AKA: Desert Oasis
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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.
We played this game for the first time this afternoon and loved it! It has something of the feel of Carcassonne with a trading game thrown in for fun. The rules are very easy to understand and game play is very fast paced.
There is an element of strategy involved. You can block other player's expansions with your own or you can gang up on a player who appears to be winning. You can strategically pick up a bid, giving that player your turn position. You have to actually pay attention to the tiles and modifiers you are picking up. It can come back to haunt you if you play all 20 camels without picking up at least 1 commodity (rug) tile. If that happens, you get zero points for all of those camels. Balance is good here. Pick one or two kinds of tiles to focus on and their corresponding modifier tiles and you can really rack up the points.
Placement of the tiles is also important. You can block off your opponent to keep them from getting too big of an area of control or you can place yours so that you can't be blocked so easily. But spending too much time building up an area can keep you from getting the modifiers you need to multiply your scores.
This would be a great family game, especially with 8 or 9 year olds. There aren't a lot of complicated rules to remember, placement is easy to understand, and after all, you get to play a game that has camels!
Probably the most interesting element is that at the start of the turn each player puts out 1-3 cards as an offer to the other players. You really want to attract the player who goes first to take your offer over the others because that means you will go first next turn. If your offer stinks, you will end up going last. But then again... how much stuff do you want to give the other player to go first? You could be giving them the winning margin.
No set turn limit, the game ends when no more tiles can be placed.
What could be so fascinating about a Mongolian desert, camel paths, and various tiles (oasis, steppes, and stones)? What comes though is a workable game with constant need to stop your neighbors from encroaching with their own tiles.
The bidding makes the game particularly workable. You receive five cards at the beginning. You may turn up three cards maximum for a bid. If you have only one or two cards left in your hand at the end of any round, you may only turn up one bid card. Each player draws an overturned round coin with a number from 1 to 5 (3-5 player game). That is the turn for you to place your overturned bid cards. You cannot look at any of the five cards or so before deciding on your bid. In future rounds, if you place two cards as your bid, you may replenish your hand with one new card from the Draw deck. If you only place one card as your bid, you may replenish your hand with two cards placed immediately under your stock without looking at them. If you bid three cards, you may not have any new cards from the Draw deck.
Seven types of cards for bidding exist: oases, ovoos, steppes, horses, stony plains, commodities (rugs), and the cards themselves. Let's say you open your bid with a card showing three camels. A partner across from you turns over two cards, one commodity and one stone. Eventually, in our five-player game, all players turned over their bids. Then, the player with the No. 1 coin decides which bid from the other players to accept. Let's say that player chooses two commodities (rugs) on one card and one stony plain. The No. 1 player gives his No. 1 coin to the No. 5 player who had two commodities and one stony plain. That bid is accepted.
As you probably guessed, the No. 5 player now becomes the No. 1 player on the next round. By 'sweetening the pie' with more bid cards (up to three), players can begin to manipulate the position they will play in the next round. It was so frustrating, for example, to have one player offer only a water well as his bid for the round. As you probably surmised, the No. 5 player in any round has to take what is left on the bidding boards when all other players have chosen their special cards.
Let's return to a player choosing three camels (card) as the bid. That's a No. 2 player for that round. He gives the camels to the No. 4 player, who, in turn, gives the No. 2 player his coin for No. 2 (next round). That transaction is almost completed. Now, the No. 2 player places three camels from his total stock of 20 on the camel path part of the game board. He or she can only place the camels contiguously on the square tile path, not diagonally.
As the game progresses (we went through about 12 rounds), the players keep track of their multiplications. For example, the total camels need commodities (rugs) for their multiplying. The oasis total tiles need water well rectangles. The total steppes need horse rectangles. The total stone tiles need ovoo rectangles. Here's how the multiplication works for the scoring. You possess seven camels in your herd on the camel path. You have two rugs. Therefore, at the end of the game, you multiply 2 rugs times 7 camels or 14 victory points on the point track around the board.
