This is Ravensburger's flagship game for 1990 and comes in a large box which contains components to top even the little gems we have seen over the last few years. The game's topic is camel caravans carrying silk through the desert between trading posts. An interesting theme, and offering plenty of scope for sumptuous production. The components include plastic Ali-Baba pots, plastic water gourds, glossy cardboard silk counters, neat moulded camel pieces and a lovely board showing the desert trade route to be negotiated. The graphics (lots of little camels and turbaned types) are unusual and rather stylised giving an impressive overall impact. If anything, this one is way over-produced for what it is. Nevertheless, with components of this quality I'm not complaining too much and if I were ever lucky enough to get a game published, I would choose this artist to do the graphics. Ahhh, steady down Mike, remember we are reviewing the game here, not just the production.
Right then, the game system works as follows. Each player has three sets of water gourds with which to negotiate the three desert stages. These are kept in the three sections of the Ali-Baba pot. Each player starts their camel from the first town/fort and the first one to reach the next trading post receives a number of bales of silk, the second a couple of bales less and so on. The final fort delivers the highest rewards.
The movement system is the heart of the game. Each player secretly palms a number of gourds which are revealed simultaneously. The highest number of gourds moves forward a number of places equal to the number of players, ie four camels = four spaces. The next highest moves one less place and so on down to the minimum of one. Players choosing the same number of gourds move the same number of places. It is possible to choose no gourds to try for last place on purpose and save water, but of course others may do the same and thus lose the advantage. The idea is to have enough gourds to survive the journey at a good speed. So, Karawane is a bluffing and bidding game, with shades of Hols der Geier doublethink and a need for rudimentary calculation.
From this, it would appear that it is simply a race game but there are some small wrinkles. Some places are marked with special graphics that award a silk bale to anyone landing exactly on them, others offer fresh gourds and others have negative effects such as losing bales or water. There is therefore much jostling for position and movement placing to pick up or avoid these special sections. The resulting strategy is not mind boggling but is interesting enough and quite difficult to get right.
Karawane is probably best with four or five players as the player interaction (through the bidding) works better with more. On the face of it, this is a very simple game that is saved (just) by having to work out the interesting tactics required for good play. Karawane is good, solid entertainment, has marvelous production values and will be one of the best family games for 1990. However, it must be considered very expensive at around #25 which tends to blow its credibility in this category.
Sumo - Mike Siggins