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Subject: Timbuktu is an excellent deducation game! rss

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John Mellby
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Timbuktu (1993/2006)
Dirk Henn
Publisher: Queen; 3-5 players; 45 minutes (really!)

A couple of people locally bought this re-release in June. I'd seen the
reviews and this didn't really sound interesting or fun. But our
local game-pusher, Tim Kelly (psst - little boy, want to play a game?),
got me into a game, as he has so many before. And this rapidly hit
my top-five list for the year:
Caylus; Railroad Tycoon; Tempus; Um Krone und Kragen; Timbuctu

The whole game is deducing, from incomplete information and other
player's actions, where the thieves will hit. Then you maneuver
your camels so that you minimize your loses to the thieves.

As usual we'll discuss: Game end/winning; the components, simple
turn order, thieves and deduction, the maneuvers you get in a turn,
and reprise the game end & scoring. Then we'll talk about game play,
how to do deductions, and summarize.

I've only played 5-player games, so the number in the review refer to
5-player games. 3-4 player games are similar, but number of goods
and camels vary.

Game Score
----------
At the end of the game your camels will have a number of goods
remaining unstolen. The value of each depends on how many of that
good was stolen in the game. If the thieves stole 11 Gold,
then remaining gold is worth 11 each.
Multiply your remaining goods by their value, and that is your
profit for the trip. The one with the highest profit wins.

Components
----------
The map is little more than decorated lanes for the camels
to travel on. Its divided into separate boards, since the
trip length changes with the number of players. The boards are
simple, but attractive.
Each section of the map has five lanes for the camels
named crescent, lamp, scimitar, star, and moon. (For simplicity,
when I take notes I refer to this by number.)
There are five camel positions (rooms) on each lane, from 1-5.

The wooden camels have stickers indicating the owner.
Each player gets a player aid mat. This is where the camel goods
are stored, as well as memory aids for the options that the
thieves get.

There are attractive tokens for the different goods (gold,
salt, coffee, pepper, and water). The tokens are pretty, but its
easier to remember the goods by color: gold, grey, brown, red, blue

There are 15 Thief cards, showing where they strike and what they steal.

There are markers for the player that starts each day, and the
current first moving player.

Each player starts with 5 camels. Each camel carries 4 goods.
Each player gets markers (A-E) indicating each of the camels.

Simple turn order
-----------------
Each player get a set of thief cards showing where one of the five thieves strikes.

Five rounds make up a turn. Beginning with the start player for the day,
each player moves one camel from the previous day's position to a spot
on the next board. The start player marker moves to the next person,
and we have another round of camel movements. After 5 rounds, all 25 camels have moved.

At this point all camels are at their resting lane and room for the day
and the thieves are revealed. Goods are stolen as described below,
and another day begins.

The game ends after 5 days of movement and thievery.

Thieves
-------
The thieves are indicated by 3 sets of 5 cards each. The sets indicate:
1. Lane
2. Rooms (two on each card: 1-3, 1-5, 2-4, 2-5, 3-4)
3. Goods stolen (two on each card)

Initially each day each player is dealt three cards: Lane+Room+Goods
This shows that a thief strikes, for instance, in Lane 3, Rooms 2 and 5,
and steals Pepper (red) and Water (blue).

A camel ending this day in Lane 3, rooms 2/5 will lose all red and blue goods.

The thief cards insure that two rooms will be stolen from on each row
and two on each column.
So from the thief above we see at the start of the day that room 1 is safe.
Plus for room 2 (and 5) only one lane of the other four will have
a thief in room 2. Further, red and blue will only be stolen in one lane
(each) of the remaining lanes.

On each board there are two camel positions indicated by a thief-card symbol.
When a camel is put on that position, everyone passes their thief set to
the left. So by the end of the day, each player will know three of
the five thief positions.

Camel movement
--------------
Each camel has can choose the lane they are moving to.
The camel can move for free to its own lane, or the lane to the left.
So a camel in lane 3 moves to 2 or 3 for free. A camel in lane 1 moves
to 1 or 5 for free.
Otherwise, the camel can move to any other lane by paying one good off
of the camel.

It doesn't matter what room the camel starts in, but when it moves,
it end up in the front-most room. I.E. the first camel in a lane goes
to room 1.

On the last rounds of a turn, its possible that neither of the free lanes
has empty rooms, so the last camels to move are quite likely to have to pay.

Each day, or turn, starts with one player receiving the day start marker,
and the round start marker.
For the first round, every player chooses which camel to move, selects
the corresponding marker (A-E) and holds it face down.
Everyone reveals their markers at once, and beginning with the player with
the round start marker, moves their camels one at a time.

Then the round start marker moves to the left, and this is repeated.

So on a turn, each of the five players is first to move once.

At two points during the turn camels will be placed on theif-card symbols.
This means everyone moves their theif set to the left.

At the end of the turn, the day start marker move to the left, and
that player gets the round start marker as well.

Endgame scoring
---------------
Count the goods stolen. This is the value of the remaining goods.
For instance it could be:
Gold: 12; Water: 8; Coffee: 9; Pepper: 11; Salt: 13

Multiply your goods remaining by their value and add up your score.

Summary
-------
This is an excellent game for a couple of reasons. Players are able to
make deducations from their thief information and other player's movements
to estimate where the thieves are.
Then, they have to figure out how to move their camels to locations where
the lose the least goods.
Neither parts of this are easy. Initially your full camels mean any thief will
steal from them. But in later rounds your camels may have lost goods, meaning
you can deliberately move into thief locations knowing the thief is stealing
goods your camel doesn't carry.

One of the balancing aspects is even if someone out-thinks you and
figures out where the thieves are, you can still out-maneuver them.
In every game I've played so far, I've known there all/most of the thieves are
long before the other players. But that doesn't mean victory
when people force you to move into bad locations, or force you to
pay a good to move into a non-free lane.

So far, I've won 1 out of 3, and Tim Kelly has won 3 out of 4 (I believe).
And Tim admitted that he could see I knew where the thieves were far
better than he did.

So the game is good for deducations, for bluffing, for reading other players,
and (I admit it) just because you get to maneuver camels!

Deductions
----------
There are 3-4 levels of deducations that I see already, and I can
only actually think through 2 of these levels.

First, you look at the thief cards you have seen, and reason based on
what the remaining cards are.

Second, you watch what other players do.

Typically the first and second rounds of a day are when I do most
deductions. Most often, by the third round I know where the thieves
will strike. At that point you have the Third level of reasoning,
over what other players will do with their camels. It doesn't help
that I know the 3rd room of lane 2 is safe, if the player to my right
moves his camel in there before I can. Sadly, I am not doing well
estimating other player's moves. This includes estimating what
the other players know.

The fourth level of reasoning (that I'm no good at, at all) is
guessing who is bluffing. Someone might move a camel to a thief's location
knowing they would lose a good, just to screw up my deducations.
(I lost the 3rd game when Chris did exactly that to me, although
I don't know if this was his intention.)

So, for example, on the first round, if I draw a thief:
Lane 1, Rooms 2,5; Goods: Red, Blue
Now I know that Lane 1, Room 1 is safe, and I can move there.
Watching other players, you can usually guess who has the two thieves
that hit Room 1. (This will be the 1-3 and 1-5 room cards.)

A harder first round might be:
Lane 1, Rooms 1-3; Goods: Red, Blue
Now I don't know which lanes have a safe Room 1 to go into.
But if I'm the first player, I know 3 of the 4 Lanes do have safe
Room 1's, so its easy to take a gamble.

Instead, if I was the last player, then suppose:
Player 1 - Lane 2, Room 1
Player 2 - Lane 3, Room 1
Player 3 - Lane 4, Room 1
Player 4 - Lane 2, Room 2

Three of these players knew of safe room 1's to move into.
The last player had the remaining thief, that was probably:
Lane 5; Room 1-5; Goods: ?

Case A:
If this player was Player 4, then they knew the room cards remaining
were Rooms: 2-4, 2-5, and 3-4, so he had a 1/3 chance of moving
to a safe room. That means I have a 2/3 change that Lane 2,
room 3 is safe.

Case B:
But --- what if Player 1 had the thief with Room 1-5? He had to make
a gamble that he would pick a Lane without the Room 1-3 card,
and picked Lane 2. That means Player 4 moved to Lane 2, Room 2
because he knew it was safe, and we guess that:
Player 1: Lane 5; Room 1-5; Goods: ?
Player 4: Lane 2; Room 3-4; Goods: ?
In this case, Lane 2; Room 3 is totally unsafe for me.
And Room 2 on Lanes 3 and 4 are also unsafe.

Finally, Case C:
Player 4 has the thief showing Room 2-4 or 2-5 for Lane 3 (or it could be 4).
He cannot move to that room because its unsafe, and he guesses
that Room 1 on Lanes 1 and 5 are unsafe. So he has to guess
that either on Lane 2 or 4, Room 2 is safe. A 50/50 bet. Ugh.

So, in case A I have a 2/3 chance, case C I have a 1/2 chance,
and case B I lose. In this case I would chose to lose a single good
rather than risk more. I would pick a camel on which I had only
one Red, and move into Lane 1, Room 1.

In this way I'd lose a Red good, and hopefully confuse anyone else
about what thief I had.

After this the deducations get murky and I will leave them as
an exercise for the reader.

All in all, this is an excellent thinking game. I find that frequently
on one-two of the rounds in a day I have to spend time thinking about
other player's actions. Then the remaining rounds I can move very quickly.
Its not uncommon for me to move instantly in a few cases, which
should, I hope, make up for the time I spend thinking.

My own copy of this should be here next week, and I can try out my
theories more.

JRM
7/3/2006
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