Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Board Game Review - Bakong
I am something of a fan of adult beverages. I don't drink as much as I did when I was a younger man, but I still enjoy an occasional glass of scotch or dark beer. But even when I was a beer-swilling permadrunk (a phase that lasted less than a year, and was still far too long), I never was able to stomach weak drinks. Bud Light is like dirty water, and wine coolers just taste like fruit juice and oven cleaner. I don't drink a lot any more, but when I do, I want a real drink.
And when I play a game, I want a real game. I want tough decisions and strategic placement. I want to calculate odds and read my opponents. What I don't want, what I never want, is to just roll dice and move.
And unfortunately, that's what Bakong is. The theme idea is awesome - you race your fellow explorers through the Cambodian jungle, grab a giant diamond from the Temple of Bakong, and race back. Along the way, you might fall into pits, cross rivers, explore caves and scale cliffs. These can slow you down or hurt you, and you'll need special equipment to get past them easily. Even being the first player back isn't enough to make you the winner - you have to have the most emeralds in your pack, and hopefully not lose them all paying the doctors to splint your broken limbs.
The mechanic seems simple and interesting up front. You have two dice, and you roll them, and then you choose one to use as a movement die, and one to point out which tile to flip. The jungle is made of a series of double-sided tiles with rewards and penalties on them, and you might be able to flip a tile to discover a cave where you could grab some precious stones, or you might flip a different tile to dodge around the quicksand that will swallow your equipment.
The problem is, there are only two choices on any turn, and it's almost always obvious which is the better choice. If you can flip a pit and move to a camp, that's what you'll do. You won't slow down very often, because you really need to hurry to get the best treasures. There are so few decisions that it's really rare to see a player not sure what to do with his roll.
The game isn't all luck, though. Sometimes you'll have a choice between getting to a treasure and getting to some extra gear, and you may want to slow down to hit the best spot. Then you have to choose gear - do you want the machete, to move an extra tile, or the rope, to cross the rivers without stopping? There are lots of different pieces of equipment, but only two of each, so if you want the grappling hook, you better grab it when you can.
And it is a really attractive game. The art on the tiles is jaw-dropping pretty. It makes me want to visit a Cambodian jungle, just to see if they look that good in real life. Everything is made out of that linen stock that you know cost them a mint (unless they printed in China, which you know they did). The pieces feel good, and they're easy to use.
But sadly, there's just not much depth. It is definitely less filling, but does not taste great. It feels very much like a game driven mostly by luck, which is probably because you roll dice and then move.
Now, in all fairness, Bakong would make an excellent game for kids. If you've got a couple rugrats scooting around the house who just finished third grade, they might really dig this one. It's easy to learn, and it moves incredibly fast. Kids can grasp the concepts and jump right in. And since it's so heavy on the luck, there's a decent chance they can beat you, which is always a plus in my house.
So get Bakong to play with your kids. Just don't let them drink Keystone Lite.
Very nice production values
Really cool theme
Viable mechanic, even if it's not that deep
Great game for kids
Not interesting enough to interest most adult gamers
Great news! Dogstar Games has Bakong! So if you want a game that will work well with kids, and you want to pay less than you would at the store and still get free shipping, go right here and get a copy:
Posted by Matt Drake at 4:32 PM