Bora Bora.

I published a lot of content for ESPN Insiders the last 48 hours, including:

That’s all on moves that have already occurred, but I’ll continue posting this week as more stuff breaks.

One of our favorite new games of the past few years is 2011′s The Castles of Burgundy, which is one of the few games we’ve come across that brought an entirely new approach to the somewhat stale game styles like worker placement. The rules are lengthy but gameplay isn’t complex, and the game works a lot of decision-making into under an hour of playing time. It’s been a modest hit, rating very highly at Board Game Geek (12th overall) as well as with me, so it’s unsurprising that we’re now seeing other games with similar mechanics come along, such as the brand-new Ravensburger relase Bora Bora, a beautifully rendered game that borrows much from Castles of Burgundy but adds a new setting and a few minor twists.

In Bora Bora, two to four players set about building huts on the five islands on the game board so they can collect resources from the land and hire natives to perform various tasks, all with the goal of acquiring victory points to be tallied after the game’s six rounds. There are numerous ways to rack up these points, such as converting natural resources to buildings on your player board, placing priests in the central board’s temple, completing a task tile at the end of a round, buying jewelry with shells, or gaining status points in each round. Most point acquisitions come through a series of moves; for example, hiring a female native gets you shells, with which you can buy a piece of jewelry that is worth from 1 to 9 victory points at the end of the game, or that can be used to fulfill certain task tiles. Gaining natural resources helps you place a two-space building on the twelve-space building area on your player card, a move that is worth 10 points in the game’s first two rounds but just 4 points in the final two rounds.

The central board during the final round of play.

A round in Bora Bora comprises three phases: Rolling dice to place them on action tiles; using your natives for actions; and a scoring/roundup phase where the main board is refreshed with new native and task tiles. Your moves are dictated by dice rolls, as in Castles of Burgundy, although Bora Bora offers fewer ways to manipulate the dice. In Bora Bora, each player has his/her own set of three dice and can place those dice on any of five (for a two-player game) to seven (four-player) master tiles that allow actions like hiring a native, expanding to a different region on the map, or placing a priest in the temple. The wild card of those actions is the “helper” option, where the number on the die you place there converts into points you can use to gain shells or status points from workers, resources without having to expand your territory, or god cards and offerings to let you do more with your dice. Two players can use the same tile in a round, but a player may only place a die on a tile if the die’s roll is lower than all dice currently on the tile, creating a trade-off between using a high die roll on a tile to get more powers or resources and using a lower die to block your opponent(s) from using the same one.

The one way to tweak the dice in your favor is through pleading with the gods using god cards and offering tiles. There are five god card types, two of which allow you to change the way you use the dice: You can play a die normally but treat its face value as six for your move; you can place a die on a master tile even if it’s not lower than all dice currently on it. Other god cards allow you to score points for expanding into a new territory on the map, to employ additional natives during the action phase of a turn, or to help you complete a task tile on your card for which you just fall short of the requirements.

The task tiles turn out to be more significant as the game goes on because they offer additional bonuses of four to six points for things you may already have done, such as expanding to all five islands or having certain combinations of natives or resources already on your card. The end of the game offers even more bonuses for achieving the maximum number of something, like completing nine tasks, buying six jewelry tiles, or filling all twelve spaces on the building area on your card (called the “ceremony spaces” in a confusing bit of nomenclature).

Bora Bora suffers a little from its similarity to Castles of Burgundy, but also from pushing too far in the same general direction as its predecessor – players have so many options that gameplay can drag while you try to sort through them all. It’s easy to become paralyzed by all of the options before you because of how long-lasting some fo the effects can be; Castles of Burgundy doesn’t have that same depth, and it means Bora Bora has more in common with games like Agricola or Le Havre, where a decision in an early round can filter down through the rest of the game. It’s an ideal game to pick up if you love Castles of Burgundy but want something different or more complex, or if you are partial to games with great-looking components, since Bora Bora has bright colors and strong artwork. The extent of possible options for players and constant references to the rule book to explain the pictograms on certain tiles stretched the game out for us to the point where we’re going to reach for Castles of Burgundy first, but this represents a solid change of pace.

I wanted to slip in one more game review before posting my updated rankings later this week, so look for that post either later on Thursday or at worst on Friday, as long as the baseball world doesn’t go bananas again. You can see last year’s top 40 rankings while you wait.


  1. I have a daughter who is 4 and a half. Any recommendations for board games that kids at that age could enjoy as well? Thanks

  2. Raul – I’ll have a few of those on my list tomorrow/Friday.

  3. Great write-up Keith. I’ve been reading your board game reviews for a couple years now and have purchased several based on your review. I just wanted to say thank you for introducing my family to these types of games. We would still be stuck playing Sorry or Clue without your guidance.