New review up on the Finnish site: Through the Desert.
Through the Desert is in Reiner Knizia’s top ten by any measure. The pastel camel game must be one of his best-recognised games and according to the BoardGameGeek ranking, the game is the seventh best Knizia title. That’s a well-deserved ranking, if you ask me.
Multiple scoring options
Through the Desert is about building caravans in the desert. Players advance five caravans of different colour from their startpoints by adding two camels each turn. Caravans try to reach watering holes (few points) and oases (few points) and circle territory (loads of points, if you can make it). The longest caravan of each colour gets some bonus points, too.
There are thus several directions where players can take their game. The biggest limitation is the two camels per turn rule; typically there are several good moves available, and you’ll just have to choose. Reiner Knizia has said that of all his games, this one represents his philosophy on life the best. There’s always more options than you can choose.
Through the Desert is a very simple game. The rules are easy to learn. The setup takes a while, after which the game is usually over sooner than you’d think. During the whole game players are faced with tough decisions and priority judgments. Which are the important goals to achieve?
The game works well: it’s a very elegant system providing lots of deep gameplay. The components are fine, though the light pastel colours tend to mix up if there’s not enough light. The camels are cute, though, which compensates well. The game scales well from two to five, though I think five players might be a bit too much chaos.
The missing element
However, something’s missing. I don’t know why, but Through the Desert doesn’t get nearly as much playtime as it would deserve. Many like it, yet I don’t see the game played. Several people commented my Finnish review to this extent, so it’s not just me. It’s curious, and part of the reasons why the game doesn’t get full marks from me. The potential is there, it just doesn’t happen.
Perhaps it’s the dryness? The theme of the game is limited to the cutesy camels, and that’s it. It’s basically abstract. A little bit of colour and excitement would probably make the game more appealing. I like it as it is, but I sure would like to play it more, too.
Still, despite all this, Through the Desert comes highly recommended for anybody who appreciates a good multi-player abstract strategy game and doesn’t mind the dry theme. The rules are certainly easy enough for anybody to learn and the game should offer lots of good brain exercise.