Papua review

It is the latter part of the 19th Century. The mysterious territory of Papua has long held interest within the scientific community. The prospect of new discoveries to be found among the landscape’s lush vegetation, wildlife and the local indigenous people promises to bestow much prestige on a successful expedition team. With that in mind, you assemble your intrepid band of explorers and set sail for Indonesia. But setting foot on the shore, you find that you are not alone…

Papua is a dice controlled worker placement game. Each player is the leader of their own expedition team and the aim of the game is to use your resources to best advantage; exploring as much of the area as possible, making allies of the tribespeople and earning the most prestige points before your team is exhausted and must return home.

During set up each player receives seven explorer meeples, 3 food tokens, 3 coins and a privacy screen in their colour. Any leftover explorers form a communal pool to the side of the board. Each player then places their prestige marker on space zero of the scoreboard, their energy marker on space 50 of the energy track going around the right half of the playing area and their corresponding colour hut above the track on the upper left section of the player board. Each player also receives a science card which gives that player a “one-time only” special power. This is placed face up so that the other players can see it. The logistics counters are shuffled and stacked on the central circular space on the board. Five random cards from the exploration deck are returned without looking to the box, the remaining cards are then shuffled and placed on the lower right corner of the board. The field notebook cards are split into the I and II piles, shuffled separately and placed to the right of the board near the top right corner. Lastly the zone counters are placed above the board so that all players can easily reach. True to theme, the most energetic expedition team starts their day earlier than the other teams so turn order is determined by energy level. If this is tied, the player with their energy marker on top of one or more other markers will go ahead of the others.

The game board itself consists of six different zones which provide different benefits. Huts give the player additional explorers, additional dice and allow the player to lock a certain number of die results before (s)he rolls the remaining dice. Logistics provide the benefits shown on the logistics counters e.g. prestige, energy, food, coins. The field notebook gives benefits as listed on the card. The card itself is also worth prestige points at the end of the game. The funding zone earns assigned explorers coins. The hunting zone earns food tokens. The expedition zone is where discoveries are made by gaining exploration cards through a blind bidding system employing the use of the privacy screens. There are 7 types of exploration cards: 6 with images of plants/animals and 1 tribespeople card. Prestige points are awarded at the end of the game for the largest set of different cards and for sets of the same type of card. Tribespeople cards can also be discarded at the beginning of the round to gain one of the benefits listed on the card.

Each round consists of start phase, player turns and resolution phase. Much like any worker placement game, start phase resets the board for the next round to begin and resolution phase pays out benefits according the place “workers” or in this case, explorers. Start phase deals exploration cards to each of the expedition locations, deals new logistics counters depending on the number of players and a new field notebook card to it’s corresponding space on the board. As a last step to the start phase, the player with the least energy places the “X” zone marker. This is now the forbidden zone ans cannot be player during this round.

Players then take turns as per determined player order i.e. most energy. Players start with five dice and start their turn by rolling all at once. if a catastrophe die result is rolled, this is dealt with first. This means an explorer has succumbed to an accident or life-threatening illness. The player then can either sacrifice the explorer to the communal pool or pay a coin to save them. Coins can also be spent to increase/decrease die results by one per coin, or re-roll a die completely.

The player then spends the remaining dice to assign their explorers to different zones. The first time a zone is assigned explorers, the zone marker for the matching spent die result is placed there. This means that later players in the round must roll that number to be able to assign explorers there. When the player has finished assigning explorers, they spend energy equal to the number of explorers placed or spend food tokens to reduce the energy spent by one per token. If they pass a threshold, they must pay the cost in food or sacrifice one explorer for each food not spent. Then the next player takes their turn.

During resolution phase, each zone is dealt with in zone marker order. The forbidden zone marker is left on it’s zone for now, but all other zone markers are removed from the board as each area is dealt with. Any unclaimed logistics counters, exploration cards or field notebook cards are discarded. Turn order is then re-established and start phase begins again. The player with the least energy this round moves the forbidden zone marker as it cannot spend two rounds in the same location.

The game ends either when there are not enough exploration card to replenish the three locations, or one player’s energy drops to zero, in which case the current round is played to the end. Points are then totaled for sets of collected cards, number of explorers, remaining food and energy and for the player with the greatest number of coins. The player with the highest points wins.

Designers: Javier Garcia, Diego Ibañez

Artist: Pedro Soto

Publisher: Devir Games

Players: 2-4 (3 ideally according to BoardGameGeek)

Length: 75 minutes

Weight: Medium – 3.09 out of 5 (BoardGameGeek)


The box was eye catching and the theme appealed to me. You can player the game as a straight-forward worker placement, but with a bit of imagination the them works well. Personally, I think there is room for more theme there, e.g. trouble with the indigenous peoples but I could see how it would slow up the game considerably. The artwork is good especially the exploration cards and the components themselves seem well made. The privacy screens are made of a strong quality card-stock so there isn’t a problem to stand them up.

The game play itself is a nice balance of luck and strategy; managing your resources until the right moment and trying to strategically block the other players from beating you to a bonus, all the while hoping the dice rolls in your favour really creates an unpredictability where sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

Initially there are quite a few little rules to take on board but after a few rounds of game play, they make more sense and the game starts to flow. The two-player game introduces a dummy third player mechanic which i feel doesn’t work as well as the 3/4 player variants although it is still enjoyable. Our first full game was two-player but is helped massively to “mock-play” a few rounds as 3 players to gain an understanding of the game.

Overall I really enjoyed the game. Initially the rulebook was daunting but I put it down to tiredness on my part; giving it a second chance when I was more receptive helped with the smaller, more intricate rules. If you’re introducing the game to new players, you can start with a basic overview of each zone and point scoring and then introduce the mechanics once the game has started. I’d agree this is a medium weight game which would work well with experienced players and those who are beginning to branch further into the hobby.

Meeples People’s Rating: 7.5/8 out of 10