My frustration started when one of the players placed a steppe tile next to my well-built four oases (two shown on the board as bonuses). That same player also placed a steppe in the path of my other five steppe tiles. Here's the rub. According to the rules, you cannot place the same tile or color next to another player who has the same steppe, oasis, or stony plain. You effectively block another player from placing the same kind of tile.
The scores reflected the competitiveness of the experience: 115 (all in oases and water wells), 82 (all in camels and stones), 78 (mostly in steppes and stones), 70 (mostly in steppes), and 50 (steppes). Two cogent comments summed how players believed. You should be generous in your offers during the bids to secure the position of first, second, and so forth. You should be particular in what you specialize in for steppes, oases, or stoney plains. You should make sure you have the multipliers (commodities, horses, water wells, and ovoos)to support your specialization.
I think Uberplay has done it again with quality games. From Bridges of Shangri-La to Oasis, Uberplay continues to show with good designers and good designs it can manufacture games worthy of repeated play.
The first way that I saw Oasis (Uberplay, 2004 -- Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum) was in a video commercial by Uberplay via the internet. Whether considered cheesy or not, it certainly didn't tell me anything about the game other than raise my awareness. Camels certainly aren't the most exciting thing in the world, so I didn't think much more about it. Fast forward to a year later, and I finally procured a copy, suddenly noticing that Alan Moon was one of the designers (Ticket to Ride, Capitol, Elfenland). Knowing he's designed some of the best, I resolved to give Oasis a try.
And was I ever pleased! Oasis isn't Alan's best game (that's still Ticket to Ride), but it's a tremendous game; one I enjoyed quite a bit. The theme is dry and boring, but the actual gameplay is interesting and intriguing. It's simple enough that I've gotten lots of people to learn and play the game, but complicated enough that "gamers" have been satisfied with the strategies and replayability therein. The game hinges on players offering actions to others, and as unfun as I initially thought that mechanic to be, it worked out very well.
A game board is placed on the table, broken up into a large grid of squares. The grid is divided into three areas in which players place their tiles, broken up by a "camel path". The three areas for tiles are bordered by either "steppe" (yellow) or "oasis" (green) borders. Each player takes twenty camels of their color, as well as four control markers. Piles of scoring markers (commodities, water wells, horses, and ovoos) are placed near the board, as well as eighty-eight tiles (oasis, steppe, and stony plains). A pile of cards is shuffled, and a stack of five is placed face-down in front of each player; the remainder are placed in a draw pile. "Priority" counters are shuffled -- and one given to each player -- to show the initial turn order. The first round is ready to begin.
The player with the # 1 priority counter makes the first offer, etc. He does this by turning face up the top card of their deck. This card is the player's "offer". They may add one or two more cards to this offer if they want. Depending on how many cards the player has offered, they add cards to the bottom of their stack from the Draw pile (one card offered: add 2, two cards offered: add 1, three cards offered: add 0). A player cannot leave themselves in a position where they have no cards.
Once all players have made an offer, the player with the # 1 priority counter chooses an offer, by giving the counter to the player whose offer he is taking, and carrying out the actions shown on the cards in the offer. The player with the # 2 priority card follows, etc. A player cannot choose their own offer, unless they have no other choice. After all players have gone, the player who received the # 1 priority counter gets one free action (placing a camel or a tile) as a bonus. The next round then begins.
The actions on the cards are these:
When one tile type has been completely depleted (all placed on the board), or if one player must play a tile that they cannot, then the game ends after the completion of that round. Players then score points, using a camel on the supplied camel track to track them. Oasis tiles, steppe tiles, and stony plains tiles are all scored the same way. Players multiply the total tiles of each type they control by the matching scoring markers they have. (Oasis match with Water Wells, Stony Plains with Ovoos, and Steppe with Horses) For example, if a player has ten oasis tiles under their control and have four water wells, they score forty points. If a player has no scoring tiles of a certain type, they score nothing for that type of tile. Scoring for the camels is done the same way, using the commodity scoring markers -- but multiplied by the largest group of camels, rather than all the camels. The player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
I highly recommend Oasis for people who are looking for a good, medium-weight game that promotes interaction. It's one of Alan Moon's better games and seems to be a bit unheralded, which is unfortunate. Don't allow the game's theme to detract from your trying it out, as it's quick, fun, with a lot of easy but fateful decisions. After one game, players will usually be intrigued enough to give it another whirl - a mark of an excellent game. And besides, the game comes with camel meeples!
