Players: 2 to 5
Game Length: 45 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 3-5 players who want a deceptively clever tactical route-building game
Through the Desert is an easy to learn tactical route-building game where players will be building camel trains from different-coloured pastel camels in the desert, trying to gain as many points as possible through tactical growth of their camel trains.
The game starts by each player placing a starting camel in each of the five colours available. Over the course of the game, these starting camels will grow into camel trains, spreading across the board. Each turn, you will be able to place two camels, increasing the length of your camel trains. You gain points for placing a camel on a space with water on it, or for reaching an oasis. Towards the end of the game, you’ll also want to consider closing off areas of the board and trying to make long chains of camels to claim the Longest Train bonus for that colour.
Don’t let the pretty pastel-coloured camels fool you – Through the Desert can be a truly cutthroat game. You’ll need to make turn-by-turn evaluations of what’s important to you, and on each of your opponents’ turns, they’ll take away something that you wanted to claim. That’s okay, though, because you’re doing the exact same thing to them.
As the game proceeds, your options to gain points will become increasingly limited. You’ll consider threading your camel train through two opponents to get to one last oasis, eyeing your opponents jealously to stop them from horning in a region you’re trying to enclose, and trying to make sure you have the longest camel train in as many colours as possible. The end of the game comes when one stock of camels is depleted, and you may even want to force that ending sooner rather than later if your opponents still have lucrative scoring options.
While Through the Desert is an engaging game, if you aren’t careful you can put yourself out of the game at the very start. If your camels don’t start in positions where they can easily score or escape from surrounding opponents, you may find yourself with no real options. Some may also find the game a bit mean – there’s no avoiding blocking off other players, and frequently you will make tactical moves that don’t make any difference to you but remove an opponent’s chance of scoring, and some may take these sorts of actions personally.
Through the Desert makes an engaging game that is very easy to learn and will have you keen to dot the desert with pastel-coloured camels. Its relatively short play time makes it easy to get to the table, but it can be exhausting to be constantly evaluating all the options on the board, especially as opponents start taking them away from you.
If you are after a tactical route-building game that is as appealing to newcomers as it is to experienced gamers, Through the Desert comes highly recommended.