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|Age range||3 and above|
|Setup time||1–5 minutes|
|Playing time||16–60 minutes|
|Random chance||High (dice rolling, luck)|
Afrikan tähti (Finnish) or Afrikas stjärna (Swedish), meaning "the star of Africa", is a Finnish board game designed by Kari Mannerla originally in 1951. It has been one of the most popular board games in Scandinavia for decades.
Afrikan tähti board game was first published year 1951 in Helsinki, Finland. Stories of the world’s largest diamond - the Star of Africa – had inspired the imagination of young Kari Mannerla. He managed to get a hold of a map of Africa in the English language and picked exotic sounding places. He then drafted land, sea and air routes arbitrarily across and around the continent. During his design process, an important innovation was that players could pick their route of choice, instead of following a pre-set course. A further revelation was the tokens that are shuffled before each game and placed randomly throughout the board. None of the players know which surprise is hidden under each token. The robbers and horseshoes added to the excitement of the game.
Afrikan Tähti was the last of Kari Mannerla’s games. He was then already an ‘experienced’ 19 year old game designer and he intuitively sensed that this one was unique. He offered it to the large book publishing company Tilgmann. Price negotiations took a few years and finally he accepted a modest compensation for 10 000 printed games. His condition to the publisher was that any further prints would be negotiated separately. This was not an issue to the publisher because board games typically didn’t get printed again. This time it was different. Already the following year another 10 000 were printed and after that every year more and more. Over 100 000 games were sold in seven years, which is a record amount even today.
Afrikan tähti has remained one of the most sold board games in Finland for 65 years. During this time it has been translated to over 16 languages. It is most popular in the Nordic countries, where it became widely marketed in Sweden, Norway and Denmark in 1960. In Sweden the game is called Den Försvunna Diamanten, in Norway Den Forsvunne Diamanten and in Denmark Afrikas Stjerne. In Finland over two million games have been sold, in Sweden and Norway almost one million and in Denmark half a million. There are over 4.5 million sold games internationally. During his retirement years Kari Mannerla revived one of his old creations Inkan Aarre in a completely modified version. Inkan Aarre has sold over 100 000 in Finland.
Both games are nowadays directly copyrighted to Kari Mannerla’s five daughters.
Afrikan tähti is a race between several players. The minimum is two players, and the maximum is theoretically unlimited, although with more than five or six players the game starts to become unplayable, due to too long gaming turns and insufficient resources.
The board covers the continent of Africa, with famous cities marked as big red circles, and with routes consisting of small black circles connecting them. Players can start from either Cairo, Egypt or from Tangiers, Morocco, whichever they want.
Also included is a series of circular tokens, one token for each city. The tokens are not matched with specific cities, only their number is the same. Tokens include:
- Blank tokens.
- Gemstones. There are three different gems, rubies, emeralds and topazes.
- The star of Africa itself. This is the only unique token in the game.
At the start of the game, all tokens are turned face down and shuffled, then distributed randomly at the cities, with one token at each city. At this point, no player knows which token is in which city.
Each player is given £300 as starting money and their character is placed in Cairo or Tangiers according to their preference.
On their turn, each player throws the die, and moves the given number of steps along the routes. If they reach a city with its token still present, they have three options:
- Continue as normal.
- Buy the token. This costs £100.
- Stay in the city. On the following turns, the player may try to win the token by throwing the die, instead of moving normally. On a 4, 5 or 6, the token is won.
Stopping short at a city is allowed.
If the player buys or wins the token, it is flipped over, the player acts according to the revealed token as follows:
- Blank token: Nothing happens.
- Gemstone: The gemstone is immediately sold for cash. Rubies are worth £1000, emeralds £500 and topazes £300.
- Robber: The player immediately loses all their money.
- Horseshoe: Acts as a substitute for the star of Africa, but only after the star has been found.
- Star of Africa: Finding this is the goal of the game. Taking it back to either Cairo or Tangiers wins the game.
Before the star of Africa has been found, horseshoes are useless and are discarded. After the famous diamond has been found, however, they become effective substitutes for it. Taking a horseshoe to Cairo or Tangiers when another player has the star of Africa wins the game.
There are three different forms of travel available:
- On foot. This moves on the regular routes and is free of charge.
- By aeroplane. Aeroplane routes connect some of the cities directly with each other. Travelling by aeroplane costs £300 and takes the player directly to the adjacent city.
- By ship. Ship routes are effectively similar to foot routes, but they are on the sea. Boarding a ship costs £100, after which the player may throw the die to determine how many steps they can take on the sea-route. Unlike traveling by foot, players can not choose to pass by cities. If a player touches a city they have to end their turn and pay another £100 to take the boat back. According to the 2005 rule revision players with no money can also travel by sea but only a maximum of two steps at a time. The islands Madagascar and St. Helena are only reachable by aeroplane or ship. Canary Islands are only reachable by ship.
Some cities or other places on the board have special rules.
- In Slave Coast, getting a blank token causes the player to be enslaved and sold at the slave market. They may only proceed after three turns have passed without their participation.
- In Gold Coast, the value of gemstones is doubled.
- The first player to reach Cape Town is awarded £500.
- There is one step in Sahara where the player is ambushed by beduins and can only proceed after rolling 1 or 2.
- There are two steps in the sea near the island of St. Helena where the player's ship will be raided by pirates and the player can only proceed after rolling 1 or 2.
In 2014, an expansion for the game called Retkikunnat ("The expeditions") was published, making the game more complex. In the expanded game, each player must choose a character and build an expedition from cards found on the table. There are now two tokens stacked on top of each other in every city, and the Star of Africa is found on a token on the bottom. Characters give different properties to the players: for example, the Banker character starts off with more money. The expansion also includes danger and event cards, affecting the game play. When visiting a city, a player draws an event card, which can for example result in fear of flight or sea sickness. As a new feature, it is now also possible to steal the Star of Africa from the player who found it. According to a review on the Lautapeliopas site, the new features increase the randomness and luck factor, and there is no notable effect on the skill involved.
Video game version
Afrikan tähti was made into a video game for the Commodore 64 in 1985 by Otso Pakarinen and Jari Heikkinen who were given permission to make the game from Kari Mannerla. The game was published by Amersoft and produced by Jouko Riikonen. Programming the game took roughly two months. It was made with help of some PROMAL source code which the creators got from Amersoft.
In other countries
The game was launched in Sweden in the 1970s by Alga Ab, under the name "Den försvunna diamanten" ("The lost diamond"). In Denmark a variant of the game is marketed by Brio. In Norway the game has been sold under the name "Den forsvunne diamanten" ("The lost diamond") for a few decades, and is currently marketed by Egmont. All publishing rights are directly copyrighted to Kari Mannerla’s five daughters.
A quirk in the rules can cause the game to become unwinnable. The islands of Madagascar, St. Helena and Canary Islands contain cities, and it is possible that the star of Africa ends up being there. In such a case, if no player has £200 left (to get to the island and back again), the star of Africa can not be transported to Cairo or Tangiers, and the game can not be won. To resolve this quirk, the rules were amended in 2005:
- If a player has no money left, they can travel on sea for free, but only up to two spaces per turn.
Despite this amendment, some players still play by the old rules.
- Alga spel - Den försvunna diamanten (In Swedish)
- "Afrikan Tähti täyttää 50 vuotta". Kauppalehti (in Finnish). 2001-12-09. Archived from the original on 2008-12-07. Retrieved 2008-12-08.
- Saari, Mikko: Afrikan tähti: Retkikunnat -lautapelin arvostelu, Lautapeliopas 8 September 2014. Accessed on 19 March 2016.