Dale Yu: Review of Fertility

Fertility

  • Designer: Cyrille Leroy
  • Publisher: Catch Up Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Catch Up Games / Blackrock Distribution

In Fertility, players are each a Nomarch (i.e. mayor) of an Egyptian city – trying to improve their own metropolis into being the best by having the best shops and erecting the most statues on the board.  The board itself is comprised of a number of different sections, filled mostly with empty squares but with a number of lakes and wheat fields scattered amongst the empty spaces. A start tile is placed on the most central eligible location.

Each player has their own city board which has spaces for 7 shop tiles as well as one shop pre-printed onto that board.  There is an area to track your wheat stores near the bottom. There is a supply of shop tiles which is shuffled and four of them are laid out in a display.  The valley tiles are also shuffled, 3 are given to each player to be kept faceup next to their board, and a supply of three tiles is displayed near the main board.  Each valley tile is like a domino with two different squares on it – with four different possible landscapes: purple (grapes), brown (bovines), white (alabasters), and green (papyrus flowers).

On a turn, the active player goes through the three phases of a turn and then the next player goes.  This continues until supply of Valley tiles cannot be replenished, when each player gets one more turn and then the game goes onto the scoring phase.  But before we get to the end, let me describe what happens on a turn; again there are three phases which always happen in this order: 1) Place a Valley Tile, 2) Build a District Tile, 3) Supply Shops.

To Place a tile, the active player chooses one of the three tiles next to his city board and places one onto the board; it must have one side which is adjacent to a previously played tile that has a matching landscape type.  You cannot cover up a preprinted water or grain space on the board. For each side of your tile which matches type with its neighbor, you gain a wooden resource bit of that landscapes type. For each side which is directly adjacent to a grain square on the board, you move your grain marker up by 1.  If you cover an icon which is preprinted on the board, regardless of what landscape covers it, you gain a resource of the preprinted type. Finally, if you’re able to make a hold in the tile array which cannot be filled – i.e. a single square hole – you are able to place one of your monuments in that hole.

To Build a District Tile (optional), you can build one of the four district tiles which is face up next to the board.  The cost (in resources) is found in the orange square in the top right corner. You can pay with either wooden resource bits or by using your wheat (and decrement your counter).   You then put this tile in one of the seven slots for shops in your building. You are not required to buy a District tile. You are not allowed to buy more than 7 tiles in the game.

Finally, you can supply shops on your tiles – each District tile (and your preprinted district on the board) have a number of shops on them.   Each of these shops have icons on the left which show what they need to be supplied – and on the right are icons which tell you what you get when the shop is supplied.  You take the wooden resource bits that you have previously collected and place them on the matching icons on the tiles. Once the bits are placed on a tile, they are frozen there for the rest of the game.  They cannot be moved, and they cannot be used to pay for anything else. Most of the shops provide endgame bonuses granting victory points or influence over one of the six gods, but a few shops act as converters – that is, they provide other resources when you complete them.  

At the end of this phase, any collected resources from this turn which have not been used (either buying tiles or supplying shops) are returned to the supply. A new Valley tile is drawn to bring the supply back up to 3.  The next player now takes their turn. The game continues in this repeating format until the supply of Valley tiles is exhausted. Then, each player will get one more turn each and then the game ends.

Scoring is fairly simple – there are five different categories of scoring that are considered

1] simple shops – most shops provide a simple VP reward if supplied with the correct resource bits

2] complex shops – calculate VP from shops that provide VPs per number of resources placed on them

3] gods – per the scale on the player board, score VPs based on the number of God icons that you receive from your shops

4] Wheat – per the scale on the player board, score VPs based on how many wheat icons you have at the end of the game

5] Monuments –all players with the most number of monuments on the main board get 15VP, players with the second most number of monuments get 7VP

The player with the most points wins that game.   If there is a tie, the player with fewer resources on their player board wins.

My thoughts on the game

Fertility is a surprisingly approachable game.  When I first starting reading the rules to the game, I was a bit worried that this would turn out to be an AP prone slog of a game.  However, once we got Fertility to the table, the game plays quite quickly, and the game mechanisms quickly become familiar.

The game gives each player their own sandbox on their player board, and the interactions between players is limited.  You are fighting for plays on the main board in a battle to collect the desired resources (though it might turn out that you and your neighbor are actually going for different resources), and there is a competition for the number of statues placed on the board.  Other than that, you are left to your own devices to collect resources and spend them wisely.

