Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Darjeeling

Design by:  Gunter Burkhart
Published by:  Rio Grande Games & Abacus Spiel
2 – 5 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Early in 2007, we were treated to Guatemala Café a game about harvesting and shipping coffee in Guatemala.  Now, we have the pleasure of doing the same with yet another beverage:  tea.  Darjeeling by designer Gunter Burkhart challenges players to harvest crates of tea, then ship them abroad at the prime time in order to maximize their profits.  

The board is formed by assembling numerous tiles, each depicting from 1 – 3 crate halves.  The board can be formed roughly into the shape of India, Sri Lanka or China, the main tea-producing companies in the region.  There are four different types of tea, distinguished by color.  The object is to collect complete crates of one type, and ship them at the optimum time.

The second board has three main areas:  a large, serpentine scoring track, the harbor, and the market chute.  The number of ships placed in the harbor depends upon the number of players, and can range from 3 – 7 wooden ships.  Crates will be loaded on the ships, and earn income for the player as long as the ships remain in the harbor.  Upon loading, bonus points are earned based on the current market status, and if four or more crates are shipped.  More on these bonuses in a bit. 

At the beginning of their turn, a player will earn points based on the crates he has loaded on the boats.  The points earned are a factor of the number of crates on a boat multiplied by the position of the boat in the harbor.  This multiplier can range from a high of three for the top harbor slot, to a low of one when a boat reaches the bottom harbor slot.  The majority of points earned during the game are derived in this fashion, and the challenge is to properly time the shipping of a large number of crates so that they maintain a top position in the harbor for an extended period of time. 

After earning points for loaded crates, players move their tea collector pawn – which looks strangely like a monkey pushing a shopping cart – and collect new crates, filling in their vacated location with a new tile.  Prior to moving, the player can change the facing of his tea collector 90 degrees, then move him as far as he desires in a straight line.  The first space moved is free.  However, each additional space costs the player a victory point.  Further, if the player opts to jump over a city space or an opponent’s tea collector, an additional two points are expended.  The player then takes the tile his tea collector lands upon and places it behind his screen. 

If a player collects a tile that depicts three crate halves, he also receives a special action tile.  These tiles can be used to prevent the one-crate penalty for shipping when a player’s tea collector is not adjacent to a city, or to double the demand bonus earned when shipping. 

At this point, the player has the option of shipping tea.  To ship, a player must combine his tiles to form complete crates of one type of tea.  Generally, it is best to ship a large quantity of crates, as more points can be earned.  Sometimes, however, it is beneficial to ship just one crate, particularly if the bonus earned is going to be low, or if it will cause an opponent to lose points due to his ship being moved lower in the harbor.  

When shipping, the bottom ship in the harbor is removed, crates thereupon are returned to their owner, and the ship is replaced at the top of the harbor, sliding all other ships down one slot.  The player loads a corresponding number of crates onto the top ship, provided his tea collector is located immediately adjacent to a city.  Otherwise, he loads one crate less.  In either case, the player earns an immediate bonus of one point per crate IF he has shipped four or more crates.  An additional “demand” bonus is earned depending upon the market status of the tea being shipped. 

The market status is determined by use of a chute, a very intriguing gadget.  Two round markers for each type of tea are randomly placed into the chute.  When a tea is shipped, the bottom marker matching that tea is removed and moved to the top of the chute.  All of the other markers roll down, and the bonus earned is equal to the distance between the two markers of the tea that has been loaded.  Thus, there is a timing aspect to shipping the tea, as this bonus can be significant.  

The game continues in this fashion until one player reaches 100 points, at which point the game ends immediately.  All players lose 1-point for each unfinished half crate, and the player with the most victory points emerges victorious.  Generally, the game plays to completion in about 45 minutes, an ideal time for casual gaming. 

While Darjeeling seems more suited for family or casual play, there are some interesting dynamics present, particularly in regards to timing.  When collecting crates, players must decide which type upon which to concentrate, and whether to pursue large collections or go for quick payouts.  Tiles with multiple crate halves take longer to complete, but do ultimately earn more profits and will possibly yield a useful action tile.  When choosing to ship crates, it is often best to wait until multiple opponents have just loaded crates.  Thus, you will cause their ships to drop in value, and hopefully be able to maintain a high scoring position for several turns as their supply of crates will likely be depleted.

One must also consider the position of the markers in the market chute.  Having the markers of the tea you are attempting to load far down the chute is advantageous, as the bonus will be larger.  While these points are not as great as those earned at the beginning of each turn, they can still be significant.  Often, it is worth delaying shipping crates until the market is more favorable – or even making a small shipment in order to adjust it to your liking. 

While Darjeeling won’t cause serious gamers to shiver with excitement, it will likely satisfy those who enjoy lighter fare.  It is well suited for family play or in casual, social settings.  Gamers should not despair, however, as there is likely enough here to keep their interest, provided they are not expecting a deep, strategy experience.  The game has some original elements, and a reasonably fresh feel that makes it enjoyable to play.  It is a pleasant surprise from a veteran designer that is just my cup of tea.

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Responses

  1. Darjeeling is an efficiency game that is breezy on strategy and substantial on unique components. It’s a jaw-dropper. The downside is the very significant board maintenance. If you’re thinking about hiring an intern to help you play boardgames, Darjeeling will push you to the classifieds. The game itself is charming, quick to learn, and easy to play. (8/10)

  2. Interesting puzzle aspect. Try to collect parts of crates to maximize your score before the other person does. The scoring mechanism is very different. (6/10)


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