Era: Medieval Age
- Designer: Matt Leacock
- Publisher: PlanB Games
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 8+
- Time: 45min
- Times played: 7, with review copy provided by PlanB Games
Era: Medieval Age was one of my most anticipated games from GenCon 2019. I am a big fan of Matt Leacock, and I like his games too… Roll Through the Ages was one of my favorite games of his, and this appeared to be in the same vein. I was also quite intrigued by the promo images released over the summer with these colored 3D buildings, and I wanted to see what the whole “roll-and-build” thing was all about. I was able to miss the 1km long line (perhaps a slight exaggeration) by a few minutes, and the game hit the table as soon as I returned from Indianapolis.
In Era, players each build their own medieval city. The game starts with a blank yellow canvas and an identical set of starting buildings and dice. The top of the player board has an area to record your resources with pegs. There are tracks along the right side of the board to track your culture points and disaster points. The huge number of buildings and walls are separated by type on the table into 12 piles. The walls and scorched earth areas form their own pile.
To start the game, players place their starting keep in the center of the board, and then they can freely place their other four buildings. This is done secretly – supposedly behind the player screen – though the screen isn’t really large enough for it. When all players are ready, a starting player is decided by die roll and the start player takes the black round peg and places it in the top spot on the round tracker in the upper right corner of his board. There is a track here which outlines the 6 phases of a round. There is only one black peg, which is given to the current start player, and that player is in charge of tracking the progress of the round.
1] Roll – this phase can be done simultaneously. All players take all of their available dice (certain buildings give the player a die) to used roll them behind their screen. The die faces can show icons representing different resources, build icons, swords and shields. Some of the faces also have small skulls on them. Some faces have icons separated by a slash – players can choose only icons on one side of the slash if they use that face. The results of the dice are reviewed. Any dice with skulls showing are locked for the round. Players can then choose to re-roll any dice which do not show skulls. Again, all newly rolled skulls must be locked. Players can then take a second re-roll, but the results of this third roll must be accepted. When all players are finished rolling, the screens are removed and players reveal their dice results.
2] Collect – (could be done simultaneously) players now review their dice and they take any resources (trade goods, stone, wood, food) and culture as shown on their dice. Simply move the appropriate pegs ahead on the different goods tracks. Then if you have any buildings which produce resources (farm=food, lumber mill=2 wood), you take those resources. If you make more goods that you can hold, you simply lose them. If you reach the end of the culture track, you mark down +25 on the score sheet, and then keep counting from the start of the track again.
3] Feed – (could be done simultaneously) you must discard 1 food (move your food peg backwards one space) for each die in your pool. If you do not have enough food, you must advance you peg on the disaster track for each food you are short.
4] Disasters – (must be done in turn order) – each player now counts up the number of skulls that they have showing on their dice – and then based on their total, something happens. Usually, these are bad for the active player, causing them to lose resources or buildings or advance on the disaster track. However, for the counts of 3 and 5 skulls, the bad effects affect the opponents and not the active player.
5] Build – (done in turn order) – players may build a building or wall for each build icon (hammer) that they have rolled. There is no resource cost for the walls, but each of the buildings has a resource cost which is helpfully found on the back of the player screen. Take the chosen building/wall from the supply and then place it somewhere on your board. Once placed, it cannot be moved. If you have built a building which gives you a die, place it near your board, but do not yet add the die to your pool. If you have built the last building of a type, place a tracking token in the now empty space. This is important for triggering the game end condition.
6] Extort – (done in turn order) – Now, players count up the number of swords and shields that they have. Going in player order, each player tries to extort goods from their opponents. If your opponent has fewer swords than you AND also does not have shields matching your number of swords, they must give you a resource of your choice. Both players should adjust their pegs accordingly. Each player compare their standing with all other players and goods are exchanged.
At the end of the round, first check to see if the game is over (that is whether all the tracking tokens are in the supply, 5 for a 4p game/3 for a 3p game). Otherwise, all players now take any added dice to their pool, and the start player peg is passed to the board of the next player in clockwise order and another round is played.
If the game has ended, the points are tallied up. There is a scoresheet which is helpfully provided to keep track of all of the different ways points can be scored.
1] Buildings – each building has an inherent scoring value as noted on the back of the player screen. If a building is in a fully walled-in area, the value is doubled. Note that the keep is said to be self enclosed in walls and is always doubled in value.
2] Bonus points – four of the building types offer bonus points based on the end game condition of your board. Score each of these separately.
3] Culture – score one point for each point you have accumulated on the culture track. Also, the player with the most culture points collects an extra 5 VPs
4] Walled area – each player calculates the area within the single largest walled in area on their board. The player with the largest area collects 10 VPs.
5] Disasters – finally, players take a 1 point penalty for each space they have advanced on the Disaster track on their board.
The player with the most points wins. If there is a tie, it is broken in favor of the player with the most trade goods left at the end of the game.
My thoughts on the game
For the most part, Era has lived up to my pre GenCon anticipation. It provides an interesting spatial puzzle and engine building game. In the game, your chosen buildings provide you extra dice, abilities or scoring opportunities. The supply is fairly limited, so there is a bit of time pressure to get a specific building if you want it. But to further complicate things, there is also the spatial puzzle to contend with – you have to figure out how to get all your buildings to fit on your board. You’d like them to be placed close to use space efficiently, but if you are too close, you may find yourself vulnerable to disasters caused by your opponents. After a few games, I think that I would personally not call this a roll-and-write with buildings. For me, the biggest distinction is that each player rolls their own dice here, so it falls afar from my own personal definition of roll-and-write games.
