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'149 West, 17 South', the last words of a dying man. October 2003, the diesel engine is bubbling. A small island at the horizon. Is it Bonobo, the last paradise? The sandy ground is crunching under the trunk of the yacht. A smell of beer and suntan lotion lays in the air. Your friends are jumping over the railing. There will be a nice place to be.
Take turns placing tiles to fill the board or place tokens to stake out your places. Watch out, you might run away from your carefully chosen spot if you end up sitting next to a toilet!
Lost Valley is one of my favorite games, an exciting thematic game of exploration and gold mining. I was therefore very interested in any further games designed by the Goslar brothers, and therefore was glad to get my hands on and play Bonobo Beach (Kronberger Spiele, 2003 - Roland & Tobias Goslar). Bonobo Beach is intriguing in one aspect, because the company released two games at the same time (this one and Cronberg) that have the exact same mechanics with different themes. Cronberg is about building a castle, while Bonobo Beach is about finding the best spots on a beach.
If you look over the comments on the game at Board Game Geek, you'll find that they quite often mention the game Kingdoms. And indeed, Bonobo Beach is very similar to that Reiner Knizia game. For myself, Kingdoms is a great filler game, and Bonobo Beach certainly falls in the same vein - a very enjoyable game that is as fun for four players as it is with two. Games are quick, have some luck (from tile draws), and offer some rather agonizing decisions that are rare in games this short and simple. I love the theme, the gameplay, and am certainly glad I got my hands on this rhombus-filled (a Goslar trademark) game.
A board depicting the island of Bonobo is placed on the board, made up of a grid of connected triangles. Each triangle is either a dune (showing a "x2" on it), a toilet, or a sun shade. Each player is given four tokens of their color, and a score marker of the same color is placed on a scoring track. A pile of twenty-eight rhombi are shuffled and placed down next to the board, and the youngest player goes first with play proceeding clockwise around the table.
On a player's turn, they have two choices. They can either place one of their tokens at an unoccupied spot (a juncture between triangles). This spot has to be next to at least one unoccupied triangle, one that is not covered by a rhombus. The other choice a player has is by drawing the top rhombus and placing it face up on top of any adjacent two uncovered triangles.
When all the triangles that are adjacent to a token are covered, that token is recovered by the player owning it and scored, earning the sum of the points on the rhombi (whether positive or negative). As tiles are placed, it is also possible that a toilet triangle become "active", which means that the rhombi are placed in such a fashion as that it can no longer be covered. An active toilet causes any adjacent tokens to be returned to their owner without scoring.
Play continues until all players can no longer place a token or rhombus. One player may have to pass while the other players finish placing the rest of their tokens. After this, final scoring occurs. All tokens on the board are scored just like before, except that sun shades and dunes affect the pieces around them. A token next to a sun shade converts all the negative numbers adjacent to it to positive numbers. A token next to a dune doubles the values of all the numbers adjacent to it, next to two dunes quadruples the values, and next to three dunes (which I've never seen!) multiples the values by eight. Scoring tokens are adjusted, and the player with the highest score is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The Bonobo Beach board is very nice, showing an island that is one large beach, with thin lines drawn on it to show the triangles, as to not mess up the look of the island. Each tile shows artwork of something you'd like to be next to (like a lifeguard or an oasis) or something that makes a poor neighbor (like dead fish or trashy sunbathers). All tiles have numbers clearly marked in each of their four corners, and the negative tiles have a darker background than the positive one, helping to differentiate between them. The artwork on the entire board and tiles is very well done, and for some reason, using rhombi is more interesting than squares; it allows for clever placement and just has a very different feel to it. The tokens are tall, thick wooden cylinders in yellow, green, red, and blue and provide a stark contrast to the board. Everything fits inside a flat, square box, which is very aesthetically pleasing, showing a motor boat speeding towards the beach island - but mostly ocean.
2.) Cronberg: I've played both versions, and they are virtually identical, except for the theme. Bonobo Beach is the more unique theme, so I would recommend that version.
3.) Rules: The rules are well formatted, managing to show color illustrations and still fit onto two sides of one sheet of paper. The game is easy to teach, although I spend some time showing exactly how each of the triangles works when activated. Teenagers and adults quickly figure the game out, while those who've played Kingdoms before pick the game up in a flash.
4.) Critical decisions: When do you place a token down? If a player places a token down early, they may get an excellent spot, but they may also leave themselves open for other players to place negative tiles down next to them. Sometimes the best spots are next to a toilet, but the player risks the chance of having their token sent back to them. I haven't seen the toilets ever be too devastating, since most players are too chicken to place their tokens adjacent to them. A player who waits too long to place their tokens may be forced to, near the end of the game, place their tokens on spots that give them only a few points, or even negative points. In one of my early games, I ended with a final score that was negative (not sure what that says about my skills). One excellent spot can win a player a game, which makes placement very important, and also promotes playing multiple games in a row; players can simply leave their tokens on the track.
5.) Tiles: As I said before, I think it's neat that the tiles are rhombi. I also think it's a clever mechanic to have the board itself play a function in the game and have triangles that aren't covered play a role in scoring. The tiles are split evenly - with half of them negative - making the game a bit harsher than some, but still fun. I've seen players give their tokens negative points, just to cover the board up in such a way that an "x2" space is activated, and this kind of "active board" makes the game very interesting.
6.) Fun Factor: It's a lot of fun to score big with one of your tokens, and players who like tile placement games are going to enjoy this one. Sure, it's basically an abstract game with a theme placed on top of it (evidenced by the fact that two completely different themes work equally as well). Still, I enjoy the theme, and it does work well; and I found that because the game is so quick it doesn't matter.
I like Bonobo Beach as a quick game to start off an evening of games with, or something to play quietly with my wife - something that's fun and interesting to play, while allowing idle chatter. It has a unique theme, fast fun play, and is intuitive to teach and learn. Once again, the Goslar brothers have produced a fun game, one of the best of the tile-laying genre.
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