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Ender Wiggins
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Introducing Botswana



Oh Gryphon Games – you saucy little minx! You and the folks down at FRED think you can do it again don’t you? Seriously...do you really believe we’re so easy? Do you really think that we can so readily be brought under your spell, and run out to buy this game just because it's another entry in the Gryphon Games bookshelf series? You do!!! My, my it’s almost comical how grossly you’ve underestimated the strength of our collective willpower and restraint! You don't think we're going to run out and buy a game just that quickly, do you?

Pardon me? You say it’s a Knizia? And that's interesting to be sure, but you don't believe that will make us reconsider do you? We’ve all seen those Knizia games before – why it’s barely even tempting! Oh...it’s a rethemed edition of Loco? Hmmm...well, we have to concede that Loco was one of the good doctor’s better fillers – quick, fun and always good for a laugh. But no – still not interested! We are geeks of principle after all – and our love can’t be bought!

But wait a moment – just before you go away ... what’s in that box you’ve got there? Are those zebras?! Oh my, oh my! – and are those lions and rhinos too? Might I take a closer look just for a second? After all a quick peek couldn’t hurt, I mean they can’t possibly be as cute as they look from here. Wow, the attention to detail on these animals is really incredible! There are even nostrils in the elephant’s trunk! And these rhinos are just too cool! Oh, and you say it comes with some cards as well?? You do know of course I have always found shuffling to be such a wonderfully therapeutic activity. And the quality of the cards is very good, and come to think of it, that's some pretty sweet looking animal artwork you've got on them.



You know, as I think about it for minute, the kids would probably really enjoy this game – and maybe my better-half as well. You understand of course that, if it were for me, I wouldn’t even have given this a second look – to be honest, between all the games of Campaign for North Africa and Descent that I have scheduled, I’ll probably never even a get chance to play it myself! But sometimes you just have to take a moment to think about what you can do for others. Like I said – geeks of principle and all! Now, if I can just find my wallet.




COMPONENTS

Game box

Botswana is the newest release in the Gryphon Games Bookshelf Series, which now numbers 11 titles, including outstanding entries like Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age and reprints of modern classics like For Sale and Incan Gold. As such, the box is of the same size and construction as the other games in the series. There is something quite pleasing about these boxes – they’re durably, yet attractively constructed and they have been sized in such a way that they are both easily portable and storable. The fact that they're all numbered certainly appeals to the `collector' quality common to those of us with OCD sensibilities.

The front of the box doesn’t provide us with a great deal of information, besides alerting us to the fact that Botswana is a game born in the fiendishly clever mind of Dr. R. Knizia – and that is going to involve jungle animals of several kinds!



The back of the box tells us a little more – apparently we are going on safari in the beautiful African territory known as The Republic of Botswana. During our safari, we are going to be trying to spot various kinds of African wildlife – and at the end of the safari the player who has spotted the rarest and most valuable animals will be the winner!



The insert has a two nicely sized compartments: one for the animals and a smaller one for the cards. Overall, excellent work here!

Component list

Here’s what you get inside:
• 25 molded plastic animals – 5 elephants, 5 leopards, 5 lions, 5 rhinos and 5 zebras.
• 30 cards – 6 cards for each of the animals noted above, in sets numbered 0 through 5.
• 1 double-sided rules sheet



Animals

It has to be noted from the outset that the animals which come with the game are really fantastic. You get five of the following: zebras, elephants, lions, rhinos, and leopards.



Now these miniatures have been very well made – moulded from good, solid plastic - and the attention to detail is quite impressive.



These animals really make the game! Children and adults alike will enjoy collecting their ‘herd’ and lining them up in their play area. As far as finding an eminently agreeable theme for a reworking of Loco, and then matching that theme with great components, the publishers would be hard pressed to have done better. The only minor niggle is that the zebras weren't quite as stable as the other animals, although this could make for some good drunken zebra jokes during gameplay.



Cards

The 30 cards are the key component so far as actual game play is concerned – and they have been well made and pleasingly illustrated. As is also the case with the other games in the series, the cards have been made of good quality linen card stock, and so should hold up well to repeated play and shuffling.



The pictures of the animals are well done and serve the added bonus of making the game playable even by younger children who have not yet learned how to read. There are cards corresponding to each of the five animals, and the artwork on the cards is of a very high standard, and the design matches the pattern/fur of each - a nice touch. They're among the most attractive cards I've ever seen in a card game.



During the game, players will collect animals which will be worth points from 0 to 5. Thus for each of the five animals there are six cards, numbered from 0 to 5. For example, here are all the lion cards:



They really are quite beautiful, and both children and adults alike will find much to appreciate and admire about the components of this game!

Rules

Botswana comes with a single, double-sided rules insert.



The rules are concisely and clearly laid out and there are a number of helpful illustrations that should clear up any questions that you might have regarding the flow of play. Let's face it, you can pretty much explain these rules in 30 seconds flat. And you wouldn't have thought it possible to do a better job of explaining the rules of Loco, given how easy to read and understand they were, but in Botswana they've managed to make them even more clear and concise. Good job all round!

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

We like to begin by separating all of the animals into separate piles, and placing them conveniently in the centre of our play area. Next, shuffle all of the cards together into a pile and then proceed to remove a specified number of cards depending on the number of people playing (for two/four player games remove two cards, for a three player game remove three cards, and for a five player game all of the cards are left in the deck). Next, evenly deal out the entire deck of cards to all of the players. Select a starting player (the rules suggest the youngest player) and play will proceed around the table. Let's go on safari!

In the picture below is an example of the set-up for a three player game:



Flow of Play

Beginning with the starting player, each player, in turn, will select one card from their hand and place it face up in the play area.



They may then take any animal of their choice (it need not be the same animal depicted on the card which they just played) and add it to their supply. The cards must be played in such a way that lion cards are placed on top of lion cards, and rhino cards on top of rhino cards et cetera, and so that the numerical values of the preceding cards remains visible to all players. That's all - it's really that easy! Play a card, take an animal - now it's the next player's turn!



Pictured below is a three player game in progress:



Scoring

Play will continue in this fashion until all six cards of any one animal species have been played. The player who played the final card may still take any one of the remaining animals and that will mark the end of the round, and you're ready to score points.

Each animal in your personal herd is worth the value of the last card played on its stack (NB: animals with no cards played for them will be worth no points). So if the last elephant card played is a 5, all elephants you've collected are worth five points each; on the other hand if it's a 0 or 1, they're worth either nothing or just one point.



In the example pictured above, zebras were worth 5 points, leopards 0 points, elephants 5 points, lions 4 points, and rhinos 4 points, and the player whose animal herd is pictured had 29 points. Other players score in the same way. Imagine a slightly different outcome, where the last leopard card was a 3 instead of a 0 (and the player above didn't have a leopard) - then players would score points as pictured in the example below.



You can play as many or as few rounds as you wish - the usual process is to give everyone a chance to be the starting player, and have as many rounds as players, with the final winner being the player with the highest combined total score after all the rounds have been completed. Note that each round is begun by following the set-up procedure laid out above.

CONCLUSIONS

What do we think?

Accessibility: Anybody can play this game – and anybody can be taught to play it in a matter of a few minutes. Even people who might ordinarily be daunted by learning new games, or who just hate playing games in general, will be hard pressed to find Botswana disagreeable. Whether you are young, old, or anything in between, Botswana plays so smoothly and easily that it should find a ready audience just about anywhere, making it an ideal pick-up game in a casual crowd or party.

Fun Factor: It is remarkable that a game with so few rules and components is as fun as it proves to be. It shouldn't be this fun, given how the simple the rules are, but somehow the animal miniatures and elegant rule-set combine to make Botswana a tremendously enjoyable game to play. There is good tension in so far as you need to be careful when you play your higher value cards – or, in deciding when to play that zero-value card on an unsuspecting opponent just before the game end is triggered. The fact that you can’t be quite sure just which cards are out there (in games with less than five players) is particularly interesting. At the end of the day, whether it’s a light filler or a heavy Eurogame, games should be fun – and Botswana delivers in spades.

Play Time: Besides being fun, Botswana can be played quickly – often in 5-10 minutes for a round. There is a lot to be said for its quick-play and there are few games that provide this level of satisfaction in such a short time span.

Family Game: When you combine the fun factor with the quick play time and the easy rules, what you get is an outstanding family game that can even be played with children as young as four or five. At the end of the day, even if younger children don’t fully grasp the strategy (or even if they are still a little fuzzy about numbers) they will have a grand time stacking up cards and grabbing animals from the table. If educational value is important to you, you'll even find an element of that here, since children can be challenged to add up their own scores at the end of the game, an endeavour that involves basic addition and/or multiplication.

Scalability: While Loco was listed as suitable for 2-4 players, Botswana is marketed as playable with 5. The game is certainly playable with 5 players - as was the original - but because all the cards are in play you miss the tension of not knowing which cards were removed from the game; furthermore, the combination of having only have six cards each and having four other players taking a turn between your own turns means there's not much control over the outcome. In contrast is the two player, where you'll have 14 cards in hand and know everything that your opponent has except two cards - so there's much more information to work with in a tactical battle of wits. The game is probably best enjoyed with 3 or 4 players, and if you keep track of the cards that have not yet been played, there's definitely room for some skill in how you play your cards and which animals to take, as well as tension while the game draws to a close and the key cards determining point values are played.

Components: We've said it before, but we'll say it again: the animals help turn a good game into a great one - with the proviso that it still be judged as a filler. But it's hard to get excited about drawing generic coloured chips. African animal minis, on the other hand, have an intrinsic sense of value, and although the safari theme about collecting rare animals is certainly pasted on, the game does somehow garner an extra layer of enjoyment by playing with miniature lions, elephants, zebras, leopards, and rhinos, than it does when playing with coloured chips. It has to be admitted that it loses some measure of its portability as a result, but it more than makes up for that in toy appeal.

Decisions: If ever a game design could be considered elegant, this is it. This is not a game of luck, even though the luck-of-the-draw certainly comes into play and can sometimes even be a determining factor. But especially in 2, 3 and 4 player games, the sublime simplicity of the gameplay belies the cleverness you'll need to make good choices. What are your opponents playing, and what might they have in hand? And how can you maximize what's in your hand, and get the timing just right to help make your own animals score big points while making those of your opponents score minimal points? By carefully watching the cards on the table, the cards your opponents are playing and the animals they're taking, there's definitely room for skillfully playing out your hand and selecting the right wildlife. And because you can take any animal you wish, there's rarely a `bad hand' of cards - although often it's by maximizing the potential combinations of cards in your hand and playing them in the right order that will set you on course to win. The beginning of a game can sometimes feel random, but the closing stages are frequently tense and the choices you make can be critical. At the end of the game, all that really matters is the final card that's been played for each animal, but the earlier cards are important because they'll give you some idea about what that final card might be, and help you plan accordingly! There's more here than meets the eye!



What do others think?

The criticism

This game has already gone through multiple incarnations and themes, so let's focus on the game design by considering some comments about the game in its previous forms, since these will also apply to Botswana. So why might you not like this game? Perhaps if you're looking for something heavier, or a deep thematic experience. Knizia is capable of both - as evidenced by Tigris & Euphrates and Lord of the Rings - but be aware that Botswana and its predecessors are neither, since they clearly fall into the light-filler with pasted on theme category. There's a good reason this is being published in the Gryphon Games bookshelf series, which especially aims to offer lighter 30-45 minute games that are fun for families and suitable for non-gamers. Some people will simply find Botswana too simple and too short for their taste. On the other hand the components in Botswana might win over some of the critics, especially those looking for a family game with children that adults can enjoy as well, by incorporating some meaningful decisions, and as a preferred alternative to the dullness of the family Uno fest at Christmas.



The praise

There's also plenty of people who enjoy this type of game immensely. Here's a sampling of some things that gamers are saying about it:
"The best quick filler around!" - Stephan Koehr
"This game is short, has tough decisions, and is great for new gamers." - Oliver Harrison
"So elegant and so pure. This is the ultimate non-gamer's game, teach it in 30 seconds - lots of strategy packed into such a simple game. A must have." - Phillip Schwarzmann
"Very accessible for non-gamers, yet still offers the 'gamer' a few hard decisions in every short game." - Karl Hanf
"For me, Reiner shines in his simpler games. He understands how to boil down concept games into their simplest forms. This game is designed in the spirit of Occam's Razor." - Morgan Dontanville
"Excellent game. Takes 10 seconds to explain it. New players get into it quickly. It is a perfect, short filler for 2-4 people." - Michael Medlin
"Quick filler game. Ultra simple but dastardly strategic." - Devon T
"Perfect in its own way. Short rules, simple components, plays quickly, and has a nice balance between luck and strategy. Lots of decision-making under (a variety of kinds of) uncertainty including the neat twist that you don't know whether a particular card hasn't come out yet because it's not in the deck this time." - Sue Hemberger
"I'm in awe of the fact that something so simple can work so well and can play in less than five minutes." - Vincent Priest
"Love the tough decisions and the fact that its easy to teach and fast to play." - Jason Roy
"The gameplay is very simple but tense and enjoyable." - Jeremy Paquette
"Easy to play and learn, and seems very obvious and simple on the surface, but a couple of turns in you are faced with some agonizing decisions. There's so much going on here and every time I play it I find myself in a new situation to think about. I have yet to bring this out and not have all the players really enjoy it. " - Dave Lartigue
"A great filler, with interesting decisions, second-guessing, and opportunities for different styles of play, and quick to teach." - Matthew Gray




