Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Publishers: Artipia Games/Stronghold Games
Time: 45 minutes
Games Played: 5 (with a review copy)
Q: Farming? Again?!
Yes, farming. At least it’s not zombies and/or a nearly themeless business engine-building game. (I’m looking at you, Yokohama… you’re big and beautiful and fill up a table nicely, but I had a wee bit of trouble connecting with the “theme” – and, yes, I just used air quotes. Sue me.)
I think farming works here in this re-purposing of the Among the Stars engine because of the thematic resonance. Pretty much everyone can imagine what it takes to build a successful farm – fields, livestock, buildings – and all adequately supplied with what they need.
For the record, I don’t hate on farming games. While I detest The Farming Game (for those of you who dislike Monopoly, imagine taking that basic engine and making it worse) and Hi-Ho Cherry-O, I’m a long-time fan of Agricola, Kraut & Ruben (an odd but enjoyable little game of farming and brinksmanship by the same guy who designed La Citta)… and I even gave a very positive review to La Granja: No Siesta late last year!
It’s important to note that I have some (ok, a tiny, tiny amount) of experience with farming, due to helping out my grandfather and uncles on their family farm in the Ozarks. It’s hard work, paying low margins. All of them worked various side hustles (custom bailing, piano tuning, editing the local newspaper, driving a school bus, being the high school band teacher) in order to make ends meet. No surprise, I think small farmers deserve better support and fair prices.
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now. Back to the review!
Don’t let your disdain for Agricola and/or any other farming game fool you – Fields of Green is worth your time.
Q: You used the phrase “Among the Stars engine”… I’ve never played Among the Stars, so what the heck are you talking about?
Both Fields of Green and Among the Stars are members of the card-drafting game family – first found in Fairy Tale and refined to a thing of beauty in 7 Wonders. Players select a single card from a hand of cards and pass it on to the next player – then put the cards taken into their tableau (or discard them in order to take other actions).
In both games, where a card is placed is important. In other words, both Fields of Green and Among the Stars add a tile-placement element to the tableau-building foundation of the game. There are dependencies that increase scoring or income as well as patterns that reward players.
Both games last for four rounds with six card hands, resulting in space stations or farms (depending on which game you’re playing) of roughly 18 to 24 cards. Cards can be paid for and placed – or a player can discard them to gain income or access certain cards (Power Generators in Among the Stars, Silos and Water Towers in Fields of Green).
Some cards are scored immediately while others are only triggered at the end of the game. (The graphic folks have thoughtfully color-coded the cards so you can tell which is which.)
The two-player system first introduced in Among the Stars: Revival is used in Fields of Green as well. Rather than having hands to pass, players draft from a six card tableau which is refilled after each player has taken one card. (The original 2 player rules in Among the Stars used a dummy player – and while they worked, the new rules are substantially cleaner and offer more interesting choices.)
While Among the Stars has a longer set-up time (especially if you’ve added expansions to your copy), both games clock in at 45-75 minutes, depending on the number of players. With 4 players (the maximum number of players for Fields of Green or Among the Stars without expansions), the games are both “table eaters” – but they look really great when they are in full swing.
Q: OK, so what’s the difference between the two games?
There are a number of differences – more than I originally thought when I first read about Fields of Green. (Honestly, I decided not to participate in the Fields of Green Kickstarter because I was afraid it would just be Among the Stars in a farmer costume – but the folks from Artipia Games had more tricks/design ideas up their sleeves.)
The set-up time for Fields of Green is shorter… and substantially shorter when you add any expansions into Among the Stars. (I will note that I really like the expansions for Among the Stars… but I’ve taken to prepping the game at home before I take it to a game night so that set-up is quicker & cleaner.)
Fields of Green has increased control of your starting hand each, as players choose six cards from the four different decks of cards (Fields, Livestock, Construction, Buildings) in turn order. Among the Stars simply deals out six cards per player from the prepared communal deck.
As noted above, both games have cards that are triggered immediately when played and others only trigger at the end of the game. Fields of Green adds cards that fire off at Harvest time (the end of each round.) This requires some additional planning and resource management, as Harvest cards that are not given the correct resources are flipped and become an Open Area.
Both games use money (ok, in space we call them “credits”) as a resource. Water in Fields of Green works in a similar manner to Power in Among the Stars. Fields of Green adds Food which gives you one more resource to manage / ball to juggle.
