ABACUS, approx £30

A review should tell you what a game is about and what the reviewer thinks of it. With this one I am in a position to do the first but not the second. So far I have only played the game once and, as a result of only looking at the rules translation and not at the diagrams in the German original, I misunderstood a key rule sufficiently badly to render any opinion I might express worthless. This is not, I should add, because the translation is inadequate in any way; it is just that the word "next" can refer to "side to side" as well as "up and down". I failed to spot the potential ambiguity, didn't check and picked the wrong one. (Don't try the variant by the way; it doesn't work!)~~Normally this would be a good reason for delaying the review until next time, but there are so many mentions of the game in the letter column that I thought it would help many of you make more sense of those if I at least described the game for you.

The game centres round the fact that to the inhabitants of its banks the Nile is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because without it they would not have the water needed to sustain their agriculture and a curse because it doesn't keep within its banks, regularly overflowing and washing things away. The game board shows a stretch of the Nile with rows of fields on either side. The aim of the players is firstly to plant fruit and vegetables in these fields, secondly to harvest them before either the overflowing river or the encroaching desert ruins their efforts, and thirdly to manipulate the market so as to get good prices for their produce. In addition to the game board, there are tiles for both water and desert and markers to represent the various kinds of produce.

The water tiles are shuffled and dealt out to the players and in periods of flood the players place them on to the fields trying to ensure that any crops washed away belong to other people. Markings on the tiles restrict your options, as does the fact that at any one time you only have a choice of two tiles that you can play. It all makes for a fair degree of tactical play, with the things you have to consider being added to by the pictures on the reverse of each water tile, pictures which trigger an event when the ebbing of the river causes the tile to be removed again. The tactical play surrounding the markings on the tiles governs when the flood reaches its high water mark.

As the river ebbs players remove water tiles and carry out the results indicated by the pictures on them. Some have no effect, some result in encroachment by the desert and some cause damage to some of the market produce (other players', naturally) that is waiting to be sold. After a spell of this a point will be reached which triggers another flood.

While all this water is going backwards and forwards like folks at one of those all-form-a-circle country dances, the players are going through the cycle of planting, growing and harvesting and here again there is a deal of tactical play. Only so much can be grown in each field and so there is competition for the best spots. The closer you plant to the river, the more marketable the produce, but the more vulnerable it is to loss to the floods. The various types of produce also need to be taken into account: if everyone is planting onions this year, you might find it hard to sell yours.

You can tell from all this that there is more here than there is in a lot of German games. The game won a games design competition organized by one of the games clubs in Germany and, as you would expect from that, it is at the "gamers" end rather than the "family" end of the range. What people in the letter column seem quite sharply divided about is whether or not the end result is entertaining and on that one I don't yet have a view.

Those who do like the game might be interested in the following rule modifications that Hanno Kuhn sent to Eamon Bloomfield: (1) If you are playing with 5 players add one box to each of the I and II market rows. The market will then have a 3-4-5-6 pattern, instead of 3-4-4-5. (2) If you want a longer game, place the obelisk, during set-up, on a scoring field near the Great Pyramid. The obelisk initially moves away from the players'scoring tokens to the short end of the scoring scale. Once it reaches the end it reverses its direction and moves back towards the pawns.

Stuart Dagger

On to the review of The Rise of the Luftwaffe or back to the review of Axiom.

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