"Real men play board games."
Unique settings do wonders for games. I mean, how many games do I want that involve castles, knights, city building, and pirates? (Hmm...a careful perusal of my game shelves indicates I obviously have wanted amny of them!) Nevertheless, a unique theme applied well certainly helps a game stand out. So how about Mongolia?
The board is wonderfully and clearly illustrated (thank you Mr. Vohlwinkel) depicting 3 different sections of gridded tile-laying area, and a Y-shaped road (also gridded) acting as a buffer area between the land areas.
Each player is the head of a Mongolian family attempting to stake out large claims of land (maximum 4 different claims) by placing the 3 terrain types -- oasis (grass), steppe (fields), stony plains (err...stony plains) -- into the 3 tile-laying areas; and trying to put together large groups of camels on the roadway. Of course there are a couple catches: you may only stake a total of 4 claims, one player's oasis claim may never come in contact with another claim of the same terrain type, not to mention that the tile-placement areas are very small and fill up quickly! If that sounds a bit like New England by the same design team, it is very similar, but that is where the similarities end.
That whole tile-laying thing is easy enough, but in order to score victory points, players need 'multipliers'. For exmaple, to score your oasis area, you need 'well' multipliers; if you have 10 tiles of oasis, and 3 wells, you will get 30 points. In the same way, steppe land needs 'horse' multipliers, stony plains need 'ovoo' (funeral piles) multipliers, and camels need 'commodity' multipliers. Sound straightforward so far? Good. That part is easy.
What makes the game so good is the manner in which players are allowed to carry out their actions -- action cards. The action cards allow: tile play, camel play, multiplier claims, and extra card draws. In order to get a combination of those actions, you need players to offer them to you.
At the beginning of a player's turn, he reveals between 1 and 3 cards from his own face-down draw deck. A 1 card offer allows him to add 2 cards to his deck, 2 card offer allows 1, 3 card offer allows for no cards back. The key here is that you want to offer something good because the sooner your set gets picked by another player, the earlier you get to choose next round. And like a pro sports player draft, picking early usually ensures valuable picks! If my offer gets picked first, I will go first next round. Inversely, if my offer was lousy (because I was trying to stock my deck, or deny cards to the leader, etc.) then I may well go last place. The extra carrot on the stick is that whoever gets the #1 pick token also gets a bonus action! This opens up the game quite a bit! Since players never know what card they will flip next, trying to decide when to stop flipping becaomes an interesting and angst-ridden decision!
The scoring in this game is marvelously easy to understand and the game rules are all of 2 pages long. This is a great family game and has been an instant hit with non-gamers/family gamers who enjoy the jockeying for position and the light defensive play the game requires (both in offers and tile placement). With a great price point, great bits, easy rules, lots of decisions, and a short duration (45 m.) this game is perfect for what it is.
But it is not all things to all people. Reviews from gamers are mixed. The minor problem is that since you do not know what cards you are going to flip, you are at the mercy of the luck of the draw. That is largely true, but I accept this game for what it is: a lighter family board game with high replay value and a unqiue and fun card drafting mechanic. Another complaint is that hidden multipliers (as stated in the rules) creates great disparity in the scoring -- the simple fix is to have all multipliers face-up, which works very well. Lastly, the game is dreadfully dull with 3 players, and really needs 4 or 5 players to be fun.
I hope I do not sound like I am ending on a down note, but I've got to note that the appeal tends to be very high with non-gamers, and mixed with gamers. I mentioned a similarity to New England, but I must say that this game is far superior in my estimation and with the non-gamers I play with, many of who are racing out to buy copies. I have lost track of how many times I have played this, and in all my playings, I HAVE NOT WON ONCE -- and still I never turn down a chance to play this game. If that isn't high praise, I don't know what is. =)
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.