Through the Desert is a game for two to five players, where each player controls a tribe competing for control of the desert. As would be expected from any game by Reiner Knizia, it is a game of strategy and careful planning, with a variety of possible routes to gain dominance.
Play is fairly simple, each turn is fast, and a game will take well under 45 minutes - making Through the Desert a really good entry level game. At the same time, the design is solid and play rewarding, with decisions to be taken at every turn, so it's deep and challenging enough to leave even the most hardened of gamers with a sense of a fun and achievement.
Visually the game is particularly beautiful, assuming you like the idea of plastic pastel coloured camels. As the publisher says:
“From the award-winning game designer Reiner Knizia comes a game of strategy, patience, and cool plastic camels! The desert is still treacherous, mysterious, and without mercy. But for those willing to risk the dangers of the shifting, sun-baked sands, the desert holds riches beyond compare.”
Ultimately, despite the desert theme, it is an abstract game of strategy, of building the longest chain of camels, or enclosing areas, or collecting points from waterholes and oases. If you don’t like abstract games then maybe this is not for you, but if you do, or you like those wonderful camels, this really is a very solid game with many positives.
After set-up, which is a semi-random placement of watering holes and oases, and initial placement of some camels with different coloured riders to denote the player, play is fairly simple. Each turn players, in sequence, get to place two camels of any colour. There are a few rules around camel placement. The first is the camel must be next to a camel of the same colour and a connection must be traceable to the rider, denoting the respective player. The second is that a camel of the same colour may not connect two chains of camels of the same colour.
There is a lot of strategy in the play; connect to an oasis to get points, pass over a watering hole to get points, enclose an area to get points, or construct a line of camels to block an opponent from gaining access to part of the board. Even one carefully placed camel can make players think and force a change of plan, so players will need to adapt and respond to what every other player does.
The game ends when all the camels of one particular colour are used up. At which point there is some final scoring, with points being given to the player who has used the most camels of each particular colour. The winner is the player with the most points.
It really is this simple, but, as I said, it does contain a fantastic amount of strategy in what is also an incredibly simple and easy to learn game.
Through the Desert is a solid production value euro game. The board is on good stock and well printed, the counters and other card components are solid. The rule book is well laid out and clear, with illustrations and examples. But it really is all about those beautiful pastel coloured camels. Visually it looks really good, and the components fit the theme.
Final Thoughts on Through the Desert
If you need an entry game with a depth of strategy, one that will be satisfying to even the most hardened of players, then Through the Desert may be just what you are looking for. It is incredibly easy to learn and to play, and does not have a steep learning curve. It’s the sort of game I could teach my mother and is short enough to hold her interest, which is my benchmark for an entry game, one that can be played by anyone with a minimum of fuss or teaching.
As expected in any game by Reiner Knizia, Through the Desert is well balanced and thought out. Players are not going to feel they are out of the game because many of the victory points are hidden or unknown until the end, and no matter what there is always going to be something to do to obtain more points or minimise those available to someone else.
There is a great deal of strategy in Through the Desert and that strategy may well change as the game progresses, and like all good games there is a strong element of competition. Simply put, the board simply isn’t big enough for all those camels, and yet no matter how blocked in a player might be, there is always something constructive that can be done.
Through the Desert scales up and down really well between two and five players, something which cannot be said for all games. Play is fast, there is very little downtime, and every play by an opponent is going to give players something new to think about – so do keep an eye on what your opponents are doing. The only random factor is the initial board set up, but this is probably the right amount of random, and it ensures that no two plays are going to be identical.
As entry / gateway games go this really is one of the best. It’s light, it’s easy, and it’s lots of fun.