Calvin’s Commentaries: Okanagan

Tile laying games are by their nature generally easy for players to get into and are engaging because players stay focused on the best placement of the tile.

So anytime a new tile laying game comes out, it’s worth a close look by most gamers.

Which brings us to Okanagan: Valley of the Lakes released last year by publisher Matagot.

“The Okanagan Valley, with its huge lakes and fertile meadows awaits anyone willing to exploit it! Shape the land and expand your wealth in this tile gathering and territory building game. The players arrange tiles to design the landscape along with its natural resources. You’ll place in turns one of the three available buildings to obtain and secure these resources and complete your secret goals,” details the company website

The thing that I like is that the game is based in Canada. While little in terms of gameplay, or aesthetics, would suggest the famed Okanagan area of British Columbia, the background at least suggests game designer Emanuele Ornella had the region in mind, which as a Canadian is pretty cool.

But a pasted on theme, interesting, or not, does not a game make.

There is a solid tile laying game here, one with some interesting feature that offers interesting play which at times exceeds the tile laying classic Carcassonne, a game that sits solidly in my top-25 games of all-time.

Still, there are things I like better with Okanagan.

To start with players initially are dealt seven cards, each with goals to achieve through the game which will score points. Generally, they focus on collecting certain things; furs, fish, ore etc. You select three and discard the others.

Since goals change game-to-game there is a freshness to each outing.

Of course, you can get stuck with cards that do not match how the game plays out. Fear not at the halfway point there is a mechanic to toss some cards in favour of new ones.

Next comes tile selection. Three tiles are shown face-up, so players can select the most advantageous one. It is a better option than the blind pull of a single tile from a bag.

The downside here is that piece placement, they are nice wooden ones, is a bit confusing especially as you are learning the game. With three different types of pieces, each with a different point value, determining majority in a controlled area of the board takes some calculating.

What a player earns with area majority, and what is left for the players with influence but not a majority to collect will necessitate referring back to the rulebook quite a lot.

The game also has a quicker end mechanic. Players have a set number of wooden pieces and once those are played, a piece is placed each turn, the game ends. That is a nice aspect of Okanagan.

Whether Okanagan gets to the table often enough to just know the rules automatically will depend on how individuals like this one. For our group, we saw some elements we liked a lot, as mentioned above, but in the end, this one came out average. It would never be a game to pass on playing, but not likely to be the first pick either.

Thanks to fellow gamers Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.

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