Thursday, 9 July 2009

Big Kini

Big Kini came out a few years ago at the annual game fair at Essen, Germany, and was well received at the time. It was from a small publisher. It didn't become a mainstay or a classic. A few years later today, the game is rarely mentioned. However, having played it now, it actually reminds me a lot of another game which is considered a modern classic - The Settlers of Catan. The mechanics are actually very different. Where they give a similar feel is how you start out will few people and resources, and you gradually grow your small village to an empire.

I remember Big Kini's original theme was building a space empire. At the time, the publishers probably felt a sci-fi theme wouldn't sell well, so the theme was changed to exploring and controlling tropical islands. I think the sci-fi theme would have been much better and would have fit the mechanics much better. When I played the game, I had a hard time trying to not think of the space theme. It just fit so well.

In Big Kini, each player starts on an island group (3 islands) with some people and some money. The three islands on your island group each provides you a different ability - to create more people (I'm not sure whether to think of this as recruiting employees or making babies), to make money, and to travel to other island groups. There are many face-down island group tiles waiting to be discovered. During the game, you have babies, you send them out to occupy and control new island groups, and you collect trade goods. Controlling island groups is an important aspect of the game, and this is done via elections. Any island group with at least 2 people can hold an election, where players will try to win the position of baron for the island group. There are three types of positions available for your people in an island group. The baron position can only be won by election, and allows you to make use of the powers of all 3 islands in the group. The fatman (I forget the real name) position can be occupied on a first-come-first-served basis, and it allows you to use the powers of 2 islands. The oldman (I also forget the real name) position is also first-come-first-served, and it only allows you to use the power of 1 island.

This summary sheet shows all the ways of scoring. The positions of baron, fatman and oldman give you 5, 2, 1 victory points respectively. Each set of 3 different trade goods gives you 3 points, every $8 is 1 point, and every island group you discover is worth 2 points.

There are only 12 rounds in the game, and you only have 2 actions per round. Each type of action (there are 6) can only be taken up to 3 times by any player in a round. The first player to select a particular action is allowed to do it twice. The third player to select it has to pay $2. So there is an incentive to do something that noone else has done yet for that round.

This is the set-up for a 3-player game. That board on the top left is the action selection board. You place your round marker on the appropriate spot when you take your action.

The most lucrative way of scoring is in capturing the baron positions. So it is important to have many people and send them out to hold elections. This is the area majority aspect of the game. There can be negotiations with other players during elections. You can offer some benefits (a better word for bribe) in exchange for their votes. Sometimes you can also increase your vote count by paying trade goods.

In our game, I did a lot of discovery and earned many points from there. Unfortunately I didn't do so well in establishing control via elections. Both Chong Sean and Michelle did better at the elections. In the end Michelle won the game, because Chong Sean and I kept squabbling over the same island groups. 鹤蚌相争,渔人得利.

Round 6 in the game. Chong Sean (yellow) was already at my (green) doorstep.

Around game end.


Big Kini is a territory expansion game. No direct conflict, but there is a race to populate the islands quickly and to control them. How important the baron positions are seems to make the game a little single-dimensioned. However, to get to the point of holding a successful election (i.e. one that you win), there are many things you need to do - having babies, sending them out, earning money (movement costs money, discovering new island groups costs money), collecting trade goods which may help with some elections. Diplomacy didn't really come into play in our game. All our elections were between two parties, so there was no negotiation to be done. Maybe it will happen more in 4-player games.


Notso said...

I agree that a space theme sounds much more interesting. Then again the most popular boardgames seem to be farm or medevil themes;s so maybe they were going for that kind of a feel. Nevertheless, discovering islands does sound as cool as discovering planets.

This sounded interesting to me until I read about the elections and negotiation. I played De Handler a while back and decided that I hate negotiation games. So, since that sounds like it could be a big part of winning the elections, I am probably not going to play Big Kini. I haven't tried Civilization yet. I am thinking that may be the territory expansion game (on the market right now) that I would like the most.

Notso said...

I meant "medevil themes; so... discovering islands does NOT sound as cool as discovering planets"

Hiew Chok Sien said...

I think negotiations are only a small part of the game. It didn't happen at all in our 3P game, because there were always only 2 parties involved in any election. If you already control more than half of the voting rights, you don't need to negotiate. So, if you are interested in the other parts of Big Kini, don't let the negotiations stop you from trying the game.

Chong Sean said...

I hate die Haendler, and I'm the Boss.
Big Kini feels more like area control and action selection, less of negotiation game.

Back in 2005, SciFi theme and dice games are less marketable...