Ever dream of lounging on a warm, sunny beach; next to a crystal, blue lagoon; with soft, black sand snuggling between your toes; and fragrant palms breezily swaying above? Well then, the beautiful island of Tahiti awaits! This South Pacific paradise has attracted Polynesians, explorers, and countless tourists for hundreds of years. Now Minion Games takes you there with their new and aptly-named title. There’s just one, small snag. You’re not there for a vacation. Unless you want to call it one of those “working vacations.” That’s right, you’ll be rowing until your hands are calloused from isle to isle, hoarding as many of the rapidly diminishing resources as you can before the whole volcanic shelf goes the way of Easter Island!
How it Plays
At its core, Tahiti is a pick up and deliver game. Your goal is to be the island’s Top Chief, paddling around the various islets and grabbing resources to bring home for your tribe. Other mechanics are smoothly integrated to accomplish that. Tile-laying achieves exploration and expansion. Chit-pulling seeds the board. Fluctuating action points dictate how many things you can do on your turn. Set-collecting influences planning and end-game scoring. Even a bit of a push your luck element can reap grand rewards…or inflict fantastic failure.
As mentioned, your goal is to collect resources. These are represented by five different colored cubes: coconut (brown), banana (yellow), taro (green), spice (pink), and fish (white). You’ll get one point for every item you gather, but can earn bonuses for amassing a well-rounded variety and/or by owning the most of your favorite foods, two of which are randomly assigned to you at the beginning of the game. Before play, you’ll set out a few island tiles around your home island and seed them according to the two crops designated on each tile. Then everyone grabs a canoe, takes their own player board used to gather and store crops, and the rest of the cubes are tossed in a bag. The spirit of the game is divided by two over-arching phases: the Time of Plenty and then the Time of Oh, Snap! We’re Running out of Everything!
During the Time of Plenty, you begin your turn by exploring. Simply draw a new hexagonal, island tile and add it to the expanding archipelago. Then draw three cubes from the bag and place them on the map, if possible, to any island’s resource space of corresponding color.
Now you may perform a number of actions depending on how much stuff you’ve loaded onto your canoe. Sailing empty, or with only a couple of goods, allows you up to four action points. There are six “spaces” on your canoe – four seats for rowers (giving one action each) and two free spots for goods. Each good over the first two loaded on your fragile vessel takes up space and displaces a rower. He must walk the plank, reducing your action points by one per item. No sitting on the bananas, I guess. However, as your vessel is not much bigger than two empty halves of a coconut, its maximum freight limit is five wares, which permanently preserves at least one spot, and thus one action point.
After determining the number of actions available, you conduct your turn. Each of the following requires one action point: paddle to an adjacent tile, harvest one crop (you must be on the island hex where one is available), go fishing, or deliver all of the goods in your canoe to your storage board (you must be at the home island). There is a tricky rule to monitor that can trip up new players: if, through harvesting or fishing, you cover up a rowing seat which was empty to begin with, it still reduces the number of actions available that turn. On the flip side, if you unload cargo that started the round on a seat, you earn that action point back.
Another important, and sometimes confusing, restriction to heed while mapping your routes deals with the types of goods that you can collect. You may only gather multiples of one particular crop as long as that is the only crop you have on the boat. Otherwise, each good must be of a different color. Think of it as a motto in the vein of the Three Musketeers, “One of each, or all of one!”
Lest you think you’re leisurely rowing some love boat on the lake with your parasol-wielding paramour sitting in the bow, let me warn you about the nasty coral reefs. Each hex tile has a coral reef on two edges. If you paddle over them empty, I guess you’re riding high enough in the water to pose little danger. But if you row over the top of one while loaded down with goods, you risk hitting them and tipping your canoe. For each reef that you glide over, draw a cube from the bag. If it matches a crop in your boat, you loose the cargo. So beware risking those shorter trips…or go around.
Fishing simply involves paddling to any hex away from the home island, spending an action point, and drawing two cubes. If one of them is white, good for you, put it in your boat. If both of them are white, keep one and throw the other back. Seems there is a limit and you wouldn’t want a Tahitian Fish & Game warden snooping around now, would you? Later in the game, there are opportunities to draw three cubes each time you fish, increasing your chances of landing the big one. Interestingly, fish are the only resource that you receive a scoring penalty for ignoring. You must gather at least two fish just to break even, or else you’re losing points!
The Time of Oh, Snap! We’re Running out of Everything, dawns as soon as the last island tile is placed. You now draw only two cubes from the bag to restock the islands each turn. Otherwise, you continue as normal. However, at the end of your turn, you must check to see if any islands are depleted of resources. If so, choose one and place a depletion token on it. No goods may be placed there for the remainder of the game. A few of the depletion tokens depict a giant fish. Those islands still produce no crops, but you may fish there by drawing three cubes instead of the normal two.
When all but four islands are depleted, you continue to play (if necessary) until all players have had the same number of turns. Then the game ends. Transfer any crops from your canoe to your personal storage board, regardless of where you’re at on the map. Calculate points and the highest score wins a coconut bra and grass skirt.
Just Another Day in Paradise?
Until now, the images of Polynesia that have always popped to mind are tropical days, sweet fruit, quiet islands, hulu skirts, and haka dances. So yeah, I admit my Western stereotypes. Thankfully, Minion Games offers this less romanticized counterbalance to remind me that Pacific islanders didn’t just lounge around all day in paradise. They had to toil for everyday survival like the rest of us caught up in the modern rat race. But I still have no clue what taro is.
Tahiti is a smooth and enjoyable game with some opportunity for deft planning. Admittedly not a go-to title for deep thinkers, it will prove more than accessible to younger gamers, casual players, and experienced Euro fans. It has proven popular at our house, thanks to its wonderful accessibility. For context, I should say that this is our first pick up and deliver game. The genre has never really enticed us, but we’re pleasantly surprised with this offering, and happy to have it represent the style in our collection.
You will not find the chance to form a detailed strategy in these islands, nor a need to weave intricate plans. Instead, Tahiti cleverly balances tactics and accessibility. No maniacally wringing hands to manipulate events here. Your aim is simply to run about, pick up goods, and take them home. There are only five types of resources to be concerned with, and usually plenty of available options about the many islets. That is not to say that you can just shove off and sail around willy-nilly. Well okay, you could do that, but you’ll soon discover those efforts quite inefficient. You still need to map out you’re course. Which sets of goods will pay off the most? Where are those desired resources in relation to each other? For each trip, do you want to collect all of one, or one of multiples? While no brain-burner, these decisions still make a difference in the game, should appeal to accustomed hobby gamers, yet prove manageable for casual players.
Those plans are routinely affected by two additional factors. The first is luck. This will likely present the greatest turn-off to serious gamers, and it can be frustrating at significant times. On the whole, as a lightweight strategy game, the design balances chance well enough. Still, you are pulling cubes from a bag to seed the islands each turn, and only at the rate of two or three at most. Often you will pull fish, which are not placed on the board. Other times, there won’t be any available spots for one or more of the colors you draw. This potentially leads to scarcities and/or dry spells. That’s good for antagonism. But bad if a rare crop suddenly appears at an inopportune time for you. The second, more frustrating, random element is fishing. All you do is draw two or three cubes and hope you snatch a white one. While that actually mimics my real-life angling experiences, I’d prefer a little more control in a game. You can increase your odds by waiting until the second phase of the game when fish tokens are out and there are less colored cubes in the bag. You can also fish multiple times in a row, setting aside all cubes pulled until you’re completely finished. Still, it is curious that the game’s only scoring penalty is associated with its most random aspect.
Another element affecting your plans is competition. While not appallingly spiteful, the peaceful struggle over limited resources is nonetheless acute at times. Though primarily a solitaire affair, you still must keep an eye on what your opponents have collected and what they’re likely to target next. You may have designs on the same spots. Sometimes, there will be a few options for similar goods. At others time you’ll all be racing for a particular resource like tweens to the last Taylor Swift backstage pass. Once again, fishing is particularly glaring here. As one player begins fishing, the others tend to follow suit as play briefly morphs into some sort of mini whaling game. Remember that scoring penalty? Well, you don’t want to get left behind.
Tahiti is aesthetically attractive with evocative and well-themed artwork that subtly blends primary, pastel, and earthy colors. Not sure if that means to you what it means to me? But its real pretty! The components are top-notch. While the cubes could stand to be a spot larger, the canoes and the one game pawn are nice and chunky; the tiles and tokens are good and thick. The cloth, draw-string bag is not only a gratifyingly excessive addition, but it even looks Polynesian..sort of! In my opinion, Minion has produced a product easily comparable to the likes of Rio Grande and Days of Wonder. That enhances its allure as a gateway game.
The game includes a double-sided, home island tile with two different set-ups, as well as two groups of preferred crops tokens. These are used based on the number of players. As a result, Tahiti scales very well and works nicely for anywhere between 2-4 players. However, I think it shines best with the full compliment in order to create a bit more competition. Even with all four canoes paddling around, the game still glides along at a good clip. Despite the need to plan your route, it’s not analysis-paralysis inducing and turns proceed fairly quickly, in a step-by-step manner.
There are a couple of other minor aspects that might impact your enjoyment of the game. One, although the artwork is certainly fitting, game play is not overly thematic. I would not go as far to argue that it’s absently tacked on, but it’s also not especially engrossing. For its weight and target audience, it’s expectantly appropriate. Second, the game may feel too long for some. Design-wise, it is not overly lengthy, as you’re still unlikely to grab everything you want before it ends. However, mechanically it can definitely get repetitive, as you’re doing the same thing each and every turn. In that case, sheering off about a quarter hour would have served the title that much better.
Overall, this is one tight design that is easy to learn, even for kids, and keeps pulling along with nary a rough sea. The mechanics are nothing new. However, they are woven together seamlessly with a clever twist on the action point system to create something that should feel fresh to most gamers. Tahiti hits a home run as a gateway to pick up and deliver games. If you’re lukewarm on this genre and already own some, well then admittedly this will add little. But if you really like the type, you need to have a copy. And if you feel the need to own just one example of the sort for your collection, Tahiti would serve as a worthy representative.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Minion Games for providing a review copy of Tahiti.