DESIGNER: Alex Rockwell (base game) and Sean McCarthy (expansion)
PUBLISHER: Tasty Minstrel Games
PLAYERS: 2 -5
AGES: 14 and up
TIME: 60 to 90 minutes
TIMES PLAYED: Many, many playings of the original, 3 of the expansion, 2 with the anniversary edition, all of which I purchased.
2019 is the 10th anniversary of the release of the original Homesteaders. While it came out in 2009, I didn’t play it until sometime in 2010. It came out among a sea of other good games, and it was not on my radar until someone at a con asked me if I wanted to play. It’s always a nice surprise to find a hidden gem that you missed when it was first released. This game has remained in my regular rotation since I first played it. It has been out of print for a while, but has come back in the 10th Anniversary edition, along with an expansion, which must be purchased separately.
In Homesteaders, players are pioneers working to build a new town in the Old West. The player that develops the best city will win the game.
Setup is fairly simple. A market of buildings is laid out on the table, along with the various resources, money, trade and victory point tokens. The auction board is placed in the center of the table and the top cards of the auction piles are flipped over (the number of piles varies based on the number of players).
Each player gets a player screen, a Homestead tile that is the first building in their town, a worker and 5 silver. Each player also gets 2 player markers; one goes on the start of the Railroad track and one is used to bid. The starting player is determined randomly and the game begins.
The first round of the game is worker allocation. Each player takes their workers and places them on the available spaces in their town; to start the game this is either a spot that will earn you a dollar or a spot that will earn you a wood.
The second round of the game is income. Players collect the items their workers earn them plus any automatic income they earn, either from a worker-free spot on a building or railroad tiles. Income can include resources, trade tokens, victory points and money.
In the third round of the game, players must pay their workers. It costs one silver per worker you have, even if you aren’t using them. If you can’t afford to pay them you must take a debt, which gives you 2 silver and will count against you at the end of the game unless you pay it off for 5 silver at the end of the game.
In the fourth round of the game the auctions begin.The starting player places their cube (original game) or boot (10th anniversary edition) on the square that corresponds to their bid. Each face-up auction card tells you what you will be able to do if you win the auction – buy a building that matches the color(s) on the tile and/or gain another benefit, like a new worker.
The next player then bids; they can choose to bid on a different auction or can outbid another player.
Players who are outbid take their piece back and can re-bid on their next turn, If a player chooses not to bid or re-bid they can move their train piece on the railroad track; doing so allows that player to take the resource depicted on the space they landed on or any previous space. Railroad tokens give you additional income each round; other options give you resources or workers.
In the fifth round players that won auctions purchase buildings and gain any other bonuses listed on their auction tile. The cost of the building is in the upper left; some buildings are free while others cost various combinations of resources. Any special ability or end-game bonus the building might give you is listed in the middle, and any income the building provides is listed on the bottom.
At any point players can use the market to buy or sell goods to get income, a worker or goods that they need. To sell a good players spend a trade chit, turn in the good and take the income listed on the chart, To buy a good players spend a trade chit and the cost listed on the chart and take the good. Players may go into debt at any time if they need the silver.
Everything is reset and cleaned up, new buildings are added and the game continues. The auction tiles serve as the game timer and after the round with the 10th auction the game will end. Players add up their victory point chips, victory points on buildings and victory points for advanced goods. They deduct victory points for any remaining debt chits they have, losing 1 VP for the first, 2 VP for the second, 3 for the third and so on.
The expansion adds components for a 5th player, including additional auction tiles to accommodate 5; some of these tiles introduce new options. The new player pieces are purple (my favorite color, so 2 thumbs up for that), and match the upgraded pieces in the 10th anniversary edition. There is a new auction board, since an additional auction is added when playing with 5. It also introduces some new buildings as well as a completely new element, event cards. At the start of every new cycle an event card is flipped over; the card is either applied to all players or is an option than can be taken by all players. They can be harmful, but in general are positive or at least neutral. It also adds larger resource pieces to be used to indicate 5 of a particular resource.
THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
The 10th Anniversary edition comes in a slightly larger box with a fancy 10th anniversary sleeve. It has metal coins and metal victory point tokens It gives you an upgrade on the player pieces as well; the cubes in the original game are upgraded to a train for the railroad track and a boot for bidding.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
I really enjoy this game; I’ve owned the original since 2010 and buying the expansion was a no-brainer for me. I decided to upgrade to the 10th anniversary edition for the improved components, in part because this is a game that I expect will remain in my collection. More on whether I am happy with that in a minute.
The game flows well. The rules are well-written and laid out in a logical manner. It’s fairly easy to teach, but there are many different paths to victory. Your strategy has to change a bit based on what auctions or buildings are available to you, and there is a good tension that exists in trying to do everything you want to do in the time you are given. If things go your way you can end up with a chain of buildings with intersecting abilities that lead you straight to the best town in the west, If they don’t go your way, you can still get there; you just need to buy your way to the top.
As a rule I don’t like auction games,. However, this is not a blind auction and the fact that you still get something useful if you don’t win an auction makes this okay for me; sure, you need to win at least some auctions, but you can guarantee you’re able to do that with what you choose from the railroad track and using the market effectively.
It scales well from 2 -4 players and now, with the expansion, to 5. There are additional rules for the 2 player game, and additional components in the expansion to accommodate the 5th player.
I am very happy with the expansion. It adds new buildings, which livens up the game for players who have played many times. I was concerned that the event cards would be disruptive, but they are not; they add to the game and in general can provide you with a boost to do things more quickly. The 5th player components are nice, but they don’t match the components of the original; the player screen is taller and the components are more thematic. Both of these are good things, but they are different than the original and that bothers me when they are all in play.
That difference led to my decision to purchase the 10th anniversary edition. Our copy of the original is fine; the first printing had some issues with moisture, but the second edition did not have those problems, and other than a cow and a worker missing a leg, everything was okay. However, I wanted all the components to match, and since we play the game on a regular basis I thought sturdier components would be a plus.
Improvements in the anniversary edition include taller player screens; this is a plus, since your resources are supposed to be hidden from the other players and the originals provide adequate but not great coverage. The train and cowboy boot player pieces are much cooler. The metal coins and victory point tokens are really nice and while they don’t change the game play they do lend a nicer feel to the game play. The expansion also fits into the box, which is great.
In fact, I only have one concern about the 10th Anniversary edition. The trade tokens are still cardboard. These chits are harder to come by, but they are in frequent use and to have then still be cardboard while the other similar items are now metal seems like a poor choice to me. I was pretty disappointed to see those in the box. It doesn’t change the game play, but I really expected them to be metal.
THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS
Unlike Tery, I adore auction games. Homesteaders is among my favorites of the genre, and one of my overall favorite games. What I tend to love about auction games is the feeling of control they give you: if you want something badly enough, you can generally get it. The trade market in Homesteaders ups that level of control, though it tends to make the game play a bit fiddly at first. Once you get used to what is possible, however, it makes the game really shine. Couple all that with the sorta-tech bumps the buildings can lend, and Homesteaders pushes all my buttons. It really is a wonderful game.
Having said all that, I have never played the expansion. This is doubly odd for me because I know Sean and I saw him developing it over the years. I wanted to play, but it just never worked out. I might have to seek out the 10th anniversary edition and upgrade my copy.
Michael Weston: Homesteaders has been a mainstay in my collection since first coming out, so it was a must-buy to upgrade as I had the first edition with terrible mis-cuts and other component aesthetic issues. Homesteaders provides enough other options that you definitely feel like you can still make progress on those turns where you didn’t get exactly what you wanted. Due to too many KS projects showing up around the same time and real life getting in the way, I haven’t gotten the expansion to the table yet, but do think it will be a solid addition to this great game.
I LOVE IT: Tery, Nathan Beeler, Michael W.
I LIKE IT:
NOT FOR ME: