Review of Amazonas

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

April 13, 2005


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

An interesting tactical game of set collection and connection building by German designer Stefan Dorra. And it's set in the Amazon!

Shannon Appelcline has written 679 reviews (including 357 board/tactical game reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of For Sale.

This review has been read 9130 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Amazonas
Publisher: Mayfair Games, Kosmos
Line: Amazonas
Author: Stefan Dorra
Category: Board/Tactical Game

Cost: $49.00
Year: 2005

SKU: MFG3307
ISBN: 1-56905-130-5


Review of Amazonas
Amazonas is an exploratory game of set collection and connectivity by designer Stefan Dorra, published by Mayfair Games & Kosmos.

Players: 2-5
Time: 30-60 minutes
Difficulty: 2 (of 10)

The Components

Amazonas comes with very pretty components, including:

Game Board: A four-panel game board printed full color on linen-textured cardboard. It shows a section of the Amazon River, filled with many villages, each of which allows the collection of one specimen type, has space for one or more research huts, and has connections to two or more other villages. There's a lot of information on this map, but most of the items are still pretty clear (though a couple of players had troubles seeing the costs of building research huts at various times--and were unpleasantly surprised). Despite all that information, the map remains colorful and attractive.

Wooden Huts: 48 wooden tents in the four player colors (blue, red, orange, white)--all up to the usual good standards of German wooden pieces.

Coins: More wooden bits: small silver coins and large golden coins. They're easy to tell apart, though the existence of of two different currencies is one of my pet peeves of the game, because you take income in silver, but pay costs in gold. This is just a recipe for confusion, and indeed I've heard reports of multiple people confusing the two currencies on their first play.

Cardboard Token: The five types of specimens (bird, fish, lizard, butterfly, flower) are all depicted on small cardboard tokens, as are the natives. They're all attractive and simply color-coded to easily tell the difference between the different sorts. The bonus tokens are larger, circular chits that show a value (2-5) and remind you that you need all 5 specimens to collect them. All of these tokens are printed on solid, linen-textured cardboard.

Cards: The game comes with a large number of cards, all of which are printed on slightly flimsy stock at regular card size, in full color. Income cards come in the 4 player colors and are essential bidding cards, each of which displays a value (0-6) and an associated specimen; there's also a handy number for breaking ties. The event cards each show an attractive picture along with an icon which, for the most part, tells you what the card does. The secret missions cards are essentially "routes", displaying four villages you need to connect; they're well-designed, with the specimen picture for each of your four special towns blown up, to make them easier to find. Finally, the turn order cards are just numbered 1-4, and remind you of when everyone goes; they're a nice, thoughtful addition.

The cards are, overall,, attractive and easy to use.

Rulebook: A four-page, full-color, glossy rulebook. It's full of examples and is easy to learn from and also good for reference.

The components of Amazonas are all very pretty (though not exactly beautiful because of the large amount of information contained within), high quality, and well designed for easy use. I've thus let it eke in a Style rating of "5" out of "5".

The Gameplay

The object of Amazonas is to collect a full set of specimens. And lots of each specimens. And reach four villages designated by your sponsor. In other words it's set collection plus connection building with some very specific rules for each.

Setup: Each player selects a color, then takes a set of 12 tents in that color as well as 7 income cards. Each player also takes a secret mission card which lists 4 villages that he must have built tents in by the end of thegame.

After taking a starting allotment of 3 gold, each player then builds one tent in a village on the board. Villages each have space for between 1-3 tents in them. The first space tends to cost 2 or 3 gold, the next 3 or 4, and if there's a third space, that might cost 5 or 6. To build their first tent a player chooses a village, then places his tent on the cheapest space, paying the appopriate gold to the bank. He then takes the specimen depicted in the village. (Each village has one type of specimen.)

Play now begins.

Order of Play: There are 18 rounds of play in the game, and during each round the following actions occur:

  1. Draw an Event Card
  2. Play Income Cards
  3. Take Income & Build Huts

Draw an Event Card: First a card is drawn from the deck of 18 event cards. (As noted there are 18 rounds in the game, which means that each event card will show up once). Event cards can have various effects, including: inability to move along land paths (jaguar); inability to move along water paths (crocodile, though it should be an alligator); lose money (forest fire or clever monkey); gain money (research); or gain a native (native).

The native card is notable. On his turn the first player in the round may decide to take a native token instead of his income for that round. The native is then used as a "wild card" specimen--it can add to any set, but the set must be decided when the native is purchased. If the first player foolishly refuses the native help, then the second player has the same option, etc.

Play Income Cards: Now each player plays an income card which determines how much money he earns that round and also when he goes. Each player has 7 income cards, and they can only be played once each until they've all been played (meaning that each player will go through their deck twice, then four of their cards a third time).

The income cards are numbered from 0-6. This represents how much money the player gets that turn (in silver, which converts to gold at a 3:1 ratio, and see my notes above for how this is confusing). Each card also shows a picture on it. 1-5 show one of the five specimens, while 6 shows a native. The player gets their count of the depicted token as a bonus to his income for that turn. So, for example, if a player played the 5, which has a flower on it, and he had 3 flower specimens, he would earn 8 silver that round. The 0 card shows all 5 specimens, but you must pick one of the five for the bonus income.

