The Opinionated Gamers

ALTIPLANO

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If there was an award for cutest start player marker, Altiplano would definitely be in the running, But is there more to the game than just a totally adorable alpaca? Let’s see.

In Altiplano you are a resident of a mountainous region in South America, where you are trying to make a living farming, fishing and mining. It’s not easy, though and resources are limited, so you’re always trying to make improvements.

There are seven location tiles that make up the village; they are placed randomly in a circle. Each location has tiles and/or cards that can be purchased there. Off to the side is an extension strip, where you can purchase cards that give you additional action options on your turn.

Each player has an identical action board, a warehouse, a cart and player markers. Players draw a role tile and place it face up next to their action board; the role card gives you an additional action option as well as indicates your starting tiles and money. You put the tiles into your bag and you are ready to go.

All players simultaneously draw tiles from their bags; the number drawn is equal to the number of available planning spaces you have on your board. You start with 4; your number of available spaces can be fewer if you didn’t place all your tiles on your previous turn or can be more if you’ve expanded. Tiles you acquire and spend throughout the game are placed in your cart; when you need to draw a tile and your bag is empty you dump the contents of your cart back into your bag and continue drawing.

Next, all player simultaneously move their tiles from planning spaces to action spaces on their board, role tile or any extensions they have purchased. Once the start player announces they are done moving tiles, each player in clockwise order declares they are done; once you declare you are done you may not make any changes.

Next up is the action phase; all players take turns carrying out their actions until all players have passed. To take an action you must be located in the space where the action you want to take is based – so if you want to produce wool at the farm your piece must be located at the farm. You start the game on a space of your choosing, but you’ll have to move eventually. All players start the game with a cart that allows them to move up to three spaces at no cost once each turn. You can also assign one food to move one space on an additional turn or acquire additional carts to move an additional 3; additional movement beyond your free cart always costs one food.

When you take an action you spend the required tiles and put them in your cart; any tiles you gain as part of the action also go in your cart.

Most actions get you a tile, but there are also cards with houses and boats that give you bonus points and orders that will give you points if they are filled, road extensions (that allow you to use more tiles each turn) and extension cards that give you additional actions.  You can buy additional carts to increase your movement. In addition each player has a warehouse; at the village you can choose to place one or more goods in your warehouse following the warehouse placement rules – no food and only goods of the same type per row with the exception of corn, which can be placed in any row that already has a tile in it (if corn is placed first in a row you can only place corn there). Tiles in your warehouse are not available to you but will score at the end of the game.

The round continues until everyone has passed; you are never required to carry out actions you have programmed, so if circumstances change you may choose to pass with tiles on your action board; those tiles remain on your board for the next round.

The start player moves to the left, carts are moved back to the unused positions and if someone bought an extension the market is adjusted and filled in.

The game continues until all tiles and cards on at least one of the locations have all been taken or if an empty space on the extension cannot be filled in. The current round is finished and then one final round is played.

Players score for all of their tiles except food and money, boats and houses, fulfilled orders and bonus points granted by houses. Players then get storage points; for each completed row in his own warehouse, a player scores the number of points indicated at the end of the row. The player with the most points wins; ties are broken by most money.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME

I enjoy the game. I am a big fan of deck building, and this is essentially a deck builder in a bag. Planning your actions based on what you drew is appealing to me, and I find there is usually enough variety that you have something interesting to do. If you don’t, you have the ability to set yourself up for a future turn. There is more than one path to victory; although there are goods that are more valuable than others, savvy manipulation of extensions and bonuses give you lots of way to maximize what you have.

The rules are well-written and cover most everything. The components are mostly of good quality, although I suspect our alpaca will need some surgery to keep her upright over time. The colors and symbols are clear and not easily confused with each other. The board is easily viewable by all players.

The game is essentially multiplayer solitaire. This doesn’t bother me, as I am perfectly happy to have my own little space in the mountains to work in, but there is no real player interaction; someone might take the extension tile or bonus card you wanted, but that’s about it.

Some aspects of the theme do not tie well to the actions; why do 2 fish make a stone? I suppose you could argue that you are trading the 2 fish to someone for one of their stones, but since there isn’t really any player interaction the idea that it is a trade still bothers me. I want 2 fish to make something that comes from fish. It doesn’t really affect the gameplay, though – just the feel.

