Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
Rating Knizia’s lighter games is always tough. I admire how simple these games are and there is no lighter or stripped down version of the game than Botswana or Wildlife Safari. On one hand, the simplicity of the game is astounding and you want to give it a good review and hope to come back to it soon. On the other hand, the game is so simple and can be wrapped up in 10 minutes of play that you balk at putting this alongside, say, Amun Re. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Nonetheless, as far as fillers go, Botswana is fun and like Hol’s der Geier, you simple get your gaming bang for the buck. Clearly, you play the game but you also play the people that play the game.
So, my version of the game comes with plastic animals and I think it is required chrome. Yes, the game is simple enough that plastic elephants or zebras shouldn’t matter. But, boy it is fun to fool around with the plastic pieces. There are 5 groups of animals in Botswana and each group has six cards ranging from 0-5. Cards are evenly dealt out to all players with leftovers put aside. After that, the first player plays an animal card and then picks an animal from the pile. The card you play and the animal you choose does not have to be the same. Then the next player goes and so on. Each animal group will have its own row of cards. Starting from the first animal card, subsequent cards of the same animal type are played on top of previous cards, but splayed downwards so the previous values are known. This goes on until one row of animals has 6 cards and then the game ends immediately. Each animal is worth the value of the last card played on each row. For example, if the final card played on the elephant row is a 4, then each elephant you own scores 4 points.
There is plenty of meat in Botswana than meets the eye. First, there is a lot of second guessing and angst each turn. If you have a high value card, you cannot hold on to the bitter end because the game could end before you get to play your card. However, if you play too early, the higher value could be eclipsed by a lower value card played by someone else. So, this game is almost like playing chicken and knowing your opponents help. It is also very much like Modern Art in the sense that the game and the players that play the game matters quite a bit.
Like No Thanks!, Beat the Buzzard, High Society or For Sale, Botswana is best played before or after the main course and ably keeps players engaged. As previously mentioned, it is tough for me to compare fillers with the main course. I almost want to have a separate category just to rate fillers based on other fillers. I do have a desire to play Botswana, just not every single session. Therefore, my initial impressions are tougher to evaluate when it comes to fillers. When introduced occasionally, Botswana just shines and is one certainly one of my favorites. Like the list of fillers mentioned, Botswana will be in my collection for years to come.
Initial impressions: Good