Uluru: Tumult am Ayers Rock

Designer: Lauge Luchau

Artist: Harald Lieske

Publisher: KOSMOS

This theme is just way better and looks better than the newer edition called Pelican Cove (Photo credits: Nathan Morse@BGG)

Uluru is better known as Ayer’s Rock and is possible one of the most popular and recognizable landmarks in Australia. I learned that Uluru is also an important spiritual site for the Aborigines and local indigenous population in Australia. I am sure it is a popular tourist site. Since this is an abstract logic puzzle, the theme itself is inconsequential. Yet, it is the perfect theme for the game, actually.

In Uluru, players engage in their own activity trying to figure out a logic puzzle that accurately places their pawns around Ayer’s Rock based on a series of rules that restricts its placement on the board. Most of us have encountered these puzzles before in form or another: “A must be opposite B; B cannot be next to C, C and D share a same corner, D and A cannot be on the same side, etc”. The goal is to correctly placed all the pawns without breaking any rules. At the start, players are given 8 pawns known as birds. Each of these pawns have to be placed on a personal board and there are exactly 8 locations in which to place these pawns. The locations are empty circles spread out all four sides of a rectangle that is represented by an illustration of Ayer’s Rock. The number of circles are unevenly spread out along each edge of the rectangle so that some are beside each other and some are opposite of each other with some sides having 1, 2 or 3 circles.

At the start of the game, 8 cards are flipped over and placed on the central board beside each pawn. Each card is a rule that will restrict how the pawn needs to be placed on the circles. The rule cards come in 5 difficulty levels with level 1 being the easiest and 5 being the toughest. One can customize the difficulty level for each game by removing the corresponding rule cards of a specific difficultly level. The rule cards for level 1 are essentially free placement of pawns anywhere on the board. These are the “filler” pawns and can go anywhere. The difficulty quickly ramps up from here. For example, some rules will ask that “a blue pawn is placed beside a red pawn”, “a yellow pawn must share a same corner as a green pawn” or “the red pawn will perform the same rule as the green pawn”. Level 5 cards are the hardest where pawns are suppose to do opposite rules of a pawn of another color. It can get confusing if you are not focused.

There is a sand timer to limit analysis paralysis. Players must complete all their placement within time limits but usually, we try to put aside the timer so long as everyone is reasonable about completing their tasks. After all 8 pawns are placed, the rules for each pawn are checked for every player and if it is accurate, nothing happens. If a pawn does not satisfy a requirement, then a penalty token is picked up. Obviously, the fewer penalty tokens you have, the better. There is no bonus for accurately completing the entire board, though I feel they should. Perhaps the return of 1-2 penalty markers if you satisfy all the rules.

I believe players play 6 rounds and scores are tallied with the winner being the person with the fewest penalty points.

Uluru is clearly an individual logic exercise and won’t be for everyone. In fact, you can see how this game could be a joy for some and a chore for others. Folks who can’t stand logic puzzles should steer clear from this one since that’s what the game is all about. There is zero player interaction, which is fine, since the game really can’t support any type of interaction without disrupting player concentration. Because the game really requires a certain amount of focus and attention, I found the timer counterproductive. Yes, it is important for curbing analysis paralysis, but the sand timer makes the game less enjoyably for me. It is hard enough to figure out the puzzle without having to look at the sand timer constantly. If you can do without the timer, then I suggest trying. So long as players are evenly matched and agree to end each round at roughly around the same time, I can live with it.

I tend to think of Uluru as an activity more than a game. I find myself interested in doing well for each puzzle, but less about beating my opponent, hence the lack of the timer doesn’t bother me. I think I mainly want to compete against myself and do better each time. This is similar to how I feel about Ubongo. The game is decent for what it is, and fine to pull out once in a while if you want the challenge. It’s not something I would play continuously but it is fun with the right people. If you have kids, this might be a good family activity. There is obviously educational value in logic puzzles, but then I would contend that most games have some elements of a puzzle.

Initial impression: Average

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