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Rapa Nui (Mixed Review/Reflection)

1 December 2012 3 Comments

Plunge into a mysterious culture at the other end of the world – Rapa Nui, Easter Island!

Become a powerful tribal chief and decide which valuable tribe members will next serve your village: loggers, priests or hunters and gatherers? Or would you rather erect an impressive stone statue more valuable than anything else?

The game system is refined and novel: Take one card from the general display and reveal the card lying underneath – which could be disastrous for all! Only those who make the right decisions and win a little favor from the gods will lead his tribe to eternal glory.

~Kosmos

Component Quality:

The components for Rapa Nui are really nothing to write home about, but that’s probably a good thing. They serve their purpose nicely and don’t get in the way. At the time of this writing, the game has only been released in German, but there is no language dependant information on the cards and the translated rules can be acquired on BoardGameGeek.

The game is made up of a two decks of cards and some small cardboard chits for counting wood, used as the game’s currency, and victory points. One deck of cards consists of normal poker-sized cards and will be used to build up a display of workers, priests, and temples in front of each of the players. The other deck is comprised of the tiny cards typically seen in a Fantasy Flight game and sometimes referred to as “Hobbit cards”. These smaller cards come in four resource types: flowers, fish, wheat, and turnips. The size of these cards is not really a problem as you do not handle them a whole bunch. When a Moai is built (more on this later) you will look through your available resource cards and find one to place on a sacrificial stone.

The sacrificial stone is the only real standout component in Rapa Nui. It’s not even necessary to the gameplay. They could have used just a rectangle with some artwork or even just had the rules designate a space on the table to “sacrifice” resource cards, but the roughly carved stone really holds the table space together. And, it just looks cool!

(image by KOSMOS)

Gameplay Impressions:

There is much more to Rapa Nui’s gameplay than meets the eye. I first became interested in the game after watching the Essen Live Stream on BGG for Essen 2011. Sometimes, I can get a good sense watching a game demonstration if it’s something I will enjoy. It doesn’t always pay off, so I was still a bit trepidatious about making a purchase. Even though I felt confident enough from watching the video explanation, I had a suspicion that the game may be more simplistic than I would like. Being a KOSMOS game as well as being designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (designer of Carcasonne), I could see it either being a random luck-fest or a sublimely excellent filler. Thankfully, Rapa Nui is very much the latter.

In Rapa Nui, each player will start out with a hand of three cards along with one card in front of them on the table. The card on the table is a Lumberjack, responsible for generating the wood that players will be spending to construct monuments, known as Moai. Wood can also be used to purchase resource cards to sacrifice, and is also used to play multiple cards on your turn.

The starting cards in a player’s hand are not randomized. Each set of starter cards has been color coded and depicts three different resource gatherers. Each of the starter sets is slightly different from the next. Once players are familiar with the starting hands, this will play a decent role in determining opening strategies. However, this can be completely ignored for your first several games.

Card Drafting

The main action players will be doing on their turn is very simple. Play a card, draw a card. Sounds simple right? It is, but as I mentioned earlier in the review, there is more to Rapa Nui than meets the eye.

Most of the time you can only play one card at a time. This is always true for the Lumberjacks, Priests, and Moai. But, if you have more than one of the same type of resource, perhaps two fishermen, you can play the first for free, and then pay one wood for each addition fishermen. Once you have played one (or more) cards, you will draw back up to your hand size of three. There are a couple of types cards you can play. Most of these cards depict a worker of some sort, gathering a resource. In addition to the Lumberjack, who gathers wood, there are four types of resource gatherers. I am not sure to their exact name, since the game is German, but you have one resource gatherer for each of the following: flowers, fish, wheat, and turnips. There are also Priests which “gather” victory points. Even the Moai monuments will generate wood or victory points. It will be in the players’ interest to get out a decent variety of the various types of cards, but they will also want to try and have the most of a given type.

After placing a card in front of you, the next step is to figure out which card to draw. To start the game, there will be four columns of four cards each that the players can draw from. You may only choose the top card from any of these columns, but you can see the cards underneath. If you played more than one card, you will draw one card at a time. You may draw from different columns or the same column, always choosing the topmost card from any given column one at a time until you are back to your hand size of three.

If you ever draw the last card in a column, you will immediately replenish that column, drawing four cards from the deck and continuing to draw more cards if needed.

What’s important is the last card you uncovered! Once you have drawn back up to your hand limit, you will check the last card uncovered and then all players will immediately score for the type of resource represented by the last uncovered card. For example, if the last card uncovered was a Lumberjack, who is associated with wood gathering, each player will count the number of Lumberjacks they have on the table and take that many wood tokens into their supply. However, if a player has the most Lumberjacks on the table they will get an extra wood.

Each resource is scored in a similar manner. If the last uncovered card is a Priest, you score victory points for each Priest instead of wood. You get a bonus in a similar manner to the Lumberjacks. If Moai are scored, each player chooses to score either wood or victory points. However, the gatherer cards associated with the four resources score a bit differently. It doesn’t matter how many cards you have of a given type, you only collect one of that resource. If you have a clear majority, you just get one extra card. So, the most you can collect on a single scoring is two cards.

