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Island in the Sun – Bora Bora review

Bora COVER

Stefan Feld is currently on an insane run of producing excellent games. Today, The Judge steps up to check out his latest release, Bora Bora. Will the streak continue?

In Feld we trust…

Specifically, I am talking about Stefan Feld, the current wunderkind of Eurogames who has quickly developed a reputation for combining established mechanisms and innovative ideas into deep and satisfying ‘Euro’ style board games – with the lightest smattering of theme dusted on top. Now, these games aren’t for everyone – but from Notre Dame, through Macao to Castles of Burgundy and Trajan, Feld has demonstrated a unique talent for creating interesting, memorable and replayable games that stand out in an increasingly dense sea of mediocrity. Even Luna, which I don’t love, is a curious misstep but never less than memorable and worthy of discussion.

That brings us to 2013 and his new opus – Bora Bora! And it’s fantastic.

Let’s kick the elephant out of the room to begin with – yes, this game is set on the island of Bora Bora. Yes, you are building huts on the board and utilising the skills of tribes folk to expand your influence. Yes, you could even say that the priests you send to the temples are providing you with the glory of the gods. All this is, obviously, poppycock (which, as an editorial aside, is the first time I have ever written that word. It is fun and I recommend you all do that same).

Bora Bora is, at its heart, a mechanical exercise in point scoring. Unlike numerous other soulless Euros, though, the game’s tight 6 round structure features clear short, medium and long term goals that force you to tactically adapt to turn-by-turn pressures whilst maintaining a resolute long term strategy for end game scoring.

If that last paragraph left you cold – then move along because this isn’t for you. If there is a glint in your eye like the sun catching the crest of a wave as it lashes the beautiful island shore then please read on… Oh, and seek help. Each round of Bora Bora begins with players rolling three dice which are their ‘workers’. In turn order these are then allocated to action selection spaces – the twist being that you can only take an action if the number on your worker die is LESS than every other die on the space. This allows potential for some blocking and screwage – especially in the last rounds where players need ONE MORE of something to score big bonus points. The flip side is that the HIGHER the number placed, then the better or at least more varied your options are when taking that action.

Feld himself has included dice as a key feature in his games before (think of Burgundy and Macao) but I think Bora Bora perfectly finds the balance between forcing you to adjust your short term strategy mid-stream and having prepared for the possibility of being stuck with a bad roll with the various “Luck Mitigation Mechanisms” (or “God Cards” as the game calls them). Actually, their term is catchier.

With so much going on, you might think that keeping an eye on everything is a struggle...

With so much going on, you might think that keeping an eye on everything is a struggle…

The other genius of Bora Bora is the mission tiles. Each turn you have the opportunity to ‘solve’ one of three personal tiles for points. You then select a new mission from the tableau (which has been open information since the start of the previous round) that you can score in future rounds. Missing an opportunity to complete a mission can be a big deal – no end game bonus for you! – so you have to juggle completing one mission per turn with setting yourself up to be able to meet all of the demands by the end of the game. Very interesting, very cool and very satisfying when it all comes off.

The missions are just part of it though – You need to get all the expensive jewellery don’t you? Each round you can buy ONE victory-point-awarding trinket for Shells (an in-game resource.) This is resolved in turn order – so you need to keep an eye on what other people have got, what they can generate and make sure you are high enough on the turn order track (modified each round) to get what you need.

Oh, and you need priests in the temple! These give you free points every round. And you need to construct your buildings! They score huge if built at the start of the game and progressively less from each round you wait. Not to mention erecting huts… getting resources… recruiting tribesmen…

So, there’s a great deal going on – and you cannot possibly hit ALL of the end game scoring, and that is the beauty of the game. Even though there are a huge amount of different elements to consider, the missions provide a focus and a guide to your strategy (customisable beyond the first three tiles as you are selecting them each round.) The game is very tightly designed. Despite the diversity of strategies, final scores are often only a few points apart and in a game where final four player totals are around 160 points – this is no mean feat.

Any negatives? Well the lack of anything resembling a thematic connection will disappoint some, though not me. The art style is fresh and bright, but unapologetically busy. To someone trying to learn straight from the rulebook, the graphic design and iconography could baffle as much as it delights – though this is 200 times better than Burgundy which really needed a reference sheet just to make it playable. I was generally impressed with the straightforward nature of the rulebook and the summary text in a side-column makes reference much easier. The decision to include an idiot board as the left hand side of the thick cardboard player mats is also a good call – making what could be a dense rules teach far more straightforward.

Bora Bora is my favourite game of 2013 thus far. Having played several times, I am still really excited about the next opportunity to get it to the table and the many new strategies to explore and exploit. So get hold of a copy (perhaps from those excellent folks at Gameslore where I bought mine) and enjoy my prediction for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres.

So, pretty positive then…! Bora Bora is indeed available from Gameslore and will set you back £32.99. Released in 2013 by Ravensburger, between two and four can play, with games taking around 90 to 120 minutes. Don’t forget to follow Stuart on Twitter – you can find him there as @Judge1979!

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