Date: 23rd January 2004
Game played: Tongiaki ( Uberplay ) BGG Id: 9028

As John was unable to join us tonight, the planned Princes of the Renaissance game was shelved and we played a few short games instead. Tongiaki is a new game from Schmidt/Uberplay by Thomas Rauscher, a new designer to me. The game is set around the islands of the South Pacific and is about the Polynesians setting sail in catamarans called Tongiaki to explore the waters and hopefully discover new islands. All players start off with two ships on Tonga, represented by a (sort of) hexagonal tile with six beaches. Each beach has space to hold 3 ships, and once a beach reaches its maximum quota of ships, they all set sail to explore the surrounding ocean. A player's turn normally consists of doubling the number of ships he has on one island, followed by exploration if placing these new ships causes a beach or beaches to become full.

Exploration is the interesting mechanic of the game. This consists of drawing a new hex and attaching it to the full beach. If the new hex shows another island (of which there are 16 in total), the departing ships land safely on the new island and are distributed across its beaches. If the hex shows open sea (16 of these as well), the party of ships attempt to cross it in the hope that the next tile will reveal an island. However, the sea lanes are treacherous and some can only be navigated with a minimum contingent of different players' ships involved in the journey. If fewer than this set out on the journey, the trip fails and the boats are lost. The player continues to draw tiles until the trip fails or they hit land and the boats get placed on the beaches of the new island. Some beaches have space for only two boats, meaning journeys from that beach will be more risky as only one or two players can attempt to overcome the perils of the ocean; others can take five which can be safer but usually means progress is slower as it takes longer to assemble a full contingent of ships. And as the victory criteria is based on totalling the value of all the islands where you have at least one ship, then the more you expand, the better your chances of a good score. However, as the game progresses, other players may try to send you on trips away from the valuable islands to limit your score and, if you only have one ship on an island and your beach becomes full, you are forced to take to sea. There is one other thing you can do if you ever find yourself alone on an island and that is to use a complete turn to establish sole possession of an island, meaning no further activity can take place on that island by you or other players. In this way you reserve that island's points for yourself alone. The game ends once the last tile has been taken and players total their points, highest score winning.

This was a nice game that played very quickly, although I could see it being subject to over-analysis. Thankfully, that didn't happen in our game, and there was enough to think about to keep us fully engaged during other people's turns. The exploration mechanic is elegant and there is an element of "how lucky do you feel" when deciding to set to sea with few of your fellows. Early in our game, the sea was kind to us and this may have lured Mark G into a false sense of security, as he set sail alone into uncharted waters with a fleet of 3 of his ships. On this occasion the sea showed how deadly it could be and this proved a fatal blow for Mark's chances. Early on, I tried to expand quickly and spread myself out pretty thinly, enabling Mark K and Nige on a few occasions to expel me from certain islands. However, as the sea routes become more developed, you find other routes to get back to islands you visited earlier and I managed to take advantage of this. The components are very nice and by the end of the game, the map looks very attractive. One small gripe is that it is very difficult to see how many free spaces there are on some of the beaches and this made the placing of ships a bit fiddly. It would have been better if the spaces could have had numbers on them to denote the size of the beach, although this would have detracted a little from the appearance. I don't think this is a great game but there is a nice balance of chance and skill and it is very playable and quick, so it should do well. A nice start for Herr Rauscher.

Mark K
Mark G

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