- Publisher: Stronghold Games
- Designers: Andreas Odendahl, Michael Keller
- Artist: Harald Lieske
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 12+
- Playing Time: 90-120min
- MSRP $59.95
- Release: 2014
- Reviewed by: Mary Dimercurio Prasad
- Game Played: Review Copy
- Number of Plays: 4
In La Granja, 1-4 players control small farms by the Alpich pond near the village of Esporles on the island of Majorca. During the course of the game, players develop their farms and deliver goods to the village as they vie to earn the title of La Granja for their country estate. Timing is critical! La Granja is a fascinating game that requires careful planning. Successful players must learn to cope with the vagaries of the dice and cards. (From the rulebook.)
There are a lot of rules to La Granja (pronounced La Gron-ha) but since it’s pretty straightforward, you’ll probably have it down after a couple rounds. The player aid is a helpful reminder as well. The goal of the game is to gain the most victory points – and there are many ways to do so. The most interesting part of the game is card use; each “farm card” may be used in one of four ways, depending on where it is played.
Each player has her own player board. A player may play a farm card to the left, right, top, or bottom of the board. Cards are slid in place and line up in ways that make sense with how they are used:
- Played to the left side, cards form fields (wheat, olive, grape).
- Played to the right side, cards are farm extensions: increase hand size, allow another paid delivery, extra income, extra pig stalls.
- Played at the top, cards are market barrows (the player delivers the pictured goods and gets returns).
- Played at the bottom, cards are helpers (card text that gives a player some ability during the game).
Player boards also have spaces for trade commodities, harvest goods, upgraded goods, roof markers, revenue dice, donkey markers, and craft markers (discussed further on). Selling/buying prices for each good are also displayed, as are charts for trade commodity usage and farm extension costs.
The main game board is put in the middle of the table. To the left are the revenue spaces. At the center are market spaces: hexagonal spaces ranging from 2 to 6 in value. Surrounding the center hexes are craft buildings with symbol rows. At the bottom of the board are roof marker spaces. At the right side of the board is the siesta track.
The game is played over six rounds. Each round has four phases:
- Farm Phase
- Play a card (to player board) and draw cards to your hand limit.
- Take income – players start with no income but may later gain cards and/or craft markers with income (blue backgrounds).
- Growth on fields/pig offspring – add goods to empty fields; if player has two pigs and empty space, add one pig.
- Purchase roof markers – each round a player may purchase one roof marker. Roof markers cost progressively more round to round, but also earn more victory points. Each roof marker gives a player a one-time benefit such as taking goods, upgrading a resource, or making a free extra delivery.
Anytime actions include using trade commodities, buying and selling resources (prices are printed on the player boards), upgrading resources (pay prices indicated), and harvest goods on fields. Note: harvest goods may not be moved off a field unless upgraded, delivered, or used as payment for a farm extension.
Trade commodities are extremely useful in the game due to their flexibility. They may be traded for four money, for two different harvest goods, for a draw or play of one card, for a pig, or to upgrade two resources for free. Each player starts with one trade commodity and may earn others during the game. The most common way is through completing cards in the market barrows. Trade commodities may also be transported to one of the craft buildings in the transportation phase.
- Revenue Phase
- Start player rolls a number of dice equal to double the number of players plus 1. These are sorted and placed on the left side of the main board, next to the matching revenue spaces.
- In turn order, each player takes a die, places it on one of the two revenue spaces of his player board, and then takes the corresponding revenue (goods, money, delivery, etc.).
- Repeat the above step.
- One die will be left on the main board; all players take the corresponding revenue.
- Transportation Phase
- Each player chooses one of her donkey markers to play face down. All player reveal markers at the same time. Markers have a combination of donkeys (deliveries) and hats (move up on siesta track). There are four markers to choose from; once selected, a marker is removed from play, reset only one time in the fourth round (i.e. each player will play 3 markers before having them all available again).
- In turn order, players move up on the siesta track according to their chosen markers and a new turn order takes effect.
- Using the new turn order, each player makes all his deliveries before moving to the next player. A player may deliver to her own market barrows or to the craft buildings on the main board (each player has his own row per craft building).
- Once players have made their deliveries, they may now, in turn order, make their paid deliveries according to how many are available on their player boards.
Once a craft building row has been completed by a player, that player gets points equal to the game round plus takes the corresponding craft marker and its immediate bonus – the marker will then provide income or some advantage during the game. If it is the first time a player has completed a row in that building, she will earn a bonus point. (There may also be another point to earn if at least one market is still blocked/closed – see full rules for details.)
Once a market barrow card has been completed, the player gets one trade commodity and the number of points indicated on the card (2 to 6); he places his marker on one of the corresponding available hexes in the market (displacing all opponents’ lower numbered adjacent markers and earning one point per marker removed), then discards the card. If there are no corresponding numbered hex spaces available, he chooses an opponent’s marker to replace (gaining a point for it as well as any displaced).
- Scoring Phase
- Each player receives one point per marker she has in market (hex spaces).
- Each player receives the corresponding points on the siesta track; markers are reset to the bottom of the track, in player order.
- A new set of roof markers is made available for next round.
After six rounds, the game ends. Goods are exchanged at value for money; money is exchanged 5 to 1 for points. Players tally up their scores. The player with the most points is the winner.
La granja is Spanish for “the farm” and thus the theme of La Granja is based on farming, specifically farming by the Alpich pond near the village of Esporles on the Spanish island of Majorca. From what I could dig up on the web, the game takes place somewhere between the 10th and 13th centuries.
The rules are fairly comprehensive, although some improvements could be made. There are 20 pages of rules with many graphics, making it pretty easy to get through despite its length. It is fairly well organized into sections. On the back page, I would like to see an index summary with short sentences matching the icons used on the player aid, including a point summary. For example, how many points do you get for completing a craft building? In order to find this information, you have to dig through the rules – the player aid does not have this information and neither is it summarized in a convenient place (e.g. at the back of the rulebook).
The player aid is pretty helpful once you can understand the iconology. Although, even having played the game several times, some of the icons on player aid are confusing (mainly on the back/point side) – another reason for my recommendation above. The extra point for opening a blocked/closed market isn’t even pictured.
A few of the game terms are the strangest and most confusing things about the game, specifically: den, market barrow, and craft building. I am guessing that these came about in translation. I looked up the terms around farming in that region; my conclusion is that den refers to a barn or cellar (used for storage), a market barrow is a market cart (the link shows some images), and a craft building is a workshop – commonly used on La Granja.
The main game mechanisms are hand management, card placement, dice distribution/selection, and area control. You start with a hand of three cards, which may be expanded through farm extensions – depending on having a card in your hand with that particular icon and choosing to place that card as an extension (paying the associated price). Where to place each card, I think, is the most interesting part of the game. With four choices per card and many different cards in the deck – the game will be quite different from one playing to another. The dice distribution/selection is probably my second favorite part of the game. Players get to choose a die for revenue twice per round. Depending on how the dice roll – games can be very different. I’ve played games where there were plenty of pigs available, and other where pigs were extremely scarce. This variability changes the game – player strategies must roll with the punches (pun intended). The area control part of the game comes when players finish market barrow cards and utilize the hex spaces in the center of the main board (there is a note on the back of the rulebook that this was inspired by the temple area of Luna by Stefan Feld). Area control is usually not a favorite game mechanism of mine but with so many ways to score points, it doesn’t bother me at all (at least not as much… well not as much as usual).
There are many, quite balanced, ways to score in the game – something I really like. There is no obvious path to victory; several different strategies could be used to win. Games tend to be close, and making a small mistake does not tend to cost you the game. You could choose to expand your farm and fill higher numbered/more expensive market barrow cards, ignoring the helpers all together. Alternatively you could fill lots of small market barrow cards – using the advantages of trade commodities. You could concentrate on craft buildings, or pig farming, or just do a little of everything.
