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Quicksand

Designer: Stefano Cavanè
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Players: 2-5
Time: 20 minutes
Reviewer: Greg Aleknevicus

The premise of Quicksand is simple—six explorers are traveling through a dense jungle searching for a hidden temple and at the start of the game you're secretly assigned one of them. The board shows a series of connected spaces  leading to the temple and on your turn you may play one or more identical cards and move the matching explorer. When moving other explorers you'll usually send them on inefficient routes and even have them stop on quicksand spaces so that they'll have to waste cards getting out. Even better is to play a quicksand card directly from your hand which has the same effect.

There are a number of special spots throughout the board, specific to each explorer. If you move an explorer onto a space matching his colour then you are entitled to discard one card. (Since you fill your hand to six cards at the end of your turn this is a good thing—it lets you get rid of cards you don't want in the hope that you'll draw ones you do.) There are wild cards (that you can use to move any explorer) as well as wild spaces (that let you discard when any explorer stops there). The game is one of playing, then drawing cards slowly advancing the explorers until the first explorer (controlled by a player)  enters the hidden temple for the victory. That's pretty much it and so you can see that this is a very simple, straightforward game indeed. In fact, I think the main problem with Quicksand is that it's too simple.

There really doesn't seem to be much in the way of decision making or strategy. More accurately, the only real strategy is obvious to everyone very quickly—build up lots of "your" cards in your hand and then use them all at once at the end to win the game.

This is because there does not seem to be much point in moving your own explorer until the very end of the game. Generally speaking the other players will prefer to move explorers who are bringing up the rear. As such, if you play cards that will move your explorer into the lead the other players will be less inclined to advance him themselves. It seems far better to simply save your cards and advance those in the rear. This is exactly what happened in the games I played and you end up with a situation in which the first three quarters of the game are largely meaningless—all the explorers end up bunched up about 5 to 7 spaces from the temple and then whoever drew the most cards in his or her colour wins the game.

I will say that this problem is lessened with fewer players and so the game does work better with three than it does with five. This is due to a couple of reasons, the first is simply that with fewer players your actions have a greater overall effect. If you decide to make a "run for the temple", there are fewer players to stop you and so your chances for success are greater. (With five players such a tactic, except at the end of the game, would be doomed to failure.) The second reason is more subtle. When playing with five is very likely than any explorer you move is controlled by another player so it is largely meaningless who controls which. If you move the archaeologist, chances are you're helping someone else and it doesn't really matter who it is. When played with three half the explorers are not owned by any player and so it's in your best interest to move those (when not moving your own). This means that there is an advantage to deducing who controls who. This can be accomplished not only by watching what happens on the board but on the cards each player is discarding. Even so Quicksand remains very light.  

Now, I don't mind light games that are fairly random but they need to have two qualities to really appeal. The first is that it must at least have the illusion that my decisions are meaningful and the second is that the actual mechanics of the game should be enjoyable. Unfortunately, Quicksand fails on both these criteria. Playing cards and moving a marker is simply not that interesting a mechanic and so it fails to hold my attention. All moves prior to the endgame seem immaterial as it's almost guaranteed that all the explorers will be near the finish line at about the same time. I find that I'd much rather play Ausbrecher AG, a game with a similar feel but much more interest and excitement.

The production of Quicksand is decent, the cards are clean and the explorer pieces are thick wooden disks with a picture on one side and quicksand on the reverse. (You flip the piece over to show that the explorer is "stuck".) Very nice. The board is functional and the spaces are clearly marked but I can't help wishing that it had been a little more exciting. I think that if more artistry had been applied so that the board had realistic looking paths through a jungle it would be easier to lose yourself in the theme. As it is it's simply a series of generic spaces on the way to a finish line. Granted, there's not a lot of real estate on the small map but I think a nice opportunity was lost here.

On the plus side, Quicksand plays relatively quickly and the rules are very clear with no ambiguities. I imagine that young children might enjoy playing it but I think anyone else would be well advised to give it a pass.

- Greg Aleknevicus

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