Designer Diary: Caravan

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by Joe Huber

What Am I Going to Do With All of These Camels?

Ideas for games can come from anywhere, at least in my experience. Often, when I learn about something new — when I visit a National Park Service site, in particular — I get an idea for a new game. Sometimes I’m inspired by a mechanism; a game will do something I like, and I want to see it in a different context. Sometimes I’ll think of a new mechanism I want to try or a new combination of classic mechanisms. But every now and again, a game idea starts from a component.

Back when Tanga was starting, they sold a number of Überplay games at discount; one that frequently showed up was Oasis. While a number of these Überplay titles, including Oasis, are fine games, this was also a great way to get components for putting together prototypes. I used the boards from Oasis for a couple of different designs, but really grew to appreciate the utility of the game when I needed square tiles for Starship Merchants — but this left me with a lot of wooden camels.

So, one day I was looking at the camels and got to thinking: One of the things I hadn’t seen in a game was the use of a caravan of camels to deliver goods.

Goods above, goods below

What Constitutes Delivery?

And in short order I had fleshed out the idea enough to put together a prototype. The basic idea was simple: Each good has a destination somewhere on the board and is delivered there by a group of camels that pass the good along from one place in the caravan to another.

But rather than have a particular camel pick up the good and move it to the destination, a line of camels would shift a picked-up good to any camel in the line — and deliver it, should that camel be in the right location. Given that, four of the actions in the game were immediately clear: place a camel in a space with no camels, place a camel in a space with camels already present, pick up a good, and move a good, whether to its destination or only a part of the way.

Placing a camel where there already was one clearly should be more expensive — but not too expensive as from the start I envisioned a small, tight board, keeping the game length reasonable and ensuring lots of interaction on the board. For simplicity’s sake, each option required one action except for the placing of a camel where one or more camels were already present; that took two actions.

Thieves in Our Midst

But there was still not enough interaction between players. This made it clear that there needed to be a way for players to directly interact, and the obvious choice was to allow players to steal goods. At the same time, I didn’t want this to become a free-for-all, so I quickly added theft markers. Each player starts the game with one theft marker, and when you steal a good, that marker is given to the player you steal from.

This solved the interaction problem, but lead to another issue, namely that the player you stole from could simply take the good back. Thus, goods stolen were considered loaded, but protected from theft, until moved.

It’s a Tough Job, But the Pay Looks Right…

The final element to the game is demand markers. These were added to incentivize longer, more difficult deliveries; players can earn many points for just picking up a good, even if it’s never moved. To ensure that players don’t simply collect demand markers at the end of the game, a penalty was added for having too many camels loaded when the game ends.

During play, each time only four unloaded goods remain on the board, a demand marker is added to each of those goods, and four additional goods are pulled from the bag. The demand markers also serve to show the progress of the game. After the initial set-up, there are as many demand markers as goods in the bag. Rather than having to feel in the bag to determine how many more goods have to be pulled before the game ends, players can watch the diminishing supply of demand markers. When the last demand markers are placed and the last goods drawn, the game end is triggered; the very next delivery of a good ends the game.

I first grew to love German games in the mid-1990s when the focus was on simple rules with depth of play, and that’s very much what I’ve tried to create with Caravan. Not having loaded transport move felt to me like a different twist on pick-up-and-deliver games, while still satisfying that itch for me.


There are many people without whom this game could not have come to market. First and foremost, I’d like to thank Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games for taking a chance on my game. And Ken Hill, also at Rio Grande, contributed a key late addition with his excellent suggestion of adding player boards. Martin Hoffman has done a fantastic job with the artwork and has been great to work with. And I credit the fact that Caravan was a very quick design to stabilize to the great help I received from all of the playtesters.

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