Monday, 15 February 2010


Tongiaki is another game played at Carcasean with Wan, Shan and Chong Sean. It's a slightly older game (2004).

The Game

Players are indigenous people trying to explore new islands and establish settlements on these islands. They grow their population and try to have presence on as many islands as possible by game end. At the start of the game, all players have some boats (which represent their people) on Tonga, the starting island. There are 16 island tiles and 16 water tiles in the game. During the game tiles are drawn, and when the last island or water tile is drawn and placed, the game ends.

Each island has a number of beaches, and each beach has a number of slots for boats. On most turns, the active player "has babies" - doubling the number of boats on one island. New boats are placed on empty beach slots, and whenever a beach is filled up, the boats depart to try to discover a new island to settle. Here comes the dangerous part - if a water tile is drawn, and if the number of boat colours in the fleet is less than the number on the ocean path, the whole fleet is lost. This means there is incentive for the players to work together, to improve the chances of successful sea travel.

Whenever you are the only tribe on an island, you can lock it, by declaring it your royal island. Noone else will be allowed to enter this island anymore, and only you score the points for this island. Sometimes this is also useful to block off a section of the board from other players.

The Play

Chong Sean has played this game before, and had a better idea what to do than the rest of us. From quite early on, our natives roughly broke up into two groups, one going east, and the other going northeast. The western group is mostly Shan and Chong Sean's people. The north eastern group has Wan, Chong Sean and my people. The western group found a small island group. The north eastern group eventually found that the start island of Tonga was actually part of a very big island group. Shan was a bit stuck in the west. She had many people, but since there were only hers and Chong Sean's tribes in that area, it was hard to explore further. Wan also had a dilemma. He lost many people to "sailing mishaps", and it was difficult to spread his presence. I was the first to lock an island. I thought I did alright, but not as well as Chong Sean, who had the most presence overall. It is actually quite hard to kick someone off an island. Not impossible, but it is a little tricky.

Still quite early in the game, when we roughly split into two groups heading towards two different directions.

Tonga, on the right, is the start island, and doesn't give scores. The scores of the islands range from 2 to 5. They are written in the centre of the islands.

By mid game, it was very obvious that Chong Sean was leading by a big margin. It seemed impossible to catch up. Then the bash-the-leader / bash-the-game-owner instincts kicked in, and Chong Sean started losing people left, right and centre. Somehow, by a perfect storm of nasty moves, we pushed him down to last position by game end. I, being in second position at mid game, benefited most and I won the game. Wan, whose chances for expansion seemed the most bleak earlier, actually came back to reach 2nd position.

The boats lying down in the centre of islands mean those islands have been locked. They are inaccessible to everyone now. Boats that land here must turn back immediately.

Towards end game.

Notice how Chong Sean (yellow) had been kicked out of the western area by Shan (red). He used to have more presence in the east too, but had lost much of it by now.

The Thoughts

Tongiaki may give an impression of having a lot of luck, because of the tile drawing. I find that many aspects of the game is actually very deterministic, and you can plan and strategise with quite a fair bit of control. Indeed the tile drawing introduces some luck, but the game was more strategic than I had expected. It is quite tactical too. Sometimes the board situation can change dramatically between your turns, and you have to reconsider your plans, who to ally with and who to hurt.

And yes, there can be a lot of hurt in this colourful, palms-swaying-in-the-sea-breeze and innocent-looking game. Whenever you guide a fleet to discover a new island or to land at an already discovered island, you have the power to distribute the arriving boats (with some restrictions), and you can use this power to put your opponents in poor positions, even forcing their boats to set sail and sink. That's one way to force your opponents from an island - forced sailing. Or you can also strand some of your opponents' boats on long beaches, which take a long time to fill up. These boats will likely be stuck for a long time and will waste your opponents' turns.

I enjoyed the game very much, but I think it needs at least four players to be good. I doubt the game will be fun with 2 or 3, especially not 2. The game takes a little getting used to at first, but soon becomes quite quick. There is quite a bit of planning and strategising that can be done, despite the simple rules and gameplay. It gives me a similar feeling as when I play Carcassonne - quite fast-paced, and has some interesting decisions throughout most of the game. It's a bit deeper than Carcassonne, and is about the same weight. There is more player interaction than Carcassonne because you are forced to work together on the sailing trips.

I probably would have bought the game if it works better with 2 players. I did a quick search at and was surprised to find that it is still available at some online retailers.

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