Heart of Africa
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The Extra Nice Actions that come on most of the action chips form the spice of the game. They may be used immediately, or in a later turn. Building a free trading post is one of the wanted action chips. This one enables a player to place additional traders on the board that will cost him less action points per trader. Or placing a super trader, doubling the value of all own traders in the region he is in. This super trader comes in very handy in defence, but its owner soon will value its offensive use as well!

Sending neutral traders to the region of an other players traders that will give him minus points if he takes a turn, or advance your own or lower an other players reputation are only two of many more special functions the action chips can have on them.

When an active player is done, all the bidding cubes that were used in the auction and consequent conflicts are divided among all non active players. It has already been pointes out: players that have bid to heavily, will not be able to bid and win the next few auctions. To protect the wasteful among us however, a player without bidding cubes may bid with up to ten victory points.

Choosing from a set of chips as well as the varying player order are nice elements that we also find in other games by Andreas Steding. The chips mechanism can also be found in ‘Kogge’, and the bidding with cubes was already used in ‘The Scottish Highland Whisky Race’. However, the variety of chips in ‘Heart of Africa’ is a bit overwhelming at first.

The game has some minor set backs in production, but overall is of a high standard. The game comes with two oversize summary cards that because of their size are difficult to place on the table - so they move from player’s hand to player’s hand to decypher the meaning of the various action chips - unfortunately the drawn icons do not contribute to the explanation of their meaning. Also, there is barely space for storing all the components; it made us sigh: ‘Yet another where-do-we-put-it-all-inlay!’

In ‘Heart of Africa’ players will have to do their maths correctly, especially in the last phase of the game. It can be very frustrating after having made a high bid and being the active player, to fall short just one or two points in claiming victory. Especially where with this turn you probably run out of bidding cubes, being effectively out of the game for the next few rounds that will see an other player finish before you.

‘Heart of Africa’ is a game that will not reveal itself immediately in the first game; this is definitely a game you can play wrong! A disadvantage of the game might be that playing with the basic set of rules, there is no real middle phase; everyone seems to be building on his empire where suddenly there is a player who manages to make a large leap and finishes at or beyond the required 42 points. Playing variants that do have this middle phase last until 60 or 80 points are reached. Despite its huge appearance and the presumption this also applies to its game length, the game lasts just over an hour and plays enjoyingly well. But then we are talking about a third and following game experience, as in the first two games players keep ligthly panicking looking up the meaning of ‘all’ those icons!
© 2005 Richard van Vugt

Heart of Africa, Andreas Steding, Phalanx Games, 2004, 2 to 5 players