Essen 2017 saw the release of many new games, some to immense hype and fanfare, whilst others seemingly crept unannounced into the public domain. One such title that was mentioned in some circles, but didn’t get talked about all that much (at least in the company I keep) was a euro game, set on the banks of the River Ganges…
…Hold on, hear me out. “Just how much fun can be discerned from this?” I hear you ask, given the fact that it also involves dice, and a bit of luck. Well, I hope to be able to take you on a journey of discovery and enlightenment.
Rajas of the Ganges is a 2-4 player dice-rolling/worker placement game, designed by Inka and Markus Brand (of Village and Exit: The Game fame), published by HUCH! and R&R Games. Set in 16th Century India, players are in a race to increase their money and fame faster than their competitors, to hopefully become a legendary ruler in the Great Mogul Empire. Both fame and money are tracked on the outside of the main game board, with each separate track rotating in opposite directions.
Upon opening the box and setting the board and components out onto the table bombards your senses. The art style in Rajas of the Ganges is beautiful and vibrant - this is not your average (read: slightly dull) Euro game. The components are of good quality, particularly the translucent coloured dice, akin to those found in games such as Sagrada, but on larger scale.
To set-up Rajas of the Ganges, each player is given a Province Board, a Kali, three workers of their matching colour, and four dice (one of each colour available). Players roll their initial set of dice and place them on their Kali display (newly acquired dice are always rolled immediately). The player who rolls the lowest combined total will be the starting player.
On their turn, a player can use one of their available workers to place on the main game board, paying any costs depicted on the space, to perform several different actions. Actions differ depending on where the worker is placed:
Placing a worker on a quarry space allows a player to swap coloured dice for 'Province Tiles', which they will place on their 'Province Board'. Many different tiles will be available to purchase throughout the game, these are set out in 12 stacks, three of each colour. Each Province Tile has a dice colour and cost depicted on the top left corner.
The active player will need to discard as many dice as they wish; of a combined value that is (at least) the cost on the tile - excess die value is simply lost. Once purchased, the Province Tile can be placed on the Province Board in any orientation they choose, however, the roads depicted on the tile must ultimately lead back to the residence at the top-centre.
When tiles are placed, that player immediately receives the bonuses depicted on that tile. These range from markets of three different goods types (Silk/Tea/Spices) which provide money, to buildings, which will earn fame dependent on their current building upgrade level. All four buildings provide two fame at the start of the game, but can be upgraded as the game progresses.
One thing players may want to plan, is creating connections to the special yield bonuses on the outer walls of the province board. Should a road link to any of these, they will provide a one-time bonus – one of dice/fame/money/building upgrades.
Placing a worker on one of the market place spaces allows the player to collect money for the markets on their Province Board. There are five spaces in this area of the board. The first row has a single space for each of the three goods types (silk/tea/spices).
By going here, a player will discard a die of any value, and choose up to that number of markets on their Province Board to generate income. The choice in which of that particular goods’ markets to generate income from is down to the player. In most cases, they will tend to select the markets that will generate the highest amount of money.
There are two spaces in the second row, which allow the player to choose one of up to three different goods markets to generate income from. This action does not cost a die to use.
There are options here to either gain additional dice on the terrace, or take one of six available spaces at the chambers, which require a player to spend any coloured die of a specific face value to use.
The terrace has a number of spaces for the acquisition of dice. The first section is where players discard one colour die, to gain two of another. The colour exchanges are set out on the board. There are also several spaces where players may go to simply gain one die of a specific colour. There is also a single space where players can re-roll any number of the dice one their Kali & gain two money.
The chambers is where players can spend a specific value die (any colour) to perform one of six actions:
- Great Mogul – Receive two fame, and become first player for the next round.
- Dancer – Choose any two dice from the available pool and draw a random white yield tile (which can give anything from dice/money/fame/karma/building upgrade).
- Yogi – Receive two karma and a die of your choice from the pool.
- Raja Man Singh – Upgrade a building of your choice, and gain three money.
- Master Builder – Cover a tile on your Province Board, with one of the same colour and more expensive. Spend additional die of that matching colour to pay the difference.
- Portuguese – Advance exactly six unoccupied spaces along the River Ganges, and receive the bonus depicted.
The Harbour is where a player may place one of their workers and spend a single die of value one, two or three to move 1/1-2/1-3 unoccupied spaces up the river. The bonus action depicted on that space is then taken.
One of the biggest grievances people have with any dice-rolling game is that of luck protection. What if you are constantly rolling low? Well, this is where the previously aforementioned karma comes into play. Karma is tracked on the top-left on the main board, with players able to accrue up to three karma at any one time. What is it used for? Well, a player may spend one karma to flip a single die to its opposite face. There will be finite opportunities to gain karma throughout the game, but this mechanism ensures that you aren’t always stuck with low rolls.
It could be argued that low rolls don’t necessarily mean a player will be handicapped, nor will a person that rolls high give them a massive advantage. Actions at The Palace and The Harbour, which require lower rolls, can often be more favourable, whereas higher rolls may force a player to focus on acquiring Province Tiles at the Quarry.
As the race progresses, players will end up acquiring additional workers. These will be gained at specific points along each of the Fame, Money and River tracks. Once a player has gained two additional workers, the final worker is placed back in the box. There are also a number of one-off bonuses on the fame and money tracks.
Rajas of the Ganges will proceed for as many rounds as required until any one player’s two markers ever meet and/or cross on the fame and money tracks. They will be deemed the winner, unless another player can do the same on their final turn but do so by a greater margin.
To keep things fresh, there are a number of built-in variants available straight out of the box. Players can opt to play the ‘Navaratnas Version’ which sees the use of the opposite sides of the Kali and Province Boards. This means fewer spaces for dice, and a change in special yield bonuses.
This is perfect should you wish to handicap experts when teaching new players, or simply create a little randomness in the Special Yield bonuses. There are also additional river tokens, that when the game is set-up, can be placed along the river to alter bonus actions.
The board is double-sided, for playing with two or three to four. This means that should you prefer to play one-on-one, there are a reduced number of spaces on both tracks, as well as actions. Playing with two on the three to four player board would leave far too many options; blocking spaces CAN be a good thing…
Rajas of the Ganges - Final Thoughts
Rajas of the Ganges is surprisingly quick to teach, with every action being clearly depicted on the board. Having taught this to two separate groups already, I have not heard a single major gripe during gameplay; bar the usual frustration should a fellow player steal an action you had set your sights on.
I have always felt involved during the game, even on other player’s turns. It can be important to plan a strategy ahead of time, but be flexible enough to take a different path should you be blocked from a particular action during a round. There is no real direct interaction with other players, which for a game such as this, is a good thing. Euros are about being efficient, and building an engine on the most part. For those that prefer confrontation, this may not appeal to you.
I have played Rajas of the Ganges a few times since purchasing it in January. It is one of very few games where I have felt it will end up being in my top 25 games DURING the first play-through. I am yet to play with the’ Navaratnas Variant’, but it is something I am keen on doing sooner rather than later, and should by all accounts cement this as a favourite within my collection.
If you are looking for a light-medium weight euro, that offers something a little different to simply trading goods for points, then Rajas of the Ganges could be the game for you.