Rolnicy (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

Designer: Jeffrey D. Allers

Publisher: Nasza Księgarnia

Artist: Tomasz Larek

Players: 2-4

Time: 30-45 Minutes

Times Played: 5

I never set out to make so many tile-laying games, but I always find something new to explore.

-Jeff Allers

Taking a look back through my Top 25 list of games, it’s very apparent that I am drawn to tile laying games, or games with a tile laying mechanism as part of it. Ten of my top twenty five feature it in the game. It seems that if you physically have to build something in a game, I am the target market. Right now, in this design portion of the hobby, no one is doing as much work in revitalizing and refreshing tile laying than, Jeffrey D. Allers. In 2018 alone we were given Pandoria, Gunkimono, and the subject of this review, Rolnicy. Currently Rolnicy is available only via Polish publisher Nasza Księgarnia, but for folks here in the North American market, I hope that changes, and after reading this review, you may as well.

What is it about farming and board games? I often wonder whether we should be playing board games at the table, or out working in the fields. Whatever the draw is, it works. In Rolnicy the players are farmers, and are using crop cards to create our fields of crops in order to score points through claiming Harvest Cards when our crops reach a certain size. The catch here is that we are building two fields, one a private farm that can never be larger than a 3×3 grid, plus we are collectively building a communal farm, which belongs to everyone. The crop cards the players use have two fields on them. While most of cards will be fields of lavender, sunflowers, pumpkins, potatoes, or wheat, some will have a Barn on one of the fields, which will act as “wilds” in the game.

At the start of the game you are going to draw two random crop cards and place them next to each other as the start of the communal farm. Each player is then going to be dealt five crop cards, and will choose one of those cards to be the start of their private farm. Each turn a player is going to do one thing — they may also do a second, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The first thing a player is going to do is plant new crops. You are going to plant in your private farm first and then in the communal farm. Your private farm can never be any larger than a 3×3 grid, and can have a maximum of three barns in it. Rules for placement are fairly simple, crops can cover crops, but cannot cover barns. A barn can cover any crop and may also cover a barn, and two barns cannot be orthogonally adjacent to one another. Other than those three rules, your private farm is your oyster.

The communal farm builds a bit differently. First off, there is no size limitation the communal farm will be a sprawling field of crops by the end of the game. Secondly, when you place a crop card in the communal farm, you must cover one field with a field on the newly placed card so that they overlap. Otherwise, the rules are the exact same.

The second action you may do is to harvest one type of crop. One special thing to note at this point is that each crop may only be harvested by a player one time per game. When you harvest, you must harvest one of the crops that you planted into the communal farm that turn. The size of your harvest will be determined by the largest area of orthogonally connected fields of that crop in both your private farm and the communal farm added together. Barns act as wilds,and can be very important in building fields. If the number of fields adds up to be equal to or greater than one of the harvest cards of that field type in play, you may claim that harvest card. In the game as written in the rulebook there are five harvest cards of each type of crop, the smallest harvest card for each is seven, meaning you have to have seven orthogonally adjacent crops of that type to claim that harvest card, the largest is fifteen, with eight, ten and twelve in between. These harvest cards are worth victory points at the end of the game, with the sevens being worth one point, on up to the fifteens being worth ten points.

After a player has done their action(s), they will draw two crop cards to keep their hand size at four, and the next player will take their turn. This repeats until the game ends in one of two ways.

The game can end when the deck of crop cards runs out, in this instance players will continue playing until all crop cards are played from their hands, or when a player harvests all five of the harvest cards, one of each crop. In that case, the round is finished so that everyone gets an even number of turns. Each player will then add up the number of points they have accumulated on harvest cards and then they will score additional points based on how many harvest cards they have claimed. If they have claimed three they will gain five points, four will grant them ten points and having all five will grant them an additional 15 points. Highest total number of points is the greatest farmer!

I asked Jeff how he came up with that design idea of having the communal farm and private farms be entwined in scoring, and he likened it to a lighter stock market game where you gain and manipulate the market to make your own more valuable, and I can see that. What at first I thought was just really a variation of a simple play and discard game, became more, it has more to do with something like Stockpile than with anything else I’ve ever played.

I was thinking a lot about how there seem to be players who love the direct interaction of my other games, yet there are those who prefer a less direct type of game, where each player has their own “sandbox” to play in, without any interference from opponents. I decided to design a game with both. – Jeff Allers

The idea of balancing two different game areas in a tile/card laying game is something new to me, and it creates an interesting puzzle to cypher out. So while you are being careful and building your own private farm, you are continually building up the communal farm, sometimes for yourself and sometimes where others will take advantage. Your opponents may also notice what you are doing, and break up that field of pumpkins you thought you were sneakily building. That can be a frustrating part of the game, as one properly placed crop card can halve your harvest and make it to where you can’t connect them back, forcing you to start anew. Barns are really important to combat this, and you definitely need to be careful how you place them, as they cannot be covered by anything other than another barn. So while you may think it advantageous to have your private farm always full of barns (three maximum remember), they are a lot of the time far more useful out in that communal farm to help tie crops together. Danger is, they are also useful to your opponents.

