My local board game supplier had something nice to show me a few weeks ago: a treasure hunting game that looked suspiciously like Catan from afar. It turned out to be something else; Tobago is a game in which you use deductive reasoning to find treasures and split them amongst those who helped find them.
Its main mechanic lies with creating treasure maps. Each player is handed a few cards. Each of those cards is a clue to finding the treasure. Clues are made up of icons telling you that ‘the treasure is within a mountain area’ or ‘the treasure is not within the vicinity of a palm tree’. During their turn players can play a clue by adding them to a sequence of cards forming a treasure map. As more clues are added, the amount of hexagons possibly containing the treasure dwindles. As soon as there’s a single possible location left, players have to race each other to be the first to raise the treasure.
Once that’s done the treasure is split. Each players gets to secretly view as many treasure cards as they added clues to the treasure map, with one extra for the one who raised it. All cards are then collected, another treasure card is added, they are shuffled and starting with the one who raised the treasure, each card is openly offered to the players. Of course, because players have seen the treasure they can pass aiming for a higher value card. The trick being that there are curse cards among them as well, and whenever a curse card is drawn all further treasure cards are discarded. It allows for some pretty tense poker-face moments.
The game is lots of fun, though getting all players to read the icons on the cards properly can take up more time than anticipated. Once grasped, the game moves along quickly, with magical amulets coming into play allowing people to act twice or do other things. It’s a nice time-waster and not exactly a main dish, meaning you can play this multiple times without the players getting annoyed.
If anything, it’s ‘snack-ish’ nature may also be its greatest flaw. While it’s a fun game, you aren’t left with a lingering thought of how much fun it was or how you could improve your play next time. Instead, it just plays well, fast and smooth. There’s no apparent complexity to delve into. Again that’s not bad, but it’s weird that despite being a very fun game, Tobago doesn’t completely captivate. But maybe that’s because instead of ‘solving’ a treasure map, you are merely building it.
The way I see it, Tobago might be a fun treasure hunt, yet it’s almost clinical with none of the implied mystery or adventure involved. Though that won’t stop me from playing it in the slightest.