Quick Look: Buru: Ambelau
Designers: Stephen Wren, Alex Flagg, Taran Lewis Kratz
Artists: Enggar Adirasa, Dann May
Publisher: Crafty Games
Year Published: 2021
I recently had a chance to review an Indonesian-themed game called Buru , which is currently on Kickstarter, and received a prototype to review last week. You may check out my initial impressions for the original base game here, but today I am also going to be covering the Ambelau expansion that is also going to be available for Buru’s Kickstarter.
Ambelau takes the same formula for Buru and adds a few new interesting steps and options for the gameplay. New pieces include a circular side board, two new totems and altar to pay tribute to, a guide and canoe token, a and several new cards and decrees that pertain to the new altars that are available.
The name Ambelau according to the instruction manual is derived from an actual island of the same name that is approximately 20 kilometers from the location of Buru, which for the purposes of this expansion, makes perfect sense (more on this later). My wife, having been born in Indonesia, had never heard of Ambelau before, but perhaps she can’t be faulted given that Indonesia consists of more than 16,000 islands—I certainly wouldn’t expect her to know them all!
With that being said, being that Ambelau itself is another island in close proximity to Buru, it makes that the new board is a small, circular board that is designed to attach to the outskirts of the main board. The design here is seamless, and allows both boards to be placed with non-existent obtrusion, with the new board being placed between the Shore and the Sacred Lake on the original board. This essentially creates a new Region where players compete for resources during the Morning and Afternoon phases of the game, allowing players to compete for the resources and spirits on Ambelau. However, it needs to be said that while there is a new region to explore, you still only retain 4 Explorer tokens to bid with, meaning that with 5 regions , you won’t be able to bid for all areas this time around necessarily, meaning that there is big potential for a vacuum in certain areas if people don’t bid on a certain region, which can make for easy pickings for strategic players…
During the Afternoon phase, each player who was active in the Ambelau region gets to determine who was triumphant in the area, consistent with the original rules. However, when it comes to taking turns in the region, players get to move a new Canoe meeple token that circumnavigates the Amebelau region, with a number of spaces moved equivalent to or less than the value of each players Exploration tokens in the region. This grants players who expended greater values in Explorers more control over where they land in the Ambelau region.
Each space on the area can generate resources, free Tribute/Esteem points, the ability to task villagers, and even gain a fancy new Guide token, which gives the earning player a free Explorer token that can be utilized for the next bidding phase—this is just worth one point for the purposes of bidding, but this is an instant advantage, that grants a number of strategic possibilities…the downside is that the guide is only a 1-time use, so if you want another one, you must be sure to land on the appropriate spot on the Ambelau board.
In Addition to the Ambelau add on, the game also includes an “Ukum” variant, which gives additional options that can be played on their own or concurrently with Ambelau.
The manual describes Ukum as meaning “Justice” in Indonesian — My wife says the translation more often means “Law” in her experience, but for all intents and purposes, the term has applicability regardless of what translation you use. The Ukum expansion gives you a placard to place over the original circle where Sprit Totems are placed on the original game board—most locations for the Spirit totems stay in their original spots, but for the Sacred Lake, this creates an area for a new totem for the region—in the original game there was no option to pay tribute to a Spirit for the sacred lake, but with the Ukum expansion, you can now do this.
However, the method of gaining Esteem for paying tribute to Ukum differs significantly from the other regions, where simply paying resources is the usual form taken. Rather, one must dispense with lawless vagabonds and traitors that live in the region, which is represented with new cards that are added to the Village area—if you happen to buy or obtain these cards in the Afternoon phase, you may exile these evil-doers from Buru as a form of paying tribute to Ukum—when it comes time to pay tribute in the Sacred Lake, you may discard/trash the malicious villagers to generate Esteem with Ukum.
Gameplay is pretty straightforward, and remains essentially the same as in the main game of Buru. And I must say that if things differed too much, I would say that it bodes poorly for the original game, but thankfully, it does not. The reason for my saying this is that expansions can be tricky territory. If they change things around too much, and make things dramatically better, it often leaves me wondering why the expansion wasn’t just incorporated as part of the main rule set, and that the expansion itself was a bandaid for a substandard original game design. And I have had this happen many times before, where an expansion fixed things that shouldn’t have needed fixing in the first place if the original game had been up to snuff.
Thankfully, with Buru and Ambelau , neither is the case. Ambelau just gives you more of a good thing, rather than rewriting the rules. If you enjoy Buru and find yourself being drawn to it over and over again, Ambelau will be a great match, as it does add new contents that essentially act as variant modes that keep things interesting—the fundamental core to gameplay remains true to the original, while creating new options that create new options for interaction and strategy. Which for me is the very definition of a good expansion!
Go back either game on Kickstarter HERE!
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer