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The players move through the Himalayas on earthen trails, icy tracks and stone paths. As tribal chiefs they travel from village to village, and collect raw materials or fulfill orders. With them they can secure game-critical influence -- in political, economic and religious areas. Each player plans his own way through the mountains and at the same time tries to foil the plans of the other chieftains. Who will hold sway in the Himalayas remains up in the air until the very end. Due to its easily understood rules, this complex game is equally suitable for families and gamers.
Original creations are harder to find the more you play board games, but Himalaya may have ascended to the snow-covered heights of uniqueness.
When you first go through the rule book, you find yourself trying to connect Himalaya to other games you have played. The board, with its many settlements with different routes between, them is reminiscent of Elfenland; but the programmed movements have echoes of Robo Rally. The gathered resources hidden behind personal cardbord screens feels like Fist of Dragonstones. The idea of trying to expand your yak caravan to be the most lucrative trader has a Yspahan camel caravan flavor to it. The idea of region control, as represented by the envoys that you place has a kind of Australia spice to it. The different resources you trade (salt, barley, tea, jade, and gold) have a bit of a Settlers of Catan element to them, while the periodic payoffs remind one of the point collection events triggered by volcanoes in Tikal or locomotive cards in Union Pacific. But let's be honest, it isn't a thing like any of those games. Once you start playing, the originality quickly emerges.
In the game, you are the leader of one of four tribes of traders who caravan throughout eight snowy regions of Nepal making your way from houses to temples to monasteries by way of different pathways made of stone, dirt, or ice in order to gather resources to fulfill orders for different settlements. It becomes a strategic race against other tribes as you have only twelve cycles of moves, representing the months of a year (or the length of one game) in which to achieve the greatest combination of religious, political, and economic influence as a the game's grand caravaneer. This is done by placing stupas to show religious devotion, assigning tribal envoys for more political connections, and expanding your yak livestock and resources through clever ecomomic dealings.
All of that may make the game seem complex, but the many elements players have to juggle when making decisions only makes the game more interesting. That overview does not explain how any of that is achieved, and it is actually simpler than it sounds. Suffice it to say, it is an incredibly unique and involving game that the whole family will enjoy. My first game was played with my wife, my 15-year-old daughter, and my 12- year-old son, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s no wonder the game is a Games Magazine Family Strategy game nominee for 2007.
One thing is for sure, it is much more involved than Elfenland, it is less chaotic and random than Robo Rally, it is more realistic than Fist of Dragonstones, it is just as thematically rich as Yspahan, it is not as rooted in area control as Australia, it is has less of a dependency on dice rolls for profit like in Settlers of Catan, and it manages to simplify the scoring mechanism used in Tikal and Union Pacific. In fact, it is in a class all by itself. There’s really no comparison.
I am certain we will be trekking through the Himalayas many more times in the years to come. And we still haven’t played the advanced version that includes further strategic elements like Yeti sightings, snowstorms, and market days that will make our future ventures even more challenging. I can’t wait!
This game may only be a nominee in many competitions, but it is a true winner in our house.