It should be made clear from the start that there aren’t many rounds in the game – in a 4p game there are only nine rounds to be played.  Players should be aware of this because you have seven slots in your city for tiles, and this really only gives you two chances to pass if you want to fully fill your city.  Furthermore, if you wait for the final round to buy a tile, you only have that last turn to supply the shops on that tile to generate points from it. You should carefully look at the different shops available to you as they have a variable return of VPs.  Depending on your game situation, you may want to concentrate on a particular resource or you might want to avoid a particular resource For instance, there are some shops that pay 1VP for each resources of a specific type. If you already have something that pays VPs for all alabasters, you may not want to have to use that resources elsewhere in your city.

Of course, shops aren’t the only way to score VPs, and this gives you more things to consider.  The 15 points which go to the player who has played the most statues is not insignificant, and this could definitely affect where you choose to play your tile.  Also, the bonuses for a full wheat warehouse are high, and it makes wheat hoarding a viable strategy.

I like the way that each round is self contained – you collect resources at the start of the turn and you must use them all by the end of the round; so you have to use this restriction to plan what you want to do.  It may turn out that you choose a tile location which doesn’t provide you the maximum number of resources as you may not have a place to use all of them, and therefore, you might be better off collecting a smaller number which can all be put to good use.

Turns go fairly quickly.  I usually have to plan out my whole play from the start because I need to know which tile I plan to buy because that then tells me which resources I’ll want to collect at the start of the turn so that I have the things which I need to use to supply the shops that I will have at the end of the round.  There is certainly the possibility for AP, but I haven’t seen it – not even when playing with players who are usually prone to that. One of the things that helps prevent AP is that it is truly too difficult to figure out the scoring – so I think this cuts down on the calculations of where players stand in reference to each other.  Anyways, since there’s not a lot you can do to affect your opponents, it kind of doesn’t matter what is going on over on their boards.

The graphics are good and bad.  The overall theme definitely underlines the Egyptian theme, and in general, the art is pleasing to the eye.  However, there are a number of things which I wish were improved. First, some of the shops are confusing – most shop tiles have the maximum three shops one them (one line tall each), but some tiles have fewer.  The empty space on those tiles appears quite similar to an actual shop, and it makes things a bit cluttered and confusing. It would be much easier if these non-shops didn’t also look like buildings. Also, I had a hard time telling the difference apart with some of the different God icons.  They could have been a LOT more distinct, either in color or shape, in order to reduce confusion. Other than that, the iconography is easy to understand and we didn’t really have any issues with translating how things worked from the icons. I also really like the small specially turned resource icons; they are quite detailed and wonderful to look at.

Fertility looks to be a great game for my non-hardcore gaming group.  The game is still easy enough that most beginning gamers should be able to understand how to play, and there is enough strategy in the game to keep veteran gamers happily occupied tending to their cities in ancient Egypt.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): For me, Fertility was something shy of bland – the theme and mechanisms didn’t align, and the swings caused by differences in tile draw luck were too large; either of these alone might be fine, but together they left me cold. It’s a perfectly playable game, which I just don’t wish to play again.

Patrick Brennan:This takes a pretty decent shot at turning Dominoes into an interesting game. When placing a domino, for each tile it matches against, gain the resource it matched. Spend those resources to buy buildings from the draft. These buildings provide various ways to store future resources, turning them either into points or score-track advancements. Once you get some buildings, they drive your decisions on what dominoes to draft and what to place, but you’re still very much at the mercy of what opportunities the prior players leave you. On a good turn, you’ll have a domino that can go somewhere with multiple matches and get the resources you want on your buildings. That’s three things that all need to come together though. Most turns you’ll only get one or two of those things. So you try and stay flexible, flowing with the flow. But “staying flexible” as a strategy doesn’t generate a lot of game satisfaction and, in the end, despite the improvements to the device and an attempt at theming (Egyptian land fertility? *sigh*), it’s still just dominoes.

Dan Blum (1 play): I liked it somewhat more than Joe, but not all that much. The big problem was that after the first turn or two the decisions were mostly pretty obvious – there are only three tiles to play and there are not likely to be very many viable spots to play them. The fact that you have to use all resources by the end of the turn may reduce AP but also reduces the decision space even more. This is not to say there are no decisions, of course, just not enough interesting ones.

The designer’s only previous game, Sapiens, was also an attempt to make a real game out of dominoes. It was a less clean design than Fertility and also I think more influenced by luck, but I thought it was more interesting. If he tries again maybe he can do something really good.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, John P, James Nathan
  • Neutral. Patrick Brennan, Dan Blum
  • Not for me… Joe H.

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.
This entry was posted in Essen 2018, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

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