Dale Yu: Review of Hallertau

Hallertau

  • Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
  • Publisher: Lookout Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 50-140 minutes
  • Times played: 6 with print and play preview copy provided by Lookout Games

*** Please note that all of the images here are taken from a prototype print-and-play version of the game.  This may or may not represent the finished product! ***

Hallertau is the newest release from the longtime partnership of Uwe Rosenberg and Lookout Games, and unsurprisingly – the theme here is about farming!  The flavor text: “In the 16th century, the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt had paved the way towards the Reinheitsgebot law for beer that was adopted in all German states in the 19th century. Not only did this law dictate the ingredients but also the sales price of beer. Today, the Hallertau region south of Ingolstadt is the biggest hop producing area in Germany, priding itself upon being the first place in Middle Europe to cultivate hops. This game is set around 1850—the time that made the Hallertau region what it is today. Immerse yourselves as a chief of a small village in the Hallertau region. Provide the local craftsmen with the goods they require to develop the community center—the status symbol of your village—by cultivating crops, breeding sheep, and literally playing your cards right. In the end, the player who best developed their village wins.“

 

There are a lot of components in the box.  For now, you’ll need to know that each player gets their own community center board, a Field board, a Stable board, and a whole bunch of building tiles, boulder tokens and other stuff.  You know, a typical Rosenberg manifest.  And, of course, a whole bunch of cards.  The big thing here is that there are Gateway decks and Farmyard decks – four of each… but you’ll only use one of each type in any game.  Thus like Agricola, you can modify each game based on the card decks you choose to play with.  Unlike Agricola, you can play cards from your hand ANYTIME you want (more on that later).  Every game will also use Point cards and Bonus cards (These never change).  Finally, there will be a forest’s worth of wooden bits for people, resources, crops, animals, etc.

 

The game is played over six rounds, and the player with the most points wins – but before i can tell you how the game is played, let me explain the boards a bit.

The Community center board has 5 rows on it – one for the carpentry, brewhouse, cooling house, bakehouse and manufacture.  There is a Community center tile that lies to the left of those buildings.  During the game, the buildings will be advanced to the right.  As the buildings clear columns, the community center tile will move to the right to overlap the now empty columns.  Boulders will be placed in front of some buildings, and you’ll have to remove those boulders in order to advance certain buildings – and, of course, you will have to do this in order to advance your Community Center tile.  The reason you want to do this is because as it advances, you will initially get more workers – and then when you have maxed out your worker pool, you’ll start to score VPs for each step.  Moving the Community Center tile is really one of the main things you need to do to win.

 

The field board has eight columns on it, each with 4 rows. There is also a supply area at the bottom of this board where you track your Barley, Flax and Rye stores.  Field tiles can be placed in the columns here, and goods can be planted on those fields.   Over the course of the game, you can only ever have one field tile in a column – thus you max out at 8 field tiles.

 

You have a Stable board. There are six spaces on here – each of which will have a facedown Farmyard card dealt onto it at the start of the game.  These will be revealed over the course of the game.  There is room on this board for Sheep – assuming that your sheep live long enough, they will be collected here to score points at the end of the game.   And let’s not forget about the Jewel Box board where you keep track of your Jewelry.  (The original prototype has this coffin shaped, because a valid use of the word “casket” was previously meant to be a jewelry box – Yeah, that association doesn’t make any sense to me at all, but it is what it is…)

one of the four quadrants of the action board

 

And – before you get bored of boards, there’s one more board… the Action board; this one is in the center of the table and shared by all players. It has a bunch of possible actions. The first to take an action only needs 1 worker, the next will need 2 workers, and the third will need 3 workers, etc.

Now you have some of the rules as you learned about the boards, and now it’s time for the inevitable round recap.  Again, remember that it’s 6 rounds, each with ten phases.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat, score at the end.  Many of the phases can be done simultaneously.  The Actions phase (#4) and the Progress phase (#9) must be done in clockwise order.

1] Quarters – No, this isn’t the drinking game.  This is an administrative phase where the top row of each action space is cleared.  In a 4p game, every action space is affected. In other player counts, you draw a Quarter card and only clear spaces in the matching quadrant(s) listed on the card for the particular player count.  You remove the highest most line of workers in each action space in the affected quadrants.  This will make some/all of the actions cheaper in the upcoming round.

two of the quadrant cards

2] New Workers – remove the Farmyard card from your Stable board for this round. Leave the Farmyard card facedown. If there are sheep on top of this Farmyard card, they die and get put back in the supply. Then, look at the window in your Community center tile and take that many workers (between 6 and 12) and place it on top of the round’s Farmyard card – this is your pool of workers.

