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Last night, my kids and I played Akaba for the first time. This is a dexterity game about sending your guys around the board on flying carpets. When I saw it on a recent geeklist (HABA HABA HABA), how could I resist?
The game comes with four figures that are mounted on magic carpets. These are very light pieces, with a bit of foam attached at the bottom to help them slide easily across the board. There is a little air pump that looks a bit like a turkey baster. (Or a nose bulb used for babies.) Anyway, you squeeze this to push air out and send your magic carpet flying around the board.
Each player receives five cards that have family members pictured on them. Each family member is holding something that they would like to receive as a gift from the bazaar. Your goal is to collect all five of these gifts before anyone else does. But you can't look for all five at once - you are only allowed to look for two at a time.
On your turn, you must guide your magic carpet around the board and land in the one of the bazaar spaces (which are surrounded by walls on three sides) to pick up the items. But there are a couple of catches.
First, the items are placed on the board face-down. Since you are only looking for two of the five items at any time, you have a 40% chance of finding a gift you need when you land on a random item. So there's a bit of a memory element to the game in watching the tiles that others turn over and seeing if unused items match what you're currently seeking.
The other catch is that you are pressed for time. While you are attempting to fly your carpet to the next bazaar, the player on your left is rolling a pair of dice (with colors instead of numbers). As soon as that person rolls doubles, he yells "Stop!" (or "Coff!" if you want to use Arabic) and your magic carpet must stay where it is on the board. This means that some turns, you will not have long at all to get where you want to go.
Of course, merely flying your carpet at all is not easy, especially if you want to go fast. There is a large hole in the center of the board that represents the town's fountain. If you should land in there or fly off the board, your turn is over. Similarly, your turn ends if your magic carpet should tumble over, which can happen quite easily, since it is so light.
If you do manage to pick up a gift, it is placed right over the top of your character and carted around with you for the rest of the game. A little slot in the tile allows these tokens to slide on top of the player's carpet pieces.
There is a variation to the game (which we did not play). If double yellow is rolled, the active player must stop as usual, but receives a magic lamp. The player may then use the magic lamp on a later turn to get three squeezes of air without any dice rolled.
As you would expect from Haba, the components are all top-notch.
I played one game with my two sons, ages six and four. It took us a little more time to read through the rules and set up the game than it does with most Haba games. There are three colors of items (to help make sure that there is a normal distribution of items, I would presume) that all have to be sorted and placed on the board. Additionally, the wooden walls must go into their slots on the board. And we spent a little time practicing moving our carpets.
Unfortunately, my four year-old had a little trouble in this regard. Motor skills are not his strong suit, and he needed a lot of help using the air pump. When I read the description of the game, I thought this would be good practice for him, but he lasted about half the game before he got frustrated and asked me to do it for him. Also working against him is that the board is pretty big and it can be difficult for little arms to reach across to move the carpet - especially if you are trying to get it to come back toward you. (To be fair, the game is reccommended for ages five and up.)
My six year-old fared much better with the dexterity part of the game. He was able to move his carpet around pretty well. The only exceptions were the couple of times that he moved the air pump too close and accidently pushed his carpet over with the nozzle of the pump.
One note about the pump - sometimes it "implodes" on itself and is a little difficult to refill with air. Even in such cases, you can usually still get a enough air in it to make small movements. But it's a little frustrating when you're trying to go fast. I have a feeling that with some experience, you can learn the optimal way to squeeze the air pump so that this doesn't happen.
There is a fair amount of luck in the game. Sometimes, you find the right gifts on your first try. Other times, it takes a lot of searching. Additionally, the time you have to move your carpet varies wildly. Sometimes, a player will roll doubles against you on the first roll. Other times, you have more than enough time to go where you like.
In our game, I tried helping my four-year old squeeze the air pump on his turn. In the first couple of rounds, his brother rolled doubles very quickly, so the four year-old got behind from the start. The six year-old made it to several bazaars and was doing pretty well. I got lucky and found items I was looking for in the first two bazaars I stopped at.
Despite finding a couple of items, my four year-old got frustrated with the air pump and decided that he would let me handle that, while he rolled the dice. He started to catch up. My own team continued to be pretty lucky with the bazaars, and I was one gift ahead of the others throughout the entire game.
I attempted to slow myself down a bit by trying to go from a bazaar on one side of the board, to another clear on the other side. But when I got there, I would inevitably find the item I was looking for! So I finished ahead of the kids.
My six year-old had two gifts to go, and my four year-old still had one. My six year-old really wanted to keep playing, so we did. He found a gift on his next turn to even the score. Meanwhile, my four-year old and I had no idea where his last item could be found. We went to three different bazaars without discovering it.
My six year-old saw his final gift in one of the bazaars that the four year-old had searched. He made a nice long move across the board and slid into the bazaar to take second place.
I think the six year-old definitely enjoyed it. I'm not sure what my four year-old thought. I don't think he will request it anytime soon, because of the air pump. But he needs work on his motor skills, and this seems to me like a good way to practice.
As for myself, my impression of the game was very positive. I think this is one of Haba's best offerings. It's very clever, has a great theme and has a good mix of dexterity, memory, fast action and luck. I hope my four year-old is soon able to master it. But for my six year-old, this is clearly one of the best kids' games in our collection.