There are plenty of interesting decisions to be made with the dice. As I mentioned above, you’re constantly evaluating the buildings to add the right dice to your pool; but, even if you have the desired dice in your pool, you still have to have luck on your side to get the right face to show. Each round is a constant struggle to get the necessary resources to build stuff and also to get the right number of build icons. You also should think about the extortion phase lest you lose any remaining resources in the final phase. Finally, you should keep an eye out on the number of skulls that you have rolled. If you are close, you may want to actually try to roll more skulls to get to a number which causes misfortune upon your opponents instead of upon yourself.
Though I can see why it is necessary to do the rolling in a secret and simultaneous fashion, I sometimes wish that I could watch the other players roll the dice and make their decisions, because for me, this is one of the most interesting parts of the game. However, given the way that players interact with building choice, extortion, etc – this simply wouldn’t work.
I really like the engine building aspect of the game as well as the physical construction bit. It is an interesting puzzle, and one that I enjoy trying to work out each game. I am less a fan of the way that my plans can be constantly upset by the disasters and extortion. I personally love sandbox games, and each round gives my opponents a few opportunities to mess with my plans. But, the developer in me can see how it makes the dice rolling more interesting because it gives you more things to consider. You are now forced to figure out how to deal with the skulls on the dice, and the potential loss of goods makes it hard to simply ignore the sword situation.
The game itself plays at a decent average pace, but it feels like a lot of hurry up and wait. So long as everyone is familiar enough with the game (And trustworthy enough), the first three phases of each round can be done simultaneously – Roll, collect, and feed. There are some times where the feed phase might be done in turn order if the decision of discarding resources versus taking Disaster points is important… For the rest of the round, all actions are taken in player order, and then the pace slows a bit. Early on, you can often plan your build phase regardless of what other players are doing, but once there is a chance for a building type to be exhausted, then you may need to wait for your turn to see what is available to you at that time. Also, make sure that all players are reminded to place the tracking token if they take the last building of a type – it is not necessarily easy to process the empty space left behind by an exhausted pile. It would have been easier if each building type had a card or a tile to mark its presence (which could have perhaps said the cost and ability on one side and could have been flipped over to easily show that the pile was empty). But, to make sure that all players are aware of how close the game is to ending, be sure to promptly and correctly mark the piles as they empty.
The components are mostly nice. I love the colorful buildings, they feel solid in the hand, and they look good on the board. It is pleasing to watch your city grow in front of you over the course of the game. I am less a fan of the player board. The yellow color wouldn’t have been my first choice, and it seems a bit weird that one of the building colors is another shade of yellow which is sometimes hard to see from afar. But, my bigger issue with the boards are the inset etchings at the start of each of the columns on the board. To my 40-ish-something eyes, the icons are nearly invisible. I have had to take a pencil and shade in the little icons in order to get enough contrast to be able to see what is imprinted there.
Overall, this is an enjoyable puzzle of a game. I like the combination of figuring out how to get the right buildings in my city and then how to place them in the right geometric orientation. The 3D bits are beautiful, and I do like admiring my city at the end of each game. I think the game would have been just as well made with cardboard boards and tiles for the buildings (As far as gameplay goes), but it probably wouldn’t look as nice. Though I’m still in the process of exploring the game and its strategies, it has been one of the stronger games of Gencon 2019 for my group so I suspect I will keep playing it through the autumn. It will surely hit double digit plays soon, and that says something in our game group here!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Brandon K (4 Plays): I’m glad Dale did this review and not me, I’d still be describing game play all the way down here. I don’t remember Roll Through the Ages all that well, but what I do recall makes Era feel somewhat familiar. Of the Gen Con titles we’ve played so far, Era would probably fall at number three behind Hats & Letter Jam, but of the three, I think there is more possibility for growth here and will probably end up being played more often in the long run. Downtime shouldn’t be an issue through most of this game, it’s made to be played at a brisk pace with a majority of the time spent doing things simultaneously, yes, you do slow down as the game goes due to the buy phase, but everyone should have a plan going in as to what they want to do that round anyway, the only reason that things slow down is when that inevitable last building is bought out from under your nose. The board being solid yellow is boggling to me, I mean I could understand it being yellow, but then having the icons being a different color, but the board is just solid yellow. So yeah, get those sharpies or markers ready and get that board cleaned up. The icons are not necessary once you know the color that goes with each thing you are tracking, but still, it would have been nice to be able to see. Also, the fact that the scorched lands are the same color as the walls and fortifications is a bit weird as well. I love the 3 dimensional nature of the game, while I think tiles, or even just a simple sheet of paper and a pencil would work, the ability to actually build your city and watch your engine grow is phenomenal here. It’s a huge selling point, and it better be given the price. Unlike Dale, I did play with the small box expansion that Eggertspiele was selling at Gen Con this year. I like the ability to make your dice worth points now. The Harbor makes your Burgher dice (blue) worth points at the end of the game and the Great Hall makes your Noble (gray) dice worth points. Added bonus is that the buildings are fun to see out in your city, or outside of it like The Harbor. I look forward to more plays of Era, it has been a wonderful experience so far. I do question just how much they can actually expand the game given the limited size of the player boards, but I guess really that isn’t an issue if the game ends the same way by running out of building types.
Joe Huber (6 plays): I – really want to like Era more than I do. Which actually aligns fairly well with Roll Through the Ages. The components here are gorgeous – I love the look of the game, and am thrilled to see such a great presentation. But – in practice the game doesn’t provide the amount of control I’d really like to see. In particular, the interaction in the game feels too random for my taste, and even with the fancy pieces it still feels like a roll-and-write game to me – and the more I play, the more I realize that I’m not a huge fan of the genre.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Brandon K
- I like it. Dale Y
- Neutral. Joe H., John P
- Not for me.