HABA has a knack for publishing games that take simple mechanisms like stacking, balancing, and egg-holding(?) and turn them into fantastic family games. It’s no surprise that these games have taken off with the gamer crowd, as well. The gameplay is simple enough for anyone to pick up, yet each game allows players to do something clever or unusual, stacking a piece in a precarious position in Animal upon Animal, or figuring out how to get around the table while carrying eggs between your knees in Dancing Eggs. Most of the HABA games that picked up buzz with the “hardcore” gamer crowd so far have been dexterity games, but Orinoko Gold works the same magic on an even simpler game type: the classic “roll-and-move” game.
Orinoko Gold is a river-crossing, treasure-hunting game for 2 to 4 players. Upon opening the big yellow box, the first thing you’ll be impressed by is the quality of the components. The game includes pre-printed wooden character meeples (two in each color), five log tiles, four Jeep tiles in the player colors, and a handful of gold coins. All this stuff is printed on double thick punchboard, and the huge puzzle-piece river board is incredibly sturdy as well. The game also includes two chunky wooden dice, the same kind found in “Animal upon Animal” and “Dancing Eggs”. Though Orinoko Gold isn’t a dexterity game, it’s clearly built to withstand even the most enthusiastic players, just like every other HABA product.
Though the game is a roll-and-move game, it’s a far cry from Chutes and-Ladders. The rules are just as easy to explain, though. Each language in the rulebook takes up just four pages, and HABA’s own How To Play video sums up the gameplay quite nicely. Each turn players roll two special dice, one brown and one white, with different numbers on each. On your turn, you can make one move with each dice, moving one of your explorers the number of spaces shown on the white dice, or moving a log downstream the number of pips on the brown dice. Your goal is to get across the stream and collect gold coins, but since the logs are constantly drifting southward, and other players can get in your way, the best path to take is tricky to predict.
Players can make tricky moves, too. When an explorer moves, she can jump over other explorers in a straight line as a single space of movement, as long as there’s an empty space on the other side. There’s a wonderful puzzle aspect to figuring out how to make the best move on your turn, while also making sure you don’t set up the next player for an even bigger score. The gold coins on the other side of the river are each worth 2 to 4 points towards victory, but some of the coins (on spaces marked by leafy vines) are face down until collected. If you collect a face-up coin, everybody knows what you’ve got. Face down coins stay face down even when you collect them, so nobody knows for sure who’s in the lead. Once you’ve crossed the river, your explorer pops back over to the other side, ready for another crossing.
Though the actions you take on your turn are simple, there are many possibilities to consider. The more tactical players in my group enjoyed the ability to decide which order to take actions in, and which pawns to move… They often took longer to decide on a move than the kids I’ve played with! Decisions often hinge on what you’re willing to let the next player get away with. Should I take the best possible move, even though I’ll leave a straight line for the next player to hop over? Or do I take a slightly worse move, and push the logs out of order so it’s tougher for the other players? Do I move the log first and jump over a line of three players or wait until after, and close off the path behind me? There are opportunities for aggressive play, too, sending opponent’s pieces drifting down-river. Since the logs can never be separated, and they’re all headed that way anyway, this is never too frustrating… but it’s still quite satisfying to break up a long line of pieces, foiling another player’s plans.
The game’s over in about 15 minutes, though I’ve never played just once in a session, no matter who I played with. Kids, casual gamers, or full-time hobbyists, everyone was eager to give this game another go… or two, or three. Rolling dice and moving pieces might be a mechanic that more experienced gamers will initially roll their eyes at, but after a couple of turns, they’ll be too busy figuring out how best to use their die rolls, and cursing the player that just scooted them off course. Orinoko Gold is another hit from HABA that’s enjoyable by all ages, and one I’m happy to have in my collection.
(This article was first published on HABA USA’s blog.)