by Alexander Pfister for Eggertspiele and Pegasus Spiele £27.99 in the UK
Designed by Alexander Pfister
Published by: Eggertspiele & Pegasus Spiele
So here we are in Africa somewhere between the 15th and 19th Centuries where there are diamonds and gems of very different kinds to be turned into cold hard cash by trading on and in all manner of goods, items and indeed people, though the game is not anywhere near as dark as the period it is set in. However, MOMBASA is a long game and players should allot themselves at least 90 minutes, more likely closer to 2 hours, for their venture into the Trading business. It is for 2-4 players aged 12 and up (though personally I would have said it is better suited for young teens, maybe 14 or 15 through to adult, or at the least, players who can understand, realise and take mental note of what is going on). Thought and concentration are also required in abundance, and the latter is not something usually accredited to 12 years old players. It is a trading game, which nowadays isn’t unusual, but it is actually quite a fascinating game, and so interesting that the time while playing passes so quickly it is easy to lose track of it.
The excellent retail price of £27.99 is amazing considering the number and quality of the components; most other games of this splendour ring the tills at very little under £40.00. A solid card folding board, Company tracks (double-sided x 4), Player boards (4), Action cards (36), Expansion cards (4), Track cards (4), Book tiles (72), Starting Tiles (10), Bonus Tiles (4), 60 coins, 60 wooden trading posts (in 4 different colours), 16 Track markers, 20 Bonus markers, 4 Ink Jars, 4 Diamonds, a 1st Player marker, scoring pad and overview sheets make up the impressive list of components, and believe me these components, like the game-play, are impressive.
The Board is quite small to begin with, but then it is built up by placing company tracks along each edge (made up of two pieces each that fit together jigsaw style) in their rules-specified positions. On the board are major chartered company bases set in Mombasa (hence the name of the game), Cape Town, St Louis and Cairo. The Trading posts are colour coded into the same 4 colours as the companies and should be placed, one on each of the 15 spaces for the same colour company. Some of the spaces within the companies are blank and others contain coins. There is a specific order in removing the Trading Posts so that the player who does so gains nothing or money by doing so. Money is tight and must be used with thought and care.
The Action cards are shuffled separately according to their letter and placed on the respective spaces, one card, face up, per space. The other spaces on the board are then filled as necessary according to the set up rules and then the mission to be the player with the most money begins. Players are trying to invest goods in the best companies available on the African Continent and placing trading posts where they will increase the value of their owning company. Trading Posts are what determine the value of the company’s shares, each share being of the value of all coins visible on the company’s base.
There is a fair amount of book-keeping in MOMBASA, on the various tracks and spaces around and on the board, but because of the clever game design it is all done, bar the final count up, on the board and surrounds. The Player’s personal boards, for example, have two tracks for keeping note of their Diamonds and their general book-keeping. They have markers specifically for these which are a Diamond (actually it’s a plastic fake gem but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to play with the real thing?) for the Diamond track and a replica Ink Well for the Book Keeping track. It is very important that you take the time to read up on these tracks in particular as they can play a very large part towards your success. We found it is very easy to concentrate on just one of them and to be honest if you have the opportunity, make sure you keep your Diamond track mobile but do not forget the Book Keeping.
There are seven Rounds to the game and three phases for each Round: Planning, General Action and Preparation for the Next Round. The Planning Phase is carried out by all players simultaneously as it is when the players decide which cards to play into their area and then, when all players are ready these cards are turned over. The second Phase is played in turns with each player having 6 options that they can take (well there are 5 action options plus the 6th which is to end their Action Phase, but it is still an option).
When all players have completed their Actions and passed (Option 6) the preparations are carried out so that the next Round can begin. This means a number of things occur, such as the moving of coins and the replacing of cards etc before play starts again with Phase One. It sounds as if it should whizz around and be over in 30-45 minutes, but there are so many things that can happen that need thinking and deciding about that there is a lot of what players may call “downtime” (when you are waiting for your turn, but in MOMBASA you should put your “downtime” to good use by weighing up the actions available to you.
Despite its size, number of components and somewhat complex lengthy rules, MOMBASA is a beauty of a game. It is a cracking intellectual, thoughtful and challenging game where, yes some luck, together with a lot of card collecting, clever trading post planning and forward thinking are needed for success.