In Among the Stars, scoring occurs throughout the game and at the end of the game – points are tracked on a community score board. Any mid-game scoring for Fields of Green is tracked with point chips and the vast majority of scoring takes place at the end of the game using a score pad.
The focus of the games is different as well – Among the Stars is primarily about creating opportunities to gather points. (To be fair, you can use conflict cards or other expansions to create more player vs player interactions… but the main thing is still point generation.) Fields of Green focuses on engine building – the interplay between money, water & food mix with the careful positioning of various farm elements as you work to build a point-generating “machine”.
Q: You called these games “table eaters” – yet another phrase I’m not familiar with.
I’m reminded of a Dan Rydell quote from Sports Night:
Dan: Eleven years ago Orlando Rojas pitched a perfect game.
Rebecca: And a perfect game is good?
Dan: Look, I know there’s a lot of jargon but some of these really are self-explanatory.
A four player game of either Among the Stars or Fields of Green will, by the end of it, pretty much take all of the table space on our six-seater dining room table. Each player has a tableau of 18+ cards that likely to be arranged in odd formations as well as the cards and components sitting in the middle of the table.
Hence, “table eater.” (“Hey, and if you don’t know, now you know…”)
Q: So, which one do you like better?
That’s a little like asking which one of my children I like better. (For the record, I love both of my boys – they are not only my regular gaming group but also fantastic young men in their own right.)
I think both games are splendid examples of what can be done with card-drafting… and mixing it with tile (yes, I know they’re cards) placement. While I don’t think either game “fires” 7 Wonders, I’m glad I have both of them in my collection.
If forced to choose between the two, I would give the slight edge to Fields of Green – and not just because I’m writing this review. Fields is easier and quicker to set-up, has a strong theme and attractive/functional components. It also offers more control to players – both the composition of the starting hands and the manipulation of the resource engine.
I will note that Among the Stars has some qualities I really like: the ability to play with 5-6 players (with expansions), the sci-fi theme, and the “seasoning” model of expansion modules (some of which are included in the base game). At this point, Fields of Green has a smaller number of cards and therefore is subject to players who know the deck having a distinct advantage in configuring their farms to take advantage of certain cards. Among the Stars avoids this issue by the sheer number of special cards which are mixed into the deck.
Again, I’m loath to choose between the two – each has an appropriate niche for playing with different gaming groups. The farming theme of Fields of Green is more relatable for some gatherings – while my science-fiction obsessed children like all the aliens and laser cannons that are part and parcel of Among the Stars.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Larry (1 play): I’ve only played Fields of Green once and enjoyed it, more than I thought I would. I feared it would be too derivative, but there’s some nice design touches. Getting the most out of your placements is a nice challenge and the inclusion of a harvest, in which you have to supply your tiles with resources at the end of a round to get their benefits (and keep them from going inactive) really added a lot to the strategy. There seemed like there was a lot of variety to the tiles as well, which is vital in a game like this. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to play this some more in the future.
Dan Blum (2 plays): I really didn’t like Among the Stars at all so I approached this game with some trepidation, but Fields of Green solves the two main problems with the original game. In AoS there’s just a single deck of cards, making it all too likely that players get cards only playable late in the game on the first round and/or cards only useful early in the game on the last round. 7 Wonders (the obvious model for AoS) splits the cards by round; FoG instead splits the cards by type, but while that’s not as good it’s a reasonable approximation, especially given the different card mix here as compared with AoS. The other big problem I had with AoS was that a lot of scoring was based on color majorities, which was very hard to control and also impossible to track across the table, meaning that the later turns were 50% taken up by repeated queries of “How many blue cards does everyone have?”; FoG doesn’t have any of this, which does limit interaction to the drafting, but that’s fine with me.
This isn’t to say that Fields of Green will be a favorite of mine – I suspect it won’t be – but I am enjoying it well enough for now.
Joe Huber (1 play): Having played both Among the Stars and Fields of Green once, I’d choose – well, neither for my collection; either to play, though I’d never be the one suggesting them. The theme of Among the Stars appealed more, the play of Fields of Green a bit more.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it…
I like it… Mark Jackson, Larry, Dan Blum
Neutral… Joe H.
Not for me…