Mombasa, Colonial era Africa. You and your fellow players are speculating. Buying shares in various companies based in four regions of Africa. Fear not this is not a game of slavery and exploitation as was rife during this period, far from it. The designer Alexander Pfister goes so far as to remind the players that colonialism was linked to exploitation and slavery, and points them towards further reading on the subject.
While there is nothing in this game that references slavery and exploitation directly, but given the sensitive nature of the history of the region and the times, it is nice to see an educational responsibility being taken by games creators.
Here is a game that contains many nice components which allow for the varied play-styles. Inside you will find:
- Game board
- Four Company tracks (double-sided).
- Four Player boards.
- 36 Action cards.
- Four Expansion cards.
- Four Track cards.
- 72 Book tiles.
- 10 Starting Tiles.
- Four Bonus Tiles.
- 60 coins.
- 60 wooden trading posts (in four different colours).
- 16 Track markers.
- 20 Bonus markers.
- Four Ink Jars.
- Four Diamonds.
- First Player marker.
- Scoring pad and overview sheets.
All of the card tokens are of a nice thickness giving longevity to the life of the game as a whole.
The basic mechanic styles of Mombasa are Stocks and Economics with Action Selection and Hand Management. The Stocks and Economics mechanisms will add a lot more player interaction that most euro game players will be used to. This is not a bad thing just another layer of tactical thinking that will need to go on while playing.
There is also an element of Area Control. Unusually though not in the standard way of producing resources for yourself, but in making companies you're invested in worth much more. This will also help your competition though so balancing how you grow each company is vital.
First up a notice to the rules teacher. Take a deep breath! There is a lot to explain in a game of Mombasa and it is all available to the player from the very start. No gentle build up here. Even though there is a recommended set-up for a first game that is clearly set out in the rules book, you will still have plenty to talk about.
To start with each player will select three cards from their hand as their resource generators for the round (later on you may have access to up to two more). Once all players have chosen you will simultaneously reveal the cards chosen. You then have access to a series of available actions which you all take turns in accessing (based on your personal choice of resource cards) until all players have passed.
These actions will allow you to:
- Purchase improved resource cards by spending resources from chosen cards.
- Advance along one of four shares tracks increasing your holding in that company and potentially unlocking access to bonus actions as well.
- Improving your holding of diamonds
- Progress along a bookkeeping track.
Expanding one of the four companies by placing trading posts on the board into various regions, the more you place the more valuable the company becomes. There can be some nice (but light) take that-ish element here. If you're holding more shares in some companies and not others you might decide to try to expand those knocking off the board the trading posts you have a smaller holding in. Because the value of each company is directly related to how many trading posts they have (i.e. how much they have expanded).
As well as your card choices you will also have some bonus action tokens based on the number of players. This allows you access to additional bonuses for the following round, for example, First player, Bookkeeping boost or extra resources to spend.
If all of this sounds complicated, well it is not. That is to say, the individual actions are easy to understand there is just so much to study that AP (Analysis Paralysis) prone players may have a sensory overload.
Letting the dust settle
So there you are. You have been meticulously counting the pennies and investing wisely. Watching the value of the diamond and bookkeeping efforts rise. But have you done enough?
Scoring in Mombasa is a straightforward focussed affair. Total up the value of your shares. Add the value of the diamond and bookkeeping endeavors. Plus the cash in hand. Hey, presto the person with the most money wins. This is a sign that this is a serious economy based game. There are no two points for every 10 coins in this game.
Mombasa successfully blends together several different mechanics. Rotating hand management, Expansion, Deck building and Resource management to name just a few.
Coming in at circa two hours (longer for the first couple of games as you get used to the various mechanics), Mombasa is just about the right length. In fact, with so much to keep track of it is surprising it is not a much longer game. This is the sort of game that really plays to my likes in gaming. Plenty of thinking with very little in randomness to worry you.
It is possible that a good fall of the bookkeeping tokens might give one person an easier ride on that track. It is however just as possible to win without focussing on that part at all. You can switch tactics mid game and still manage to compete well. You do have to work at it however and there is no one strategy wins all.