I first heard about 10 Days in Africa and 10 Days in the USA (Out of the Box Publishing, 2003 - Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum) when looking through one of the companyís catalogs. When I read how educational the game was, I immediately had negative thoughts; as educational often equals boring when it comes to board games. Still, the duo of Moon and Weissblum have produced some wonderful games, and Out of the Box had a good reputation, so I was interested in trying them out. If the ďeducationalĒ part of the game was true, Iíd have even more fodder for my ďgames are educationalĒ campaign I wage at my school.
My initial play was a two-player USA game with my wife. As soon as the game ended, we immediately played another, then switched to the Africa version. The next day, I played the game in a multiplayer situation - several times. Again, a few days later, my wife eagerly requested the game one more time. Not since Lost Cities has a game so intrigued my wife and the others I introduced it to. I have to admit, the educational value is certainly there (especially in the Africa version), and the game is excellent. I prefer the two-player version, but even with four, downtime is fairly low, decisions are gut-wrenching, but the game is fun, leaving one with a ďjust one more time!Ē feeling.
The game board is placed in the middle of the table, depicting the USA with its fifty states or the continent of Africa with forty of its countries. Each player takes two sets of racks - each numbered from one to ten, with slots to place ten tiles. A stack of tiles is shuffled and placed near the board. Starting with one player, players draw one tile, placing it in any open slot in their racks. This continues in a clockwise method, until all players have filled their racks. The rest of the tiles form a draw pile, with the top three being turned over face up next to the stacks, forming three discard piles. One player is chosen to go first, with play going clockwise.
On a playerís turn, they may draw either one of the face-up tiles of the top card from the draw pile. They then can either place the tile they took in the rack, replacing the tile there (which then goes to one of the discard piles), or discard the tile they drew. Players are attempting to complete a 10-day journey, connecting all their tiles together. Tiles are either a country (or state), an automobile, or an airplane. There are several rules concerning the tileís order.
The first and last tile must be a country (state) tile.
Country (state) tiles may be connected to each other if they are adjacent on the map.
An automobile may act as a ďwildĒ tile, substituting for another state (country) as long as the country it represents is adjacent to the countries in both adjacent tiles.
Two automobiles cannot be adjacent.
An airplane tile is one of five colors (red, yellow, orange, green, or blue) matching the country tiles, which are one of the five colors. An airplane tile can connect to country tiles, as long as both countries are the same color as the airplane tile.
On the USA map, Alaska and Hawaii may be connected by any color airplane, but thatís the only way to get to them.
If the draw pile runs out, the discards are shuffled to make a new deck, with three more cards being laid face up. At the end of a playerís turn, if they can show that all of their ten tiles are connected in the proper order, following the above rules, then they win the game!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: Both games look fantastic with clear, easy to read maps. The colors mesh well, and the borders are drawn well. The names of the countries and states are clearly marked, with arrows drawn to help easily identify the small countries and states. The tiles are thick, glossy tiles - a little bit less than half the size of a cassette tape. They shuffle fairly well, and look clean and neat against the backdrop of the racks. The racks are excellent, although I liked the wood burned effect of the Africa racks better. In fact, I enjoyed all the components of the Africa map better - OOTB obviously polished up a little after the USA game, the one published first. Nicest of all are four boxes on the African board, showing certain key rules of the game. All of the components fit in or around a small plastic insert in the small, flat sturdy box. The graphic design of both games includes the work of John Kovalic (who is tremendously talented) and they both look extremely sharp. These are games that one can be proud of when they hit the table.
2.) Rules: The rules are simple, explained on four pages of full-color laminated pages. The Africa map rules are slightly simpler, since you donít have to deal with Alaska or Hawaii, but both games are very easy to teach and learn. The game can be taught in less than a minute or so (donít I always say that about Out of the Box games?) and it doesnít take too long to get the strategies down.
3.) Strategy: There really isnít a lot of strategy in the game, per say - more like tactics. You deal with the cards you initially draw, and try to plan around them. Trying to get countries or states in your rack that have a lot of bordering countries and states is helpful, and some folk (including me) ditch Maine the minute they get it, since it only connects to one other state. The cars and airplanes sound like they are tremendously powerful cards, but with their restrictions they are useful but not game breaking. Iíve seen several games where the winner used only country/state cards, but Iíve seen others with four airplanes, connecting countries all over.
4.) Tension: One thing I really enjoy about the game is the tension involved. It reminds me of two other games, Transamerica and Rack-O. Now, I dislike both of those games, but the concepts work better here. It seems that just before I pull that last tile to connect all my tiles, winning me the game - someone else does - just like in Transamerica. Unlike Transamerica, when I win this game, I feel that itís because of something I did. The game also reminds me slightly of Rack-O, as players shuffle their tiles, trying to get them in the proper order. However, the choices of tiles to draw (the face-up card mechanic is one of my favorite, a Moon classic) put the choice in my hands. Re-arranging tiles is possible, by discarding a tile, and hoping itís still there when your turn arrives again. Iíve tried this in several games, but often the tile is taken by someone else or covered by another tile. This is annoying, but itís a risk playerís should realize they are taking. Iíve just gotten to the point where I never bank on getting one of my tiles back.
5.) Fun Factor: The game is a lot of fun but is a silent affair, usually - except the cries of anguish when another player has announced their victory. Players are usually staring hard at the board, puzzling how to best get their tiles in the order they want. This is a quiet sort of fun and may not appeal to everyone, but the game is so absorbing that everyone Iíve played with doesnít mind.
6.) Africa or USA?: If you can only get one of the two games, I would recommend Africa. The rules are easier, the components are better, and the countries are less known, making it more interesting. The USA version, however, is more difficult. There are multiple cards for some of the African countries, but only one of each US state. Still, both games are excellent; and if one is enjoyable, I would recommend picking up both, as they can be a nice change of pace. Iím hoping that other maps are released - possibly with small variants.
Whenever I type a review, I lay all the components of a game out in front of me to better reference the game. When my wife passed by, she stated that just seeing the game out made her want to play it again. That, my friends, is a rare occurrence, and is solidifying my opinion that this is one of the best two-player games on the market right now. It runs in a short amount of time and is simple yet engrossing. It really does help one learn geography in both continents and looks really good when set up on the table. If there is a game that will help us introduce this great hobby into schools, then these two are that game. If you get a chance, pick this one up. Itís not a rip-roaring party game, but a quiet, quick one full of fun.
ďReal men play board games.Ē