Review: Würfel Bohnanza

In the world of board games, few designers are as prolific and well known as Uwe Rosenberg. Most gamers have played at least one Rosenberg title, and many count him among the most talented designers in history. To me, one of the greatest testaments to the quality of his work is that you can ask a dozen gamers what their favorite Rosenberg title is…and you’ll get a dozen different answers.

I’m one of those annoying people that won’t be able to answer that question – some days I’ll tell you that my favorite Rosenberg is Le Havre, other days I will answer Ora & Labora. God, those are good. But, no matter what title is currently at the top of my list, one that is never far behind (and sometimes tops the list), is Bohnanza. It’s a game that I’ve played more than most in my collection, and I’ll still bring it out during game nights.

When I heard that there was a dice version of Bohnanza in the works, I was…well…disinterested. In my experience, when a dice version of a game is made, it’s not that great. So when it was released overseas and wasn’t brought to the US, I wasn’t heartbroken. I figured it would make its way over here at some point…but that was four years ago and still? Nothing.

Fast forward to Origins 2016 – one afternoon, Patrick Hillier of the What Did You Play This Week Podcast Thing, pulled this game out of his Quiver (an amazing game carrying case) and I joined the group to check it out.

Würfel Bohnanza is a game for 2-5 players from Uwe Rosenberg that is comprised of 66 cards, 7 dice, and one bean field card. Play time on this game will vary between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the number of players.

wb01There are two groups within the dice – one set of four white dice and one set of three “beige” dice. Each set of dice, white and beige, have their own die faces with different colored beans on them. The white dice have orange, green, blue, and purple while the beige dice have orange, yellow, red, blue, and brown.

Much like the original Bohnanza, the Harvest cards serve two purposes: on the front side are 6 bean orders. These are the orders that the players will work towards fulfilling, some showing a number and color of beans required, others showing general orders (three different pairs of dice, six with no orange, etc.). On the back side are the thalers, which are the coins you need to win.

To begin the game, each player is given two Harvest cards and chooses one to work on first, placing the second card below the first, using it to cover the orders which are completed. Set the rest aside as a draw pile. During a player’s turn, they will roll the dice, and keep at least one, placing it in the bean field. They will continue to roll until they choose to stop or are out of dice. At that point, they complete the orders they can using the dice on the bean field and the turn moves to the next player clockwise. Each die can be used more than once, so completing multiple orders is possible.

wb02While the active player is taking her turn, the other players are able to complete orders as well, using only the dice that have just been rolled. Once dice are planted into the bean field, only the active player may use them to complete orders. For instance, if the order I’m currently working on is for two reds and a blue, and the active player rolls that, I can complete that order immediately. Because of this, it is important for the active player to make sure that everyone has had a chance to look at their cards before locking one of the dice.

Once at least three orders have been completed on a Harvest card, it can be turned in for coins. This can be done at any time, even if it is not your turn. The number of coins you’ll receive will increase with the number of orders you’ve completed – three orders can be turned in for 1 coin (simply flip the card into your scoring pile), whereas six orders can be turned in for 4 coins (flip the Harvest card and take three more facedown from the draw pile). This makes the card you were using as a “cover card” your current Harvest card.

After this, draw a new Harvest card, which becomes your second card to cover the orders on the card you’ve retained. It’s important to note that when you make this switch, especially if it is your turn, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to auto-complete orders on the new card. So if the last order on your first card was for two reds and two blue, and the first order on your new card was for two blue? Well, you’ve already got that!

Play continues until someone winds up with 13 coins after cashing in. Play stops and that person is the winner!

So was my disinterest well placed? Was this another “dice version dud”? Not in the least. There’s a lot to like about Würfel Bohnanza and, admittedly, a couple of really sizable downsides. Let’s take a look!

  • Würfel Bohnanza is easy to teach, and doesn’t take long to play. In fact, as you can fulfill orders on another player’s turn, we’ve found that adding more players has almost no effect on the playtime.
  • The Bohnanza theme is there, but this doesn’t attempt to pawn itself off as a dice version – this game stands alone just fine.
  • Each bean order has a little number on the right side. This is the percent chance that you will complete this order on your first roll. Two oranges? 33% chance. Two reds and a green? 6% chance. Knowing this can be important because…
  • The game allows you to bail out on orders that are tough to complete. That two red and a green? That’s a tough one, even with seven rolls. Once you’ve completed your third order, it’s time to evaluate and move on if the rest on the card are getting too hard to complete.
  • As you are able to complete orders when it isn’t your turn, players are always engaged in the game. In fact, there’s often (at least in my groups) a craps-like feel to the cheering. “C’mon now…roll me two orange, two orange…” It’s a lot of fun.

With all of that going for it, this game is a slam dunk. But, as I mentioned, there are a couple of pretty hefty negatives here as well. First off is availability. For whatever reason, this game just never made it out of Europe. I’m not sure if AMIGO Spiele couldn’t find a U.S. distribution partner, didn’t want to bother with translation, or what the story was…but it’s just not here.

wb03Thankfully, we have the internet. You can occasionally find this at an online game store, but it usually requires a special order. My suggestion would be to look on Amazon. There are several sellers from Germany that have this priced low with affordable shipping to the States. I’ve ordered from two different sellers with no issue.

Secondly, there’s an issue with the dice. The dice come in two different colors, white and beige. Unfortunately, the beige dice are a lightly colored beige. Very lightly. So light, in fact, that it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two dice…especially under low light conditions. This can be important – if you’re trying to roll a green colored bean, you need to keep rolling the beige dice and not the white.

This problem can be remedied in a couple ways: if you consult the summary cards that come with the game, it’s easy to tell which die you are looking at as they both have colors which are unique. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can take a marker to the beige dice. A simple dot on each corner will mark them as different.

The issue with the dice most people will be able to get around, one way or another. The availability issue will be a little more difficult, depending on stock levels from third party sellers. But I think you should make the effort, for this game is worth the hassle.

It’s not going to be a centerpiece to your game night – it doesn’t really have enough meat for that. But this game makes one hell of a good closer. You will find all the players engaged, you’ll get a new take on the Bohnanza world, and you’ll be able to teach it in under 10 minutes. To me, that’s worth the extra effort.

Uwe Week: A Recap

Every now and then Laura and I will step back, look at our games, and it hits us: WHOA. There’s a lot of gaming goodness on that shelf. Of course, one of the evils of reviewing games is that you tend to want to get the newer stuff to the table because…well, it’s what people want to hear about. And while it’s nice to see the new designs and play through a new game, there are some classics on those shelves that just aren’t getting the time they deserve.

So, to combat that, Laura and I are coming up with a new way to get some of our old favorites played. This isn’t going to be a replacement for our normal methods (we either have one planned for the evening or use the bag), mind you, but it will be used more frequently.

We’re going to have specialized weeks based on…well, whatever we want. Designer. Publisher. Theme. Mechanics. Play time. Two player only games. Whatever the delimiter, we’re going to use that to pick our games for that week.

With that in my mind, we decided that our first week would be a designer week. And who better to kick that off than Uwe Rosenberg? We had a couple of Rosenberg games that Laura had yet to play, and a couple that neither of us had…so it was going to be a fun week!


Sunday: Patchwork

PatchworkTo kick off Uwe Week, we chose his recent two player game Patchwork. We’ve reviewed Patchwork in the past and it’s no secret that it’s one of our favorites, but our friend Sean had yet to play. After the release of the Patchwork app, he was quite interested in playing to make sure the app was something he would enjoy. Laura was more than happy to oblige!

Sean caught on quickly, and found himself drawn to the cuteness of the game. He also mentioned that the idea of using buttons as a form of payment was a great way to integrate the theme into the game. Laura trounced him pretty bad in the first game, but he was able to turn the tables and give her a resounding thumping in the second. Of course, this leaves them tied…so stay tuned for news of the tiebreaker!

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Tuesday: Fields of Arle

IMG_4242Monday was D&D night, so our next Rosenberg was played on Tuesday with another two player offering: Fields of Arle. Neither Laura nor myself had played this one, so we took some time to go over the rules before playing.

This one is a fairly standard worker placement game, with a metric crap-ton of things that you can work towards. I’ll come right out and say it – those with analysis paralysis are going to struggle here. There’s just so. Much. You. Can. Do.

That being said, Arle finds you creating mini-engines with which to convert good to points in a very captivating way. There’s a fairly decent theme here as the “tools” you need to improve your goods output all relate directly to the resources. Perhaps the most interesting way that you can obtain points is through taking a trip…but only once you’ve got a wagon (or other mode of transportation)!

For a table swallowing behemoth of a game, Fields of Arle was easy to grasp and provided thoughtful gameplay without feeling too overwhelming. If you spend any amount of time playing two player games, this is one you should check out.

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Wednesday: Caverna

IMG_4245It’s been a while since we played Caverna, so that was our choice for Wednesday.

After Tuesday’s worker placement extravaganza in Fields of Arle, Caverna felt like a natural transition. The gameplay is a lot more focused here, and you’re going to wind up getting in the way of other players quite a bit.

Sean joined us for this one, and it was his first experience heading into the caves. After a brief primer we jumped in and started delving. Sean and I were both able to get some caverns furnished and fields plowed in the first couple of rounds, but Laura found herself floundering a bit. Either Sean or I were always in the spaces she seemed to want, or she had to worry more about food than building.

Caverna is often called Agricola-lite, and it’s easy to see why. There are quite a few parallels between the two games, and you find that you never seem to have enough turns. Unlike the choice-fest of Arle, you can find yourself taking actions which aren’t going to benefit you in the long run. A couple of bad rounds can really sink you.

Do we recommend Caverna? Sure. It’s a great game. But the similarities between this and Agricola might cause you to feel like owning both is too much overlap in your collection.

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Thursday: At the Gates of Loyang

IMG_4249It had been a few years since my last play of At the Gates of Loyang, and I was anxious to introduce Laura to this one. While it will play up to four, Loyang is a game that, in my opinion, should not be played with more than two.

As we started playing, I remembered the tattered history of this game. Following closely on the heels of Agricola and Le Havre, this was the third game in the so called “Harvest Trilogy”. The prior two games were smash hits and very well received, so hopes were high for Loyang. Which meant that many people were really disappointed with this game.

Before I go further, I want to stress that Loyang is a really good game. There’s a lot of fantastic gameplay here and you’re going to find yourself swearing at your “stupid shitting regular customer with her goddamn cabbage” at least once in this game. There are interesting decisions to make on every turn, and you find something new every time you play.

But it’s not Agricola. It’s not Le Havre. When it comes down to it, Loyang was an unfortunate victim of timing. Hell, for that matter so was Merkator. Rosenberg released some games that were just plain overlooked because gamers were expecting more of the same from Uwe. It reminds me of Pearl Jam. Those first two albums were so good and then they just………well, you’re not here to read my thoughts on music.

Anyway, this one had some bumps. I planted in fields I shouldn’t have, Laura took a little more time to latch on to some of the mechanics than other games…it was a bit rough. But it’s a game which is worth playing again. It’s not his best work, for sure…but it’s still a good one.

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Friday: Bohnanza

IMG_4262Ah, Bohnanza. This is easily one of my favorite games of all time. The art of the deal is strong with this one, and I’ve sworn more in one game of Bohnanza than in the entire previous week. But what’s always struck me as neat about this game is that there’s a seldom explored two player variant that is pretty damn good in its own right. That version of the game goes like this:

  1. Discard or plant leftover beans (see below)
  2. Plant one or two beans from your hand
  3. Discard one bean from your hand (optional)
  4. Draw three beans, placing them face up
  5. Plant what you want, leave the rest for the other player
  6. Draw two cards to the back of your hand

Now the real kicker is with step 4 – the drawing of beans for display. Because you’re not just drawing three beans and leaving it at that. With each bean you draw, you look at the discard pile. If the top bean matches one you’ve drawn, add it to the offering. If the one below that does? Add that one too! So you can wind up with a cascading bean explosion and wind up getting a couple coins by doing nothing more than drawing cards.

I’m not going to wax (har har) on too much about this one….because it deserves a review all to itself. But suffice it to say that Laura and I played two games of this. And she pounded me. Twice.

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Saturday: Le Havre

IMG_4265Well, we certainly saved the best for last. Embarrassingly, this game has on my shelf for five years (almost to the day) before seeing the light of day. I am now kicking myself that I wasn’t more adamant about getting this to the table. But now that we have, we’re going to make up for lost time.

One of the first things that I noticed about Le Havre was that the game helps the players ease into things. In the first round? Well, there’s only a few buildings that you can use. So you grab resources. Which will allow you to build in the next round…which opens up more possibilities. Eventually you’re pondering every move for that one combination which will allow you to build what you’ve been waiting for……..and then you realize you’ve forgotten about food!!

Laura was immediately drawn to this game. When I look across the table and see that look in her eyes where she’s just planning and plotting her next 2, 5, 10 moves? She’s been hooked. And I got it…I was right there with her. Even though she decimated me in the first game, I was still loving every minute.

I’m not going to do the game justice in the short confines of this article, but if you haven’t played Le Havre you really need to check it out.


 

So that wraps up Uwe Week. Le Havre was the obvious highlight for both of us, but we agreed that it was great to revisit some of these games. This won’t be our last Uwe Week, that’s for sure – Ora & Labora, Merkator, Agricola….there’s still a lot to choose from!

Review: Ora & Labora

As a matter of courtesy, we try not to review games that have gone out of print. That’s just not cool, you know? “Hey, look at this game…and look at how awesome it is…and guess what?? You can’t get it.” Of course, you probably could get said game, but you’re going to pay an arm and a leg. So yeah, not cool.

Today, however, we make an exception to this rule. Ora & Labora, a game for 1-4 players from the highly esteemed Uwe Rosenberg, came out in 2011 and seemed to go out of print almost immediately. The game was quite well regarded, and still sits in the Top 50 on BoardGameGeek’s rankings…but for some reason Lookout Games chose not to order a reprint.

Well, recent news from Mr. Rosenberg himself reveals that Lookout Games will finally reprint this much sought after game in the next few months. W. Eric Martin of BGG News also confirmed with Z-Man Games that they will be handling the English Language reprint. So, in light of this great news? Let’s take a look at Ora & Labora.

Ora & LaboraThe game’s tagline pretty much says it all – you’re going to be developing a “Monastic Economy in the Middle Ages”. Each player is given a heartland landscape, three clergymen, and some starting goods. They also have a small deck of 8 settlement cards; 4 of which they start the game with, and 4 that will become available to them as the rounds progress.

Your heartland board is just what it sounds like – the heart of your little monastic village, which will grow and change throughout the game. There are three basic buildings present on your heartland to start: the Farmyard, the Clay Mound, and the Cloister Office. You’ll also have some Forest and Moor cards on your board, which can be harvested for resources on your turn and to make space for new buildings.

Over the course of 24 rounds, your turn will consist of taking one of three main actions: place a clergyman to use a building, fell trees or cut peat, or build a building. The first two actions are based around gathering resources – the buildings and trees/peat will provide you with resource tiles, which you will need to expend to use the third action and build a new building.

Ora & LaboraWith the basics out of the way, let’s chat about what makes Ora & Labora special: the Production Wheel. On this wheel you will find several wooden pieces which represent the various basic resources that you can acquire throughout the game, along with a wildcard which can be used in place of any resource. In the center of this wheel is an arm which has numbers around its inner ring.

At the start of each round this arm rotates, which will usually increase the value of each good on the wheel. The markers for each good stay where they are until a player takes an action which will allow them access to that resource. Once this happens, the marker is moved around the wheel to the zero spot, where it will start the journey once more. If you’ve played Rosenberg’s Glass Road you’re pretty familiar with how this works.

But that’s not all the wheel does. During setup all of the building cards (and those four extra settlement cards each player has) are divided into four stacks based on the letter on the cards. These are placed along the outer edge of the wheel, to come into play once the arm passes them at the start of a turn. This will put new buildings into the market and a new settlement card into each player’s hand.

These settlement cards are used during the settlement phase, which is also tracked…by the wheel. Look, if the wheel wasn’t already one of the human race’s best inventions I would certainly be lobbying for it after playing this game. On the wheel are little blue houses which signal a settlement phase, which is the only time a player may build one of the settlement cards from their hand…and these translate to some massive points at the end of the game.

Ora & LaboraOnce the game ends you’re going to accumulate points in three ways: some goods will earn you points, each of your buildings and settlements will have a point value on them, and each settlement will have a separate value based on the buildings orthogonally adjacent. Thankfully, there’s a scoring sheet included with the game because these are numbers you’re going to lose track of quickly.

Ora & Labora, while not taking up a ton of room, will look great on your table. Klemens Franz provided the art for this game, and he really did an excellent job. As your board fills with buildings you’ll see a colorful little society start to develop before your eyes. And, like most of Uwe’s games that Klemens has illustrated, there’s little easter eggs peppered here and there.

When it was released, there were some people who were very concerned about the replayability of this game, especially at lower player counts. Since you’re using the same cards in every game, and they are coming out at the same time each game, there was a worry that it would start to feel repetitive after a few plays. Thankfully this is not the case, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the game comes with two decks of building cards so that you can choose to play the game in either France or Ireland. In fact, you’ll find that some of the goods are different as well – France produces bread and wine while Ireland produces beer and whiskey. And that’s “whiskey” with an “E” for those of you keeping track at home. The U.S. and Ireland are the only countries to add the “E” in there. While some buildings exist in both decks the majority of them are different from one country to the other.

Secondly, the decision trees that span off of…well, just about every action, keep each game playing differently. For example, it’s all well and good to have a plan in place to purchase a certain building on your turn, but someone else might get there first. Or, worse yet, they don’t care about the building you want but they need the same resources and grab those before you get the chance. But this doesn’t derail your whole plan because there’s another avenue you can take to score points.

Ora & Labora
Heartland board shown with the extra plots you can purchase.

Diversification is pretty key here. You can’t simply ignore one of the point scoring avenues completely and expect to win. You want to strive to get your village developed to be able to take you down any of the paths for point scoring. Need to produce goods to make wonders? Need goods stored up to get those pricy settlement cards out?  You try to keep them both in mind as much as you can.

One of the more interesting decisions you’ll need to make is when to expand your land. Expansion is an additional action that you can take on your turn to open up more spaces to build upon. There are coastal, district, and mountain plots  – but they increase in price as they get snatched up, so you’ll want to act early. Of course, taking money might cause you to not take another resource you need. But you can’t ignore them. There are buildings and settlements which have to be built on a specific terrain, and your cloister buildings need to be next to one another. So after a while expansion is completely necessary.

The player interaction is quite interesting as well. For the most part, it’s indirect. In other words, I’m taking a resource that you wish you could have gotten. But you also have the ability to use someone else’s buildings as well. You pay for it, but you get to use that person’s clergyman to take the action. So if you hit someone when they’ve just taken back all their workers you’ve really put a kink in their works.

Ora & LaboraNow I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the negatives here as well. Setup and cleanup can be pretty painful. There are 450 goods tiles to deal with. That’s a LOT to keep track of. Now if you want to just dump it all in one bag and sort as you play it isn’t bad, but if you’re looking to keep each good type in a different bag? It’s about a 10 minute clean up job once you’re done playing.

And, of course, the big one: component quality. This printing of the game had some pretty flimsy stuff inside the box. There were counter misprints left and right, but the worst were the heartland boards and expansion plots. They are cardstock, and not terribly thick cardstock. Thankfully, and I’m going to bold this so people see it, the components will be better in this upcoming release. Hanno Girke from Lookout Games has already addressed this issue in a post on BoardGameGeek, so this should no longer be a negative.

So if you’re a fan of Rosenberg’s games, if you enjoy having the ability to alter your path to victory, if you enjoy the feeling of building a little village, and want a game that will scale well across all player counts? Well, keep your eyes peeled for this one. After all, this is a game you wouldn’t have to wait another four years to get a shot at owning.

Reprints Abound in 2015

Much to the chagrin of resellers everywhere, a couple of much sought after games are getting reprints later this year.

Ora & LaboraFirst up we have a reprint of Ora & Labora, by Uwe Rosenberg. This one has been out of print for a few years now, which is surprising given how well it was received. Printing will handled by Lookout Games, with Z-Man Games taking care of the English version. This news came straight from Uwe Rosenberg himself, and it looks like the flimsy think cardstock boards will be getting upgrades in this new version. Look for this one sometime in the third quarter of this year.

Another heavyweight title seeing the light of day once more is Luna by Stefan Feld. Since the explosion of Castles of Burgundy, Feld’s older catalog has been in high demand with several of his games falling out of print. Rumors have been swirling about Tasty Minstrel Games picking this one up, and finally this tweet confirmed it all:

Looks like a third quarter release for this one as well, with a confirmed MSRP of $60.

 

Mission: Red PlanetFantasy Flight Games, who could probably just churn out LCG content and ignore the cardboard, also gets in on the reprint game in 2015. They recently released a reprint of Tigris & Euphrates and will also bring forth a reprint of Mission: Red Planet by Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti. Apart from the usual Fantasy Flight treatment where the components get a massive upgrade, it looks like the gameplay is getting tweaked as well:

[well]In Mission: Red Planet, two to six players compete to control as much of Mars and its priceless natural resources as they possibly can. This edition maintains the core mechanics of this fast-paced game while incorporating updates by the original designers. Astronauts can land in a new zone, the moon Phobos, and the Soldier can convey astronauts from Phobos to anywhere on Mars. Missions and Discoveries have been fine-tuned, and new Action Cards join the Event deck. The game can now handle six players, with rules for a two-player variant also included. What’s more, the Victorian steampunk aesthetic has been refreshed with all-new graphic design for a more contemporary look.[/well]

Tiny Epic KingdomsFinally we’ve got a comparatively new game getting a reprint and a new version in Tiny Epic Kingdoms. Gamelyn Games announced that the Scott Almes title will see a reprint with a few minor tweaks to the ruleset and some component changes as well. Nothing but good news for a great game! No firm date on this one yet, but with a Kickstarter for the expansion launching in June I would guess no sooner than the end of this year.

Review: Patchwork

When the bulk of your gaming takes place with one other person, you tend to look for games that will accommodate having only two people while still offering some good gameplay. If that person is your significant other, you also tend to look for games that they will find interesting as well. Needless to say, when I saw a two-player game about quilting I knew I had to get it for my quilt-making fiancé.

Today we’ll be talking about Patchwork, a little two-player game published by Mayfair Games and designed by Uwe Rosenberg. Each player is a quilter that will purchase various patches of fabric (using buttons as a form of currency) to add to their ever-growing quilt. The patches of fabric have both a cost in buttons and an hourglass representing the amount of time it will take to sew the patch onto your quilt. Some of them even have buttons printed on them, which help build your income.

PatchworkTo set the game up, lay the patches out in a circle around the table with the time tracker in the center. Find the smallest patch and place the wooden marker to the right…er…left…um…place it after the piece, clockwise. The three clockwise pieces past this marker are the ones that are available for purchase on a player’s turn. Give each player five buttons and a quilt board.

On your turn you may take one of two options. Either spend buttons to purchase a patch and place it onto your quilt board, or move your time marker forward until you are one space above the other player. When taking the second action, you will collect buttons based on how many spaces you have advanced. The time tracker also has buttons and single space patches on it…and if you pass one you either take the patch or collect “button income” based on the buttons present on your quilt.

Play proceeds in an interesting fashion here. The person who is last on the time track is the one that will take their turn. If, after their turn, they are still further back than the other player, they continue to take turns until the pass them. The game continues until both players have reached the end of the time track, and the person with the most buttons wins.

Patchwork combines a tile placement game with…well, Tetris. You’re going to get to a point where you’ll spin each piece two or three different times looking for a way to fit it onto your board before making your decision. The game plays quickly and making the quilt will be enjoyable, and maybe a little relaxing. Of course, you lose points for empty spaces at the end so you’ll really want to fill as many spots as you can.

This obviously isn’t a deep game…there’s not a lot of strategy involved on your turn, and the player interaction is almost nonexistent. But that’s okay – it’s a two-player game which is supposed to play in 15 minutes. It’s meant to be a quick appetizer or a tasty dessert around an evening of gaming. Or maybe just a quick shot when you don’t have time for something more.

PatchworkMy only quibbles with the game are minor. Taking the second action, which will move you up on the time track and give you buttons, almost never feels like a good idea. True, it gives you income, but you’re also eating up time. And there’s not really a way to catch up. If you happen to miss out on patches that have buttons on them repeatedly, and they go to the other player? You’re sunk. In our last game I was netting 17 buttons when I passed the last couple of income points. It’s hard to overcome.

Is Patchwork the right game for you? Well, the game plays in 15 minutes. It’s easy to pick up and learn, and is going to be a little different every time. Sure, there are a couple issues…but you won’t notice them all that much. So if you’ve got a person in your life that you play games with who might enjoy a bit of quilting and a bit of gaming? Go ahead and sew this one into your collection.

Game Day – The New and The New Old

[dropcap background=”yes” bgcolor=”#176D13″]W[/dropcap]inters in Vermont (especially this one) can be bitter cold with miserable weather. This makes you want to do nothing but curl up inside and play some games…which is what we’ve been doing! Let’s catch up on some of the titles to hit my table recently. Some were new, some were old favorites, and some were old games that were new to me.

 

The New

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Patchwork

PatchworkAh, Uwe Rosenberg. He’s on this little list more than once. Patchwork is a wonderful little two-player game where players use various cuts of fabric to make a quilt. The catch is that all the fabric tiles are different shapes and sizes, each costing you a certain amount of time to place on your quilt. This is quite thematic, as it is much easier to sew a square into an actual quilt than a Tetris shaped piece. Buttons are the currency here, and some of the quilt patches have buttons on them to help you build an economy to keep things moving along.

This game really threads the needle when it come to two-player games. The gameplay is simple, but the fabrics you choose can pin you down later on if you aren’t careful – you lose points for empty squares at the end. Any gamer will appreciate this game, and if you know a gamer that quilts, even better.

 

Steam Park

Steam ParkMy brother and his wife recommended this one to us, and I can see why. Steam Park is a light, fun romp where players build an amusement park…….for robots. Marie Cardouat, best known for her work on Dixit, was the illustrator for this game. The surreal style of art makes the game even more thematic – of COURSE a robot would ride a metal octopus ride!

The gameplay features real time dice rolling, a race of sorts, which is actually reminiscent of the building round in Galaxy Trucker. It adds a fun little press your luck element to the game as you try to keep rolling to get the results you want while hoping your opponents don’t finish first. It’s a light, fun game that acts as a wonderful opener to a gaming evening.

 

The New Old

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Airlines Europe

Airlines EuropeWhen looking at Alan Moon’s catalog of work, it’s hard to see past the behemoth that is Ticket to Ride. That game is so successful and has produced so many expansions that Moon can be mistaken for a one-hit wonder. Airlines Europe is an excellent reminder that this designer has more than one trick up his sleeve.

In what is essentially a stock game, players will purchase routes for one of several airlines, place a marker on this route, and adjust the price of that company’s stock. The game is so easy to grasp, at least from a rules standpoint. But at about turn three, when you see what is really going on, you suddenly stare at the board in wonder. Manipulating the market, knowing when it’s time to cut and run, jumping on underdeveloped airlines…it’s a lot to pack into a deceptively simple ruleset. But Moon pulls it off and this is a great game to help bridge the gap between a gateway game and the heavier games one will encounter.

 

Ora & Labora

Ora & LaboraUwe, Uwe, Uwe. You magnificent bastard. I’ve always enjoyed Rosenberg’s games, from Agricola right down to Bohnanza. But this one eluded me for years. It was only in print for a short time, and my gaming was at a different phase back then. Finally I was able to trade for this rare gem, and I’m glad that I did.

In Ora & Labora each player is attempting to grow their plot of land into a thriving society based on work and prayer. I’d get into the gameplay, but there’s no concise way to do it and this would wind up turning into a full blown review. Suffice it to say that we fell in love with this game about halfway through our first play. It combines elements of city building, tile placement, set collecting, and worker placement (among other mechanics) to make a wonderful stew which each player will partake of using their ONE action per round. It’s really a masterpiece.

 

So there you have it…some of the notables from the past couple weeks of gaming. If you have the chance, I highly recommend checking any one of these out!

Valentine’s Day Gaming

Today is Valentine’s Day here in the States, and for some people that will mean a day full of spending time with the special someone in your life. Some dinner, maybe some chocolates, a little candlelight, and if you’re REALLY lucky…some quality gaming time with the one you love. So in honor of two-player gaming, no matter the reason, I’d like to give a very brief overview of a few games that will accommodate more players, but really shine when played head-to-head.

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Glass Road

Glass RoadSet in the Bavarian Forest in the Early Modern Age, players will shape the land and build buildings in an attempt to gather resources and produce glass. To help you with this, each player has a starting set of resources and fifteen workers that will perform various tasks. The game will play over four “building periods” and can be easily completed in 45 minutes.

Uwe Rosenberg has packed so much goodness into this game:

Role Selection – The heart of this game is a role selection mechanic. Each player has the same fifteen cards representing the available workers. Each worker will have two actions on their card, and a player will be able to perform at least one (but hopefully both) of them on their turn. Five of these fifteen cards will be used in a building period, and matching cards with the other player is the only way you’ll be able to maximize your actions.

Resource Wheels – To track their resources, each player is provided with two resource wheels. The wheels are set up so there are two sections to each: a larger section in which clay, sand, water, food, and the more common resources are tracked, and a small section that tracks either brick or glass. As resources are earned the markers for each is moved clockwise around the wheel. As they are spent? Shift them back counterclockwise. Of course the kicker is that once you’ve produced enough basic resources they auto-spend themselves to make the bricks and glass you’ll need. So you have to plan that out carefully.

Variable Buildings – There are three types of buildings in Glass Road: anytime use buildings which typically convert resources, one-time use buildings that offer a bonus when built, and end-game scoring buildings which will increase your point total at the end of the game. As buildings are purchased they are replaced once the next round starts. The wonderful thing? There are 93 buildings in the game. You’re seeing new things every time you play.

The building periods will play out with each player revealing their selected workers and then performing that worker’s action. You need to figure out what you need to get done…as well as what you think your opponent needs. Because if you don’t match up at least one of the roles they reveal? You’re going to be short on actions. And if you aren’t VERY careful with your resources? You’ll gain three water and then wind up losing one of each of your resources as you auto-produce glass.

For a game that can be played in a short time it is absolutely amazing, especially with two players. Read through the rules carefully though. There’s a minor change to how the building period plays out with two players that should be noted prior to starting.

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Seasons

SeasonsIn Seasons, you play the part of a great wizard that is taking part in a tournament to select the archmage. To win this tournament you will need to summon the most amazing creatures, call forth great artifacts, and harness the powers of the very seasons themselves!!! Or, you know, play the cards with the most victory points. I mean, whichever works for you.

The game starts with a card draft, each player selecting nine cards that will be played out through three years. Then the game itself starts with three dice (well, the number of players plus one dice…but this is about the two player game) being laid out for each season. On your turn you roll the dice for that season, the start player selects one, the other player takes a second, and the third set how quickly the seasons advance. You play the action on your dice, play a card if able, and then move to the next turn. It’s that simple.

You’re setting up the flow of your game before the first die is even rolled, so you don’t wind up altering your strategy too much during each year. But it works. The dice can be unforgiving and your opponent might wind up leaching all of your crystals away. But that works too…and adds an element of anxiety that makes each round entertaining.

But they key to the success of this game with two players? It’s quick, and you can keep track of everything without it feeling like a luck-fest. Hell, you can even start with some pre-generated card sets to eliminate the draft and speed that part up. And once you’re into the game things move right along…and you only have one person to keep track of. Those cards can get nasty, which isn’t bad, but with more than two people it feels more like a spreadsheet nightmare than a fun game. “Right, well, I’m taking three crystals for you because of this, and I lose one for that and then I get two wind because it’s past tea time…”

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The Castles of Burgundy

The Castles of BurgundyAnd last, but certainly not least? Stefan Feld brings us to the Burgundy region of France where we are aristocrats trying to grow our tract of land into a bustling princedom. To do so, each player can choose from an available pool of building, animal, and knowledge tiles, purchasing them with the dice they have rolled.

The flow of the game is quite simple. You get two actions on your turn, and the option to pay for a third special action. Each player will use their dice to take tiles from the main board, place tiles on their personal board, sell goods, or acquire workers. The tiles are the meat of the game, not only because they build your princedom, but also because they will each give you a benefit of one sort or another…but it all depends on the dice.

Unlike some dice games where a rough roll can really put your back to a wall, The Castles of Burgundy offers you a way to combat that: your workers. Say you’ve rolled a 4, but the tile you want to buy is on the 5 spot. Well, you’re not totally out of luck. If you’ve got a worker, you can modify your die roll up or down by one digit, thereby allowing you to acquire that tile and carry on.

Eventually you will create combos with your various buildings that will allow you to take free tiles, more money, place tiles on your board…any number of things. But this isn’t just multiplayer solitaire – all the while you’re trying to keep an eye on the other person. Are they moving towards the same tiles you are? Do you need to maneuver into the start position to go first? By the end of the game you’ll be lamenting that one tile you let go on turn three just to grab the start player away from your opponent. It’s brilliant.

Feld has gotten a reputation for his “point salad” games, and there are certainly a variety of ways to score points in this one. But unlike some games, it never feel overwhelming. Your board will help guide the construction of your princedom, so all you need to do is fill in the tiles. Simple in premise, but if the dice are fickle you better be prepared to work for it.

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So there you have it. Three games that deserve to be looked at when you’ve only got one other person to play with. Each one of them offers something different, but will provide a solid depth of play in a relatively short span of time.

Now go grab one of them and start playing!