Recommendation

Is Botswana for you? If you are looking for a first rate family game that can serve double-duty as a quick, light, social filler than Botswana should definitely be on your radar. The folks at Gryphon/FRED have made a fantastic choice in republishing Loco with the safari theme and the addition of the fantastic animals components just takes the game over the top. In terms of fun, ease of learning, replayability and simple good value, you would be hard pressed to go wrong with Botswana.



Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and jtemple.

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Peter Folke
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This new version is beautiful!
But what's up with your second scoring example? I can't figure out how you got to 30 and 28?
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Ender Wiggins
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Falke wrote:
This new version is beautiful! But what's up with your second scoring example? I can't figure out how you got to 30 and 28?

Yes, indeed, the new edition is beautiful to the point of being spectacular! I'm sorry if my examples caused any confusion. The second scoring example is from a real game, and if you look closely you'll see that the final leopard card was a 3, not a 0 (i.e. zebras = 5, leopards = 0, elephants = 5, lions = 4, rhinos = 4).



In the first scoring example (pictured below) I changed the final leopard card to a 0 and added a leopard to that player's herd, to illustrate what happens when some animals score 0 points. Hopefully that clarifies what is going on in the two examples!

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Caleb
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Man, I was all set to hold out strong and not add this to my wishlist, since I own Loco. I even figured the safari theme was pretty weak. But man, these are great pics and the game does look fantastic....plus at some point I'll have all the OTHER games in this series, so....onto the wishlist it goes!


EDIT: also interesting to note that it looks like they went back to cards with borders on them (white in this case, thankfully, rather than black). Most (all?) of the other games in the series have cards with the artwork all the way to the edge.
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Jody Ludwick
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I thought I was happy enough with my abstract FFG Loco! edition... now I'm not so sure.

As always EndersGame, thank you for your time, photos, opinions, insight, and efforts.
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Brad N
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Another quality review. I was curious about Botswana and how well put together the game is. It looks really nice and I think the "theme" (with colorful animals) could get more people to play it than previous abstract versions.

Still, I won't be trading in my version of Quandary for this. Quandary has to be one of the most over-produced games of all time... and I love it!

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Ben Harris
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Great review - I don't own Loco so this is wishlisted now!

Keep em coming Ender!
 
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~Ryan McSwain
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Great review. I think I still prefer Thor, but this is a nice looking game.
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jonathan schleyer
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Seems like a must buy for me. Thanks!
 
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Peter Folke
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Oh you swapped two cards. Easy way to win this game

Thanks for the review
 
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J C Lawrence
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Impr3ssion wrote:
Great review. I think I still prefer Thor, but this is a nice looking game.


I own Quandary, Loco! and Thor. Of the three, I prefer and play Thor as it optionally allows for a 6th suit and the use of the God Cards (which I find a fascinating exercise in delayed commitment).
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Caleb
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clearclaw wrote:
Impr3ssion wrote:
Great review. I think I still prefer Thor, but this is a nice looking game.


I own Quandary, Loco! and Thor. Of the three, I prefer and play Thor as it optionally allows for a 6th suit and the use of the God Cards (which I find a fascinating exercise in delayed commitment).


Do you mind expounding on "delayed commitment"? I have Loco but have never seen Thor.
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Kevin Shillinglaw
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An excellent review! Naturally, I want this game.

My wallet thanks you. gulp
 
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J C Lawrence
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cannoneer wrote:
Do you mind expounding on "delayed commitment"? I have Loco but have never seen Thor.


Instead of taking a share a player may instead take a God card, and thus delay committing their portfolio. Similarly, instead of playing a numeric card, a player may play a God Card and again delay commitment.
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Rick Janssen
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Sounds like a neat game!

For a similar game with a bit more depth and strategy, why not try Colossal Arena.

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