It is not often that a game comes with recommended reading, but Mombasa does, with Richard Reid’s History of Modern Africa: 1800 to the Present. This stands as a clear example of the dedication to theme that drives the engaging board game throughout.
In Mombasa, players take up their pith helmets as investors in what the rules note was a “dark chapter in human history: global colonialism.” The frank discussion is a good reminder of responsibility, especially as players work to make their fortunes. Rather than using exploitation, the players work to spread the positives of agriculture and trade through charter companies, each based in a corner of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town and from Saint-Louis to Mombasa, the second-largest city in Kenya and to this day an important trade center.
Mombasa displays high production values in its many pieces, meeting the lofty expectations of big-box game enthusiasts. There are artfully decorated boards for the continent, each company, and each player, along with several sets of cards, double-sided tiles, and numerous coins and markers. The illustrations call up the glorified days of colony-building, with uniformed officers, locals in elegant dress, the rich bounties of the earth, and exotic settings.
As in other large-scale strategy games, the goal is to collect the most victory points within a set number of rounds. Instead of having just one or two ways to collect points, however, there are numerous avenues to success in Mombasa, such as cultivating agricultural products like coffee and bananas, pursuing the diamond trade, streamlining one’s accounting, and expanding trading posts from the company bases.
Players may buy into the different companies, meaning that those who want to win in games with three or four players will have to work in conjunction with one another to make the companies in which they have stock the farthest-reaching and wealthiest. Optimal strategies, however, will incorporate each of the points-earning steps, along with careful study of the actions of others to ensure they do not get ahead.
Mombasa is a strategy game for two to four players aged 12 and up. Since the game is capped at seven rounds, it is fairly predictable in length, depending upon the number and speed of players. With two quick-moving players, a game can be over within an hour, while four who prefer to ponder can bring it up to nearly three. Similar games can take up to six hours, but Mombasa carries all the merits of multi-directional strategic games in a tidier package, and its pervasive colonial theme will delight players on game night or as the focus of a good afternoon of scheming.