Thursday, May 16, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 22 (54-53)

It's a fun coincidence (IMO) that my 53rd and 54th favorite games are both by designer Rüdiger Dorn, and that they were released in consecutive years (2014 and 2015.) Both games have appeared in my top 10 in the past. Rüdiger Dorn is one of my favorite game designers.


#54 Istanbul

In Istanbul, players move a stack of merchants, representing a Master Merchant and their assistants, around a modular board, representing a vast marketplace. For each step your Master Merchant takes, you must leave one assistant behind. So, movement in Istanbul is very Mancala like. When you have run out of assistants, or at any point that you wish to back track, you can return to a location and pick an assistant up. Basically, when you move, an assistant must be involved either at the start (drop off) or the end (pick up) of the move. If no assistant is involved in the move, then you can't make that move. (The Master Merchant is helpless without their assistants.) This movement puzzle is a key aspect of the game play in Istanbul. If you can create an effective "loop" to travel this will help you greatly. There is also a fountain that players can stop at to call all of their assistants back to the Master Merchant.


All of this movement is done to activate the actions at the various locations. This is being done to enable players to collect gems. Collecting gems is the goal of the game. The first person to collect a certain number of these gems will be the winner. Gaining gems requires players to participate in various game actions. They can collect and sell goods to earn money to buy the gems directly. They can gamble for gems, achieve milestones, like upgrading their cart that carries their goods, and many other ways. No matter what you are doing to get your gems, after you utilize that method once, the next time you attempt the same method it will be more costly. This encourages players to diversify their strategies.

I love Istanbul. The theme is engaging. (You even have a shady relative who will perform a bonus action for you, if you bail them out of jail. LOL!) Game play is clean and puzzly, and the conditions for victory are clear. Istanbul even won the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres (German Hobby Game of the Year - very prestigious!)


#53 Karuba

In Karuba players lead an expedition of adventurers through the jungle to find lost temples and gather valuable treasures. Every player has a player board that is made up of a grid of spaces. Along the bottom and left of the board is beach. Along the top and right of the board is jungle. Everything else is unexplored wilderness. Everyone starts with the same orientation of temple pawns placed on jungle spaces, and adventurer pawns placed on beach spaces.


One player is the caller. Each turn the caller draws a random wilderness tile and announces its number to the other players. All players then locate that tile and place it anywhere they like in the wilderness grid of their player board. Wilderness tiles all show a path through the jungle. The path might form a straight line across the tile. It might form a t-section. It might display a 90 degree turn, or it might show a crossroads. If you place a tile next to another tile, you must line up the paths on all adjacent tiles. Tiles cannot be rotated. The tile number must always appear in the upper left corner of the tile. These are the only placement rules.

Adventurers can only move on paths. The goal is to create a path from each adventurer to the temple of their matching color. In order to move an adventurer, you have to discard a tile. The adventurer moves up to a number of spaces equal to the number of path exits on the tile discarded. So a single straight or 90 degree turn path will provide a movement of 2 since it has 2 exits. A t-section has 3 exits for a movement of 3, and a crossroads 4 exits for a movement of 4.

The combination of paths vs movement on the tiles is just enough to ensure that no two players' boards are the same, despite the fact that everyone is playing the exact same game. Some tiles also have either a jewel or a gold nugget pictured on them. If you stop an adventurer on one of these tiles, you can collect those treasures for additional points. This adds just a little more to your decision space without adding complexity to the game.

The first adventurer to reach a temple of their color collects the highest valued treasure in that temple. Adventurers who reach that same colored temple later get a lesser valued treasure. These treasures along with collected gems and gold all equate to victory points. Play continues until all tiles have been played or one player has managed to reach the temples corresponding to all four of their adventurers, and the player with the most valuable treasures (most victory points) wins.

Karuba is awesome. It's very much a game of multiplayer solitaire, but everyone that I have played it with has loved it. The BINGO style simultaneous play means the game is just as snappy at four players as it is at two, with no down time. (I have even considered buying a second copy of the game so that we can play up to eight players!) Karuba was nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres (German Family Game of the Year - very very prestigious!) but sadly lost out to Codenames (a game that did not make my top 100.


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