Reviewed by Herb Levy

RAJAS OF THE GANGES (RnR Games/HUCH!, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 60 minutes; $49.99)


Games will often whisk us to exotic locales. In this new design from Inka and Markus Brand, players find themselves in 16th century India determined to improve and expand their provinces in an attempt to be the most successful in terms of fame and money. Rajas of the Ganges is a worker placement game where dice play a significant role!

Players begin with three workers (with the potential to gather a few more), a boat (placed at the beginning of the Ganges River), an individual Province board, markers which go on the parallel money and fame tracks as well as cubes to keep track of “building values” and “karma”. There are lots of dice in the game in four colors (blue, green, orange and purple) and one of each is taken by each player, rolled, and placed on their Kali statue board (which can hold a maximum of 10). The player who rolled the lowest total becomes the start player (and gets a nice three-dimensional cardboard elephant to indicate it). 

The main board depicts India with four areas for worker placement: the quarry, the market place, the Great Mogul’s palace and the harbor and, on a turn, a player may place a worker in any one of them.

The quarry allows a player to buy a tile to add to his province. There are 12 stacks of tiles available, three stacks for each of the four colors of dice. Tiles show roadways and one or more of the four types of  buildings and/or one or more of the three types (silk, tea and spices) of markets. Once the building cost on the quarry space is paid (by moving the player’s token down on the money track), a tile may be purchased. Tiles cost dice “pips” that match the color of the tile. (So, if an orange tile priced at 8 is bought, that player must return orange dice valued at 8 or higher to supply.) This is one case where “karma” can be beneficial. By spending 1 karma, a player may “flip” a die to its opposite side so a die showing 1 can be turned into a 6, a 2 turned in to a 5 or a 3 turned into a 4 (or vice versa as the need arises and the supply of karma allows). Province boards have a main residence and offer lots of bonuses for connections to various areas on the board. Tiles may be rotated to “fit” at a players’s discretion with the sole stipulation that roads must always lead back to the main residence. Tiles with buildings score immediately, giving the player fame based on which buildings and his current “building values” (which begin at 2 and may go as high as 4). Markets will go into effect later.

Assigning workers to the market allow you to collect money for markets in your province. Three areas allow you to collect for ONE specific type of market, activating (and collecting) as many of those markets as the number of the die you are returning to supply. The other area allows you to collect for “assorted goods” which translates into gaining funds for ONE of each of the three types of markets you may have. 

The palace of the Grand Mogul allows for greater flexibility. One section will allow the use of any number of any color die (to gain money and reroll dice or simply gain a die of a specific color). Another part allows for exchange: one specified color die for two of another specified color. Still another area correlates with a specific number die (in any color) to do specific things including change turn order, gain two dice in any color AND a random “yield” tile (which are always good and may grant you additional karma, dice or money), more karma and travel a full six spaces up the river. 

Placing a worker in the harbor, though, is the standard way of moving up the Ganges River. While the first space there is free, the next spaces will cost money. In addition, taking this action requires spending a 1, 2 or 3 die which will let you more 1, 1 or 2, or 1, 2 or 3 unoccupied spaces ahead. All spaces on the river do something good, some better than others depending on your situation at the time, of course, including more dice, more karma, building upgrades, market activation and more.

In a worker placement game, having more workers is very desirable. Three workers for each player can be found down the fame and money tracks as well as up the river. When a player’s marker or boat reaches that space, that worker is immediately claimed. (In the basic rules, when two of these workers are claimed by a player, his third worker is removed from play.)  The money track also offers bonuses of extra dice and a free move up the river awaiting players who manage to get further along.  (Variant rules allow for all 6 possible workers to be in play along with some restrictions to compensate as well as counters to add variety to the spaces on the Ganges River.)

The fame and money tracks go in opposite directions. Play continues until the fame and money tracks of one player meet or overlap. The round is then completed. The player who has overlapped the most has won the favor of the Grand Mogul and the game!

The Brands like wide open spaces in their games. You need not go any further than their popular Village: As Life Plays Out which covers generations and life cycles against a board depicting an entire village, from church to markets to graveyard. Here, the expanse of India is our playground. This can sometimes work against you as the board, at first glance, looks like a mass of color and icons (and there are a LOT of icons) which can be dizzying. However, you soon get into the flow – and there IS method in the madness – which makes everything surprisingly easy to assimilate.

Improving and expanding your province adds another dimension to play. Constructing roads to link to the bonuses available there is reminiscent of Karuba and gives you something more to look at than just the main board. It also makes the quarry a hub of activity as building up your province is essential to winning. Unfortunately, buildings only score their fame when placed so determining which buildings to upgrade can be pretty much a crap shoot. Even examining tiles available for placement before upgrading is no guarantee as tiles get bought and what is available can shift drastically from turn to turn. 

The two parallel scoring tracks, each rushing towards the other, is an interesting dynamic which, in essence, gives a “race”quality to the game but the tracks are not equal. Two spaces on the money track are the equivalent to one space on the fame track, so how much to concentrate on each makes for some tough choices and time is not something to waster as your opponents are always trying to race ahead of you. 

Dice have been a staple in games for centuries so it’s always a pleasure to see them used in a different sort of way. Many recent games have used dice differently (The Voyages of Marco Polo, Grand Austria Hotel, to name just two) and here is yet another. Of course, when you introduce dice into a game, you introduce a certain luck element. In Rajas of the Ganges, the Brands have managed to provide enough modifiers (from using karma to flip the die to its other side, to having more than one space where a die can be useful to even being able to re-roll as few or as many as you’d like) to make this a relatively insignificant concern. And frankly, rolling dice is one of those (guilty) pleasures that even serious gamers who abhor any luck element will often succumb to.

Dice rolls aside, the fundamental combination of meshing worker placement to trigger action with dice as the fuel to power the action gives the game a certain degree of separation from many of the worker placement and dice games already populating the market. Add the race to the finish element (in TWO directions) and you have Rajas of the Ganges: fast paced, challenging and, more importantly, fun! – – – – Herb Levy

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