DARJEELING (AbacusSpiele/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 12 and up, 60 minutes; $49.95)
Not since the Boston Tea Party has tea been the focus of such interest as in the latest game from Günter Burkhardt: Darjeeling. In this game, players compete to harvest tea and ship it to market, gathering crates and making the most of customer demand to generate lots of Victory Points. The first player to score 100 points (or more) will win.
Darjeeling comes in a big box to holds 122 tiles, player screens, 4 tea collectors, 55 creates, 3 city markers, 1 "demand barometer", 7 tea freighters, cloth bag, board and rules. The playing area consists of tiles, arranged in various ways depending on the number of players (or, if you feel ambitious, you can make your own design). This arrangement symbolizes the fields from which players will harvest tea. Three city markers occupy three vacant spaces among the fields as well. (Remaining tiles are placed in the tile bag ready to come into play later.) Four types of tea (black, green, white and red) appear in the game and each tile shows anywhere from 1 to 3 halves of tea crates in a specific color. The board to the game is mainly a scoring track but, more significantly, has cut outs for ships on the wharf, "multiplier strips" and a clever "demand bonus chute".
Players begin with a "tea collector" (a large wooden piece), a screen and all eleven of their shipping crates in their chosen color. One crate is placed on 0 of the scoring track; the remainder will be used to ship tea. The tea collector begins on any perimeter tile of the "board" facing inward, with the player claiming that tile. (This and all other claimed tiles are placed behind a player's screen.) The ships are also "seeded" with the first player placing one of this tea crates on the bottom-most ship and the other players, in order, placing one of their crates on each higher ship. These ships are paired with the multiplier strip so that each ship has a certain rating.
Each turn follows a set procedure. First, players score for any of their crates on the ships. The value of the crates is equal to the number of crates on a particular ship multiplied by the number on the multiplier strip matching the ship. Multipliers range from 1 to 3 so, for example, a player with three crates on a ship with a 3 multiplier will score 9 points. (More than one ship with your crates? ALL ships with your crates will score, meaning more points for you!) Now, the player moves his tea collector to harvest more tea.
Movement is done in a straight line and no turns are allowed during movement. However, before moving the tea collector, the collector's facing may be adjusted 90° left or right for free. Reversing the collector's facing (a full 180°) is permissible but costs 2 Victory Points. Moving to the adjacent tile is free but each tile passed over costs the player 1 Victory Point. Passing over a city tile or passing over another player's tea collector will cost 2 VP as well. The tile vacated by the collector is immediately replaced by drawing a tile from the bag; the tile landed on by the collector is now claimed by the player. Now, crates may be shipped.
Players arrange their collected tiles so they depict COMPLETED crates of tea. These completed crates (and only teas of ONE variety) may be shipped. (Sets of tiles that display "open" or partially completed crates are NOT eligible to be shipped.) Players ship as many crates as they have completed provided their tea collector is immediately adjacent to a city tile. (Diagonal is acceptable.) If not, they may ship one less crate. (In game terms, one of the crates has "rotted".) Shipping crates triggers a "cycle".
When shipping, the lowest valued ship in the harbor is removed from the wharf (and any crates on that ship returned to their owner). This ship is now filled with the new crates and placed in the highest position, forcing the rest of the ships down a slot (and possibly reducing their multiplier factor). Tea tiles used to create these crates are now placed aside. (They will return to the tile bag when ANOTHER set of tiles is used to create crates.) Now players may score bonus points and this where that demand chute comes in.
The demand chute is a few cardboard strips, put together, by placing the pieces in pre-cut slots. The 8 demand disks (2 for each of the four tea types) are randomly placed in the chute at the beginning of the game. When a type of tea is shipped, the bottommost disk is removed and placed on the top of the chute. Now, the DIFFERENCE between the two same colored disks indicates the demand for that tea. That difference converts to VPs on the scoring track. In addition, if four or more crates are loaded, the player scores 1 VP for EACH crate. (This makes being close to a city when loading even more important which is where those Action tiles come in.)
Action tile icons appear on some of the tea tiles. When a player picks up such a tile, he also gets an Action tile. Action tiles are two-sided and may be used in one of two ways. One side eliminates "rotting". This means there is NO penalty for being too far from a city when shipping. The other side doubles a player's demand bonus when shipping tea. A player may use up to two Action tiles on a turn.
Play continues until one player has scored 100 or more points. Once this happens, the game ends IMMEDIATELY. Now, all players reveal whatever tiles they have behind their screens. Each half crate on a tile results in a loss of 1 point from a player's total. Once this reduction is made, the player with the most VPs wins.
Part of the fun of the game is the everchanging board as tiles are picked up and replaced. However, this can get a little irksome as the game tends to slow a bit as the the tile bag gets passed around allowing each player to replace a tile on his turn. (We tried giving just one player that job. That worked great for everyone else but it tended to be too much of a burden on the player saddled with that job.) It should be mentioned that the game relies on a bit of spatial perception. Joining halves to make wholes can be a little trickier for some players than others. Also, it is a little curious that Darjeeling is packed in such a large box. The scoring board could have easily been folded in half and a simple frame could have served to hold the ships and multiplier strip.
At its core, Darjeeling is a game of "wheels within wheels". The tea tiles cycle as they are collected, scored and returned to the tile bag to reemerge later. The demand for tea cycles with each tea shipment. The ships cycle as they are loaded and go from top to bottom back to top. This is an appealing core dynamic. The demand chute is unusual and a very clever way of visualizing the value of a certain tea at a certain time impacting upon when a player should pull the trigger on loading a particular variety of tea. There is a pivotal consideration here. It is tempting to hold off shipping tea until you can put a sizeable shipment of crates on board but this temptation should be tempered with a little prudence. Loading a ship, even with one crate, will bring down the multiplier effect of other ships in the harbor. If your opponent is sitting with a bunch of crates on a three multiplier ship, you MUST load, even one crate, to lessen his scoring juggernaut. Otherwise, while you concentrate on making the "big score", your opponent will generate bunches of Victory Points, creating a lead that will be difficult, if not impossible, to overtake.
Darjeeling is not quite a "gamer's game" but, to be fair, that isn't the target audience. The use of crisscrossing a board and picking up valuable pieces is a game element we've seen before (Fossil, featured in the Summer 1998 GA REPORT, comes to mind) and is easy to learn. But another dimension is added with its unique and clever demand barometer and ship loading to create a nice, light game that should suit family gamers to a "tea". - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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