 

3] Income – Bonus cards which are face up on the table in your area are now activated in the order of your choosing. Gain the resources or actions shown on those cards.

 

4] Actions – this phase must be done in turn order. Each person chooses to either place workers on the Action board to take an action or they can exchange Workers for tools.  If players no longer have workers, they are skipped in order – and this phase continues until all players have used all their workers.  

 

To take an action, you place the appropriate number of workers on the lowest unoccupied row for that action. If you do not have enough workers OR there are no free rows for a particular action, you cannot take that action.  The action is immediately carried out.  Some actions will allow you to gain resources, some will let you trade in resource X for resource Y, the central actions will let you sow crops from your supply into empty fields (the row number of the field tells you how many crops you will get when you harvest that field), the corner actions let you take a card from the respective deck and also let you take the first player marker.  There is also an action that lets you save your sheep by moving them from their current Farmyard card to the next higher one (or from the 6th card onto the center of the board).  Importantly, all actions are optional – you are allowed to occupy a space and then choose to only do part of it, or perhaps none of it!  You’ll still drive up the cost of the action for the rest of the players (or maybe make it unavailable for the rest of the round).  Alternatively, you can trade in Workers in a 1:1 swap for Tools.

 

5] New Card – all players now add the Farmyard card from this round to their hand.  As I mentioned a long time ago, you can play the card literally any time that you want, so if it works out, you could play it immediately.

four card examples

6] Fallow Fields – All empty fields move up one row (making them more productive).  Then, choose any one empty field and slide it an additional space upwards.

 

7] Harvest – For each planted field, you remove the planted crop from the field and increase your amount of said crop equal to the number of the row the field was in.  Then, move that field down one row (so it produces less).  Repeat this process for every other planted field.  The rules recommend doing it one at a time so that you don’t screw up the number of goods you get nor forget to reduce the strength of the field.  This is good advice; I screwed up one of my solo games royally trying to harvest all my fields first and then reduce them all by one step later – because man, it’s hard to remember which empty fields were in fact the fields that you took wooden cubes from.

 

8] Milking – For each sheep on your Stable board (on a card or on the central board), gain a Milk.

9] Progress – Pay the designated type of goods (equal to the current round number) or 1 jewelry to advance a building. Some of the buildings have a unique constraint to how you can supply the goods.  For example, the Brewhouse advancements must be paid in Barley and Hops, and you must always pay more Barley than Hops in your overall price.  Also, if you use different types of goods, you might get a discount on the overall cost.  There are Boulders in front of each building, starting at 2 and 4 spaces in front of each one – this is to limit how easily each building can advance in a particular round.  You can move a boulder to the right by exhausting a Tool.  A particular building cannot advance if there is a boulder directly in front of it on the track.  Boulders can be moved off the track, and if so, they are not replaced. In Rounds 1-5, the Tool used is only exhausted – that is put off to the side. In the final round, the tool is discarded after a single use.

 

10] Boulders – reset your boulders so that each is 2 and 4 spaces to the right of the building in each row.  Boulders that were moved off the board are generally not replaced, though there are special circumstances where this might happen.

 

***] Playing Cards – well, I told you earlier that you can play cards at anytime. You have this hand of cards, and if conditions are right, you can play them. First off, note that some cards have a phase restriction at the top – those cards tell you specifically when you can play them.  Many cards, though, do not have this.  All cards also tell you a condition for playing them.  It might be a particular game state / situation on the action board / etc. that must exist; it might be a cost in resources that has to be paid.  Anyways, so long as the conditions are met, you can play the card, and then immediately take the effects.  It might be to gain resources immediately; it might be to play the card in front of you to generate Income in Phase 3 of each round.  I’d explain more, but it’s a Rosenberg game.  There are scads of cards, and there is a huge appendix to the rules that explains them all in detail – just like Agricola.  It seems like it would be super chaotic, but it’s really not.  Almost all of the cards deal with your own setup/condition, so you’re the only one watching them.  The cards which deal with the action board (i.e. things that can change based on someone else’s actions) have a slightly different background color to them so that you know specifically to look for them when someone else is doing stuff.

 

The game ends at the end of the sixth round.  After the end of that round, players are given one final chance to play any cards from their hand that they wish.  Then scoring is done in the following 5 categories:

 

Community Center – look at the hole in your community center tile; if you see any VPs there, score them.  (You will only score points at the end of the track, after you have maxed out your worker pool).  You can score 18/34/50/70 points!

My most recent game – 70 Vps from the community center!

Sheep – each sheep left on your Stable Board is worth 1VP

 

Jewelry – each unused Jewelry is worth 1VP

 

Fields/Goods/Tools – Total the value of your fields (equal to their current row number) and add the number of goods and tools you have left.  Divide that summed value by 5, and score that number of VPs

 

Cards – score VPs on Bonus and Point cards that are played to the table (cards in your hand do not score).

 

The player with the most points wins.

 

My thoughts on the game

 

At first, I read the rules to Hallertau, and I thought to myself, oh – hmm… another Rosenberg game about farming and worker placement.  Oh, and it’ll have some different decks of cards that I can substitute in to change things up.  Man, it’s a good thing I only have four different versions of Agricola in my game closet, because this is gonna be number 5!

 

But, once I cut out all the pieces and set up my first solo game, I saw that there was actually a lot of other things going on, and clearly this game wasn’t just going to be an Agricola clone – though because I raided by Agricola deluxe edition for a bunch of wooden bits, it sure as heck looked a lot like it on my table!  

Hallertau feels like more of a resource management game than a worker placement game.  Sure, you are placing workers to do things; but most of those spaces aren’t limited, they just have escalating costs.  The different actions overlap somewhat as well, and this leads to lots of interesting decisions… “Man, I really wanted to sow three fields, but James Nathan just took the middle action, and I don’t want to spend 3 workers to sow three fields.  But, over there, for only 2 workers, I can sow 2 fields but also get a Milk or a Wool.   Or, I could use a single worker to convert a sheep into 4 meat, and then I can use this card that lets me sow two fields if I have 5 or more meat…”  That’s not the sort of decision tree you get in Agricola – that’s for sure.

The main focus of the game for me is the community center.  It dominates the board with the workshops, and let’s face it, doing any singular thing that can score you up to 70 points must end up being fairly central to the game…  I don’t think that maxing out the community center scoring is a must-do strategy; I have actually done well trying to focus on bonus cards instead; but you really need to get to the max 12 workers as soon as you can (IMHO) because you’ll need all the workers you can get to do whatever actions you decide upon.

 

There is an interesting race of competing desires at the start of the game.  On one hand, you want to get as many resources as quickly as possible because man, being able to move the 5 buildings for a cost of only one resource per step is a bargain.  It’ll never be that easy to do that again.  But.. if you spend too much of your efforts into only getting resources, you’ll miss out on the chance to build up your engine, and this could hurt you down the road, because in the final rounds when you are needing 5 or 6 resources per building move, you better have everything working at top efficiency or else you’ll never make it!  I don’t think I have found a great sweet spot yet, and I have thus far changed my tactics based on the action board status and what my opponent has chosen to do himself.

 

You definitely have a lot to think about with the cards.  In the print and play version that I have, I only got the most basic decks, and they already provide a lot of variety between games, though I can certainly see how different types of cards could change how you should approach strategy.  Due to social distancing, we’re playing the game on my huge dining room table usually, and we have chosen to just lay out our hands on the table face up at all times.  Sure, this isn’t what the real rules suggest as you may not want your opponents to know what goals you have as this might influence their action choices, but as we learn the game, we have made a gentleman’s agreement not to try to look at the cards.  You only have 4 cards to start the game, but you can quickly pick up more.  The card actions in our 2p games have tended to stay cheap, and they provide a nice lottery draw to try to get a free action to build your engine or a nice VP bonus at the end of the game.  I’m sure that with real cards (instead of little slips of paper in ill-fitting protectors), it’ll be no harder than managing your Agricola occupations and improvements.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the max VP from the community center is 70VP and this seems huge, but don’t forget that each of those steps requires you to have moved all five houses ahead a step for a 16-20VP jump.  In the sixth round, this might require 30 resources!  The bonus cards give rewards in the 10-14 VP range, and they use many fewer resources.  Sure, you are somewhat at the mercy of the luck of the draw – but if you draw the bonus cards early enough, you have enough time to push towards a particular set of resources by the end of the game.

four bonus cards

So far, I have really enjoyed my games of Hallertau, though I have only played it solo (3 times) and 2p (3 times).  It works really well at those counts, and honestly, I don’t see why that would change with more.  The Quarters phase does a good job at keeping the relative costs for actions the same at all player counts, though it is obviously most predictable at 4p.  It is a bit easier to approach that Agricola, and the three players that I have introduced that game to have all picked it up by the end of the 2nd round.  The phases run smoothly, and the player aid has just enough to keep everyone on the right path without being bogged down in wordiness.

