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Hotel Samoa

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Z-Man Games, 3-6 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.99)

 

Running a hotel can be challenging. How challenging it can be will be discovered in Hotel Samoa, designed by Kristian R. A. Ostby, as players compete to both improve their hotel properties and attract tourists to their hotels to get the big bucks!

hotelsamoaboxEach player begins with a Hotel Board, a set of price cards and 25 “money”. The Hotel Board shows six rooms ready to be occupied by the incoming flow of tourists to the island. Twelve flags, three each showing the flags of England, Germany, Norway and Japan, are mixed and laid out in a row. Each of these flags represent the nation from which tourists will stream to the island as well as the round of play. (On the sixth and 12th [and final] round, a 2X tile is placed to indicate that twice as many tourists will be visiting at that time.)

For most of the rounds (specifically, from the 1st through the 9th), one or more building tiles (depending on the number of players) will be available for purchase using price cards. These tiles improve a property by providing extra rooms, room upgrades to a suite and swimming pools. Special building tiles allow you to send tourists occupying rooms in your hotel home (thereby freeing up space for new – and paying – tourists), recover two already played price cards and switch a price card played. In addition, a tourist card drawn for the round indicates how many tourists will be flocking to the island and whether they are in one or more groups. Tourists are represented by color-coded counters from each country’s pool of potential visitors.

At the start of the round, before players get a chance to purchase building tiles or attract new tourists, any tourists from the country whose flag is the flag of the round are removed from the hotel. (They have gone back to their homes as their vacation is over.) Now, with any building tiles and new tourists drawn, players decide which one of their price cards to play.

hotelsam2All players are given an identical set of 11 price cards. Most of the cards show two numbers. The top number is how much you are willing to pay for a building tile; the bottom number sets the price for this round for the rooms at your hotel. (One card has no numbers, just a double X. This is the “Staff Holiday” card. Players playing this card are ineligible to purchase building tiles or attract tourists. But they CAN empty two rooms from their hotel to prepare for the influx of tourists for the NEXT round.) Players reveal their chosen price card simultaneously and numbers are compared.

The player with the highest top number gets first choice at purchasing one available building tile. If that player declines to make the buy, the option goes to the player who has the next highest number. This continues until either all building tiles are bought or all players have declined. (If tiles remain unclaimed, they stay available for the next and, possible, subsequent rounds.) In a similar fashion, tourists are accommodated but now it is the player who played the card with the LOWEST bottom number that gets first choice. That player may take as many tourists as he wishes (provided he has enough empty rooms to accommodate them). If there is more than one tourist group, a player may only choose from one group and not “mix and match”. The hotel owner receives from the bank the value of the bottom number multiplied by the number of tourists he has taken. So, for example, if the bottom number on his card is 8 and he attracts 3 tourists, the bank pays him 24. (A tie-breaker card is placed between two players at random to determine player order should two or more players play the same value. The tie-breaker card cycles from player to player each round so no one has an unfair advantage.) If a player has managed to pick up a building tile or attract at least one tourist, that price card is discarded, face down, into a pile. (If that player has come up empty, the card goes back into his hand for future use. The Staff Holiday card ALWAYS returns to a player’s hand.) While all players use identical price card decks, not all tourists are created equal. While some are just there, others are “special”.

hotelsam3Some tourists are “Rich” and carry a $ sign. These tourists will gladly pay double the price of a room. Tourists “in love” (shown by a heart) are willing to share a room with another tourist (freeing up needed space for the hotel owner). The Celebrity (noted by a star) only pays normal room prices but tourists moving into a room above, below or next to the star pay double for the privilege. Finally, some tourists carry a number inside a life preserver (noted as a “buoy” in the rules). These guests love to swim and will pay extra for a room depending on how many pools are on your property. It is important to remember that no tourist will pay more than double the price of a room no matter how many “modifiers” are in action.

Throughout the game, money is kept secret until, at the end of the 12th round, money earned is revealed and totaled. The player with the most money wins! Tie? Then the player with the most empty rooms claims victory. Still tied? Victory is shared.

The path to victory is to get the most improvements for your hotel while getting the most payment for your rooms. Couldn’t be simpler. The problem, however, is that price cards couple high bids for building tiles with high room costs for tourists and low bids for tiles with low room costs. This forces you to decide each turn which – tiles or tourists- is more important to you for that particular round because, while possible, it is not usual to get both on the same turn. Sometimes it pays to hold back and not claim a tile or tourist (even if available) since not using a particular price card results in that card being returned to your hand, giving you greater bidding flexibility in later rounds. Knowing where the tie-breaker card is is important too as identical bids come up more often than you might suspect, particularly when more players are in the game.

Although at its core Hotel Samoa is a variation of Raj (all players have the identical decks of cards with which to bid), the significant difference here is blind bidding. Instead of knowing what the last bid is, all – and final – bids are made simultaneously. You have to rely on your own sense of what building tiles are worth to all players (including you) and counterbalance that with the potential income to be had by attracting available tourists. This can be challenging to many but it can also be a little frustrating to more serious gamers as these game dynamics mean limited control. For this reason, Hotel Samoa works best as a light game most suitable for family play.

 


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