Through the Desert: Bazaar
About Through the Desert
Through the Desert, designed by Reiner Knizia and published by Allplay, is a revitalization of the 1998 classic game of camel placement.
Through The Desert shines in how tight the gameplay can be. At the beginning of the game, the map looks wide open. But, as turns progress, it becomes harder and harder to score points. There's a "knife-fight-in-a-phone-booth" nature to the gameplay that reveals itself towards the end. Water is scarce in the desert, but the points can be scarcer.
Four modular expansions tweak the classic gameplay of Through The Desert with fun twists without diluting its elegant nature. Add one for a slight change, or bring out all four for experienced players looking for a challenge!
Our work focused on refining a series of modular expansions for the base game, collected as Through the Desert: Bazaar. Starting from a set of 8 designs and picking the best 4 which could be used in any combination with the base game.
- Gameplay Development
- Playtest Coordination and Analysis
- Content Design
Hi, this is John Velgus, lead developer on Through The Desert: Bazaar. We love Through the Desert, which we think is one of Reiner Knizia's absolute best games — getting the chance to work on bringing it to new audiences is a huge joy for us as a team. Today, I wanted to share a glimpse into our development journey on two expansion modules in Through the Desert: Bazaar - Special Waterholes and Bazaars.
Exploring the Bazaar
Joe Wiggins from Allplay directed us in assembling the set of modular expansions that make up Bazaar. The modules needed to work in any combination while also standing on their own.
Early development was challenging. The base game felt practically perfect. I sometimes compared it to trying to make an expansion for chess. Sure you "could" add tons of stuff to a strategy game like chess, but would that actually be worthwhile to play?
Reiner Knizia and Allplay gave us some great initial gameplay concept options (we had 8 concepts at the start), so our first weeks were exploring those designs. We wanted to find not just the best ideas, but a set where each expansion felt distinct from the others.
While none of them were bad, some expansion concepts undercut the core tensions of the game. Sometimes, that was adding camel placement that was far too flexible and powerful. Other times the incentives worked against things players loved about the base game. For example, one early idea had players making specific patterns with their camels to mimic constellations, meaning they totally ignored the normal engaging play to score the big points.
Knizia provided excellent feedback along the way, pointing out problems, sharing suggestions, and giving encouragement. In particular he urged us to focus on gameplay that is intuitive and as rules light as possible while still retaining the core engaging experience. After much exploration and playtesting, we arrived at the four expansions that make up Through The Desert: Bazaar — Rival Nomads, Djinn, Special Waterholes, and Bazaars.
The Special Waterholes module includes bonus camel tokens and trade good tokens that replace some waterholes during setup. When you place a camel on one of these tokens, you collect it, same as a normal waterhole (which give 1, 2, or 3 victory points).
This expansion started as a concept from Knizia called Camel Markets, where several bonus camel tokens lined the edge of the board during setup. When a camel was placed on one of these tokens, you placed an additional camel matching the token's color.
We iterated on this for a while, but the bonus tokens were often very easy to claim along with enclosing a border area, and didn't really involve a lot of work or strategy for many players. Playtesters were underwhelmed, but we knew that bonus camels were fun and a good design space to further explore.
For a mid-development round of brainstorming, we brought in a pinch hitter consultant: our good friend and Reiner Knizia superfan Jonny Pac Cantin (Designer on Coloma, Endless Winter, Merchants Cove, many others). We spent some time with Jonny talking about where we could push this concept that felt consistent with Reiner's design style and deepened the game's strategic space.
After exploring many powers, we settled on two types of special tokens:
- Bonus camel tokens allow you to place one additional camel of any color for free on any of your turns. These can really let you make some big moves, add a lot of flexibility, and can threaten your opponent to make them play differently.
- For every 2 trade goods you claim, you earn a huge 10 points. This dynamic came from Knizia's comments on a different set collection system we explored. It creates fierce gameplay as players try to grab these and block them from opponents. It adds some risk, as having 1 trade good alone is worthless.
Bonus Camels and Trade Goods play off of each other in interesting ways. It's great to see plays where a player might grab a bonus camel on one side of the board to use later to claim trade goods elsewhere.
In Bazaars, you'll connect markets on the board and city spaces on the board edge with your caravan. Completing the connection earns the player a bazaar scoring token. While we tweaked this heavily over development, Knizia's core concept of adding this route building element to Through the Desert felt very good from the beginning.
The number and positions of the bazaar board spaces were adjusted a lot. Three spread across the board's center seemed best at all player counts: fewer spaces were too contested and easy to block, more were too easy to ignore and cluttered the board. Bazaars encourage players to move towards the center of the boards which is often less sought after, significantly changing play.
Originally, each city had one bazaar scoring token placed on it, given to the first player that connected it to the bazaar. Now multiple scoring tokens are placed on the bazaar in descending order — 15, 10, then 5 points for the last connection (another great Jonny Pac streamlining suggestion).
With multiple tokens, players potentially fight for or share the same delivery spaces. While you might not always score many, the tension of blocking opponents and the moves you make along the way really change the way each game plays out.
Making games is hard. Like really hard. There were times where we'd spend many days of work on an expansion idea just to scrap it because it didn't meet our high standards. Concepts that seemed very promising often couldn't make it into the set for small, important reasons.
What we love about Reiner Knizia's games is that beyond being a heck of a lot of fun, they are strategically deep and elegant to play. We want to make sure Through the Desert: Bazaar lives up to that vision. We hope you enjoy exploring these expansions as much as we enjoyed working on them.
Brieger Creative Team
- Michael Dunsmore
- Jonny Pac
- John Brieger