MANGROVIA. ZOCH/NORIS. Designer: Eilif Svensson
MANGROVIA is a class act from the moment you open the box and peruse the multitude of wooden components in bright and brilliant colours, heavy durable cardstock and a four-fold board showing the various regions of the game, to the setting up, playing and completion of play some 75 minutes later. It is for 2-5 players, though as usual with such a strategy game, with 2 players it is a quite different game-play than it is with 3, 4 or 5 players.
The Mangrove swamplands in which the Tribe exists is beautifully formed with thick, slow-flowing, yet blue waters and greenery so diverse it is as if it is of another world. In these regions tradition and eco-harmony has been the way of the people for as long as Man has walked the Earth. The preamble tale puts the players in competition for the soon to be open position of Chief of their Tribe as the Elder's time draws near.
Each player is vying for the position of Chief by building Huts and collecting Amulets both of which give awards known locally to the Tribesmen (and Tribeswomen and Tribeskids) as Chief's Points. The player who has the most Chief's Points at the end of the challenge (RE: game) will be the new Chief as soon as the old one departs - bit harsh that isn't it ? Most people would wait until the King is dead before crowning a new one and shouting "Long Live the King" but in Mangrovia it's "Hurry up and Die, King - we have a new King waiting for your Crown". If I had written this as a text or email I would probably have added LOL at this point or ROFL, but that's just me!
Keeping up with traditions the game is played in Rounds with players taking turns in clockwise order. Each Round consists of three separate phases and it is the first phase, Placing Bowls, that determines which player actually takes the first Action. Each player has a collecting bowl in their chosen colour and in turn order they place this onto one of the unoccupied Ritual Sites, of which there are six. Each Ritual Site can be reached from two jetties, marked 1-12 accordingly in anti-clockwise numerical order so that jetty number one is opposite jetty number 12. Each Ritual Site allows for two different Actions, though each of these is associated with a jetty so that for example when the boat lands at jetty one the player with a Bowl on the associated Ritual Site can perform the Action adjacent to jetty number one. When the boat reaches jetty 12 the player can also perform that action (though in this case it is not so much an action as it is to become first player for the next Round). Naturally this means that players who choose actions lower down the archipelago will possibly get to perform their two actions in quick succession.
This is a very neat mechanic as the actions often allow for the collecting of face-up cards from the display, so taking an early Ritual Site means you'll get first choice from what is available at the time, but of course it also means the other players will have two turns well before you do. It is a very clever mechanism that really works fine and keeps the game on track and in balance.
The board is marked out in different areas which are of various terrains, water, desert, forest etc and sectioned off into circles and squares of stones with some areas also fenced off. Most of these terrains and sections are aligned to one or two of the Tribal gods - shown on the map in (almost) 3D art as carved idols. Every one of these spaces is important, some more so than others, and each requires the player to think somewhat carefully when they (the player) has the action to build a Hut. Selecting the area where a Hut can be bought depends on several things. One of these is whether the space is in a terrain that is available - two Birds of Paradise fly round in circles following each other and hovering over two of the four terrain types on Oracle rock - you can build on a terrain if one of the birds is hovering over it. For example, there are four spaces showing water, sand, plains and forest. If the birds are hovering over Forest and Plains then you can build in areas of Forest and Plains.
Hut costs have to be paid by exact amount in valuables (cards) or amulets (counters) - cards and counters have varying values. The more Huts you build the more Amulets you may collect, up to 5, drawing them randomly from a black cloth bag.
On our first game I managed to not realise the importance of the god-grid - there are more columns and rows than there are gods, in fact just the top four rows and top four columns form the actual grid, after that they (the rows and columns) continue as just extensions; again a very clever piece of designing, it just took me too long to take note of what I was doing. Totally my fault but worth noting simply so that anyone reading this will be more careful than I was.
MANGROVIA is an abstract game where you need to place your Huts in the best possible positions to gain you advantage over as many areas as you can and thus score points accordingly. I have yet to find a formula that gives you a regular winning opportunity and we have yet to have a tied game, though each has been fairly close with no-one falling too far behind early into play and most going through to the wire or very close to it. It is also a social game but you should keep a weather eye on what the other players are doing as although there isn't any actual player interatcion it is possible to play your pieces in detriment to other players plans.
Playing for between an hour and 90 minutes Mangrovia is a boardgame that is highly enjoyable for all players right through to the game end. However it isn't a game you are going to continually play game after game, day after day. It is a good game to have on the shelf to bring out occasionally, a once a month or two type of game. The rules are quick to read and easy to understand, with setting-up being reasonably quick and easy also. If you are having a weekly boardgame session then it is one that you will most likely put in the mix each meet and play twice every other 3-4 meets.
It's not an epic and it's not a classic, but it is a keeper.