Theme and What is It?
Okanagan, pronounced, Oka-Nog-n to our Canadian friends, or O-Can-Again, to anyone else, is a tourist/retirement area in Canada, located in British Columbia.
The game of its namesake, is a tile laying game, where you are building influence on tiles that you lay. The more influence you have, the more "farming" you can do when the type of area your buildings are on have been completed. The framework of this game is not overly complicated, but the imagery is quite nice.
Tile laying games all got their start from games like the C word game from France.
What differentiates them is how the gameplay mechanics differ.
The largest differences in Okanagan is that you must lay a tile, an influence building, and that you don't score actual tiles, you score based on your personal goals. This means you are no longer necessarily trying to block your neighbor from scoring a tile, you may just want to focus on an entirely different part of the board, so that you can complete your own goals. Blocking your opponent holds less value in this game than it does in some others.
Personal scoring cards may have you searching for different types of fish, or stone, or wood, or a combination thereof. The personal confrontation you may see in other tile based games is not as active, as each player is looking for their own scoring combinations based on how the tiles are laid. For purely Euro style non-confrontation play, this game excels.
Comparing games, is often a means to reach an inevitable end of understanding gameplay mechanics. It is not entirely fair however. A game cannot simply scratch an itch, it must be able to stand on its own.
Okanagan stands on its own, and does so tall and proudly.
The box is quite striking, the art helps you to understand the gameplay, and the components feel nice in your hand. Initially I was optimistic.
Quality of Components and Insert
Okanagan, is built on tiles, and "meeple" buildings. The tiles are nice and thick cardboard. The board is your table. The insert separates things quite easily. The quality of Okanagan is nice, and well thought out, and feels nice in your hands.
The manual made the game slightly confusing. However, as I was playing with several seasoned board gaming veterans, we think we figured it out, and that it was not as complicated as the manual made it seem initially.
The art feels as if you are outside. It feels as if you are visiting a farming community with lots of water.
It is simple and direct, but that is what it needs to be. The box art is quite striking, and feels friendly and inviting. I think the artist was told to draw all the things they have been told are nice about Canada, and Canadian people, and they did just that. It helps that my favorite color is green. (GREEN MEEPLES UNITE!)
I have to preface the fun factor by saying that other tile laying game, is easily on my top shelf, and sits there just waiting to be opened and played.
With that being said, Okanagan is fun by it's own merits. It has taken some of the best mechanics of a tile laying game, and has attempted to make them better. Mostly that attempt has been successful. The back of the tiles have benefits, rather than being nothing, like in some games. The asynchronous scoring mechanic alleviates most direct blocking issues (I love blocking, so this was not a plus to me, but could be for many).
I think there is space for two tile laying games in your collection, and Okanagan should be one. If you have space for only one tile laying game, Matagot has made a great stride towards Okanagan being that tile for most players. The lack of direct benefit of blocking mitigates that to a great extent for me personally. But I like the game nonetheless, and will likely find myself playing it with others for precisely that reason.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
The game states it is for 10+, and based on the level of forward thinking strategy, I would guess that is probably an accurate assessment, and possibly low for some kids due to patience.
Okanagan easily made the MeepleGamers GenCon Top Ten. Its art is pretty, and gameplay clean.
I understand that my personal penchant for wanting to block other players, is probably what makes this game good for many gamers. Most board gamers get very frustrated with playing with people of my personality, because I find blocking so rewarding and love the personal satisfaction I derive from it. In Okanagan however, the benefit of blocking may or may not be there, as you are blind to what your neighbors goals are.
By choosing the low road, you may actually be helping them reach their personal goals. This is a huge risk, and just makes that mechanic not as much fun. This means that for many, they probably would choose to play Okanagan, over that other tile laying game.
Summing up Okanagan, it is the friendlier, less confrontational cousin to that other tile laying game, and as a game modeled on Canada, it should be the friendlier less confrontational cousin. I've never met a Canadian I didn't like, including the board game Okanagan.
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