Posted by sodaklady on November 6, 2009
Tobago arrived yesterday and you can’t imagine how gorgeous this game is. The wooden palm trees have details on the leaves, trunk and base; the ATVs have the windows and grill/headlights painted on; the huts are large and squat so they aren’t easily knocked over; and the statues… wow, painted and textured just like stone. You want to set it up just for the pleasure of it.
The board is sturdy and brightly colored, and the seven different terrains are easily distinguished. I like the way the 3 reversible board pieces fit together to give you so many island variations, and the locking pieces fit tightly to keep them from shifting. And all of this fits nicely in the specialized box insert in such a way as to keep the cards and tiny bits from sliding around.
The rules are easy to read and understand with lots of illustrations. An additional sheet is included which shows you how to set up the game on one side and how to read the Clue cards on the other. The is very handy for new players.
To set up the game, assemble the board and place the objects anywhere you like as long as 1) each hex has only one object, 2) two of the same object are not less than 4 spaces apart, and 3) the statues are not next to the ocean. The Treasure card deck is prepared by placing the 2 Curse cards in the bottom 27 cards and topped with the remaining 12. This ensures that no curse will come up right at the beginning of the game before anyone has the opportunity to pick up an Amulet to protect themselves. The players place their ATV anywhere they want and take their 15 Compass Rose markers in their color. The Site markers (grey, brown, black and white cubes) are separated and placed beside the board leaving room to lay the Clue cards beside each pile.
At the start of the game, each player draws one Clue card from the deck and places it face up next to one of the piles of Site markers, and places one of their Compass Rose markers on it to show that they helped decipher the Treasure Map for that Treasure. Then each player receives their hand of cards: 4 for a 3-4 player game; 6 for 2 players.
On your turn you can either play a card to one of the Treasure Maps or move your ATV. You may also forego either of those actions to turn in your whole hand of cards and draw new ones. At any time during your turn you may retrieve a Treasure, pick up an Amulet, or use an Amulet’s special powers.
PLAY A CARD: The cards have clues on them that narrow down the places that a Treasure could be such as “in the jungle”, “on the biggest beach”, “not next to a hut” or “in sight of a statue”. Each Clue card placed must narrow down the possible locations by at least one hex. They also cannot contradict a previous clue, or leave no possible locations for the Treasure.
MOVE YOUR ATV: You may move your ATV up to 3 legs, a leg being anywhere within the same terrain that you’re on, or a move from one terrain to another. There are two special cases to keep in mind: 1) retrieving a Treasure ends your movement no matter how many legs you’ve used, and 2) collecting an amulet ends that leg of movement. This keeps you from popping over to collect an amulet in the terrain you’re on, then pulling a u-turn and heading in the opposite direction all in one leg. My daughter tried this, to the accompaniment of screeching tires sound effects, but we slowed her down before any harm was done.
When a Treasure’s location is narrowed down to a single hex, it’s available to be picked up by anyone whose ATV is on, or stops on, that location. When a Treasure is retrieved, everyone who has a Compass Rose marker showing their cooperation in finding the Treasure gets a portion of that treasure. Everyone gets one Treasure card (with 2-6 coins on it) for each of their Compass Roses, looks at it secretly, then hands it face down to the player who dug up the treasure. That person shuffles all these cards plus one more drawn blindly from the deck and then begins the process of handing out the loot. One card is turned over and offered first to themselves since they dug up the treasure. If they decline it because they’re waiting for a larger card, which they KNOW is in there from their sneak peek, then the next person in line from the bottom of the row of cards on up is offered the card. This continues, one card at a time, until all the cards are taken or discarded. If one of the two Cursed cards is turned over, the remaining Treasure cards are not distributed and anyone with a Compass Rose still on the map must discard an Amulet. If he has no Amulet, he loses his most valuable Treasure card. OUCH.
Now that this treasure has been found, all of the Clue cards for it are discarded and a new Map is started in this spot by the person who claimed the last Treasure card. Also, whenever a Treasure is raised , a mysterious force from the statues triggers the appearance of Amulets, which rise in the ocean and are swept ashore to the spot where each statue is facing. After placing the Amulets on the shore, the Statues turn their face on hex side in a clockwise rotation.
The Amulet can be used to remove a Site marker, narrowing down the possible locations by one hex, play a Clue card, an addition ATV move, as protection against Cursed treasure as already stated, or to exchange your hand of cards without losing a turn action.
The game ends when the Treasure card deck runs out. Players count their Treasure coins and, of course, the one with the most treasure wins.
My only play so far has been a 2-player game with my daughter, Cori. You would think that the map is very big for just 2 ATVs on the island but with careful card-play, this is still a fun game for 2 players. At least twice, the location of a treasure was narrowed down to a handful of locations, some near her and some near me. The correct card each time helped us manipulate the location of the treasure to our advantage. With more players, I think the game would be more oriented toward ATV movement, racing to get to the treasures first, giving it a little bit different feel and strategy.
The method of dividing up the treasure is a bit odd sounding but once you’ve tried it you see that it works very well. I wouldn’t call it brilliant but it does beat simply drawing cards and taking whatever comes up, or having the player who retrieved the treasure hand out cards after looking at them, or anything else I can think of quickly. The addition of the Cursed cards was a very good idea, adding a little uncertainty and a bit of push-you-luck if you happened to draw it for your sneak peek. They also add a degree of importance to picking up Amulets. All of the extra actions are nice to have and I can see using them to string together a nice combination of moves, but losing a 6-point Treasure card is painful – I know, I had to do it!
Cori and I had a great time narrowing down the prospective locations, it’s just a fun idea but also a clever game mechanic. You have to be careful not to narrow it down to a place that is too near your opponent (especially with just 2 players) but sometimes you just need to get your token in the lineup so you can get a share of the goodies no matter who digs it up.
For me, this is a very good game. It’s what I think a game should be: fun, easy to explain, interesting, and FUN. Yes, I said that twice. I like fun. I can’t imagine a game collection that was nothing but a bunch of mathematical exercises or logistical problems. This game will make you ponder the correct card to play, decide when the best time is to move, agonize over picking up an Amulet or heading for the Treasure, but in the end, it’s simply one of the best family games in my collection.