The HABA Caravan Game looks like a game for kids. Don’t get me wrong, it really is a game that kids will play, and enjoy. The cards and thick, folding board with funny illustrations by Gabriela Silveira, the cute little wooden camel playing pieces (which are easier to play with when they’re lying down)…all appeal to people who think of themselves as kids. But the game proves to be deep, engaging, and challenging enough to attract serious consideration from those who think of themselves as adults.
Each of up to four players gets a set of 12 cards. The cards are the same for every player. You shuffle your cards, place your them, face-down, in a stack in front of you, and then draw three of them for your hand. From then on, you play one from your hand, discard, and select a new card from your pile.
Seven of the cards show either one, two, three, or four palm trees. These are the Oasen-Karten. Oops, excuse me, I was reading the German rules. Oasis cards. These cards tell you how many spaces you can move a camel forward. Three of the cards are cartes de mirage. O, silly I, those are the French rules. Mirage cards. Each of the three depict one, two or three palm trees, shimmering in a mirage-like manner. These cards let you move any one of your opponent’s camels backwards the corresponding number of board spots (not literally squares, but they function the same way). Then there’s one Cameleer card, which allows you to move any one of your camels one board spot in front of the lead camel – anyone’s lead camel. Unless, of course, that camel has already reached the oasis. Finally, and most interestingly, there’s the carta della tempesta di sabbia (or, as the English say, “the Sandstorm Card”). When this is played, everyone must pick up all 12 of their cards, shuffle them, deal themselves three, and continue the trek.
Since everyone has the same cards, you can, more or less, predict (depending on how good your memory is) what your opponent/s might play. Since you always have three cards to choose from, you can delay using your more powerful cards for a more strategically significant moment. If you can save the Sandstorm card for just the right moment, you can get what will hopefully prove a better hand, and prevent your opponent/s from using theirs.
Hajo Bücken has designed a fascinating little game. It can be learned very quickly, and played in as few as ten minutes. One rule that significantly speeds up the game – when you’re counting how many spots you can move, you don’t count the camel-occupied spots. So, if there are, say, three camels in a row in front of you, and you play your one-palm Oasis card, you get, in one move, to move your camel 4 spots closer to the oasis. This is so much fun that we recommend that when you have only two players, you use two sets of camels each.
Finally, there’s getting to the oasis. There are only six oasis spots. The furthest forward is worth four points, the two behind that three points, and the three behind those, two points. Once your camel reaches any of those spots, it can no longer move. Probably because it just doesn’t want to. I mean, after that long hot trek across the mirage-filled desert, getting to all that cool water and delicious dates…. Which means that, strategically, and perhaps metaphorically speaking, it’s not always so good to be the first camel to reach the oasis. Especially when you take into account the jumping-over-camel-occupied spots rule.
Fun of a surprisingly major kind for a surprisingly wide range of ages and abilities.