ORONGO is a new game from the world famous Reiner Knizia, published by the world famous Ravensburger games company.
The artwork is as beautiful as you would expect from Franz Vohwinkel and with Stefan Brück editing you couldn't find a better or more experienced team to work on a boardgame. As far as European boardgames go, this is a typical Reiner Knizia game. It has Player Shields behind which they hide their pieces until they are brought into play, nicely moulded wooden Moai (Easter Island Heads), a Board and Tiles of heavy-duty card and 40 tokens per player made of lightly coloured transparent plastic.The rules are on 5 sides of glossy colourful paper with the sixth side of the fold having the Endgame and the variants for 3 or 4 players
The board depicts Easter Island, a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean and the players are out to build their monuments as fast as they can, for the builder who completes their task first gets to build the famed Ceremonial Moai and have thei name remembered throughout History until the next game begins by which time their fame will have waned, not that it wains that much out on sunny Easter Island. (ouch !)
The island map has been thoughtfully overlaid with hexagonals, many of which show the traditional Palm trees while the others show some of the islands tourist attractions (well, sort of):- There are Quarries, Nesting Birds, Birdmen (ornithologists) Temples, God Statues, and Food (root vegetables); okay so maybe they aren't exactly all tourist attractions, but that does depend on the tourists....
Each player has their own chosen colour and takes all 40 of the same colour tokens - there are four colours, Blue, Green, Red and Orange. To be honest this is an unusual choice of colours because under many house lights it is hard to distinguish the Red from the Orange and the Blue from the Green, especially once they are on the board. Players are also given a specified number of Shells, the number depends on how many players there are. I can understand why the designer wanted to use Shells as they are very pretty and look awesome when the game is laid out, but unfortunately they aren't particularly practical as they have a tendency to roll off the table and get trampled underfoot.
The game uses one of Reiner's specialised bidding mechanics. The players use Shells to bid for the opportunity to put their Tokens on the board. Bidding is closed fist opened simultaneously and can be from zero to as many as you want. It is this bidding mechanic where Reiner's excellent thought processing comes to the fore. Yes the player who bids the most Shells wins the bid; they get to put 3 of their Tokens out in front of their shield and eventually onto the board, but the Shells they bid get placed on a small island on the board which is a sort of holding shell. The player whose bid was second highest gets two tokens and gets to keep all of the shells they bid. Everyone else who bid, no matter how many shells, gets to place one Token and also keeps the shells they bid. Anyone who bid zero shells gets to share the Shells from the holding island, taking them all if they were the only one with zero bid. This is how you get to replenish Shells to your hand and how you get to gain spaces on the board; as I said before, it's a typical Reiner Knizia resource balancing game.
After the initial placing of Tokens any Token placed on the board must be placed on a Palm Tree space adjacent to at least one of the player's previously played Tokens and the space it is put on has to be empty - no displacing Tokens belonging to other players - or it can be placed on any unoccupied numbered resource tile. Resource tiles are drawn from the bag and placed according to their number (matching the number on the tile with the number on the space) at the beginning of each Round.
The players are trying to join various Tile types together by a continuous string of their own colour Tokens so that they can place their Moai. The conditions for this include at least one of the contiguous string of spaces being a Coastal Palm Tree space and also within the string you need one of the following, a Quarry, a Birdman and a Nest, a Temple and a God, or Two Food. Once a player has placed their last Moai they may erect the final Moai, the Ceremonial Moai. Surprisingly this is just one of the ordinary Moai removed from the game at the start. I would have thought that with their resources, Ravensburger would have insisted on this Ceremonial Moai being painted or somehow, if only slightly, different from the others. This isn't a hard game to learn how to play and younger players than the 10+ suggested can easily understand it but there is a little less excitement in winning and placing an ordinary piece on the board. It's a little like a football team winning the World Cup and being given a Coffee Cup instead - they're both cups!
A couple of things should be remembered as the game draws to an end. one is that it isn't the first player to place all of their Moai who wins - they still have to legitimately place the Ceremonial one, though they do get the opportunity to do this immediately after having finished the turn in which they placed their last Moai, and secondly that once the Ceremonial Moai is placed the game ends no matter whether all players have had equal turns.
Overall we found ORONGO to be what we would expect from a Reiner Knizia design. It is neat, the no-nonsense mechanic works without arguement and the rules are straightforward and succinct. The game plays quietly with not a lot of excitement, a little bit of interaction when players take spaces others were obviously hoping to get and renoun German efficiency. It is not a going-through-the-motions game because there is a fair amount of thought required, but planning moves ahead can be thrown out of synch by the random drawing of the resource tiles which means the players need to be able to react to being thrown a curveball. This is a nice family game as it can be played easily within an hour but I wouldn't recommend it to core boardgames players.