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OASIS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Überplay Games, 3-5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $34.95)

 

The Great Mongolian Desert is the setting as players, acting as heads of rival families, vie to become the most powerful by claiming various lands and raising camel caravans in Oasis, the newest Alan Moon/Aaron Weissblum release.

Oasis comes with 100 wooden camels (20 each in red, blue, green, yellow and black) along with matching control markers. In addition, there are 88 tiles (34 Oasis tiles, 34 Steppe tiles, 20 Stony Plains tiles), 62 scoring markers (14 Commodities, 12 Water Wells, 16 Horses and 10 Ovoos), 54 playing cards (which depict the various tiles, scoring markers or cards), five Priority Counters (numbered 1 through 5) and 8 pages of rules. Finally, there is a beautiful mounted board of the desert terrain, divided into areas for placement of your camels (the camel path) and terrain tiles. It is your challenge to populate these areas in such a way as to score the most points. Easier said than done.OasisBox

Action in Oasis boils down to two phases: Offers and Placement. Being able to judge your opponent’s needs as well as your own is put to the test.

The game begins with the five Priority counters turned face down and mixed. They are distributed randomly, one to each player and then turned face up to indicate the order of play. Now, the cards get shuffled and each player is dealt five cards – but they do NOT look at them! These cards remain face down to become what is called an “offer stack”.

Beginning with the player with Priority 1 (and continuing in numerical order), each player MUST make an “offer” of from 1 to 3 cards. A player makes an offer by turning over the top card on his Offer stack. If he is satisfied with the offer, he may stop there and draw 2 cards (which go to the BOTTOM of his offer stack). If he feels he wishes to “sweeten” the offer, he may draw a second card (and then draw only 1 card to replenish) or, if still not satisfied, add a third card to his offer. (But, in that case, no replacement cards are drawn.) Once all players have made “offers”, players now choose which offer to accept.

Beginning with player 1, players pick up the offered cards from one other player (they may NOT choose their own), give their Priority counter to the player whose cards they have taken and immediately resolve the actions. (The player ending with the Priority 1 counter gets a bonus of a free action and may place any ONE tile on the board or place ONE camel on the camel path.)oasislayout

The cards chosen determine what you can do. Some cards depict camels and allow you to place 2 or 3 camels on the camel path. Other cards show 1 or 2 tiles (Oasis, Steppe or Stony Plains) and allow you to place these tiles on the board. Still other cards allow you to claim 1 or 2 scoring markers (Commodity, Water Well, Horse or Ovoos). The final card type shows 3 cards, allowing you to draw 3 cards from the deck and add them to the bottom of your Offer stack (WITHOUT looking at them).

Tile placement is straightforward. Camels may be placed ANYWHERE on the camel path but nowhere else. Initial Oasis tiles may be placed in any vacant space along the outside edge of the placement spaces or next to a permanent Bonus Oasis space on the board. Steppe tiles may be placed in any vacant space bordering the Camel Path or next to a permanent Steppe space. Similar restrictions apply to Stony Plains tiles. In all cases, once an area is started, the player places a control marker on the tile indicating “ownership”. A player may NOT place a tile next to an opponent’s tile if it is the same type. Also, since players are limited to 5 control markers, should they start a sixth area, they may, if they wish, abandon a previously controlled area. (The danger to this, however, is that another player, by playing a matching tile, can “merge” his area to the abandoned area.)

Play continues until either the last of any of the three types of tiles has been placed OR a player takes an offer that contains at least one unplayable tile. Now, scores are tallied.

Points are scored for camels and all three types of terrain. Each player determines his largest single herd of camels. The number of camels in that herd is then multiplied by the number of Commodity scoring markers he has. To this is added the total of Oasis tiles controlled multiplied by Water Well markers, Steppe tiles multiplied by Horse markers and Stony Plains tiles multiplied by Ovoos markers. The player with the highest total of points wins!

Oasis may remind some people of New England (Summer 2003 GA REPORT) in the placement of tiles and use of priority counters. But, ironically, Oasis was designed first, only to be released now. In some ways, this game is even better. The tantalizing “offer” device forces you to balance your card play. You want to make your offer attractive enough so that you can entice that Priority 1 counter (and get an additional action). Yet, you don’t want to make your offer so attractive that you help the opposition too much. Drawing cards blind does NOT make your decisions any easier. Plus, you only replenish cards for future bids if you DON’T offer the maximum three cards so you have to fight temptation to overload your offers lest you find yourself without cards. (For this reason, the card offering 3 cards for your Offer deck is the most subtle in the deck but potentially the most important as it allows you to offer more.) The placement phase gives you plenty of chances to curtail scoring opportunities as you can limit expansion possibilities of oasis, steppe or stony plains areas.

It has been reported that the Alan Moon/Aaron Weissblum design team has severed ties, deciding to go their separate ways, and that Oasis is to be their final release. If Oasis truly is their last release, the one saving grace is that, at least, they’re leaving us at the top of their game. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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