Review of Campos (Huch & Friends) – Essen Spiel 2010

Campos
Designer: Pietro Vozzolo
Publisher: Huch & Friends
Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Time: 20-30 minutes
Times Played: More than 15 plays, all with review copy

Rules can be found at: http://www.huchandfriends.de/page/de/Downloads/Spielanleitungen/Strategiespiele/Campos.pdf

Courtesy of Huch & Friends press kit

The box and components of Campos

One of my personal gaming crosses to bear is that I usually really like abstract games and many of the gamers that I usually play with prefer something with a little more story.  It’s often a challenge getting some of my favorite abstract games (such as Einfach Genial or DVONN) to the table without having to cajole my fellow gamers into giving it a try.  I’m usually attracted to the abstract games because they tend to have very simple rulesets and lots of room for replay and refinement of strategies.

I’ve been trying to get those gamers to see that story and theme isn’t everything in a game by starting most of my game descriptions like this: “OK, welcome to the wonderful world of Puerto Rico.  There is a story here, and it is to get the most victory points by manipulating these little wooden bits and cardboard chits in a pleasing manner.”  I mean, sure, I could talk about building buildings and moving goods and all that crud, but in the end, the story in about all of these games is the same — get the most victory points by the end of the game…

Despite this mismatch in interest, I am always attracted to looking at new abstracts, hoping that the next one will be the one that converts my fellow gamers to my way of thinking.  At the 2010 Spiel fair in Essen, I picked up a number of abstract games (Campos, Caminos, RRR) – many of which I’ve managed to get to the table at least once.  I will be writing up all of these abstract games in the coming weeks, but Campos may be the game that provides this abstract breakthru that I’ve been looking for.  It has made the table a number of times, and it has even been requested by some of the non-abstract players.

Campos is a beautiful game made up of 32 brightly colored triominos and some scoring cards.  Each triomino has 3 hexagons on it, each of those hexagons can be red, yellow, green or blue.  During the first phase of the game, players will use these pieces to build a colorful mosaic board.  They can also use their scoring cards to score points if they think the current board state is advantageous.  In the second phase, the board is then deconstructed as pieces are removed from the board.  Again, players have the option to score their cards during this phase.

Let me go into a bit more detail though.  The setup for the game is simple.  One triomino piece is drawn from the bag and placed in the center of the table.  Each player then draws two pieces for their starting hand, and these pieces are left face up on the table for all players to see.  Finally, each player gets dealt a hand of scoring cards (5 cards for 2p, 4 cards for 3p, 3 cards for 4p) — these cards will be described in more detail in a little bit.

On each turn, players have two possible actions.  They can either place two pieces to the board, or they can place one piece and then play a scoring card.  When you place a piece, you use one of the pieces face up in front of you and play it to the board.  You can place it anywhere on the table as long as at least one edge of this piece is completely adjacent to a piece that was already on the board.  There is no restriction based on the colors on the pieces, and usually players will want different arrangements of colors to grow on the board based on the scoring cards that they hold in their hand.

After placing the first piece, you have the option of either placing your other piece or playing a scoring card.  If you choose to play another piece, you do so following the same rules mentioned above.  If you want to use one of your scoring cards, you play it face up to the table for all to see.   Timing of scoring is important because the value of the scoring cards will change during the course of the game, and some cards may not be eligible to be scored depending on the state of the tiles on the board.  After your second action, you then draw enough pieces to replenish your hand back up to two face up tiles.

There are 24 scoring cards in the game, but they all follow the same pattern:  If the largest contiguous area of [COLOR A] is larger than the largest contiguous area of [COLOR B], then you score one point for each hex in the largest contiguous area of [COLOR C].  I know that is sounds a little confusing when you read it, but in practice it is an easy thing to pick up.  The fact that there is essentially only one type of card helps here – the only things that change are the colors on the card – there is one card of each possible permutation of 4 colors in the scoring deck.

 

3 scoring cards. The bottom one says: If the largest group of yellow is bigger than the largest group of red, then score points equal to the size of the largest group of blue."

This pattern of playing two pieces OR playing a piece and then playing a scoring card continues until either there are not enough pieces left in the bag to draw OR a player has played his last scoring card from the hand he was dealt at the beginning of the game.  Whenever either of the phase ending conditions are met, all players get an additional number of scoring cards (same number as they got in setup) and any unplayed triomino pieces are returned to the game box.  You won’t need any of these pieces anymore because players will be removing pieces from the board for the rest of the game.

In this second phase, the options are: remove two pieces from the board OR remove a piece from the board and then score a card from your hand.  When you remove a piece, you can only choose to remove a piece from the outer edge of the board – and you may not move any other piece while removing your targeted piece.  Additionally, the playing area must remain one single piece – you cannot remove a piece that would split the board into two or more distinct islands.  The rules for scoring cards remains the same.  This deconstruction phase lasts until the last piece is removed from the table (or when all players have scored all their cards).  At that point, they player with the most points scored wins the game.

The game is beautifully simple to teach.  The rules can be explained – using the components as examples – in about 3 minutes.  If you needed the rules, all of the rules are on three example laden well-illustrated pages.  The rules come in four languages – German, English, French and Dutch.  However, as all of the components are language independent and since the game only has three or four rules, I’ve been able to get gamers of all ages and abilities started in less than 5 minutes without a hitch.

