TRAILS OF TUCANA

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

TRAILS OF TUCANA (Matagot/Aporta Games, 1 to 8 players, ages 8 and up, 15-30 minutes; $21.99)

 

I have always been intrigued by exploration, finding the unknown and/or discovering some long lost civilization.  These adventures — whether told in novels or on film — have always excited and captivated me.  So, it is no surprise that boardgames that have an exploration theme are bound to catch my attention. Trails of Tucana by designers Eilif Svensson and Kristian Ostby has this enticing exploration theme, as players attempt to blaze trails in order to connect the villages on an island to some amazing sites and discoveries long hidden from the eyes of man.

Rather than a deep, intense strategy game, Trails of Tucana falls with the “flip and write” genre, which is itself a sub-genre of the more common “roll and write” style of games.  “Roll and write” is a genre that has really exploded in the boardgaming world.  Just a handful of years ago, the genre really didn’t exist.  Now, it seems there are dozens of new titles fitting that label being released each year.  The “flip and write” category is different in that instead of rolling dice and using the results to determine what one marks on her board, cards are flipped.  The main difference is that cards substitute for dice.

In ToT, each player receives their own map (a sheet torn from a pad) depicting the Isla Petit on one side, and the Isla Grande — which is a bit larger — on the reverse.  The Isla Petit side should be played for a shorter game consisting of two rounds, whereas the Isla Grande is for those desiring a longer exploration, which encompasses three rounds. 

The island itself is comprised of various types of terrain (forest, desert, mountain and water) depicted on a collection of hexes.  Ten villages exist along the coastal areas, while fabulous beasts and remnants of lost cultures are scattered about the island.  There are a total of ten such hidden treasures scattered about the island, two of each type (monuments, tomes, toucans, cat creatures and dragons).  The goal is to connect the villages to these fabulous artifacts and creatures, as well as link the villages with a network of paths.

A deck of terrain cards is shuffled, and each turn two cards are revealed.  Players must draw a line — representing a path — between two hexes on their island that depict the two terrain types shown on the cards.  For example, if both a mountain and water card are revealed, the player must draw a line connecting mountain and water hexes. There are no requirements that these path segments connect to a village or a previously drawn path segment, but, as mentioned, the ultimate goal is to connect villages to the island’s hidden features, as well as to other villages.  So, one will want to eventually link these segments to accomplish these goals.

When a player successfully connects a village to one of the island’s features, he indicates this by circling the first number next to that feature on his player sheet.  When she connects the other matching feature to a village — to the same village or a different one — she circles the second number and immediately gets to draw a free path segment anywhere on her island.  The numbers circled will score points both at the end of the first and second rounds, so connecting villages to the islands features early is a key goal.

Another goal is to connect villages with matching letters.  When the game begins, cards are revealed to letter the villages (A – E) on each player’s maps.  There will be two villages labeled with each letter, so each village has a “sister” village.  When a player links two matching villages, he circles this on his mat and will score 10 – 14 points in the second round.  Further, if that player is the first to link two villages with matching letters (for example, C to C), the player takes the bonus card for that letter.  These, too, will yield points in the second round, ranging from 2 – 7 points.  If playing with more than four players, there are also bonus cards awarded to the second player connecting two matching villages.

A round concludes when there is only one card remaining in the terrain deck, at which point players tally their scores for that round.  In the first round, the only points scored are for connecting villages to an island’s features.  Following the conclusion of the second round, points are earned for three accomplishments:

1) Connecting villages to the island’s features (so these points will score twice).

2) Connecting matching villages.

3) Bonus cards earned for being the first to connect villages with matching letters.

The game concludes after the second round if playing the Isla Petit version, or after the third round if playing the Isla Grande version.  In the Isla Grande version, the island is larger and there are three of each island feature.  More points are earned for connecting matching villages as they are further apart.  Of course, the player with the greatest number of points at the end of the game wins and will go down in explorer lore alongside the likes of Dr. Livingston and Indiana Jones.

I am always on the lookout for games that are easily portable, easy to learn and play, yet challenging and, most importantly, fun.  Trails of Tucana fills all of those features.  Indeed, I was introduced to the game by some friends while at a brewery.  They had laminated the player maps (which I heartily recommend) so any moisture or spills from glasses would not harm them.  Everything is compact and easily fits on even a small table. 

While the game is easy to teach and learn, there are decisions to be made throughout.  The most obvious and continuous is where to draw those path segments each turn.  There are numerous goals one is simultaneously pursuing, so these decisions can often be taxing.  As mentioned, it is wise to connect villages to the island’s features as quickly as possible since they will score in both rounds.  However, different points are earned depending upon the type of feature.  For example, the monuments lie fairly close to villages, so only 1 and 2 points are earned when they are connected.  The elusive and fabled dragons, however, are hidden away in the deepest recesses of the island, so connecting them to villages earns a whopping 4 and 5 points.  Deciding which connections to prioritize can be challenging.

One cannot overlook the long-term goal of connecting matching villages.  10 – 14 points is significant, and if one can be the first to link matching villages, those bonus points can help propel one to victory. 

Another consideration is that there are not an equal number of cards for each type of terrain.  Desert is the most common, with a total of 8 cards in the deck.  Water is the rarest, with only four cards of that type.  It should come as no surprise that those elusive dragons are situated in water hexes!  There are two wild cards in the deck, which can be used as any type of terrain.  This can be extremely helpful in making that desperately needed link. (There will be an expansion for the game released this year at Essen too.)

Trails of Tucana has become a major hit with both my wife and I.  It has also proven quite popular with everyone to whom I have introduced it.  It often evokes demands of “let’s play it again!“, which is always a mark of a fun game.  It has quickly risen to the top of my “go to” games when relaxing at a restaurant or pub.  I can get the excitement and feel of exploring a mysterious, exotic island while relaxing and enjoying a good brew!  Plus, I won’t spend years lost in a jungle like good old Dr. Livingston! – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

 

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