SGS’ Heia Safari Review – Exotic, Colorful, Excellent

It has always been my belief that games can succeed in two ways. The first, through the intricacies of its systems, how they relate to one another, and the opportunities they present for players to express themselves within its world. The second, thorough the novelty of expert explorations of its setting. Sometimes, but not often, we’ll be presented with games that manage to do both. Heia Safari’s iterative design doesn’t stray far from its established formula, and I’m assuming, the reason for that, is the existence of an already established fan base and the recently well-received SGS Afrika Korps. I’m hesitant to call this an all-out review, per se, because I enjoy doing reviews properly, going in-depth with every little detail, something I can’t afford to do with SGS right now, but I’ve spent a long couple of hours in the game, so I should be confident enough to share my opinion on it.

Overview: Heia Safari’s setting alone would be enough to carry this entry, even if the overarching mechanics aren’t that strong- they’re serviceable at best, simplistic at worse. However, the peculiar choice of this forgotten theatre of war and the love that’s dripping in every little corner of this game should entice even those with a passing interest in the subject matter, there’s a lot here to dig your teeth into. Set in the forgotten theatre of African, the game sets out to emulate some of the troubles and struggles both combatant’s forces had to deal with. Germany was fighting a lost war from the get-go, so it was time to make it as costly as possible, the Entente, on the other hand, had to strangle the German presence in Africa while avoiding overcommitting unnecessary forces to the theatre unless they absolutely had to. Overall Heia Safari is a good turn-based board-like wargame whose setbacks should be easily fixed.

Movement, Combat, and other Mechanics: Avid enjoyers of board games will find a cozy home in the way the systems all come together in this entry of SGS. Despite not being overly experienced with this series, my time playing SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia and the up and coming to SGS Day of Infamy (focusing on the alt-history invasion of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese forces), SGS Heia Safari remains close to the previous titles mentioned above. Each faction utilizes its turns to play cards, acquire units, move them, set up battles and then resolve them in the battle screen. The game does a nice job of guiding the player throughout all the different phases of each turn, something that can be overwhelming at first: Turn Start, Card Draw, Airbase Return, Reinforcements, Supply, Naval Movement, Air Movement, Battle List, Land Movement, Battle List, Siege List, Aerial Bombardment, Airbase Return, Air Defense Move, Unity Delivery, Replacement, Turn End.

The combat happens with little to no interaction on the part of the player. Stacks of units, each with their own values scrambles to the battlefield, with the player being able to influence the battle by making clever (or not) use of the cards in his hand. Artillery goes first, then the opposing sides take turns pummelling one another to submission or retreat. Each unit action takes a roll on the dice to determine its resolution. Speaking of that, SGS Heia Safari is a game that wears its RNG on its sleeve and makes no pretenses to hide it. This only adds to the board game-like feeling it exudes. Alongside the card system, it’s hard to sell Heia Safari has a hardcore wargamer’s wargame. So, go into it expecting an experience very similar to the critically acclaimed Wars Across the World and disappointment is sure to be kept at arm’s length.

Movement along the map happens as veterans of the genre might expect: by turns; with unit stacks moving accordingly to their allocated movement points, with different kinds of terrain affecting the overall distance they can go. Other modifiers apply, with railroads and dirt roads making traveling so much easier, to the point you can traverse the whole of Tanzania in a single turn if the railway is under the player’s control. Of course, such dependency on the transportation network to move troops will inherently have commanders sparing over their control. In fact, the Germans will accrue victory points for controlling their railroad, so there’s that.

Thankfully, each terrain has a certain amount of units it’s able to fit within its limits to prevent any smartass plays based around bulldozing the entire enemy army using stacks of doom.

It has, however, interesting mechanics that will keep even the most veteran of commanders on their toes when deciding which units to move and where. The African terrain is an unforgivable nightmare, logistics are hard, the diseases are hiding in every corner (or card), torrential rains can amount to casualties quickly and the lack of supplies can instantly remove the fighting ability of even the most resolute units. But more importantly, and I’m going to have to give SGS designers, my most heartfelt compliments, is the commitment mechanic. In an effort to stay faithful to the conflict, it was known from the start that the Kaiser’s troops were fighting an Inglourious, impossible-to-win war, so the objective was to make it as costly as possible for the Entente. To become the most painful thorn on their heels by having the Entente commit the most amount of resources to a war they also couldn’t necessarily win. The commitment mechanic is a fine middle ground to abstractly represent the effectiveness of the german fight in the game and to represent how costly the war is turning out to be. Very nicely done.

Each nation will accumulate some income over the game and every couple of months there’s a really simple purchase mechanic where commanders will be able to spend their hard-earned colonial cash on cards, buying and reinforcing units.

Graphics – The home of Mount Kilimanjaro is home to a vast expanse of hard to traverse lush green jungles, inhospitable mangrove swamps, and the Masai Steppe. Negotiating the harsh geography of Tanzania is a war in and of itself and one of the main reasons the Germans were able to hold out in East Africa for so long. The grand lakes of Victoria, Malawi, Rukwa, and Tanganyika are expertly recreated with rigor. Overall, the game manages to present itself in a clean, colorful, and visually striking way. When the terrain plays such an important part in the decisions to take, it’s important to quickly identify what’s what from a glance. Heia Safari absolutely succeeds in this regard. The unit cards are also well recreated and avoid the pitfalls of most wargames. Each unit card is very distinct from one another and they serve the practical purpose of clearly distinguishing them. That’s especially important if the player is going with the Entente side because the amount of units is somewhat staggering (Belgians, Portuguese, Indigenous, British India).

UI and Quality of Life: However, SGS Heia Safari is not without its flaws, and it mainly sins in the Quality of Life department. My main problem with the game is having to go through the enemy’s turn like it was my own. Let’s say, I’m playing as the Entente and I’m able to read the newspaper of the germans as if they were addressed to me. Also, the amount of action per turn takes a tremendous amount of time to play out and can get tiresome. There is a way to reduce the time you have to wait before it moves on to the next screen, so I highly recommend you do that before it becomes obnoxious. Some things are not as instinctive as I would like to have them, but it may come down to personal preference or me not understanding some of the underlying mechanics, like not realizing some units can’t move that turn and not sure why that happens. It took me a while to figure out why some units wouldn’t move by trial and error, leading me to save and reload the game a number of times until it all clicked and made sense. This is in no way, shape, or form helped by some very lackluster tutorials that do the bare minimum to explain the very basics. It’s better to come prepared for some frustration if you’re not familiar with the system like myself. Also, no in-depth manual is available, so there’s that, this is all you have, and prepare to have it open at all times. Fortunately, the learning curve is rather smooth and you’ll be juggling your colonial affairs in no time. I’m no stranger to making my mistakes when writing, but SGS Heia Safari does that a lot, so please have someone check that. They’re harmless mistakes, but they are there nevertheless.

One thing before we march straight into the closing arguments, the Steam Page for the game advertises an estimated playtime of 10h00. I have no idea what would anyone sell their games like this, but it’s clearly underselling this whole package.

Verdict– SGS Heia Safari will be of interest to two kinds of people. Those with a passing interest in the long-forgotten theatres of the First World War, the specific mechanics, exclusive to the African reality and the different objectives for both the Entente and German forces make for compelling and dynamic gameplay that’s worth exploring and playing over and over. Coupled with its relatively cheap price tag, Heia Safari’s exotic setting, and simple to pick up and play game mechanics makes it a worthy addition to every board (war)gamer’s collection. It’s a relaxed, cheap experience I’ll be enjoying for months to come.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

SGS Heia Safari is available on Steam and it will set you back $21,24.

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