Samurai, Oasis, Sumera

While others played Yukon Company, Shelly, Kim, & I pulled out Samurai, a classic which works quite well with 3. Much to my surprise actually, I won again in yet another extraordinarily close game (I had the plurality of helmets, and there were no pluralities in any other tokens). I guess if you play something long enough, you eventually know what you’re doing. Interestingly, in the Knizia games I’ve gotten good at (like Samurai, Ra, or Taj Mahal), I have a very intuitive sense of the game, which makes it hard to explain what I’m doing. Interesting because I’d expect the answer would be more analytical.

After the Yukon Company broke up, Kim and I joined up with Doug & Shelly to play Oasis, the new release from Überplay, Alan Moon & Aaron Weisblum. This is a classic Alan Moon set-collection game. To reduce the game to its uttermost basics, the idea is that you are trying to accumulate two different kinds of tiles in 4 different suits, for a total of 8 different kinds of “collectibles”. At the end of the game, in each suit your score is the product of the number of tiles of each type you collected. So in green, say, it’s pastures and oasises, so 6 total pastures and 3 oasises are 18 points.

Each turn, the players turn up cards from their “reserve deck”, just a face-down pile of cards, each of which offer some quantity of one of these items. Then each player in order selects one of the packs on offer, and passes his or her turn marker to that player, thus determining the turn order for the next turn.

There is a board, so when you pick up camels, pastures, savannahs, etc., there are some placement restrictions and it’s conceivably possible you won’t be able to place a tile and score it, and there are a couple of “bonus” tiles available on the board. In practice, though, the board is even more superflous than the one in Union Pacific, and it could easily have been a card game and played Reibach (Get the Goods) style.

For a $40 board game, I was somewhat unimpressed. Because when thinking about Oasis, the word that comes to mind is not “bad” but “superflous”. Virtually everything in there has been done better in other Alan Moon games – Andromeda, Union Pacific, Reibach & Co.. What this game wants to be is a nice, short, card game, maybe 30-45 minutes, for $10-$15. I think in that niche, I would have been more taken with Oasis. It’s very light on control; you essentially “bid” for the right to go first next turn, but you have no way of knowing if anything interesting at all will be available. There are no wertungs, no intermediate scoring rounds, so there are no time pressures or trade-offs. The game ends up being about two things: using your reserve of cards to most efficently go as high up in the turn order as often as possible, and intelligently selecting the best offer when you go first. Since that second part is a virtual no-brainer, it’s all about the offers. Now, there is a little subtlety to this process, but in the end since you have little control over what you offer (you can’t select a card, just turn over cards one at a time Medici-style and decide to go with it or turn over another), it’s mostly a wash.

Whether or not this game works for you will depend on how long you’ve been at the whole boardgaming thing. For those who haven’t experienced some of Alan Moon’s other games, Oasis will be kinda neat, albeit probably not for too many games. For those of us who have already been through Reibach, Union Pacific, Andromeda, and Elfenland – all games that have some obvious similarities to Oasis to varying degrees but are much superior games in my opinion – Oasis is not likely to move you. This seemed to me to be a design-by-the-numbers. To be honest, I liked the somewhat-maligned Eizset/Mammoth Hunters significantly better than Oasis, not so much because it was a vastly better game, but because it was at least rather different and it gave you the sense of trying to exert control on a chaotic environment, rather than just being random.

Still, all this said the bottom line is that Oasis is certainly not terrible. It works. I’d play it again, although I can’t see myself playing it much more than 5 times if given the choice. It’s very control-light, but it’s clean, plays quickly, and despite not being highly interactive will not be plagued by analysis paralysis problems. New converts to the boardgaming scene who like lighter stuff are likley to find it at least modestly appealing. I think. But … the first new big-box game of the year is always tempting, and it tempted me, but at the end of the day I just don’t think Oasis is worth the money given that the previous, much better Alan Moon games are still available.

After Oasis, the next game up was Sumera, an interesting well-themed-abstract with a lot of wood. I think one of the key nice features of Sumera is that it’s short. This is a rather off-beat game which is quite clever at a lot of levels, but is also somewhat flawed by the fact that the scores are so easily calculable. As long as people don’t actively try to track all the scores, things are OK, but still. A game with some flaws can still be quite good if it’s short enough, though, and Sumera is I think. The rules are just fiddly enough, though, that I really need to make up a rules summary sheet since I play just infrequently enough that I have to relearn the game each time.

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2 thoughts on “Samurai, Oasis, Sumera

  1. Pingback: Game Night | Illuminating Games

  2. Pingback: Game Night | Illuminating Games

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