Theme and What is It?
The village of Samara is looking to grow. Two to five players will take on the role of Foreman, overseeing the construction of new additions to the town. Some buildings will improve the the strength and skills of your workforce, while some grant you advantages or hinder your rivals. Expand your building options by increasing your workforce and acquiring tools. Who will be the most prestigious Foreman of Samara?
Samara is primarily a game of time management. Players, acting as foremen, will construct buildings that require a mix of labor and certain tools. Sometimes buildings will offer lasting benefits, but they always award prestige points. At the end of the game, the most prestigious foreman is the winner. To set up, players will randomly select 30 building tiles and fill the game board and seed the board with tools according to player count. The timetrack is placed so that the current month is next to the now indicator. Players will place their female pawn on the current month in turn order, then they will place a stack of two male pawns, forming a single two-strength worker, in reverse order. The player whose pawn is closest to the game board is the active player.
On a player’s turn, they may choose between four actions: get a tool, get a new worker, build a building, or take a vacation. Every action will cost time and/or labor. When taking tools or building, the rows dictate the labor cost while the column shows how many months out you must place any workers used to acquire that tool or building. Multiple workers can be combined for higher labor values. So something in the second row and fourth column would require two labor and you would place your meeples four months out on the time track under that column.
To build you will need tools, either saws, trowels, or glass. You can collect up to two of each, however, the trowels come in two varieties and you may only have one of each, while for glass you must first obtain tool A before taking tool B. To get a tool place enough workers to cover the labor cost onto the timetrack below the column in the tool was located. Similarly when building the labor strength and months to build are dictated by its location on the game board. Unless stated otherwise, you do not lose tools when building tiles. The constructed tile goes onto your foreman board facedown unless it has an ongoing ability. You do not take any tools that happened to be occupying the same space on the game board.
You could also choose to get a new worker. Only your female worker can add a new worker. You can place an active female worker onto the pink space on the timetrack furthest from her current location, then add a worker from your foreman board. If you can’t do anything with the labor available to you in a given month, you may take a vacation by moving your active workers to the first month where you already have one or more workers. This allows you to gather workers for higher labor costs. In the event that no action is possible, shift your meeple one month forward. When there are no workers left in the current month, shift the timetrack boards until there are workers at the NOW sign. If a timetrack board is emptied, the active player completes their turn, then adds the empty board back in to the end of the timetrack. Players may never go past the furthest month on the timetrack board. If all players have passed, usually after all 30 building tiles have been taken, the game ends and the foreman with the most prestige points is the winner.
Samara had me interested from the start for a multitude of reasons. It utilizes a time track, similar to Glen More or Red November, so there is the potential for efficient play to grant a player more turns than their opponents, it looks like something new and different, likely owing to its overseas heritage, and it is another of these interesting titles that Tasty Minstrel Games has discovered from an overseas market, cleaned up a little, and brought to the United States.
Game Build Quality
In Samara you will find one central game board, 36 building tiles, five sets of tool tokens, three timetrack boards, and five sets of player materials including a foreman board, and five worker pawns. I would describe the building tiles, tokens, and timetrack as being of standard thickness and are sturdy. The central board is a typical single-fold board. The foreman boards are a thinner cardboard reminiscent of posterboard so, flexible, but sturdy. The meeples are standard.
The art in Samara has a simple, playful style. The people are kind of silly, but friendly. And the buildings all have subtle touches that add character but do not overpower the iconography that is important to the gameplay. The layout of the board makes reading the available options clear and intuitive. Every player’s board also serves as a reference and the color options are well chosen so that it is easily understood.
Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion
Samara is a game of time management as players manage their building choices, trying to both improve their ability to build, and synchronize their building power in getting multiple workers in the same month of the time track. This takes some careful thought, but players are rarely forced into their building choices and the vacation option allows some flexibility in setting up for builds with higher labor costs. The box indicates ages 14 and up, though I think younger kids can grasp the mechanisms as the gameplay decisions are relatively simple and straightforward.
I enjoyed Samara. I really like this kind of time management system as a mechanism. It forces a different kind of decision-making as you also have to account for the potential time cost, beyond just the typical “what’s best for me/worse for my opponents” dichotomy. Generating enough labor power for purchasing things from the top row requires just enough forethought that you have to account for it with your decision-making, but not so much that it breaks with the game’s lighter appeal. Acquiring the prerequisite tools for certain buildings falls into a similar category. Samara provides an interesting worker-placement experience that is at just the right depth to be accessible to wide range of players, but plays in about 45 minutes once you are familiar with the rules. Players into heavier games may initially overlook Samara and that would be a mistake. I think you should make a point to try Samara and it likely has a place in many collections.