The 6 card, which shows the native, is special because it allows you to avoid the negative effect of any event card. (It's usually used to avoid the forest fire and clever monkey, as losing money can be a big deal in the game.)

The cards are all played face-down, then revealed. Each player then announces his total income (the number + the bonus from the card), and then the turn order markers are given out, in descending order of income. In case of a tie, the player who played the lower valued card wins, and in case of a further tie there are special tie-breaker numbers on the card.

Now, with the turn order determined, the individual player turns can begin.

Take Income & Build Huts: On a turn a player takes the income he announced, possibly modified by the event card. Then he may build huts.

Hut, as noted before, cost 2-6 gold, and they'll get more expensive over the length of the game as people take the cheaper spots in each village. A player can only build a new tent adjacent to a village where he already has a tent. They're all connected by various land and river routes (some of the latter of which are quite long). When you build into a new village, you take a specimen, just as at the startup.

You'll want to build into new villages for several reasons, including: getting to villages listed in your secret mission; picking up specimens to complete a set of all 5; picking up specimens to bulk out types where you already have a couple for end-game scoring; and picking up specific types of specimens to aid in income based on cards you haven't used yet in the current set. There can be quite a bit of tension here, as another player building into a city before you can potentially cut you off (if that fills all the hut spaces) or alternatively can cost you 1-2 gold, which is essentially 1-2 lost turns (ouch).

Whenever a player picks up his fifth type of specimen token he takes a bonus token. There are four of them, worth 5, 4, 3, or 2 points. He gets the biggest one left.

Ending the Game: The game ends after 18 rounds of play. This takes about an hour, as the rounds go quite fast. Each player now totals his score. He gets the value of his bonus token (if he received one) plus the count of any specimen type that he had at least three of. (Specimens with just 1 or 2 individuals are worth nothing for final scoring, though they helped the player get his bonus token.) He then loses 3 points for each city on his route that he failed to get to.

The player with the most points wins.

Relationships to Other Games

Amazonas is a logistical game with set-collection and connection-building elements. At first I expected it to be sort of like Ticket to Ride, the set-collection, connection-building game of 2004. And, indeed, there are similarities with those secret missions cards and each player having different reasons to get to each connection node.

However, there are very notable differences. First of all, Amazonas is a considerably heavier game than Ticket to Ride: I'd label it as medium-weight while Ticket to Ride is definitely light-weight. There are a lot more possibilities that have to be considered each turn in Amazonas. On the other hand, I think that Amazonas is somewhat murkier. It's a lot harder to make educated guesses about what other players might be doing, and their movements have every bit as much chance of being disastrous to your own plans.

As a connection-building game Amazonas is related to any number of railroad games, not just Ticket to Ride.

As a set-collection game, Amazonas is related to Rummy and many other classics.

Amazonas is also a game by Stefan Dorra. I've now played about a half-dozen of his games and can say that there's little relationship between them, except the author's name on the boxes. Dorra tends to take some fairly standard ideas (auctions, set collection, connections) and develop them in some slightly different ways that produce unique, well-designed games.

The Game Design

Here's some of my favorite elements of Amazonas:

Good Tactics: The game is largely tactical, and those tactics are quite interesting. They usually relate to which income cards you play, and in which order. Once you're into your turn proper, your moves are usually set by whether you have cash or not.

Some Strategy: There are some strategic decisions that are interesting too. The biggest question is whether you quickly go for width (all the specimens) or depth (lots of a few specimens). How you connect up your four villages is also an interesting strategic decision.

Very Tight Gameplay: The gameplay is very tight; you never have enough turns for what you want to do (get all the specimens; get all your villages; get more than 3 of any specimen type). This makes for enjoyable and thoughtful gameplay.

Good Interlinking Systems: There are quite a few systems in this game--logistics, a sort of auction, set collection, and connection building. They're all put together well into a cohesive whole.

Here's some of the things I didn't like:

Doesn't Work as Well for Three: This game is billed for 3-4 players, but I wouldn't particularly suggest it for 3. It works, sure, but there's not nearly as much tension or concern that other players will get in your way. Thus individual decisions are less tense and so less interesting.

High Chaos: Conversely, the chaos factor can be a bit high with 4 players. Yes, this makes your decisions more important, but you can get knocked out of the game just based on what route another player happens to take. Part of this is based upon the fact that it's not particularly easy to see where another player is going, and thus you can't easily defend against it. This feels like an overly large factor.

Some Concern about Natives: Finally, I have some concern about the natives, which seem overly powerful and sometimes are semi-randomly given out, just based on who had a high number card, or even a high tie-breaker (that would be the blue player). I've only played the game twice, and both times the player who got more natives did indeed sail into victory, but I'd need to play more to see if this a serious problem.

Amazonas has a lot going for it, including a nice medly of game systems and some very serious strategic & tactical thought. Unfortunately it's also got a bit of randomness in it, and is somewhat dry as well. On a whole I think it's a slightly above average game, and that I'll play it occasionally; I've thus given it a low "4" out of "5", but only for the 4-player game.

Conclusion

Amazonas is an interesting new game of collecting sets and building routes by Stefan Dorra. It'll be best appreciated by people who enjoy serious tactical games, and in this genre it's got quite a bit going for it, though it also has some issues with a high chaos factor which can unduly influence the game.

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