(On the) expedition of 1764 to Korou, French Guyana… within ten months all but 900 of 12,000 people died…. In the Upper Senegal River in the 1820s two-fifths of the troops died annually… some of the military columns in the Upper Sudan in the 1880s suffered mortality rates as high as 800 per thousand….William B. Cohen, Malaria and French Imperialism, Journal of African History
Players start with an unexplored territory before them, and then send tokens (settlers, for example) out to explore the land and harvest resources. The aim of the game is to be the player who, in three rounds of play, extracts the most resources from this new territory. Gameplay is fast-paced, with simple rules and a range of viable strategies, as players find the most effective ways to extract resources with the different unit types available and within the ethical constraints in play.
Ethical constraints? That game description sounded quite conventional up until that phrase, didn’t it? The idea of a blank terrain which players compete to exploit is a staple of computer games and table-top games alike. And if you have played a few boardgames then you probably started thinking of Catan or Carcassonne as you read that paragraph; and you’d be right to – the notion of placing tokens to control and exploit territory, within simple, flexible rules, is classic boardgaming. But throughout human existence – away from the gaming table – the “new worlds” that people choose to exploit are rarely actually empty, and the people they bring to exploit them are often desperate, unwilling, or doomed. And so what Dust Harvester does differently is to bring in a set of evolving ethical rules, as moral constraints start to change the tactical opportunities as the game progresses.
The game rules are honed to allow intriguing tactical flexibility for the players; but they are also based on real historical data. And as the ethical rules come into play the game becomes not only a classic tactical board game (of the sort that prompts the cliché “quick to learn and hard to master”) but also prompts reflection on the history of – and perhaps the future of – exploration and colonisation.
At a Glance
- Tabletop game
- 2-6 players
- Time to learn: 5 minutes
- Time to play: 45-60 minutes per game
- Replayability: high
- Available: Spring 2023
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