Three games, three settings, one system. That's the short synopsis of Europa Tour, published by Schmidt Spiele, and 10 Days in Africa and 10 Days in the USA published by Out of the Box. I've already reviewed Europa Tour (see link above) so I'll concentrate here on the latter two designs.
The games are tile driven and the deck consists primarily of regions. In Africa, these are countries and in USA, they're states. There are also a number of airplanes (in five colours) and automobiles which act as wild tiles. The idea of the game is that you're trying to create a 10-day voyage and to facilitate this you have a wooden rack that will hold your ten tiles. The setup phase involves initially filling your rack with tiles drawn face-down from a stack. All players are doing this simultaneously and since you cannot move a tile once placed, it's likely that you'll end up with a horrible, mismatched mess. The proper game then begins and the mechanics are very simple: on your turn you draw a tile and replace one of the ones already in your rack (you draw from one of three face-up tiles or the face-down draw deck). The replaced tile is then discarded to any of the three face-up piles.
Your overall goal is to create a single completed journey involving all ten of your tiles. There are three ways of "traveling" in the game:
By Foot: This involves placing adjacent tiles next to each other in your rack. eg. California, Oregon.
By Plane: Each region is colour coded and you may fly between two like-coloured regions by having the same coloured plane between them. eg. Libya, Green Plane, Botswana.
By Automobile: Cars act as wild tiles and let you travel through one country to get to another just as you would by foot. eg. Arizona, Car, Texas. (The car substituting for New Mexico.)
Play continues around the table, each player replacing one tile per turn until someone announces that they've completed a 10-day journey and won the game. This tends to be relatively quick (20 minutes or so) and play is generally pretty thoughtful. By this I mean that players will quietly study the board, trying to make some sort of order of their itinerary. It is not a loud, raucous affair because you are most concerned with your own problems. However, there is interaction, it pays to be aware of what your left hand opponent is looking for as an example. If he's been picking up New England tiles you may not want to discard New York. This is a relatively minor aspect of the game though as it's better to concentrate on improving your own situation rather than hindering others. Keeping an eye on what others are picking up is useful, but mostly in giving you a sense of areas to avoid. For the most part there's only one tile for each region (Africa has five countries with two tiles apiece), so you don't want to sit around waiting for a tile that may already be in another player's rack.
The production of both games is very nice. The maps are rather plain but large and quite clear. There was some trouble distinguishing brown tiles from pink ones but this was a pretty minor problem. The tiles are very thick cardboard and the racks are solid wood. These take up a bit more table space than the curved plastic racks of Europa Tour but they're far more durable. Overall, the graphic presentation does have a bit of a "clip-art" feel to it but it functions well. I found that it helped a lot in Europa Tour for each player to have their own copy of the map but that was not necessary with either of these games. Strangely, the Africa map is very glossy and might be a concern under bright lights whereas the USA board has a matte finish. I didn't find either to be a problem but it's worth noting.
Mechanically, the changes from the earlier game are not too dramatic. I do prefer Europa Tour's boats (even though they do tend to clog up the face-up piles) because the cars in 10 Days seem too powerful. It's extremely rare that you won't be able to use one and so it's a no-brainer to pick one when possible. For example, the Central African Republic has five neighbours and thus there are five tiles that you can use as part of a foot journey there. With a car, there will be 19 tiles you could use, that's almost half the deck! Further, since the car itself takes up a space, it's even more useful. Most of the games we played featured a winner with at least two cars in their journey. Since it's blind luck on whether you draw them, it does tend to mar a mostly enjoyable game. I do have a couple of ideas to address this but as of yet I have not tested any of them.*
Cars aside, both games play very well and are nice, light, non-aggressive fun. All three games are also ideal as geography lessons without sacrificing fun for the sake of education. For parents or teachers who are looking for a game to teach the locations of states or countries, any of these would be an excellent choice. Another nice aspect is that they play well with two, three or four players. In fact, three may be the ideal number and so either game is good when you're just a trio.
As for which I prefer? I find the map of Europe the most interesting and boats more interesting than the cars. I also think the multiple countries in Africa make for a more interesting game than USA—it seemed that you were far less likely to be "blocked in" without any interesting decisions to make on your turn. In any case, all three are good games and recommended.
- Greg Aleknevicus
*Update: I've now played 10 Days in Africa close to 100 times and can easily say that it is my favourite of the series. Most of these playings have been with a modification to the car rules that, in my opinion, greatly improves the game. We play that you may not use an automobile to move between countries that border each other. (For example, you could not use an automobile to travel from Chad to Sudan.) This limits their power and creates situations that are much trickier—sometimes you'll even discard a car. It makes for a far better game and I heartily recommend trying it.