(image by Olav F.)

Sacrificing and the Moai

Finally, we come to the Moai. Other than the victory points acquired by the Priests during the game, the Moai are the only other way to score points. So, how do the Moai work exactly.

First, to play a Moai, you must pay a construction cost of seven wood. Immediately after a Moai is constructed, each player starting with the person to the left of the current player must sacrifice one of their resource cards. Going clockwise around the table, each player places one of their resource cards face up onto the sacrificial stone. Once it gets back to the current player, they will sacrifice a card from their hand, but this card will be played face down. Finally, the current player will also take a card from the supply of resource cards and place it on the sacrificial stone face up.

At the end of the game all of the cards on the sacrificial stone will be revealed and sorted. Whichever card there is the most of will score three points for each card the players have matching that type. Second most will get two points, and then one point and finally zero. Let me give a quick example. Say there are six fish, five flowers, two turnips, and only one wheat. Each player will get three points for every fish they still have in their hand, two for each flower, one for each turnip and nothing for any wheat they may have had. I should also mention that players will get four points for each Moai played in front of them at the end of the game.

This method of scoring is fantastic! On one hand you want to put a bunch of one type onto the sacrificial stone and then focus on collecting that resource. But, as you sacrifice these resources, you are depleting your hand of the very cards with which you will score points! You will need to pay attention to what others are playing and really look for opportunities to leech off of the efforts of others.

At this point in time, my group has done a lot of tinkering with some different variants for this portion of the game. We have tried keeping all sacrificed cards face up as well as putting all of them face down except for the final card place on the stone from the general supply. I personally enjoy keeping everything face up, but others in my group prefer the opposite. I will say that even if you keep everything hidden, you still have a fair sense of the probabilities of what’s on the stone, based on the amount of each resource card left in the general supply as well as how many of each gatherer players have in front of them.

(image by Olav F.)

Was It Fun?

Rapa Nui was immediately enjoyable to myself and my group. The first handful of plays saw varying strategies win. Sometimes the winner would abusively score Priests, building up a large pile of victory points throughout the course of the game, tacking on just enough from the final scoring of the sacrifice pile. Other times, the winner would dominate with lots of Lumberjacks amassing a huge amount of wood and building several Moai. The game unravels itself nicely. It’s simple enough to teach quickly and new players can jump right in. As different resource cards pile up on the sacrificial stone, and the draw decks starts to dwindle there is a nice anxiety that arises toward the end of the game. You aren’t exactly sure which of the sacrificed resources will come out on top, but you should have a good idea. If it’s close, it can be very exciting when you total everything up.

Rapa Nui is easy to introduce to new players as well as novice gamers. It plays quickly enough and simply enough, but still retains some nice strategic and tactical elements that provide a nice payoff at the end of the game.

Is It Still Fun?

Yes! Heck yes! I am currently at about fifty plays of Rapa Nui. It’s rare that a game receives that much attention from me, especially a game so recently released. It helps that my group can get two plays completed within an hour, even with a full boat of four players. At this point, we have probably played it out and plays are extremely automatic. I think that should be expected. However, the games are still fun and we can easily juggle the possibilities presented on each turn and still banter about in casual conversation. Rapa Nui is a game that remains easy to break out with any player count and remains interesting even after repeated plays.

Conclusion & Rating: (8.0/10.0)
My numerical rating has actually increased over time with Rapa Nui. This game has seemed to retreat from my group’s interest several times only to once again return to the top of the most demanded games list. Like any game, you are going to burn out on it after consistent play, but this one keeps cropping up. There is enough room in the game to explore different tacks on the basic strategies. It stays within the the same relative strategic boundaries, but each turn’s available choices are always informed by the available information on the table. Replayability has stayed high given the order in which the cards in the draw columns are distributed at the beginning of the game. And, there is just enough excitement that builds up towards the end of the game to keep the experience satisfying.

“Stocking Killer”:
I originally subtitled the Video Review as “Stocking Killer”. I will admit that this is a relatively lame subtitle. But, Rapa Nui is very much a stock (or commodities) speculation game. As players uncover cards to score, build Moai, and build up their display of cards, they will want to try and build up a dominance in a couple of different resources. From the available information on the table, you can really get a sense of which resources other players will want scored and which resources they are trying to dominate.

As I’ve stated previously, the best part of the game is the final scoring of the sacrificial stone. Will your hard work and investment in flowers and fish pay off? Did you unwittingly help your fellow competitors? Did you diversify your interests enough? Did you specialize too much? All of these basic economic concepts obfuscated and compressed into a quick twenty to thirty minute experience? Excellent!

Joel Eddy
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User Review:
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
Rapa Nui (Mixed Review/Reflection), 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

3 Comments »

  • Geof Gambill said:

    Could’t agree more Joel. Excellent writeup! This game has layers that are not immediately apparent, and it only seems to get better with more plays. This is, quite honestly, on my short list of best games from last year. Short play time, tough decisions, high tension. A great game! Maybe a long view? :)

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  • Joel Eddy (author) said:

    Definitely.

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  • Matt Riddle said:

    i need to get this one.

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    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

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