Timbuktu is an older game by Dirk Henn, designer of Alhambra, Show Manager, Wallenstein and Shogun. Players are caravan owners who need to deliver goods to Timbuktu. Everyone starts with a number of fully loaded caravans, each represented by a camel with a letter on its back. The game board is made of a number of sections depending on the number of players. The camels move from board section to board section until they eventually reach Timbuktu. At each section, robbers will strike at specific locations and rob specific goods types. So the caravans will lose goods along the way. Eventually when everyone reaches Timbuktu, you sell all your goods and the richest player wins. The value of a goods type depends on how scarce it is, i.e. how many such goods have been robbed during the trip. This is quite clever and makes perfect sense.
Where the robbers strike and what goods they aim for are determined by three types of robber cards. One card type tells you the row, another tells you two specific positions (between 1 and 5), and the last one tells you two specific goods types (out of five types). When you put together one card of each type, you'll get specific information on where the robbers will strike and what goods they will demand. Before the start of each leg of your journey, every player gets a set of cards (I did a 5P game - I'm not sure about lower player counts), and thus knows where a specific band of robbers will strike. Every round the players secretly decide which of their camels to move, and then take turns revealing their cards and moving their camels. A camel can move to any of the five rows in the next section, just that if you follow the arrows it's free. Otherwise that camel (i.e.caravan) must pay one good. The camel must move to the frontmost free space within the row. Some spaces trigger an information exchange. If a camel lands on such spots, every player passes his robber cards set clockwise. That means everyone will gain more information about where another band of robbers will strike.
The main section of player board shows your camels (i.e. caravans) and what each is carrying. At the start of the game each camel carries four goods. Suggested goods combinations are printed on the player board, but you don't necessary have to follow them. The information along the bottom is the robber cards in the deck. The numbers mean the possible combinations of positions where the robbers will strike, and the goods mean the possible combinations of goods the robbers will demand.
There are always two rows in the next section a camel can go to for free, by following the arrows. To go to other rows, the camel needs to pay one good. The two spaces with the card icons will trigger information exchanges among the players.
Eventually the new section will fill up as the camels advance from the previous section. Now it's time for everyone to reveal his robber cards. Camels at the hot spots are robbed if they carry the specific goods the robbers want. Then you move on to the next leg of your journey, until you reach Timbuktu.
We had five players, which I think is the best player count. Every leg of the journey starts with players knowing very little information. However as card swaps are triggered, you'll know more and more. By the time you see the third set of cards, it is not hard to narrow down the remaining possibilities for the two remaining sets you haven't seen. You may even accurately guess them by observing your fellow players. The player board shows all the cards in the decks, which helps you calculate all possibilities.
All lined up and ready to go.
The idea of the game is quite straightforward. However I find that we played quite slowly. It may be because we are all gamers, so when presented with information, we must make good use of it and do all the maths. I cannot resist the urge to do proper analysis when I know clearly I have information to help me narrow down the remaining risk areas. Don't ask me to play by gut feel when I know I can apply logical thinking. Despite the slow progress, no one complained, because we were all doing the same type of logical deduction. This is a deduction game! That is quite unexpected.
Once the game starts, some rows will have more than one camel of the same player, e.g. the two red camels in the moon (yellow) row.
My first good was robbed, from Camel E. Those two large round markers on the left are for indicating (a) the start player for the current leg of the journey, and (b) the start player for the current round. The cards at the bottom are the robber cards.
We were taking our sweet time mulling over the board.
It was quite funny to watch others' camels step on the "land mines" because they didn't have the information I had. It was also fun to taunt others when they were unsure how to move their camels. You do need to watch how others act because their actions will give you clues about what they know. If there is a spot that everyone seems to be trying to avoid, that may well be a land mine. Or to quote Admiral Ackbar: "It's a trap!"
Eventually you'll know much information, but that doesn't mean smooth sailing. It depends a lot on how your camels are positioned in the previous section. Sometimes you are stuck with no options. Sacrificing one good to move to another row is not a small price to pay. Player order is important. You need to take into account what your neighbours know. Since cards are passed clockwise, you will know a bit of what your neighbours know, and what they know you know. You'll know when your right neighbour will take a safe spot and leave the next sticky spot for you. So you need to choose your camels wisely.
Seeing people get robbed was hilarious. This happened more in the early game. Towards late game some camels didn't have many goods on them any more, so robberies became rarer. In fact I think we had none in the final leg of our journey. That was a little anticlimactic. The difference between the values of the goods did not turn out to be a large factor, at least not as much as I had expected. Winning was more about how many goods you had remaining, and less about the goods types. I can't say whether this is normal or it was just our particular game.
Approaching Timbuktu now. We were in the second to last leg of the journey. By scanning our player boards you can see we have all suffered losses, some more than others.
I like the decorative elements of the game boards.
We called this the stock market. These are the goods robbed from the caravans. They indicate the value of each good type at game end. At the moment coffee (leftmost) is worth the most - 11pts.
Finally, arrival at Timbuktu.
Timbuktu has a clean system that is easy to understand. Usually it is games from 1990's and 2000's which give me such a feeling. Some of the newer Eurogames give me an impression that they are adding stuff for the sake of having more stuff. Timbuktu is not simplistic nor is it complex. It is as simple as it can be, but not simpler. Some of the rounds can feel a little repetitive. It may be because we had a 5P game, so the number of rounds is highest. There is much deduction. You need pen and paper to take notes. I find it very engaging and there is little down time. It may drag if you play with players who take too long to think. I didn't have this problem. I'm not sure whether it's because we were all equally quick witted or equally slow witted. I'd like to think the former.