Many people compare it to Orleans, but I’ve only played Orleans twice more than a year ago, so I leave that comparison to others to describe.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan (2 plays): I’m a “compare & contrast” kind of reviewer, so it’s hard for me to discuss Altiplano in a vacuum. I loved my first play of Orleans; liked the first half of my second play of Orleans; and then realized every game would be the same for me.  In Orleans, I found myself pursuing the same strategy in each game, and nothing in the setup or that other players seemed to do was causing me to change that.

I love Stockhausen’s overall Orleans/Altiplano bag/deck building system – using pairs of discs (typically) to buy a new disc – rather than worrying about number of actions or balancing different currencies; leaving discs on certain spaces to have them half-completed for your next turn; and in Orleans, certain actions not only giving you the benefit of the action, but clogging your bag with extra of that disc as a form of abuse/corruption/waste.

After my first game of Altiplano (3-player), I was “neutral”.  Part way through my second game (4-player, with Mission cards), I realized I liked it, and it may climb higher. Altiplano has asymmetric starting conditions in both bag composition as well as an entangled action space. This would add something to such a game, but I think it shines even more due to how difficult it is to get a few resources – with your basic actions, you have no way to acquire Alpacas, Fish, Cocoa, or Pointy Rocks.  This only come in through starting abilities, building extensions, and finding some at sea in your canoe. I found this to add delightful layers of contingency planning.

In the 2nd game we used the optional Mission Cards which I doubt I will ever not use again.  These give each player some hidden objectives to shoot for (e.g. first to fill a warehouse row with only corn; acquire 4 cocoa), and added some nice direction to your strategy.

I’m not a recipe-fulfillment sort of person, so it’s hard for me to imagine ever taking one of the order cards – and that was no matter in our 4-player game, as all but 1 was taken anyway.  (That’s sort of how I do with sprawling point salady games – I pick one module and ignore it.)  There are plenty of other ways to score points, and I lucked out in having the Glass House, the chocoholic Mission Card, a chocolate shop market extension, and opponents who didn’t realize how much glass I was hoarding.

We sometimes lost track of who’s turn it was, as both this and Orleans suffer a little from “most of your turn can be simultaneous but sometimes it can’t and nobody is patient enough to wait their turn and then we lose track of what’s going on”.  Maybe we suffer from that and the game is simply a blank canvas on which we project our own short-comings.

My only other concern is that the starting abilities may point me too much in the same direction.  That is to say, if I get starting tile X this game, and starting tile X next game, is it just back to Orleans for me?  My current answer is “I don’t think so.”  The Mission Cards will help steer you just slightly off track enough that I think it won’t be a problem, and we had sufficient competition for the House and Canoe cards, that our choices felt driven by the precise moment, and not pre-determined by our lot.

Craig M. (1 Play): With only an initial play, I’m not sure where I stand hence the neutral rating. I really do need to try it a second time. My take at the moment is the game is Le Havre meets Orleans given the mechanics lineage of the former and the huge variety of goods from the former. The lone play felt extremely uninteractive, much more so than Orleans. I don’t think I ever gave a thought as to what the other players were doing. To be fair my score was doubled by the winner in that game so maybe I should. The asymmetric start is interesting and a plus. James Nathan is spot on regarding the mission cards. I recommend using them right out of the gate.

Joe Huber (1 play): I must admit to being drawn to the idea of a bag-building game; avoiding the need for constant shuffling is a welcome change from deck-building.  But – every bag-building game I’ve played, including Altiplano, seems to suffer from not knowing when to stop.  I enjoyed Altiplano more than either Orleans or King’s Pouch, as the theme worked better for me in spite of a couple of odd goods transformations.  But the game still went on too long, turning my mild enjoyment into tedium.

Brian Leet (1 play): As with Joe, I like the idea of bag builders. This one worked for me, but didn’t excite me (yet). Orleans was a game I wanted to like more than I do. The strategy just seemed too narrow leaving the selection of actions mechanical. In Altiplano I felt much more like I was selecting a strategy from multiple options, both in how I placed resources and also in how I built my bag. I did find the odd upgrade trees pulled me a bit out of theme sometimes, and overall our first play ran a bit long for my tastes. So, I’m neutral for now but would gladly try this one again.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

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