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Siberia

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(dlp Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes minutes; $70)

 

siberiaboxWhen Cole Porter was writing the score for Silk Stockings, the musical that centered on a beautiful Russian commissar (played by the stunning Cyd Charisse in the film) being wooed by a charismatic Westerner (none other than the incomparable Fred Astaire in the movie) who seduces her to the freedoms of the West, he had to write a song about Siberia. Reportedly, Porter had a difficult time doing so. Although Siberia carried with it the stigma of being a harsh, forbidding place, Porter had actually vacationed there at one time and had, as he told it, “simply a wonderful time”! But Porter rose to the occasion and wrote a typically clever song. Now, Siberia and “clever” are linked again, in this new game by Reiner Stockhausen: Siberia.

Siberia comes packaged in an appropriately ice blue bookshelf boxed (rules in English, French and German) with a mounted board depicting the cold wastelands of Siberia from which resources will be extracted. The top portion of the board is used to hold the colored cubes representing the five resources of the game (gas, charcoal, petroleum, gold and diamonds) while the bottom serves as the location for the very important Stock Exchanges where those resources will be converted into cold cash. Each player gets his own personal “panel” where he will plot his moves for his six pawns. There are “Investment” counters (six of which are randomly placed on the board, ready to be claimed) and lots of action counters (and a bag to hold them). It is these action counters which serve as the driving mechanism for play.

The board is randomly seeded with two different resources placed in each of the areas of Siberia. Stock Exchange tiles (representing cities such as Frankfort and other international locations) are placed on the board. Each player receives 6 pawns in his color, placing one of them (representing a worker) in Vladivostok (in Siberia) and another (representing a salesman) in the Frankfort exchange. Each player also gets a personal “panel”.

Each panel displays 10 “element” icons: the five resources of the game as well as the five types of “persons” that a player may use in his quest for extracting resources and maximizing potential profit. There are two spaces below each of these icons. The area below the panel, called the “Research-Facility”, is used for unplaced counters.

Two phases make a full turn. First, ALL players draw 6 action counters from the draw bag and places them on (or below) his panel.

Most action counters have a “split personality”, that is they depict TWO of the 10 elements: one resource and one person. When drawn, a counter may be placed underneath EITHER icon on their panel OR placed BELOW the panel. (The Manager counter is an exception; it only shows the Manager so that counter only goes underneath the Manager icon or below the panel.) Once counters are placed, they are locked in; they may not be moved on future turns. With all counters placed, players, in turn order, activate those counters.

The first thing a player must do is activate ALL counters below the panel (in the Research-Facility). For each resource shown on a counter, that resource is taken from supply and placed anywhere in Siberia where that resource is not currently present. (If a Manager tile is in Research, then ANY resource may be placed on the board.) These action counters are then returned to the bag. Now players take turns performing actions triggered on their panels.

siberapcsAn action is only triggered if BOTH spaces underneath an icon are filled with the appropriate counters. The Manager action makes ONE of those Manager counters a “wild card” which may be shifted to any open space on a player’s panel for immediate use. (The second counter goes back into the bag.) The Logistician awards movement, allowing a player to move any (or all) of his workers in Siberia up to a total of 3 spaces. The Salesman allows a player to take one of his pawns and move it to from his supply to any Stock Exchange or move a pawn already at an exchange to a different location. (Stock Exchanges offer different values for resources and not all exchanges pay for all resources. Since players may only sell resources at an exchange where they have a salesmen, where a salesman is can be as critical as what resources you harvest.) The Worker is how you get another worker onto the board, allowing a player to place a new pawn in Vladivostok and the Investor allows a player to take one of the Investment counters on the board and add it to his panel. (When an action is triggered, all of the counters are removed from the panel – except for wild card manager – and returned to the draw bag. Although Investment counters work like regular action counters, they STAY on the panel, essentially reducing the cost of an action by half!) Counters may stay on the board from turn to turn but you may not have more than 10 counters on a panel at the end of your turn.

Triggering a resource icon works the same for all resources: the player may now remove that matching resource from every area in Siberia where he has a worker and must then IMMEDIATELY sell it at any stock exchange where he has a salesman to receive the cash.

As resources are extracted, areas become depleted. Once an area has no more resources in it, it may NOT be reseeded. Play continues until either 8 areas of Siberia are exhausted OR three of the five resource areas on the board are empty. At that point, cash is counted. The player with the most money wins!

Siberia offers some variety as the Stock Exchange tiles (except for Frankfort which is always in play) are double-sided and randomly placed on either side in set-up so that commodity values and the locations for bigger payoffs can change from game to game. Striking the right balance between flooding Siberia with your workers (to gather up resources) versus placing salesmen in key exchanges to maximize profits can be challenging. You can move salesmen from exchange to exchange but, since you MUST sell any resources you extract immediately, you cannot hold resources until you get into position. You must do your planning a little bit before you harvest resources – and hope your opponents don’t get there first. It might have been a good idea to increase player interaction if, somehow, a player could block another player from maximizing his profit at an exchange by either denying him access or paying a penalty or, alternatively, limiting the number of workers allowed in each area but, admittedly, that might have led to a longer playing time. The graphics of the game are quite nice but the purple and brown resource cubes tend to look alike under certain lighting which can cause confusion.

The biggest knock on the game, however, has been the luck of the draw. Luck in drawing counters out of a bag is to be expected. You can never be sure what you will pull. But that’s part of the challenge and there are several ways to minimize the luck factor. If you lack the counters to be able to move your workers, reseed the areas you are in BEFORE they become depleted, move a salesman to an exchange that pays big bucks for that resource and then continue to extract resources there to build up your bankroll. An opponent continuing to bring an expensive resource to market? Then use counters of that resource to place them on the board in areas your opponent doesn’t occupy but you do, forcing him to use his counters for movement rather than resource harvesting while you harvest them instead and benefit from their value. If you think you have a lead, use drawn counters to deplete resources to bring the game to a speedy conclusion before your opponents can catch up. Since the most common counters are the Manager counters and these can be used as “wild counters”, they can help you make up for a bad draw too.

Games about searching for resources and selling them at market are many and the cold cold reaches of Siberia are ripe for such a game. But many of those games can be quite intricate and very long. Although essentially an abstract game with a light theme, Siberia cleverly captures the essence of that genre of play in a streamlined fashion while still managing to present significant decisions wrapped up in a playing time of only about 60 minutes from start to finish. Siberia, the place, may be very cold but I found Siberia, the game, to be very cool.

 


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