New Game Weekend: Africana

westsideFor the second time this year I found myself in Los Angeles for work this past week, and once again I also wound up linking up with the West Side Gamers. The meeting of the group I attended at an IHOP just south of Culver City was the organization’s 510th consecutive club get-together. The group meets weekly in local restaurants, camping out over several tables and booths chocked full of dozens of games toted along by attendees. A weekly theme game is featured, but players split into groups to play whatever people are up for from about 6pm until well past midnight.

This past week’s featured game was Power Grid played on the recently-released Quebec map, although more than a dozen different board and card games were played throughout the evening. More than a couple dozen players spent the evening munching on diner food and hunched over tables of games.

20131010-233030.jpgOf the many games being played that evening, I  had the opportunity to play a game new to me, 2012’s Africana from Z-Man Games. Playable by up to four participants, Africana uses a few familiar card-driven mechanics within the context of the travel and exploration of the African continent. The game board features a map of Africa divided in two by the equator and laced with routes between cities. Each player’s expedition uses color-coded movement cards to trek between locations. A series of five adventure cards at the bottom of the board allows a player to pick a starting point for a research expedition to another location. Setting off on an adventure gains either a movement card or silver coins used to buy from the two adventure books.

africanaEach turn, players may either draw movement cards, move their explorer aroundthe board or purchase up to three pages from the wooden book racks. Purchasing pages from the adventure books north and south of the equator provides another quest opportunity to gather artifacts or hire additional workers to help move your expedition along the board. Collecting combinations of artifacts and completing adventure routes gain more coins and score victory points at the game’s end. While having multiple workers in your hand can help move you quickly around the board, holding too many at the game’s end deducts points from your total. As the game progresses, adventures become more valuable and players may be working on several adventures at once. Once all the adventures are drawn from the deck, the game ends and the player with the most victory points wins.

20131010-232920.jpgThe travel mechanics of Africana don’t allow for a lot of opportunity to really block other players on the board, although completing adventures ahead of the competition or acquiring valued artifacts from the books does allow for some strategic play. Moving your pawn to key port cities such as Cape Town allow for quick moves around the continent while moving inland is a bit more circuitous, so choosing adventures wisely is also key. The player who won our game focused on high-value adventures late in the game while my second place finish was scored mainly through the collection of artifacts. Even in this relatively light travel game, akin to something like Ticket To Ride, I could see the possibility of trying varying strategies.

Deep down I dislike just about everything about traveling for work — cabs, hotels, airports, living out of a suitcase — but heading to Los Angeles and a chance to meet-up with the folks at West Side Gamers makes the trips to the West Coast a bit more worth the journey.

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