Bumuntu

Bumuntu is apparently a Central African word meaning civilisation. This, however, is not a Civ game. Rather, it's an excellent abstract set collection strategy game with a clever market manipulation element thrown in for good measure.



Bumuntu comes with 10 sets of animal tiles but only eight are used in any game, so you get to choose at the outset, or randomly determine, which eight animals to use. The eight sets of tiles are 'shuffled' and placed out at random but face up on the 8x8 grid board. Alongside the board there is also a scoreboard. The actual scoring is only done at the end of play (there's no in-game scoring) but the scoreboard also acts as market board showing how each animal species will be scored at the end. Some will give points for each of the animals collected but others will only reward the players with the highest and second highest number of animals of that species. Each species' initial position on this board is random but certain 'advancement' tiles picked up in the game (all those with dark backgrounds) allow players to manipulate positions in this 'market': so you can try to push up the value of species that you are doing best in at the expense of species where you think a rival player has a majority.


Each animal has its own special action or movement capability. Players can always move their pawn to an adjacent square but if they use the movement/abilities of the animal they are on, then they collect the tile they are moving from. At minimum, players will automatically be planning one move ahead (you'll be on a tile and you'll be working out the best place to move to from that tile). You'll find tho' that Bumuntu encourages players instinctively to extend their planning: without prompting, even quite young players will soon be trying to calculate where they want to be three or four movement actions into the future. The Bumuntu players of today could turn out to be the Chess Grandmasters of tomorrow!



Tho' you have lots of options in Bumuntu, this isn't a game where players are likely to dither over their moves. Some of the animals have the effect of pushing other players' pawns, so there's potential for an opponent's 'take that' actions to screw up your carefully planned cascade of movements, but you can mitigate against this by collecting banana tokens. These are a bonus offered on half of the tiles and they can be exchanged for a free movement. The 'advancement' and set collection bonuses on other tiles will be more valuable in relation to end-game scoring, but judicious accumulation of bananas can protect you from being bumped into a position where you'll otherwise have a wasted turn.


You can expect a game of Bumuntu to take 20-30 minutes. The game scales well for different player counts (it takes 2–5 players), tho' it is perhaps at its best with three or four. With two players, the screens seem unnecessary: you could easily work out what tiles and how many bananas your opponent has just by studying the board and the tiles you've taken yourself. The screens double tho' as comprehensive player aids - showing, for example, the special action and movement for each of the animals. That's especially useful for those coming new to the game, as you may initially otherwise struggle to remember exactly what each animal does.


Tim Blank has come up with a winning design in Bumuntu: a game that can be played and enjoyed as a family game but one that can be played equally by hardened gamers as a light strategy game. Full marks too to the publishers WizKids, who have done a great job in the production of Bumuntu. The plastic tiles are solid and carry a MahJong heft to them, and the aboriginal-style art by Michael Parla adds greatly to Bumuntu's appeal.


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