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AKA: Desert Oasis

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Product Awards:  

Ages Play Time Players
10+ 45-60 minutes 3-5

Designer(s): Alan R Moon, Aaron Weissblum

Publisher(s): Uberplay Entertainment

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Product Description

You are the head of a Mongolian family, intent on becoming the most powerful in the land. Use your resources wisely to take control of fertile steppe lands to raise horses, which will bring prestige and honor. Build ovoos to pour the blessings of luck into your life. Raise camels to build wealth. Control the beautiful oases to improve the quality of life for you and your family. The player with the most points at the end of the game will be anointed the Noble of the Oasis.

Product Awards

Games Magazine Awards
Family Strategy Game Nominee, 2005
Spiel des Jahres
Recommended, 2004

Product Information


  • 1 game board
  • 88 tiles
  • 54 playing cards
  • 62 scoring markers
  • 20 wooden control markers
  • 100 wooden camels
  • 5 priority counters
  • 1 instruction booklet

Product Reviews

by Brian Robson
Counter Magazine Review
February 29, 2004

This game sees another significant step forward by the burgeoning independent sector of America's games industry: a major boardgame by 'A-list' designers that has been produced in house rather than brought in from Germany. (At least, I don't think it has been brought in. There is nothing on either the rule book or the box to indicate a partnership with another company.)

Oasis is one of those games where the easiest place to start an explanation of what the game is about is with the scoring system. The setting is Mongolia and players compete in four economic sectors related to control of land, access to water and ownership of livestock. In each sector you collect scoring markers, which are kept in front of you, and you place pieces on to the board. At the end of the game your score for each sector is the number of scoring markers you have collected times the number of pieces you have placed. Add those four products together and you have your final score for the game. So you have eight parameters to juggle and an arithmetic expression to optimise - one which will require you to keep in mind that, for example, 3 times 7 is better than 1 times 15 and a lot better than 0 times 20. Put like that the whole thing probably sounds a bit like an academic exercise or a piece of puzzle solving, but of course it's not. What I have just told you is what will influence your actions during the game; the actual game lies in how you do the acquisition and the placing.

Each player begins with 20 camels and 4 wooden markers. The common stock consists of three types of tile (grassland, steppe and stone), the aforementioned scoring markers and a deck of cards. The board is covered with a squared grid and split into areas for the placement of camels and for the placement of the landscape tiles. There are also turn order markers and how these move around between the players is a key part of the game.

You begin with 5 cards, which will have been dealt to you face down. They are placed in a stack in front of you and you are not allowed to look at the business side of them. Replacement cards will be added to the bottom of the stack and again come sight unseen. In turn order each player begins the round by turning over 1, 2 or 3 cards from the top of their stack. These constitute their offer to other players and they determine what whoever accepts the offer can do in the rest of the round. The cards are of the following types:

place 2 or 3 camels

place 1 or 2 landscape tiles of a specified type

acquire 1 or 2 scoring markers of a specified type

gain 3 new cards

When all the offers have been revealed, the player holding the number 1 turn order marker chooses one of them other than his own. He takes the cards, performs the relevant actions and, in exchange, hands over the number 1 marker to the player whose offer he has accepted. This player will now be the number 1 player next round. That done the number 2 player chooses from the remaining offers, and so on. The whole process is a sort of multi-client bartering system.

It is obviously an advantage to be early in the order when you are making your choice and to try to ensure a high position in the following round you will want to make your offer attractive to other players, but equally obviously you don't want to make it so attractive that the player who takes it thinks that their birthday has arrived. Equally importantly the game system prevents you from being consistently generous, because the designers have come up with a cunning rule for card replacement. If your offer consists of a single card, you draw two new ones; if it consists of two, you only draw one; and if it consists of three, you get no replacements at all. Shrinking the size of your stack too much will leave you with a lack of options for several rounds while you build it back up again, and so card management is something else that you need to think about.

Camels are placed in their own special area and it is only your largest connected group that will score at the end, so there is a competitive element to their placement. There is also with the landscape tiles, but here it is more subtle. It is the total number of each type of tile you have at the end that matters, but each connected grouping you have must contain one of your wooden markers and remember that there are three types of tile and you only have four markers. This together with commonsense restrictions that forbid areas of the same colour belonging to different players from joining up means that there is scope for containing rivals who seem to be doing too well in a sector.

The game is not one of those fully fledged gamers' games such as Puerto Rico or Princes of the Renaissance where there are strategies that you can discuss or set out to try. Instead all decisions are governed by the scoring formula and what happens to be on offer at any one time. For the first few turns you just go with the flow. Picking up scoring markers for use later is good, but so also is getting pieces on to the board, whose design means that there are favoured starting locations for the various types of tile and these will obviously be taken early. Once these initial rounds are past you can begin to see which sectors are starting to interest you and each of the others, and from here it all becomes a combination of judgement, calculation and luck. Judgement in deciding when the offer you are making is sufficiently attractive; calculation in deciding which of the packages you can take is best for your score; and luck in the right cards appearing at the right time. And that element of luck is likely to be significant. You can take steps to acquire the number 1 order marker, but when you do so you have no idea what cards are going to be in the offers from which you will have first pick. Also, when turning over cards to be part of your own offer, it makes quite a difference whether the first card is a good one (stop there and draw two replacements) or a bad one (probably need to turn over a second card even though this means that your stack will shrink).

This luck aspect will, I suspect, prove off-putting to those who like a high degree of control when playing a game, but for me 50% luck and 50% skill - which is my estimate of what you have here - is quite acceptable in a game that takes 45 minutes to play, provided the decisions you are called to take by the 50% skill part are interesting ones, and in Oasis they are. My overall verdict: this is a good, solid design and a game that I am looking forward to playing again. If I were giving it a mark out of 10 it would be a 7 or an 8.

The production is up to German standards apart from the cards, which are thinner than you would get in a game by Ravensburger or Hans im Glck. (It takes 20 of these to form a stack of the height you get from 15 cards from a game such as Secret of the Tombs.) However, I don't see this as a major issue, since they are spending most of the time on the table and not in your hand, which means that they are adequate for their purpose.

Other Resources for Oasis:

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