A little bit of research later, I found out that Atacama is a game that was designed as part of a contest to create a game using the components of a previously existing game and other spare parts. And, just for the record, it didn't win. However, it did get published, which is saying something.
The theme of Atacama is mining for gold, silver and copper in South America. The reality is that it's an abstract of placing neutral pawns in a nine by nine grid. Bit like filling out a spreadsheet. Every space has a good or silver or copper mine on it, along with a numeric value ranging from one to five, indicated by dots of the metal.
OK, here's where it gets interesting. Each player or team is either the horizontal rows or the vertical columns. You need for pawns in line before it scores but each direction has a metal (a different one, natch) that scores negative points. And pawns can't be right next each other, creating a way to block each other and create dead spaces.
So far, I've just played the basic version of the game. Some of the variants include special pawns that count as two pawns and revealing the board slowly, one section at a time. (The board is made up of nine tiles so there is a lot of room for variable set ups.)
I still have to play the game plenty more times and play the variants but I have a feeling that the game is solvable, at least in the versions were you know the whole board. I suspect, at a high enough skill level that there is a strong second player advantage. Although, thanks for blocking, I can also see how there might be a very strong first player advantage instead. Regardless, I really suspect that skilled play will favor one position.
And, despite the mining theme in the reasonably pretty mining artwork, there is no denying that this is a pure abstract in a fairly dry one at that. Which isn't a problem for me but I know makes it less appealing for a lot of folks I know.
So here's the thing. I have been enjoying Atacama a whole lot more than I think it has any right to be enjoyed. The whole sharing pawns and creative ways of blocking each other has been a surprising amount of fun for me.
I don't know if I would play this face-to-face. There's a lot of good abstract options out there for that. But, as part of my Yucatá rotation, I can easily see myself getting in a dozen place of this and trying out all the variations. It's not going to be a game that I will play forever but I will play it.
I know that's not high praise but that's not bad.