Toraja (Preview)

Designers: Hamzah Alfarabi, Vicky Belladino
Artist: Aulia Azziawaty
Publisher: Congkak Fun Factory
Players: 1-5
Ages: 12+
Times Played: 4 on my demo copy

This will be a different sort of post, as this game isn’t available…yet.  This is one of the titles that was being demoed at the Indonesian booth at Spiel 2019, but this year’s events have delayed me talking about for a bit. As I understand it, the game is still in development, so everything I say below could be different if you have a change to play.

Toraja is a game about managing a coffee plantation in the eponymous region of South Sulawesi in Indonesia. Mechanically, it is at home in the “roll & write” genre, but rather than being dice based, it uses a card draft.

You’ll be planting coffee trees, reading up on the latest scientific literature, building a road to transport your fruits, planting clove trees to enhance the flavor, irrigating your trees, and a bit more.

The game will take place over 5 rounds, and each of these will begin with a draft phase and end with the players spending the various resources gathered during the drafting phase.

You are drafting from a deck of cards made up of the game’s three resources: coffee, clay, and water. Now while those cards have numbers on them, they are equal when it comes to fulfilling their role as these resources. The numbers will come into play for a secondary bit, discussed later.

Cards are dealt out one more than the number of players, and in clockwise order, each player takes one and marks on their sheet the number in the corresponding left-most box on their resource grid. Afterwards, each players marks down the leftover card. This process is completed three times.

The numbers on the cards is for a mini-game of sorts. As you fill in your resources, from left to right, row by row, you will also be taking a look at the sums of the columns as you complete them. Depending upon the value, you’ll earn a certain bonus. Low numbers can earn you straight victory points, high numbers can earn you additional resources, and another reward is an area majority scoring.

After the draft, you can spend your resources. Your plantation starts in the upper left of a 5×5 grid, and each round of the game you’ll move to the next row. You’ll be placing three types of marks in your plantation: roads (=), coffee trees (○), and clove trees (△).

We’ll come back to those in a bit, but there are a few other things you can do with your resources as well. Clay and coffee can be used in foreign trade to unlock certain bonuses (e.g. points, track pushes, additional resources), and water can be used to research how to create better coffee. Water will also be used to irrigate the columns of your field.

To get into the details of the field piece, each round you’ll be working on one row, from left to right, and if you complete the row, you’ll earn a bonus. The first coffee tree in each column is cheap, but the cost increases as you plant more. Each clove tree will cost one water, and will enhance the scoring for the coffee trees in a column. For the road, your goal is to have an orthogonal path from the upper left to any space on the bottom row, but the further right you connect on the bottom, the greater you’ll score.

At the end of the game, each column will score for the irrigated coffee trees. The specific points will be based upon a value determined by the amount of research you’ve done, and that is augmented by the clove trees. I just mentioned the road points, and there are also points available in the foreign trade routes, field row completion bonuses, and resource column sum bonuses.

I’ve played once at 4-player, once at 3, and two solo games, and some bits of the game are still a puzzle to me. Is it better to maximize trees in one column to conserve my irrigation water, or spread them out to save on coffee resources? What is the best timing of the foreign trade routes? When should I irrigate? How hard should I push for the row bonuses? Where should I send the road? I like that those decisions are not necessarily obvious.

The roughest part of the game for me are the column bonuses for the resource-grid. The draft can feel capricious, as the difference between the column summing to 6 vs 7 is an extra unit in an area-majority game vs an extra resource of your choice and number of your choice! You can often be in a position where if you hit the 7, it may chain a series of additional resource bonuses, but the single 6 prevents that. Sometimes the turn order means you don’t have much choice in the matter. In the solo games, this was a fairly interesting puzzle to work on, but in multi-player games, the reward ultimately feels random and pulls your passion from the decisions in the draft.

We’ve also had some debate about the strength of the foreign trade paths: is it too much? It can be there for all players, but, again, depending upon what happens in the draft, you may be shut out of some of the early spots -which grant bonus resources that can feed into the chains discussed above.

But those are the development bits, which is where the game is at. I look forward to seeing what the designers have done with the game in the meantime and in the future, and any other touches an inevitable publisher gives it.

James Nathan

This entry was posted in Essen 2019, Preview. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply