Merchants & Marauders goes Broadsides and Pretzel’s Junk Art

While Asmodee North America has gotten a lot of attention for acquiring board game companies, F2Z Entertainment has quietly built a nice base for themselves. Under the F2Z banner are the brands Filosofia, Z-Man Games, Pretzel Games and, most recently, Plaid Hat Games.

We’ve got a couple releases coming out this year from a couple of F2Z companies, staring with the Z-Man Games title Merchants & Marauders: Broadsides:

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mmbroadsideSet in the well-established Merchants & Marauders universe, this 2-players stand-alone puts you in the boots of a fearless ship captain. Through your spyglass, you see a profitable sea lane, just waiting to be claimed. But competition is closing in and the battle is inevitable: Load your cannons! Hoist the red flag! Will you be able to sink the enemy before they send you feeding the sharks?

Designed by Joshua Cappel and illustrated by artist Chris Quilliams, Merchants & Marauders: Broadsides is a confrontational game in which opposing players will be facing impossible choices to survive the deadly battle: spending resources to defend and repair their ship or unloading everything they’ve got at the enemy!

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Following on the heels of their successful dexterity western Flick ’em Up, Pretzel Games has announced their second title, Junk Art:

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junkartJunk Art is a dexterity game that’ll put your creativity up against the laws of physics by having you build unique structures around the world.

Where some see junk, others see art! In Junk Art, let your creativity take over as everything you touch turns into magnificent structures and extraordinary creations! But you’re not the only talented artist in town and you must prove yourself by taking the road, showing your skills and making new fans!

Junk Art contains more than ten game modes, along with more than sixty big colorful wooden components. In one version of the game, players pile all of the wooden parts in the center of the table, then are dealt a number of cards, with each card depicting one of these parts. On a turn, a player presents their left-hand neighbor with two cards from their hand. This neighbor takes one card in hand, then takes the part shown on the other card and places it on their base or on other parts that they’ve already placed. If something falls, it stays on the table and the player continues to build on whatever still stands. Once players have finished playing cards, whoever has the tallest work of art wins.
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Both of these titles will release at Gen Con 2016.

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.