I never thought of any part of Rolnicy as being solitary, even what you do on your private farm is telling what you are doing in the communal farm, and it’s all out in the open for your opponents to see. Like most Jeff Allers titles, you can’t just ignore what your opponents are doing, you have to watch and keep them in check.

I also asked Jeff what it was about tile laying games, or as he called Rolnicy in his recent interview with Dale Yu, a domino-styled tile laying game, that makes using that mechanism in game design so interesting to him.

“Tile-laying games have fascinated me ever since I was introduced to the hobby through a game of Carcassonne with Berlin Friends. I love how the board is created by the the players during the game, and I like the tactile nature of thick cardboard tiles. While I was designing my first tile-laying game, Heartland, I started playing with dominoes (this was before Ingenious) and with stacking them to get a “crop rotation” feel. But I liked the dominoes most because I like choices in games, and a tile with two different sides to it automatically gives a player more interesting placement choices (Carcassonne does this with how the 4 sides of each square tile must line up to a road, town, or land).”

This is what tile placement is for me, it’s the choices within a limited sphere and it’s that creation and discovery each game. Rolnicy does this, and I continue to call it a tile placement game even though they are cards. No two games are going to play the same, sure your private farm is always limited to 3×3, but how you use those nine squares is always going to be different. The communal farm is never going to build out and look the same, it’s always going to have a different feel, a different flow to it. It’s almost organic, like a farm.

There are a couple variants that Jeff has given players to try, and one we stick by is removing the five “7” Harvest cards from the game. This will kind of prevent a “rush” type strategy where a player will just try to get all of the low harvest cards as quickly as possible and end the game, hoping their opponents are not able to get the bigger harvest card bonus at the end of the game, and racing them to the finish, hoping that fifteen points is enough to propel them to victory. There are two other variants we have not tried and cannot comment on, but I am especially looking forward to trying the team variant with two teams of two competing against each other, and sooner or later we’ll get to the variant of not allowing barns in the same row or column on the private farms.

I’ve seen complaints from folks that in Rolnicy you will always be doing the same thing, because you want those communal fields to grow, but I haven’t experienced that and I’m not sure why anyone would do that. Sure there is going to be some cooperation, intentional or not, in building the communal farm, you want those fields to grow, but in doing it that way, everything just becomes a big game of chicken, who is going to harvest first, then everyone piles right after them and scores more points than the first person.

One other thing that might be a bit off-putting to folks is that this is a small-box card game. The cards are smaller than standard cards, but the game does have a fairly large footprint when played. Those harvest cards being on display will take up a fairly large chunk of real estate when playing. It is fairly simple to just compress the layout a bit by overlapping cards though, so I don’t really see that as an issue at all, although some may. Then there is that whole other elephant in the room of this just not being available in the North American market, outside of finding it on Polish game sites and importing it. My fingers are crossed that a publisher brings it over here though, and I know that it is being “looked at.”

Long ago, I had put that aforementioned game Heartland on my wishlist on BoardGameGeek, it may have even been my first “grail game.” It was tile placement, it was farming, and best of all, it was themed in the Midwest. I have physically seen a copy one time, but have never gotten a chance to play it. Well, 2018 rolls around and Heartland was re-themed and re-tooled into Gunkimono and I have absolutely loved every play of that game, even though I think I would rather be farming. Soon after discovering my love of Gunkimono, Chris, friend and fellow Opinionated Gamer, walked into our house one day and proclaimed, “I have something that is a very Brandon and Kerensa (my wife) game”, and that was Rolnicy. Which is Jeff’s card game version of Heartland. And it is very much a “Brandon and Kerensa” game. I have not made an official “Best of 2018” list of games yet, I’ve batted around names and put them in order for friends, but that was all before I had played Rolnicy. Were I to do that now, that list would have two titles from Jeffrey D. Allers in the top five, Gunkimono, and now Rolnicy.

Full circle, my friends.  

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers:

Chris Wray:  Simply delightful.  I hope this gets picked up more broadly, as it is an excellent, tense game that rewards planning and defensive play.  

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it. Brandon, Chris Wray

I like it.

Neutral.

Not for me…

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1 Response to Rolnicy (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  1. @mangozoid says:

    Looks a very interesting take on conventional tile-laying (and with a bit of similarity to Gunkomino), which is evidently something Jeff does so well… Shame I’m not buying this year, ‘cos this would’ve been on my list of games to buy, for sure. It might still be come 2020, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves… Lol

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