The game interests me mostly because of the shifting nature of the board.  The board is constantly in flux because at least one piece must be added to the board each turn in the first phase and at least one piece must be taken away each turn.  You constantly have to be evaluating the board to decide when your scoring cards are going to be worth more points (or if you can even score a particular card).   This tactical-ness is appealing to me as you constantly have to be watching the way the board is forming (or being destroyed) to value your cards.  However, I can definitely see how some people could be turned off by this aspect.  Or, how some people will end up spending way more time than the game merits trying to min-max their scoring chances.

There seems to be a waiting game in the first round where people try to wait out scoring as long as possible.  As the board grows larger with each turn, it follows that the maximum possible score for the cards would also increase.  However, players have to time their scoring well because 1) it may turn out that their cards will not be able to be scored based on the tiles if they wait too long and 2) the round may end before they get a chance to score their cards. While you keep any unscored cards to use in the second Phase, the constantly shrinking board tends to lead to constantly smaller scoring opportunities as well.  Oftentimes, the player who is able to score all of their scoring cards first is the player who wins the game.

There is a fair amount of blocking or defensive play that can be made.  Since you can see what tiles people have, you can try to imagine what they want to do – and change your play accordingly.  Also knowing that there are 24 scoring cards – exactly one of each possible permutation of the colors – can help you plan some blocking moves late in the game. However, the distribution of the scoring cards isn’t always a good thing though.  The game can bog down for a player if they get dealt a hand of cards that aren’t destined to score.  For instance, if you get all 4 cards which start with “If Green is bigger than…”, it might happen that Green just never gets big enough to allow you score those cards.  The frustration only grows larger when it turns out that you don’t ever draw green tiles either.

One thing that isn’t great is the scoreboard.  Frankly, it’s the worst scoreboard I can remember since Capitol (though not as bad as Capitol).  It’s a huge triomino shaped cardboard piece that has a wiggle scoring track on it.  The path weaves back and forth which makes it sometimes difficult to see where the markers are on it.  But… the markers are the worst part – there are four black pieces of shapes (square, triangle, star and square). Any single piece takes up almost a whole scoring space, and the pieces don’t stack well on top of each other.  It’s hard to remember which shape you are as there are no other references to them in the game, and then if they move or topple off of each other, it’s not always easy to remember where they once were.  The anal gamer in me is also a bit bothered that everything else in the game fits exactly in the otherwise very nice vacuum tray except for this scoreboard which just has to lay on top.

Note the wavy path.

The kids do like the game though, which is one of the main reasons why it’s getting a lot of play right now. (As a reminder, my kids are 9 and 7).  This game seems to fit right in their wheelhouse.  It plays quickly, and there aren’t many rules for them to keep track of.  Though they often score cards at times that seem less than optimal to me, their overall scores (and win percentages) are actually quite good – so maybe they’re taking advantage of scoring more cards since they are not always waiting for the best possible opportunity to score them.  It’s a nice game to play together as a family, and it’s also a nice one for the boys to pull out on their own and play with just the two of them.

In the end, the quick play of the game lets me look past the shortcomings.  It’s a fun tactical game which is easy for newbies to grasp.  It will likely be a good filler / closer due to the short play time.  I am honestly not sure if it will stick around forever due to the possibility of being hosed by the cards – but I”m still enjoying it for now.

Rating: I like it.

—–
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Valerie’s opinion:  For the most part I agree and overall, I like this game very much.  I have, however, had a player feel frustrated when he felt that there was nothing much he could do.  I didn’t quite understand this until it happened to me.  I was unlucky enough to have all of my scoring cards dependent on red being large–either because it needed to be larger than B for me to score C or it was the color I wanted to score (C in the if A is bigger than B, score C equation).  Unfortunately red was very small,  I had little or no red on my tiles, and the other players were all working to keep red small.  In the end, I was able to do well in the deconstruction portion of the game and I fared reasonably well in the pack of scores, but that didn’t erase the memory of frustration during the game.  Perhaps I missed a rule that allows you to ditch your current scoring cards or your current tiles–either would have helped.

Joe Huber’s opinion: (1 play) Dale has summarized the game quite well.  But for me, abstracts need a spark in order to stand out – and Campos didn’t offer that (unlike Einfach Genial).  It’s a perfectly acceptable game, but not one I intend to play again.

Jonathan Franklin’s opinion: I did not like this game nearly as much as others.  The pieces are fantastic and the experience is fun, but we felt that the randomly distributed scoring cards had a strong effect on the winner of the game.  If three players want a huge red zone, then good luck scoring your yellow is larger than red card until very late in the game.  You did nothing wrong, but failed to have a card that capitalized on where the scoring cards/groupthink took the game.  Play as an activity or a casual game.

John Palagyi’s opinion: (2 plays) I agree with abstracts needing a spark to get me to play them repeatedly.  I’ll certainly play if others want to, but wouldn’t suggest it myself.

—–
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:

I Love It! (0)
I Like it. (2) – Dale Yu, Valerie Putman
Neutral. (3) – Joe Huber, Ted Alspach, John Palagyi
Not for me… (3) – Luke Hedgren, Jonathan Franklin, Brian Yu

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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