Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Kerala (Thames and Kosmos)

Kerala is a state in the country of south India. There are over 10,000 religious festivals held here each year, which usually involve fireworks and elephants. Yes, elephants. Kerala has the largest domesticated population of Indian elephants (approximately 700), which are owned by both temples and individuals. It is for this reason that the elephant is state animal of Kerala and also the emblem of Kerala's government. Thames and Kosmos recently published a game called Kerala in which up to five players are trying to build the most elegant and colorful platform for their elephants. The game takes approximately 30 minutes to and retails for $40.

1. Have each player pick a color. Give each player two elephants and a start tile of the same color. Return any unused elephants and starting tiles to the box.
2. Each player stands their two elephants up on the starting tile. This is the beginning of your festival platform.
3. Remove a certain number of the 100 game tiles from the game, depending on the number of players (20 in a two-player game, 10 in a three-player game, and 4 in a four-player game). Note: The tiles you remove can't be any player's color. Place the remaining tiles in the fabric bag.
4. The youngest player is the starting player.
Game Play - The game is played over many rounds, until the bag of tiles is empty. On your turn, the active player draws a number of tiles from the bag equal to the number of players. The first player takes one of the drawn tiles and places it orthogonally next to the starting tile. They then move one of their elephants to the new tile. The remaining drawn tiles are passed to the next player and they perform the same action. After everyone has placed a tile, the bag passes to the next player and they perform the same action, following placement rules. (Placement rules are that you must place a tile orthogonally next to one of the two tiles you have with an elephant on it. You are allowed to place a tile over an existing tile, and you are also allowed to pass two times in a game.) There are also special tiles in the game that score bonus points, let you move one of your elephants, or move one of your tiles.

Scoring - You may only have one continuous area of each color, with the exception of your color, where you can have two continuous areas. If you have any extra areas of a color, you must remedy this by removing tiles until you have one area of each color (and two of your color). Subtract two points for each tile. For each color you are missing in your platform, lose five points. Score one point for each time you didn't pass. Score five points for each special tile you matched to its color. Score one point for each elephant symbol. High score wins.

When I first opened this box and was reading through the rule books, I thought that this was essentially Lanterns with elephants. You are placing colored tiles. You are preparing for a festival in an Asian country. On the surface, it seems very similar, but once you start playing, you realize that the game play is much different. For starters, you are not playing tiles to a communal grid. You are instead making your own grid, thus making the player interaction minimal. When the tiles come to you, you are going to look at them and then look at your board. The first decision you have to make is which colors can I place that are next to tiles I have with elephants on them. You also have choices (unless you are the last player), but some tiles will work better than others for you. If you have multiple good choices, then you can take the time and see what your opponents can optimally use and what would be a negative for them. That is the bulk of the player interaction. Other than that, it is essentially multiplayer solitaire, and I don't say that as a criticism.

What I like best about the game is the puzzle-like nature of it. Yes, you can place your tiles anywhere (as long as it is next to an elephant), but you don't always want to, because it could create multiple areas of the same color, which is bad. You then have to decide, do I want to use one of my two passes? Do I want to build over a tile I have already played and negate some points? Or am I just going to be stuck playing this tile and losing two points at the end of the game? I also really liked the special ability tiles. The game could have been very unforgiving and what you get is what you get, but instead there are two tiles that let you fix your board at multiple times throughout the game. One lets you move your elephant to a more strategic position, so he isn't color-locked. The other lets you move a tile, so that you can try and consolidate multiple areas of color into one area.

The game is frustrating to play (in a good way). You think everything is going well, and then you get a string of tiles that you don't want to play. This means each decision you make matters, and sometimes you are going to have to sacrifice a three point tile, just so you can clean up your area a little bit. I also like that the player count is five players, as opposed to four players. This means I can get the game to the table more often. Add in the simple game play and quick playing time, and you have a winner for both children and new gamers.

This game was provided to me for free by Thames and Kosmos in exchange for an honest review.

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