Through the Desert – Boardgame Review

Through the Desert – caravan leaders

From the award-winning game designer Reiner Knizia comes a game of strategy, patience, and cool plastic camels! The desert is still treacherous, mysterious, and without mercy. But for those willing to risk the dangers of the shifting, sun-baked sands, the desert holds riches beyond compare.
In Through the Desert, two to five players each control a tribe of nomads vying for control of the desert. By establishing caravans and taking over oases, the players gain points as their tribes increase in power.

Strategy is essential in deciding how and where to build your tribe’s caravans. There are multiple ways to gain points and several ways to win. Should you try to build the longest caravan? Or should you dominate the desert’s oases? Don’t forget to keep an eye on your opponents’ caravans, or you may find your own tribe cut off from valuable water holes.

Through the Desert (a strategy / placement game)

Many reviewers have found the game reminiscent of the ancient and elegant game of Go. Through the Desert can be played in a number of strategic ways (including encapsulating territory and aiming to prevent your opponents from reaching key resources) but at it’s heart it’s about camels. 180 beautifully coloured miniature camels in five pastel colours (along with caravan leaders) that are sure to delight younger players (and are still pretty cool as an adult).

Players take turns to place their leaders on the board and then game play proceeds by choosing two camels (of any colour) and placing them on the board (connecting them to your caravan(s) of the same colour. Play continues until there are no camels left of a particular colour.

Strategy comes into play with the various placement rules and scoring system. You can place camels of a different coloured caravan next to your opponents camels but not next to the same colour (an important rule as otherwise camel ownership would become very confusing!). This simple rule opens up all kinds of strategic moves as you work to block opponents from reaching their goals.

Scoring involves reaching the five palm-tree oasis, taking watering holes, capturing territory (by surrounding it), and having the longest caravans of each colour.

Bonus features

There are rules provided for how to scaffold the game from 2 players to 5 players; the beautiful game board also provides natural geographic features to restrict the play area if there are only 2 players. It’s also double sided so that once you have mastered ‘the mountain’, you flip it to see how ‘the river’ changes play.

It also provides optional rules for variant game plays.

What age is the game suitable for?

To an extent, this will depend on the children involved and their interests / attention span. It helps that the rules are simple enough that even younger children can simply choose camels (at random or based on their favourite colour) and join in – while also adding an element of natural chaos to the plans of older players.

Slightly older children will begin to understand there are different possible goals and begin to engage with these. They may choose to focus on a single goal at a time or juggle a multiple focus. Goals can include:

  • Having the most camels of a particular colour on the board.
  • Linking their caravans to as many oasis as possible (each caravan scores 5 points for each oasis they reach).
  • Acquiring as many watering holes as possible (these score points and are removed from the board by the player that reaches them first).
  • Creating lines to stop other players from moving forward / reaching their goal.

Adults will appreciate that last goal often isn’t the most high-scoring but it’s a tactic that kids will delight in when they thwart their parents!

What can boardgames teach us? a.k.a. learning through play

There’s a whole community of homeschoolers who focus on gameschooling as a key way of learning. Why? Because it makes learning fun and there are so many wonderful games out there that can teach kids skills and knowledge without them even being aware that they’re learning.

In Through the Desert, they are learning:

  • Maths: strategy; logical reasoning.
  • Maths: counting to 20, addition, skip counting, and equivalency trading.
    • Even if they don’t instinctively recognise that 5+5 = 10, they can quickly learn that they can trade 2 x 5 point tokens, for a 10 point token with a different picture.
    • Children can help to score at end of game by: counting how many camels they have of each colour; ‘skip counting’ by 5’s or 10’s to add their oasis points; add their 1 / 2 / 3 point watering hole tokens together to find a total.
  • Visual-spatial recognition and reasoning.
    • By end of game there is a beautiful and unique pattern of coloured camels on the board (with complexity increased by number of players) so there is a fair amount of visual processing involved in working out final scoring – especially for minor captured territories (encapsulation).
  • World Studies:
    • It’s a great opportunity to review any desert habitats or countries that you’ve studied. We pulled out our range of desert dwelling animals that we’ve collected in our studies so far to watch the action; unsurprisingly, our Dromedary Camel was lead judge.
  • Life Skills:
    • It’s a great game to discuss short-term gains (such as thwarting parents) vs long-term gains (strategic scoring).
  • Social Skills: turn taking, patience, and good sportsmanship.
Through the Desert end of game

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