I played my first game of the new Entdecker tonight, and now I regret not getting it out sooner. It was full of familiar yet subtly different mechanics that work really nicely together. Entdecker has tile laying, exploration, area influence, money/piece management, and a press-your-luck element.
The game comes in a standard square box with a full-sized 6 section folding board--impressively big. Players' bits are all wood. The tiles are about the size of Carcassonne tiles but only half as thick. The coins are thin as well and only printed on one side.
My only real beef with the components is the huts and goods. The game comes with seven 2-piece cardboard huts into which you place goods markers (to hide them) which are printed on both sides! To randomly select a marker, they include a cloth bag (for 9 little cardboard circles)! Not only is this a huge waste of material, it's also really annoying to use. The simplest solution would have been to have 9 discs printed on 1 side that you mix up and place face down where the huts would go. I may make some nice wooden discs for this.
Tile-Laying and Exploration
I suppose a good place to start is to compare Entdecker to Carcassonne, since most people know it, though I found that you almost have to unlearn your expectations of the tile-laying idiom to play Entdecker.
The edge of the tiles is either water or land. All the water edges are joined with white dotted lines forming "sea routes". This creates 6 possible tile type: all water, 3 water + 1 land, 2 water + 2 land (opposite), 2 water + 2 land (adjacent), 1 water + 3 land, all land. The board starts out mostly empty. There are 6 face-down stacks of shuffled tiles, and 6 face-up stacks of each of the specific types.
In Carcassonne, you draw a tile and place it wherever it fits. In Entdecker, you place the ship on the edge of the board or on any tile you can get to from the edge of the board that still has open sea route to explore. Based on which edge you start on (or which edge you have to use to get to the tile you start on) and how many opponents forts and settlements you have to pass (see below), you might have to pay.
Next you decide how many tiles you want to explore and pay for them ahead of time. You must choose either the unknown tiles (1 gold each) or the known tiles (4 gold each). You draw them one at a time, placing them where they fit along open sea routes next to your ship, then move the ship onto them. A tile that doesn't fit is discarded, and you are not compensated for it.
Your exploration ends when you have played all the tiles you have paid for, you reach a dead end, or you decide to stop. At this point you may pay to place a unit (scout=1, fort=3, settlement=6) on the current tile if there is land there.
At this point any single-space holes are filled in; there always a tile that fits any given space. This is very different from the nasty "make cities unfinishable" stuff in Carcassonne, and also requires no one to use a turn to complete. It happens automatically. Also, holes of any size with land all around the outside are filled with all-land tiles; you have explored the entire coastline of the island.
All completed island are now scored. Again this is different from Carcassonne. Settlements beat forts and scouts. Forts beat scouts. The winning player gets 1 VP per tile of the island (plus any bonus shows on any of the island starting tiles). 2nd place gets half round up. 3rd place gets half again rounded up, etc., Very forgiving. Settlements and forts go back into the players' supplies.
Players now take turns to place all the scouts on the scored island onto the seven jungle paths. The first player on each path gets to peek at the value of the good (5, 10, or 15). Subsequent scouts form a line away from the hut. Each path also has an eye printed on one space. The player who later plays a scout on the eye also gets to peek. At the end of the game, the player with the most scouts gets the value of the good as VP. Ties are broken by who is closest to the hut.
Interesting Mechanics at Work
The first one is of course the tile-laying. You can risk buying the cheap tiles, or pay through the nose for a known result. However, no matter how many tiles you place, you can only buy one unit. So placing 5 tiles might not help you, unless it closes off an island before another player can occupy it, or gets you to a location you wanted.
You can't play wherever you want. You can only extend open sea spaces, and even if you are on a tile with land and draw a tile with land, you cannot place that tile on the other side of the land. You always have to place the new tile so that the ship can move onto it. This makes the board expand in fun ways. Some very lucrative sections may be choked off or completely blocked, unless you are willing to spend extra money to start in the expensive locations. Bottlenecks are also good places to play forts and settlements since other players have to pay toll if they go through that tile to select a starting space.
Fighting for islands isn't really as vicious as Carcassonne. In Carc, it's all or nothing for cities. In Entdecker, if you have 7 scouts on a 9-tile island and I have only 1, you score 9 VP and I score 5. There's less incentive to fight. In fact, it's the opposite; since the second place player gets so much, it may be more profitable to find an island you can keep to yourself.
At the beginning of your turn if you have less than 4 gold, you have to roll the die, collect that much gold. Every other player gets that much plus one. I'm not sure how this fits into the theme of the game, but it certainly makes you think twice about spending too much money. If you consistently go below 4 on your turn, you may be the only one rolling the die for income, giving all the other players an extra gold.
You can use the fill-in-the-hole system to help you. If there's a 3-space and you can place a single tile in the center, the other 2 get filled in automatically. If the center tile has land and you can get a scout onto it, this can give you a big payout.
The last thing I want to bring up is something that was quite unexpected, and possibly cost me my first game. Although scouts are the weakest unit in terms of winning control of islands, they are incredibly important for control of the huts. Even if it gains you nothing to place one on an island (eg still in 2nd place), it's almost always worth adding a scout when you stop your exploration. In my last turn of the game, I added the final tile to an island containing an opponent's scout. I thought I was being clever by keeping enough gold to build a fort. I got 3 VP to her 2. If I had built a scout instead, we would have each gotten 3 VP, and I would have been able to place this scout on a path resulting in a 10 VP swing. A great lesson.
I lost the game 100 to 116.