With all this variation, game replayability is high. I expect to enjoy this over many more gaming sessions. Also there is a solo version of play (last page of the rulebook). It has been recommended as a good way to learn the rules on your own. I have read the rules for, but have not yet played, the solo version, although I plan to do so one of these days. The games I have played were with 2 or 4 players. If players all know the rules and are quick to play, a 4-player game would probably be OK. Otherwise it will likely bog down (and with new players, it’s just a slog). I will likely keep play to 2 or 3 players, and fairly quick ones at that (no A.P. players PLEASE!).
There are some fiddly parts to the game. Sliding cards in and out must be done carefully or you’ll jostle your entire player board, possibly making quite a mess of it. It is best to do things in an organized and consistent manner. For example, when finishing a market barrow – remove the markers to your storage then carefully slide the card up, move one of your markers to your trade commodities, move one of your markers to the corresponding hex, remove lower numbered opponent markers, gain a point for each removed, discard the card. It is very easy to forget one of these steps (e.g. taking a trade commodity). Filling a craft building can be even more complicated. I recommend a player aid with the steps written out. Point markers are also fiddly but I’m not sure there is much to do about this in keeping with the hidden point system (see next paragraph).
The artwork is nice and reflects the feel of Spanish influence and farming of that era. The player and game boards are designed very well. They are helpful and reasonably clear (even if a slightly crowded – there is a lot going on!). The components are high quality, with thick cardboard (linen finish) and wooden pieces. The dice are made from wood; some people may prefer plastic for the extra heft, or possibly randomness – wood, being a natural material, may not have an even weight distribution. The cards are a good thickness, flex well, pass the bend test, and have a nice linen finish. One minor complaint I have is that I wish they had used different colors on the fronts of the point markers – it is too easy to grab the wrong scoring marker because they all look alike.
There is a handy Farm Card Glossary booklet included in the game. It does a good job of describing all 66 farm cards.
Overall, I really like La Granja. It’s a little bit too fiddly and can drag with slower players, keeping it from an “I love it” rating. But it’s a solid game with good replay value.
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:
Nathan Beeler: A lot going on in this one, but I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t just fiddly. I need to play it again to see if it lives up to the praise that some of my friends have heaped on it, or if it’s merely fine, as was my first impression.
Greg Schloesser: I feel exactly the same as Nathan. Many of my gaming friends really enjoy this and I had been anxious to play. However, my one play left me feeling rather ambivalent. It just didn’t grab or excite me, and often left me somewhat frustrated. I do need to play again as perhaps I was expecting something different. Dunno.
Dan Blum: This feels very Feldian for a game not designed by Feld, which is not too surprising considering that Luna is one of the stated influences for the design. I actually like it better than many Feld games (and much better than Luna, which I didn’t care for at all).
However, I am not sure how much long-term replayability it has. Variation in the game comes from two sources: the dice and the cards. The dice obviously vary a lot but I don’t find that variance to be that interesting; more often it’s frustrating. The die rolls in something like The Castles of Burgundy work better since a)there are a lot more of them and b)you have more choice in how to use the rolls. The cards are fine, but the fact that there are only six rounds in the game means that you will need to commit to using cards early, so you don’t end up having a lot of choice.
Joe Huber (2 plays): I think Dan’s summary reflects my opinions well. The game works perfectly fine, but for me, it’s not particularly fun to play. Both the cards and dice tend to frustrate, when they don’t work out. I might well play La Granja again, but I won’t be bothered if I don’t.
Larry (5 plays): La Granja is my favorite game from 2014. It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but after one game, players usually figure out how to make things work. There’s a lot to think about and many ways to score points. Figuring out how to best use your cards is a very nice challenge. I respectfully disagree with Dan about the game’s replayability; because of the tremendous variety in the helper section of the cards. These are quite powerful and really make the playing experience different from game to game. The design is reasonably thematic as well. I can highly recommend this to folks who like heavier games and who enjoy sorting through multiple difficult choices.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:
- I love it! Larry
- I like it: Mary Prasad, Nathan Beeler, Dan Blum
- Neutral: Joe H., Greg S.
- Not for me…