictated by the number rolled on the movement die:
|Number Rolled||Finger Used|
Let me tell you, flicking with your thumb or ring finger isn't an easy task! It seems like every time I roll the die, I roll a four!
If a flicked block lands on the board, it remains in play, whether it successfully landed in a building site or not. The only exception is that if a block was inadvertently dumped into the Nile, it sinks and is removed from the game. Any blocks that land off the board are removed from the game.
If a player successfully flicks a block into a building site and there are at least three blocks present inside the site, the player may elect to construct a pyramid. Pyramids can be constructed with either 3, 5, 6 or 10 blocks. The ultimate objective is to have the majority (or at least second-most) blocks in a building site. If you accomplish this by game's end, you will score the points indicated on the building site. Majority is not determined solely by the number of blocks a player has present inside a site, however, but the value of those blocks.
Pyramids are constructed from the small blocks, not the large block or die. Although it is wise to construct a pyramid so that you can place your own blocks on the higher levels and garner more points towards majority status, the construction of a pyramid is also quite risky. Why? It becomes an easy target for your opponents. When they attempt to flick blocks into that particular site, they will often attempt to cause their block to smack the pyramid, causing it to crumble. If at least three blocks still remain in that site, they can use these blocks to construct another pyramid. So, one has to weigh this factor when deciding whether or not to build a pyramid. Further, if you do choose to construct one, it is wise to position the pyramid so that it is more difficult to strike.
The game ends when the players have exhausted their supply of construction stones and their die. However, when ships are returning down the Nile, a player may retrieve any errant blocks that lie within the same sector where their ship is located. This is only possible on the return journey, however, and rarely does this provide a player with more than one or two blocks with which to replenish his supply. It is very rare for a player to make it up the river more than twice before having his supply of blocks depleted. Thus, the game usually clocks in at about 30-45 minutes, depending upon the number of players.
Once everyone's supply of blocks is exhausted, the game ends and each building site is scored. The movement track now doubles as a scoring track, as each movement space on the river is divided into 5 sections for scoring purposes. Each building site is tallied separately to see who has the most points in that site. That player receives the largest number of points indicated on that site, while the player who has the second-most points receives the smaller number. Any ties are broken in favor of the player who has the block closest to that site, but is not inside of it. After each site is tallied, the player with the most points is victorious and wins the favor of the Pharaoh.
At its heart, this is certainly still a flicking game. That should be good news to those who enjoy that genre. For those who generally don't, however - and that would include me - there may still be enough here to catch your interest. There are decisions to be made -- what sites to flick at on each turn, which blocks to use, whether to build a pyramid or not ... to give the game some 'meat' and help it transcend most flicking games. Further, it doesn't feel like another parlor billiards game. This one feels like a regular board game. Yes, it is filled with those "ooh's" and "ahh's" that accompany a good flicking game, but it is also filled with some strategy and tactics. When you win, you feel that you've accomplished more than just being a good 'flicker'. But it also provides the 'escape hatch' of being able to blame everything on luck when you lose!