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ASARA

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

ASARA (Ravensburger/Rio Grande Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 9 and up, 45-60 minutes; $59.95)

 

I’ve not always been a Ravensburger fan. Several of their recent releases haven’t pleased me so I was not particularly attracted to Asara. On the other hand, sometimes Ravensburger does publish really top-level hits and Asara is, after all, a Wolfgang Kramer-Michael Kiesling design. Kramer and Kieslingare a couple of authors often able to crank out perfect “dishes”. Combine that with the superb illustrations by Franz Vohwinkel and I finally decided to give Asara a chance. That was an excellent idea.asarabox

Asara is a simple game for 2-4 players. Players are in Asara (“the land of a thousand towers”) and are racing to build towers, scoring points for the highest number of towers, the highest tower in each of the 5 different colors and the absolute highest one.

The game is played using a deck of cards divided into 5 colors. The map is a huge octagon made by a big cross consisting of one square in the middle and four squares on the sides (the squares on the sides are also connected by triangles). In the four squares, you will find markets where you can buy tower parts: the base, the turret and two different kinds of “trunk parts” (layers). The triangles are the places for special actions like getting money or choosing cards. (In the advanced rules, you can have two more actions.) We will call these spaces “markets” from here on.

The game is played in four years. Each year, players get cards (the number of cards depending on the number of players) that allow you to perform actions in the year. During your turn, you have to place one or more cards in one market in order to take the corresponding action (get money, get tower sections, build towers and so on). If you are the first one to occupy a market, you can play a card of any color you prefer. If a card is already there, you have to place a face-up card of the same color or two face down cards in any color to get that action. You have to optimize your cards (actions) trying to use as few as possible. Using the “two cards” option actually means losing an action.

Buying tower sections vary in cost depending on the tower color, from 3 (brown towers) to 8 (white towers) and colors, while not relevant during the game, are important in calculating the final scoring. Some sections also have special gold decorations that will give you extra points. Seven tower sections are available each year in each market and are refilled only in the end of the year. Apart from buying sections, you can make other actions by visiting other markets. The bank will give you money, 12 to the first player visiting it, 10 to the second and 8 to the third. The House of Spies allows you to select a specific tower section from one of the “decks” of tower parts (base, turret or layers) at an additional cost. You can also play a card to get the “1st player” token that will give you 1 point and the privilege of being the 1st player in the following year. Every market or special area has a fixed number of spaces where you can play cards. As soon as all the spaces in a market are occupied, that market is closed and you are not allowed to play there anymore.asara2

Scoring takes place at the end of each year: 1 point for every tower you have and also 1 point for each tower section with decorations. You have to decide, turn by turn, where to play cards. The bank gives more money to the first customers so it could be nice to get there early; on the other hand, it is important to preserve cards for building.

Towers are constructed by using the Build action. You have to build up exactly the number of sections you decide by paying 1 gold for each section built and getting 1 point for each section built. You need to have the proper sections in order to build; a tower needs at least a base and a turret. You can add layers to already built towers but not remove or replace sections. Building is an action you need to plan well. When to construct is really one of the most challenging decisions in the game.

You need to build towers with decorations in the beginning. A tower with a decoration built in the first year will score 4 times. That means 4 points for the tower plus 4 points for each decoration. That is really a lot. Of course, it is easier to build brown and green towers (3 and 4 gold for each section) but in the final scoring, black and white towers score more. In preparing for the final scoring, you should push for the highest tower (it is usually wise to make a brown or green high tower as they are less expensive) and for the most built towers. That, in the end, will give you quite a large amount of points.

Money is necessary to buy sections and build towers and you have to manage your actions (cards): this is the core of Asara. You perform well if you get the right amount of money and cards to make all the actions you need and the way to do that is by planning ahead. Money is your road to victory (you need money to build towers and you need to manage your money really well to win) but money is not really important in the final scoring (you get only 1 point each 10 money and that is not really much). This balance is something I really like and…

I really like Asara. I find it an extremely clear design easily played both with families and gamers with just the right amount of tension. Asara is another Kramer-Kiesling beautiful “dish” with all the right ingredients to compete for this year’s Spiele des Jahres.- – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue


 

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