Humboldt's Great Voyage
Playtime: 30-60 minutes
Teach time: 20 minutes
Game difficulty: Moderate
Number of players: 2-4
Key educational concepts: Alexander von Humboldt's voyages to S. America, science history
Overview and Review
I love Alexander von Humboldt - he is easily one of my most revered scientists! In fact, I love his work so much that I named a software package I wrote after him (see here). While on the topic of Humboldt, I highly recommend Andrea Wulf's book "The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World."
Okay, let's chat about this game. In short, the gameplay of Humboldt's Great Voyage and educational content left me disappointed. The core gameplay is based on the mancala mechanism, which is something I generally like. However, the game seems to play itself and the best moves appear to be quite obvious. If you are looking for a game with similar mechanics, I highly recommend Five Tribes, which is easily one of my top 10 games. In terms of the theme of this game, traveling through Humboldt's footsteps felt quite superficial. I didn't feel transported to the early 19th century, or feel like was exploring in a boat down the Orinoco or climbing the Chimborazo with Bonpland. I also had no sense of scientific discovery and the game didn't connect me to any of Humboldt's key contributions to science. In execution, it felt that this could have easily been a train-themed game where you traveled from city to city. Due to this incredibly weak link between the theme and gameplay, after the first five minutes of gameplay, I thought nothing of Humboldt's voyage and was only interested in collecting colors to score points. Because the theme was so weakly implemented, I struggled to see any use for this game in the classroom. In closing, I love that the game designers highlighted Humboldt's career. However, I really wish the game's mechanisms better integrated the theme. Perhaps more important than theme integration, I wish the gameplay itself was more engaging. In absence of a good game, no theme will shine.
Box cover (image credit: R and R games)
Game contents (image credit: R and R games)