28th Jan2019

‘Raiatea’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

raiatea-box

In Polynesian society, the Arioi were a secretive society of men and women who revered the war god Oro. These Arioi would gather great offerings and celebrate their ascension to more and powerful status with great offerings. Their ever more elaborate tattoos would mark their official rank, with only the most well respected and generous Arioi achieving the highest position in society. Among all the Polynesian islands with practicing Arioi, the seat of power resided on Raiatea, which is thought to be the home of Polynesian society.

In board game form, Raiatea is about ascending to become the most powerful Arioi on the island by completing tasks across several action rounds. At three intervals during the game, ceremony rounds will allow the players to spend the wealth, mana and commodities that they have collected in partial secrecy behind personal screens. Powerful (and sometimes forbidden) rituals will be performed and missions undertaken in honour of Oro will be completed. When the third ceremony is over, the player with the highest score (usually between twenty five and forty) will win.

Raiatea is playable by three to five players and despite featuring two distinct rounds (action and ceremony) and a number of steps to work through, it is actually quite simple to learn. The action rounds involve a simple process in which players take turns drawing an action card and placing it in front of them. Each card features a simple action such as drawing pearls, gathering at the forest, trading at the market, swapping masks, trading commodities for tattoos or hiring priests. Each of these actions features a Kahuna bonus for the player who chooses it, as well as a base benefit which is received by all players.

This follow action approach ensures that there is essentially no downtime during an action round in Raiatea, yet the Kahuna bonuses can be quite powerful. Several allow the lead player to take the action twice, whilst others allow an additional priest to be hired, or for more pearls to be drawn, for example. That’s not all though, because the Arioi on Raiatea are constantly adding new supporters to their entourage. Pearl Divers, Gatherers, Shaman and Merchants all add to the strength of actions, but only for those that recruit them, and the more followers of each kind that a player has, the better.

When the pearl diving action is taken, for example, a four sided dice will be rolled that will provide all players with a number of pearls equal to the roll. The Kahuna will also receive three pearls for their bonus. Next, any Arioi that has one or more Pearl Diver’s in their entourage will gain four pearls if the roll of the dice is equal to or lower than the number of the roll. For example, if a Kahuna player rolls a two on the dice and they have two Pearl Diver’s, then they will gain three pearls for their Kahuna bonus, two for rolling a two and then four more because the rolled number (two) is equal to the Pearl Diver’s that work for them.

In classic eurogame style, this approach means that turns become progressively more involved and powerful as the game progresses, with the first action round passing in a matter of minutes (once the players are familiar with the game) and the later rounds taking considerably longer. The ceremony rounds are certainly more complex at first, but a handy printed guide around the central Marae (or meeting place) helps. Players will first appoint priests (by paying pearls) and generate mana, which can then be spent to draw a number of ritual and forbidden ritual cards based on their current rank. Higher ranks are achieved by moving up the tattoo track during action rounds – something which is worth points in itself, let alone access to the more powerful ritual cards.

The next few steps of the ceremony round are perhaps the most interesting aspects in Raiatea. Firstly, players will bid an amount of mana to determine who is leading the ritual – this is done by holding mana secretively in hand and then revealing it simultaneously. The highest bidder is then able to choose their divine gift; a tattoo or a commodity, for example, first. The second, third and fourth highest bidders (depending on player count) then choose one of the remaining gifts, with the player to act last being unable to take a benefit.

All mana bid during this round is thrown into a bag (along with any mana left from the previous ceremony) as are all ritual cards that players intend to use. Each of these cards will have a clip matching the colour of the player who wishes to cast it attached. These rituals are then laid out on the table by cost, with the lowest cost rituals first and the more expensive ones next, in ascending order. Mana is then assigned to the rituals from lowest to highest, with each ritual that can be paid for being executed and the bonuses that it provides to the casting player being taken. It is entirely possible to bid a small amount of mana and have everyone else cast your low cost spells here, or conversely you can add lots of mana in the hopes of casting the expensive, forbidden ritual that will provide you with a powerful bonus.

After rituals are completed, players will have the opportunity to add to the To’o statues. This is represented by drawing individual, randomised chits from the three statues based on which ceremony phase is underway. In the ceremony phase, only level one To’o tiles can be taken (worth one point each,) whilst in the second, the level two tiles (worth two points each) are in play. You can guess what happens in round three. The interesting thing about these tiles is that they are revealed at the end of the previous ceremony round, effectively allowing players to plan for them across the action round. This, largely, is because completing elements of the To’o relate to achieving certain milestones or paying certain bounties – such as pearls, commodities or mana.

Over the course of each game (about an hour to ninety minutes) Raiatea provides players with a real sense of progression in the best possible way. Players begin the game by taking relatively simple actions that result in simple, binary rewards, but as their entourage expands and their power (on the tattoo and priest track) grows, their ability to optimise and complete more powerful rituals comes to the fore. Gathering commodities from the forest to trade at the market remains consistently important thanks to powerful benefits that can come from manipulating a simple economy of supply and demand.

The fact that most of what each Arioi has in their possession is hidden adds an unusual twist to a eurogame, and I also like that the design uses this secret information both indirectly (with the screens) and directly through the secret bidding process. As far as eurogames about action selection go, I think Raiatea does an exceptional job of immersing the players into its theme. On that note, Raiatea is an exceptionally well made, beautiful game. The pearls and mana tokens, for example, are plastic domes in a myriad of gorgeous colours, whilst the board art, whilst a little busy, is really evocative of the subject matter.

Ultimately Raiatea is a very enjoyable eurogame that seems to play well at all counts (especially four) and which will never fail to impress when laid out on the table. The action selection is simple but rewarding for all players, whilst the ceremony rounds is fairly unique, but well thought out and enjoyable both for the process of undertaking the rituals and also because it tends to result in a reasonable jump forwards in points. Raiatea is well worth your time and attention, especially if you are interested in mid to heavier weight eurogames with a twist.

**** 4/5

Raiatea is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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