Eva Maria Tobies &
Hendrik Nicola Jenzowsky


No. of Players:
2 - 5



The theme of Desert Exploration seems to find a revival at least with some smaller publishers, and after 1001 Karawane from ARGENTUM it is now the small newcomer JENZOWSKY SPIELEVERLAG which takes us into the land of 1001 nights…

The gameboard of Wüstenkönige features a square strech of desert which is subdivided into hexagonal spaces. In one corner of the board is the Palace, the starting and ending point where each player places four of his camels at the beginning of the game. The other three corners of the playing area each feature an Oasis, and this will be the places where the players can get the different kinds of goods which they need to win the game. The desert itself is filled with desert tiles, each of which shows a dune on one side and a plain on the other. At the beginning, all of these tiles are shuffled and randomly placed on the desert spaces, so that a new game layout is created for every game. During the game, the sides of the desert tiles may be switched to show the other kind of landscape feature, and such tiles may even be moved so that empty spaces on the board then will show a third kind of landscape, the valley. Finally, each player receives a hand of three event cards, and then the voyage may begin.


The game will be won by the first player who succeeds in recovering one of each of the three different kinds of goods and returning these to the Palace. Thus, the basic element of a player's turn is the movement of his camels for which he receives six movement points. These points may be split between a player's camels as he desires, and for each point of movement a camel may either enter or exit the Palace or an Oasis or move from one desert space to another, provided these two desert spaces feature the same kind of landscape. Thus, movement from a dune to a dune or from a valley to a valley only costs one movement point, whereas movement between all combinations of landscapes costs two movement points.

If a camel enters an Oasis, the player will be awarded thricefold. So, he will receive two additional camels of his colour which are placed at the Oasis, and all three camels then will be loaded with one unit of the goods available at that particular Oasis. Finally, the player also receives one additional event card for his hand.

However, the desert is not a safe place to be. Thus, a player who moves one of his camels onto a space occupied by an other player's camel may try to waylay the poor beast. A dice is rolled, and depending on the result either one of the camels changes its owner (together with any goods carried), only goods may be handed over or nothing might happen at all. To defend against such kind of agressive behaviour the stacking limit might be taken into consideration, since - although the desert offers seemingly endless space - only three camels ever may occupy one desert space.

Still, before a player even starts moving his camels during his turn, he gets the chance to play one of the event cards from his hand. These cards add additonal spice to the game, since they may force a player to loose goods, allow extra movements, confer an additional camel, change positioning or facing of desert tiles etc.

Furthermore, a player's turn does not end after (possibly) playing an event card and then moving his camels, but instead it will be the final action of the player to change the desert. Thus, he may turn a desert tile over to its other side, or even move one tile from one space to another. Camels remain stationary during this kind of action, steadily keeping their position on the changing ground. However, there is one instance when such a change is fatal even for a camel, and that is if a dune tile is moved onto a valley space which is occupied by one or more camels. In these case the camel(s) will be buried in the sand, forcing their owners to remove the camels from the game and to abandon any goods on the particular space. These goods then are placed below the dune tile, and it may well happen during the course of the game that the desert changes its face one more and that the goods get uncovered so that they may loaded onto a bypassing camel.

Looking at the rules for the changing desert, you will understand what element gives Wüstenkönige its special attraction. Whereas many other movement based collection games usually depend on moving along a more or less clear track and possibly taking a few competitor-owned playing pieces out of the game, the desert phase in Wüstenkönige offers a unique challenge of its own. Thus, the layout of the gameboard keeps evolving during the game, and so it is the case that the players constantly need to look for dangers and chances offered by the current layout. Planning a good track through the desert is not too easy, since the keeping of the most direct, points-saving route usually will be hampered by possible changes of the desert or an untimely ambush.

A possibility for tight situations arises when the game gets closer to its end because one player is approaching the Palace with a camel loaded with the third and last kind of goods. Such a camel suddenly becomes a focusing point for all other players, and it is difficult to get this last camel home when all other players are taking a combined effort to stop the camel from reaching the Palace. The event cards are not strong enough to allow a quick victory since not more than one additional movement point may be gained by such a card, and thus a player will have to try and plan his final approach in order to survive the combined efforts of his competitors.

Coming from a small private publisher, Wüstenkönige certainly has reached a very good production standard with its perfunctory, fitting artwork and playing equiment. However, and this is more important, the gameplay of Wüstenkönige itself also shows that the adaption of traditional elements known from other kinds of games can lead to the creation of a new, challenging game. The weighting exercise between moving the camels and possible changes of the desert keeps the players occupied for quite a few sessions, and even after the mechanisms have been generally mastered new challenges may be found by using the included variant rules for a fixed layout or additional obstacles.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany