Benjamin Liersch


No. of Players:
2 - 5



The new game Livingstone from SCHMIDT SPIELE has been named after the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone who travelled on the Sambesi-river through Africa and discovered the magnificent Victoria Falls. Newcomer author Benjamin Liersch took the story of the Scotsman as a background for a tactical placement game in which the players try to explore the African landscape as their small steamboat moves along the Sambesi towards the Victoria Falls, and furthermore the players try to gather additional financial resources and victory points by mining for valuable gems.

As a starting preparation each player receives all tents of his chosen colour, three coins and a treasure chest in which he will place an increasing amount of money during the course of the game. Although this treasure chest has no direct influence on the course of the game, the amount which a player has placed in it at the time when the game ends is rather important because the money is seen as a direct donation for the Queen. The player who has placed the lowest amount of money in his chest will be disqualified and has no chance of winning, despite the fact that he may have collected most victory points.

To finish preparations, a deck of action cards is shuffled, a cute small figure of a steamboat is placed at the first space along Sambesi river and a number of dice equal to the number of players multiplied by two is placed at hand together with an opaque bag containing 60 stones and gems.


At the beginning of each round the steamboat will be moved forwards along the Sambesi for one step, and this results in the game lasting over a total distance of ten rounds. Each position of the boat gives access to a total of six Hinterland-spaces which have values from one to six and which are assorted into columns pointing inland away from the Sambesi river. After the steamboat has been moved, all the available dice will be rolled by the current starting player and they will be assorted into groups of equal numbers.

Taking turns and starting with the current start player, the players now are allowed to take one of these dice and perform an action in consideration of the dice result they have taken. When all players have chosen a dice, the players can chose an additional dice from the remaining dice, but a player may only take a dice if the result is higher than the result which he has taken before.

The players can chose between the following kinds of actions:

  • Taking an amount of gold equal to the result of the chosen dice.
  • Drawing one action card (regardless of the result of the dice)
  • Drawing an amount of stones and games from the bag equal to the result of the chosen dice.
  • Building a tent at the Hinterland-space which corresponds with the current placement of the steamboat and the result of the chosen dice. For this action the player will have to pay expedition costs, and the amount payable is printed at the bottom of the column of accessible Hinterland-spaces next to the river.

During his turn a player always has the possibility to donate some of his money to the Queen. He just announces to the other players that he will make a donation, and then he puts an amount of gold into his treasure chest without telling the others how much gold he has donated. This way the other players always will face some uncertainty considering the value of each player's treasure chest.

The bag of gems and stones contains three different kinds of gems and a pile of useless rubble, and if a player should have collected one or more gems he is free to sell any amount of them back to the bank to gain some gold. This sale also may be performed during a player's turn without the need to choose a special kind of action. In addition, the bag contains one rubbish stone of a special colour, and if this stone is drawn all other rubble and already sold gems go back into the bag.

Gems which are not sold may be kept as victory points for the end of the game, but here the players face a risk of losing all their gems before the game is over. Thus, the deck of 27 action cards contains one Cave-in card, and if that card is drawn by a player the card must be instantly revealed, forcing all players to put back their collected gems into the bag.

Some additional spice is added by the action cards which the players may freely use during their turns. These cards offer a multitude of possibilities, ranging from the cost-free placement of a tent or the selling of gems for direct victory points to the mining of additional gems or even a backwards movement of the steamboat. All these cards offer slight alterations of the standard rules and may bring some advantages if they are played at the right moment. The only exception is the already mentioned Cave-in card which must be revealed directly upon drawing it.

A round comes to its end when all dice have been chosen by the players or when no player may take a dice any longer due to the "increasing value"-restriction. At that time a scoring takes places, evaluating the current column of Hinterland-spaces, and giving each player victory points for all of his tends placed in the current column. The amount of victory points is determined by the value of the Hinterland-spaces in which the tents were built.

The game ends after the round in which the steamboat has reached the final space, and now the players add up their already scored victory points plus one point for each gem in their possession. In addition, the Hinterland spaces once again are evaluated, but now the evaluation is based on rows and not columns of Hinterland-spaces. Thus, we have a total of six rows of Hinterland-spaces, and the player who has most tents in a row of spaces will be assigned a victory points bonus. In opposition to the placement of the tents (where most points could be scored by placing tents far out), now most points can be scored at the rows closer to Sambesi river, and so the placing of high-value tents is somewhat counterbalanced. Finally, the players check the contents of their treasure chests, declaring the player with fewest gold in his chest as being disqualified. Then the remaining player with most victory points will have won the game.

Although Livingstone comes with a rather fitting and atmospheric artwork by Michael Menzel and Christof Tisch and quite cute playing components, the game mechanics somewhat lack the adventurous spirit which the artwork and equipment suggest. Most of the mechanisms used in the game are by no means new (for example the treasure chests resemble quite close the Sobek-Pyramids in Cleopatra und die Baumeister), but instead they have been reassembled in a moderately imaginative way, creating a solid strategic placement game with some additional elements of uncertainty.

It is exactly this conjuncture of strategy and luck which gives the game some attractiveness as a family boardgame, since elements like the random drawing of gems or the Cave-In card can spoil the hopes of the leading player and thus give players who have fallen behind a chance to catch up again. Due to these factors the ending can vary considerably from one game to the next, and even seasoned hobbyists should not react with too much prejudice to the elements of luck, since the major portion of the victory points still can be attained by a good choice of how to use the available action dice.

Overall, Livingstone joins the series of dice-based strategy games like Kingsburg or Alea iacta est, but in comparison with these titles the game has a somewhat lighter strategic impact. On the other hand elements like the bag of gems or the special action cards leave a more interactive feeling, and so the game can stand its ground against these major contestants.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany