Friday, May 06, 2005

Review: Amazonas

During the 19th century, the scientific world began exploring South America's largest river, known to the Brazilians as Amazonas. The Amazon rainforest is a hot, wet, wild jungle teeming with strange life and stranger natives. It's a place of beauty and danger filled with some of the world's most exotic species. Your job is to explore it, setting up outposts in remote villages and collecting specimens to bring back to your sponsor.

The first thing that caught my eye was the colorful macaw and mysterious jungle exploration scene that graces the box cover. If you could judge a game by its cover then this would be a good indicator. Inside the box you'll find more lush artwork on the game board which represents a section of the Amazon river and the surrounding jungle. Also included in the box are several nice wooden huts in four colors, a selection of wooden coins, several cardboard counters representing different species (butterflies, lizards, fish, flowers, and birds) and several sets of cards, all lavishly and colorfully decorated. The production values are first rate and do a wonderful job of conveying a sense of the vibrant colors that make up the Amazonas.

Amazonas is a network connection and set collection game that takes several familiar mechanics and blends them together in a very attractive light family strategy game for 3-4 players. Scattered around the board are about 30 villages, all connected with a network of jungle paths and water routes that crisscross the board. Each player receives a set of huts in their color, three gold coins and a set of income cards. Each player also receives one secret directive card, selected at random, which lists four villages where the player should establish outposts.

Each player's set of income cards is (almost) identical and numbered from 0 to 6. At the beginning of each game turn, each player selects one card from their hand and plays it (similar to the mechanic in Niagara). The cards serve two purposes: they determine the player's order for that turn and they determine each player's income for that turn. If you play a 4 card then you receive four silver coins for income.

I mentioned that the sets of cards are almost identical. The difference is the small white numbers at the top of each card that are used as tie breakers when determining turn order. Ordinarily, the player with the highest income goes first but often it happens that players will tie and in that case, the player whose card has the highest number at the top of their card goes first.

Income can also be affected by the specimens you've already collected. Each card has a symbol on it. For every specimen tile you've collected that matches that symbol, your income is increased by one. This also affects turn order, so it's possible for you to play a 4 and still go before another player who played a 5 because you happened to have enough matching specimen tiles.

Once a card is played from your hand, it is unavailable to use again until you have used up all of your cards, at which point you take all your cards back into your hand.

After you've collected your income, you have the option of collecting a specimen tile and establishing an outpost by building a hut in a village. Each village is associated with one type of specimen and has spaces for one or more huts. In order for you to build in a village, you must pay the building cost but you can't build just anywhere, you have to build in a village that is connected by a path or a water route to another village that already has a hut in your color. Whoever builds first in a village pays the least so it is to your advantage to try and build before your opponents.

At the beginning of each turn a card is drawn from the top of a stack of cards called the event deck. These cards effect the rules of the game during that round. There are cards that grant additional income for having certain specimen tiles, cards that reduce your income, and monkey cards that steal coins from each player. There are also jaguar cards which render the jungle paths unsafe for travel and crocodile cards which do the same for the river routes.

The event deck also acts as a turn counter. When the last card is drawn, the game is over. The players figure their score and determine the winner. Players are rewarded both for having a lot of tiles in each specimen category as well as for having at least one of each specimen. Also, players deduct points from their score for each village on their secret directive card where they weren't able to establish an outpost.

Amazonas is a colorful, light strategy game. It's not difficult to play and there is minimal player interaction which primarily amounts to trying to be the first into a village so you can secure the cheapest hut space. Getting all four of the villages on your secret directive card before the turns run out is the main challenge in this game, but you also need to collect as many specimens as you can.

Amazonas is a very nice game for three to four players that plays in under an hour. It's very attractive and it's quite fun. If you're looking for a good light strategy game, something that the family or a pair of couples can enjoy in under an hour then this would be a fine choice.


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