HUMBOLDT’S GREAT VOYAGE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

HUMBOLDT’S GREAT VOYAGE (R & R Games/Huch!, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $39.99)

 

Human beings share at least one trait: they always want to know what lies beyond the horizon. So it was the case with Prussian nobleman Alexander von Humboldt who embarked on a voyage of discovery to the Americas. Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt explored and described what he saw for the first time from a modern scientific point of view earning him a considerable amount of contemporary fame. Now players, as adventurers (or traders or scientists of that time) find themselves captivated by his adventures and seek to follow in the footsteps of Humboldt’s Great Voyage.

The Americas, as represented in this Remo Conzadon and Nestore Mangone design, are very stylized with areas marked by circles using the game’s six colors (red, blue, yellow, black, brown and green) linked by arrows. Into these circles, at least 4 (based on the number of players) “knowledge disks” (wooden disks in the game colors) are placed. Cargo tiles (in each of the game’s colors) are mixed with 2 placed face up and the rest face down in their own spaces on the board.  “acquaintances” (circular tokens in those same six colors) make up an additional supply.

There are four sets of Ship cards. Each set is shuffled and stacked individually in their own draw piles face up. All are given an Expedition board and every player gets 1 card from each Ship stack. (If you don’t like your starting hand of Ships, you may exchange 1 of them for the face up card in the corresponding stack.) Each player gets 1 acquaintance in the color most prevalent on their Ship cards and then draws 2 cargo tiles of their choice from any of the face down cargo piles. The Start player (whoever has last been on a journey) gets the travel journal and the bag that contains all of the remaining knowledge disks.

To start, the active player draws a disk from the bag. If the disk is of a color that matches an area on the board from which that player wants to travel, fine. A second disk is the drawn (and MUST be of a different color) and placed on the other leaf of the travel journal. (If the first disk drawn is not that player’s liking, a second disk is drawn and must be accepted as the colored location from which that player must travel.)

Travelling involves picking up all knowledge disks in the chosen starting location and, as you follow the arrows, dropping off 1 per area (circle). If the color of the disk does NOT match the color of the circle, nothing is gained. But if the disk and circle match, the reward is picking a cargo tile of that color from the board, either one of the two face up tiles or one blind draw from the top of the deck. Cargo tiles drawn may be immediately assigned to your Ship cards. (Up to two excess cargo tiles may be stored on your Expedition card.) Knowledge disks on the travel journal are then moved to the circle where your travel began. Now the other players get into the act.

In turn, every other player claims one disk (two disks in a two player game) from each visited location (as long as the location has at least four disks there). These disks are placed in appropriate available spaces on their Ship cards.

Ship cards are key to scoring the bulk of Victory Points. The top portion of each Ship card show spaces to deposit cargo tiles. (Some spaces will accept ANY colored cargo but others require a specific color or even a specific color displaying a specific icon). When all cargo spaces are correctly filled, the ship has sailed and the player earns the VPs found on that card. A new card of the same VP value is now added to that player’s holdings so there are always 4 Ship cards available. The bottom portion of the card is where claimed knowledge disks have been placed and now you can cash them in!

Disks placed will allow you to pick up acquaintances, sometimes one of your choice but more often one of a specific color based on the color of disks played. (These disks are added to he travel journal and all disks there will move to the starting circle of that player’s turn.) A person cannot have too many friends. In this case, you cannot have too many acquaintances either as they can be very valuable.

As player traverse around the board, they can “spend” an acquaintance to change the color of a played disk to the color of the acquaintance. This helps in matching otherwise unmatched circles and gain yourself valuable cargo. In addition, at game’s end, sets of acquaintances can earn you a sizable chunk of VPs.

The last turn is triggered when a player has drawn the last 2 knowledge disks out of the bag. That turn is completed and then there is a final scoring . To points amassed through completing Ship cards, player calculate VPs for sets of acquaintances. Even though there are six colors of acquaintances, a set is at a maximum of four different colors (worth 10 VPs) with a set of 3 worth 6 VPs, 2 worth 3 and a solitary acquaintance worth 1. Multiple sets can be scored. Finally, each cargo tile still on a ship is worth points: 2 VPs if that tile has a symbol on it, otherwise 1 VP each. The player with the highest total wins! Tie? Then the player with the most leftover cargo tiles and knowledge disks gets the win!

Humboldt’s Great Voyage is, in essence, an abstract game using the ancient African game of Mancala as the springboard. Mancala has always been around and has been adapted as a core mechanism before, from Oh-Wah-Ree (a tweaking of the game by Alex Randolph adding rules for 4 players, published by 3M in 1964) to more modern games including the very successful Trajan (designed by Stefan Feld) and Five Tribes (designed by Bruno Cathala). In the difficulty scale, Humboldt lands in the middle. 

The colorful board gives the impression of gears in a giant machine and is pleasing to the eye. The layers of choices of filling Ship cards and collecting sets of Acquaintances added to the base Mancala mechanism add to the fun. Travel decisions in the game are straightforward as you are limited in starting points (only 3 in each color) and directions (due to arrows) you may travel. Why knowledge disks are drawn out one by one is a bit puzzling as you can freely choose either one before deciding which route to use. Deciding which route is admittedly a potential “bottleneck” to the flow of the game as this runs the risk of a bit of analysis paralysis as players will try to determine just how many matches they can make via each route. For this reason, the game plays better with 2 as this cuts down on down time. 

Humboldt’s Great Voyage combines a tried and true game mechanism with a colorful game of collecting resources and collecting sets, a pleasing package of light gaming fare very suitable for two or family play. – – – – – – -Herb Levy


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