Review – Asara from Ravensburger, designed by Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer
Oh yes… Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, noted collaborators on Tikal, Java and Mexica (the Mask Trilogy) and both with notable individual game designs to their credit, let alone winners of the coveted Spiel des Jahres Award, have collaborated on another game that was released at Essen 2010. Not that I am excited or anything… Of course not. Well let’s check out Asara and see if the magic is still there or … not.
In Asara, a game for 2-4 players aged 9+, the players are rich building magnates or architects who are competing to build the highest, grandest towers as well as the most towers to gain prestige within a Caliphate. To do this, they send their buyers to different areas in the marketplace to purchase different sections (base, trunk, window and turret). Players collect prestige points for the number of sections they have in each tower, how ornate the sections are, and how many towers they build.
The game board and components are absolutely gorgeous with wonderful artwork by Franz Vohwinkel. The board is large and octagonal in shape. There are clearly illustrated areas in the marketplace for each building component and spaces to place the cards representing your buyers. It looks fantastic.
Asara is an example of less is more. The game is played over 4 years in which players play their Buyer cards. The mechanics are remarkably simple with 2 phases per player turn – Dispatch your buyers and Execute move.
After starting the turn with a hand of Buyer cards, you begin with Dispatching your Buyers (worker placement mechanic) which is an area of key decision making and prioritization as you will have to choose what type of building sections you want to buy, in what order and of what quality materials. The choices are all visually displayed through different pieces depicting parts of each type of tower in 5 colors, each with a different cost. You simply place your buyer cards in the appropriate areas. However, if you want to place a buyer on an area that already has a previous card from another player, you need to match the color or it will cost you an extra card from your hand.
Executing a move is where you actually can buy tower sections and build towers. It is important to buy sets of tower tiles of the same color to build towers. You also have the opportunity to take alternative actions such as get extra cash at the bank, go to the House of Spies to pay a bribe to seek out a specific building section, or choose to become the first player to gain the Caliph’s patronage for the next year which has the advantage of allowing you to get first choice of dispatching your Buyers at a lower cost.
As you build towers, you earn prestige points. Ornate tower pieces with gold decorations earn you extra prestige points.
At the end of each year, you evaluate your tower production and and get prestige points for how tall they are as well as how ornate and how many you have built.
At the end of the 4th year evaluation you then conduct the final evaluation and points are scored for various things such as who has the highest tower overall, the tallest in each color, etc.
All very clear and straightforward and plays relatively fast with little downtime between players. There is some forward planning in terms of where you want to send you buyers and how you balance this with funds available. Just enough planning for a family game without getting bogged down in devising complex strategies. You basically have to deal with the reality of the situation you are faced with and go for building towers that will get you the biggest return on points for the smallest investment.
Did it work for me?
I love this game! it plays cleanly. It is easy and fast to learn. It is a visual feast and the whole set of components and game board is well thought out and comes together very well. This is a players game and suits those who want to play but not have to burn their brains out. Very suitable for gaming groups and could be used as a gateway game for non-gamers. There isn’t any conflict interaction as everyone needs to focus on their towers and this can be a good thing for non-gamers. I absolutely feel that Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have designed a wonderful game. Deeper theme would have been good but I can live without too much of a theme as this would have added more complexity which probably would have made the game less fun. My only real quibble is that I would have preferred larger Buyer cards.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 9 out of 10
Absolutely! This is a game that is simple yet challenging and doesn’t take very long to play. Great for the family.
For more information on Ravensburger Games go to – http://www.ravensburger.de/start/index.html