is a game of card management and betting by Reiner Knizia, published by Gryphon Games as #11 in their bookshelf series.
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes
Summary of the Components
Botswana comes with 25 plastic animals and 30 cards.
Quality: The animals are sturdy and painted. The cards are thick and linen-textured. 5 out of 5.
Beauty: The animals are some of the cutest pieces you'll see in games. I was impressed by how much this really adds to the play of the game. The cards are likewise very attractive, with their full-color animal artwork. 5+ out of 5.
Usability: The game is really simple, so there's no need for any usability elements in the game. (Though it would have been nice to have a score pad or something, since you accumulate points over multiple rounds.) -
Theme: Theoretically the theme is about photographing the most valuable animals, but that's really paper-thin. I'm only giving the game points for theming at all because the animals are quite evocative thanks to the figures and the cards. 2 out of 5.
Though Botswana is relatively themeless, its sturdy and beautiful components will make you forget that entirely, so I had to still give it a "5" out of "5" for Style.
Summary of the Gameplay
The object of Botswana is to collect the most valuable animals over several rounds of play.
Setup: Each player is given a random selection of cards depicting the five animals (elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and zebras) and numbered from 0-5. Two or three extra cards are set aside. The five plastic figures for each animal are also set in the middle of the table.
Taking a Turn: On his a turn, a player will play a card, then take an animal figure. The figure does not have to match the card played.
Ending a Round: After all six cards of one of the five animal types have been played, a round ends. Each animal figure has a value equal to the last card played for that animal. Players sum up the points for all their animal figures, then turn all their cards and figures back in.
Ending the Game: Over the course of a game, each player gets to go first once. When all of those rounds have been played, the game ends, and the player with the highest score from all the rounds wins.
Relationship to Other Games
This game has been released under a number of names over the years -- including Flinke Pinke, Quandary, and Loco! -- and all of them were pretty themeless. It was also released in a variant form as Thor, which accommodated more players and had some special power cards.
The game is really a stock market game. You take various stocks over the course of the game and hope to maximize their value. However, the changing valuation of the stocks is very chaotic, unlike Knizia's actual stock-themed game, Buy Low, Sell High.
Other Knizia games where you similarly acquire stock and then adjust their values through somewhat arbitrary card play include: Gold Digger and Titan: The Arena / Colossal Arena.
The Game Design
I played Loco! many years ago, and didn't think there was much game there. However, after experience with many years' worth of eurogames, when I returned to Botswana, I found that I could appreciate it much better.
There is a lot of chaos in this game, since players can at any time place a card atop a pile for a specific animal and totally change its valuation. However, there's a lot of risk-reward assessment that can help you make a better choice. To start off with, if an animal's lowest cards are either played out or in your hand, you can calculate a lower bound for its valuation. You can also figure out which animals might be better bets by which cards your opponents are playing and which animal figures (stock) they're taking.
Hand in hand with that is the opportunity for fun misdirection. You can carefully play your cards to try and hide your real plans, so that everyone doesn't jump on your animal bandwagon.
Finally, there's some good brinksmanship in this game. Because the game ends when the sixth card of an animal is played, you have to work hard to play cards (high or low) at an optimal time. If you calculate wrong, either your card is never played or someone can reset an animal's valuation after you play your good card. This can be even worse if you never got around to playing a card on an animal (which results in it having a value of 0).
With all that said, Botswana is a very solid filler. I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Substance.
Thought Botswana's play is super-light, there's enough depth to make it a great filler. The superb components are just icing on the (animal?) cake.