Tobago Review


Designer: Bruce Allen (2009)
Publisher: Rio Grande, Zoch Verlag
# of Players: 2-4
Play Time: 60 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #178/7.07
Weight: Medium Light
Category: Family Game

This review originally appeared in Issue #2 of Thru-the-Portal.

In Tobago, players try to collect the most buried treasure. They do this by working together to build maps that narrow down the location of the treasure, and then racing to dig it up and have the first shot when it’s divvied out.

If you can’t say anything else about this game, you’ve got to agree that it’s absolutely freaking beautiful. There are three double-sided board segments covered with gorgeous art depicting six different terrain types and the surrounding ocean, and which can fit together in 32 unique configurations. And as if that weren’t enough, there are also these 10 cool little figurines of statues, palm trees, and wooden huts which are all placed around the board for extra variety.

You’ve also got two small decks of cards for clues and treasures. The treasure deck is arranged and set on the edge of the board for use later, while players are dealt a small hand of clue cards. These clue cards help to find the different treasures by saying that they either are or are not in or near a particular feature on the map. For example, cards might say that the treasure is in a forest hex, is not next to the largest lake, or is within two hexes of a palm tree. The cards actually use pictures and symbols to say all these things, but they’re pretty self-explanatory.

Four piles of wooden treasure marker cubes are placed next to the board, and maps to find them are begun by drawing an initial clue card for each. These markers are placed on the board to show which spaces could still contain that treasure, and as the maps develop, cubes are removed until only one is left. And that’s where the treasure is!

Game Basics  (click here for complete game rules) 

On each turn, players can either add a clue card to a treasure map or move their ATV. When playing a clue card, it is added to one of the four maps in order to narrow down where that treasure could be. Each card must therefore reduce the number of possible spaces, be sure not to contradict any previously played card, and leave at least one possible location. When only one cube remains for a particular treasure, players can then use their turns to race their ATV over to it and dig it up!

But the cool thing is that the person who gets to the treasure first doesn’t get all of it. Instead, there is a little mini-game where you divide the treasure cards among all of the people who contributed to the map. This keeps players plugged in even when it’s not their turn, and encourages the semi-cooperative aspect of contributing to and maybe even completing maps for treasures that you’re not close enough to discover.

After a treasure is found and distributed, a new map is restarted for it, and players continue to build maps and discover treasures until the entire treasure deck is exhausted.

There are a couple of other wrinkles in play, including some mystical amulets that appear after each treasure is found and some cursed treasure that can appear later on, but the core of the game continues to be the unique deductive element where you have to plan ahead and account for the actions of the other players. 

Tobago provides a consistently satisfying play experience. While you’re always doing the same kinds of things, there’s still a lot of room for planning in how and where you will place your clues. The game can drag a little bit at times, especially if people stress too much about which clues to play, but it rarely outstays its welcome. And with the amulets and the extra actions that they can give you, the opportunity for pulling off some really cool turns opens up later on as well. So even if you don’t win, the game can give a nice sense of accomplishment just from making your contributions to the maps and collecting your treasure cards.

What I think…

I really like Tobago, and perhaps more importantly, my wife absolutely loves it. I’ve played a number of times with every number of possible players, and it’s always been a lot of fun. In fact, I played it 8 times in the first week that I owned it!

I’ve already gone on about some of the reasons why it’s a cool game, but for the most part, it mostly all comes down to the incredibly new and unique map-building mechanic. Actually seeing how your clues narrow down the possibilities of where the treasure might me, and eventually learning to make that work for you, is pretty exciting.

However, the spatial nature of being able to visualize how a clue will affect the map can be hard for some people to get their brain around at times. But for the most part, Tobago relies on a rather simple mechanic at its core, and it should be approachable by both families and gamers alike.

And finally, Tobago also captures its theme very well. Between the gorgeous board and bits and the map-building and treasure-splitting mechanics, you actually get the feeling that you’re searching for these buried treasures. So if the treasure-hunt theme appeals to you at all, or if you’re just looking for a really solid family-weight boardgame, Tobago is a fantastic choice. 

The Verdict! 

Tobago also just won the Golden Geek  award for Best Family Game!

Rules: The rules are very simple, but some people can have a little trouble getting their heads around the clue card placement.
Downtime: Turns are short (play a card or move your ATV) most of the time, so it moves well. 
Length: Most games run right at an hour, but sometimes it can drag on a bit.
Player Interaction: Nothing direct, but there’s lot of competition for influence over the maps and then to race for the treasures.
Weight:  Medium Light
GamerChris’ Rating: Tobago is a great family game, and one of Gwen’s favorites, so I am happy to rate it an 8/10


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