 

A presumptive I love it rating from me, but of course, it’s hard to say for sure until I’ve played with the different player counts and with the real components.  I’m guessing that the fact that I already love it even playing with my homebrew set of stuff will only mean that I’ll love the real game.  Anyways, there’s already a space saved for the box in the Kallax square next to all the Agricolas…

Thoughts for other Opinionated Gamers

 

Larry (2 solo games):  I rarely play solo games, but this was a chance to actually play a new game after months of lockdown.  And besides, way back when, I had a lot of fun playing Agricola solo.  So I was happy for the opportunity to try this.

Even though this is clearly a Rosenberg heavyweight (farming theme, WP with lots of complex actions, and oodles of cards), there’s also some new stuff.  The variable production fields that mimic crop rotation is definitely an innovation.  And even though there are a reasonable number of WP games in which spaces can be claimed more than once, but for one additional worker each time, it’s the first time Uwe has used this.  And the fact that these spaces don’t automatically reset each turn, but the costs diminish gradually, is brand new, AFAIK.  It’s almost as if the laws of crop rotation are being applied to the action spaces, as well as to the fields.

 

I found the solo game to be fun, but very thinky.  Luck plays a role, with both the cards you draw and the order in which the actions are cleared (so it’s not like solo Agricola, where almost everything was known at the beginning of the game).  This didn’t bother me and just meant you had to react to the circumstances that were presented to you.  Managing your fields, so that you have fertile areas available every turn, is a very enjoyable challenge and one with an unusual feel.  The process for this is fiddly, but it’s also fun, innovative, and impactful, so it’s well worth the effort required.  Allocating your workers, even without opponents to worry about, is another nice optimization puzzle.

 

To me, advancing the Community Center tile to the very end is an absolute requirement if you want to maximize your score.  I just don’t see anything else matching the additional workers and that juicy 70 VP bonus.  However, that doesn’t mean that the solo game always plays out the same.  The cards you draw and the order in which the quarters are cleared will affect your strategy.  Moreover, I was able to attempt to fairly different strategies in my two games.  In the first one, I used my early turns to build up my infrastructure and didn’t invest in tools until the mid-game.  This worked well and I topped 120 points, but only by squeezing out every bit of goodness from my workers during the last turn.  For my second game, I realized that since tools don’t get used up, it might make sense to invest in them early on, so that I could double up on some building advancements while they were cheaper.  So I tried that out and I was able to gain additional workers earlier than in my first game, but I also had fewer goods, as my harvests weren’t as productive.  My final score was a little less than my first one, but if I’d been able to generate just one more good, I’d have beaten my initial score by 1 VP!  So the end result of these two games were very close, in spite of the different approaches.  (By the way, the rules say that solo scores of over 110 VPs are “extraordinary”, but in my games, I wound up with 122 and 116 VPs.  So either I’m a Hallertau savant (which I doubt), I’m doing something wrong (which is entirely possible), or Uwe may have set the bar too low.)

 

So I consider this experiment to be a success and that is reflected in my rating of the game.  There’s just one thing that makes me wonder if I’ll find the game with living opponents to be as enjoyable.  As Dale mentioned, there are fairly involved rules for determining which goods, and how many of them, are needed to advance a building.  This is an important part of the game and rewards foresight and clever play.  However, by the time you reach the final turn, when you’re probably advancing most of the buildings twice (and maybe even three times), there’s a huge number of goods that you’re juggling to get the Community Center pushed all the way to the end.  There’s a 20 VP difference between the next-to-last and last stage, so you’d better not screw it up!  However, working out the proper mix of goods, with all the restrictions and bonuses the game has baked in, is a real challenge.  In a solo game, I could take my sweet time, but I still found it very time consuming and hard to keep things straight.  That’s fine (and kind of fun) when it’s only your time, but in a FTF game, there’s no way I’d force my opponents to wait while I worked all those possibilities out.  So I would no doubt cut things short and go with my gut.  But that inability to optimize things often bothers me in a game like this, as I feel I’m not getting all that the game has to offer.  So I’ll have to wait and play this with members of the human race to see if my feelings toward the solo game translates to the standard way of playing.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!  Dale 

I like it.  Larry

Neutral.

Not for me…

 

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 2020, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Hallertau

  1. Andrew Burnett says:

    The coffin thing is just a poor translation, I think. The German word Truhe means chest (Schatztruhe for instance is a treasure chest) but it can also be translated as coffin. Hopefully they fix that before the release!

    • Dale Yu says:

      Actually – it’s already been fixed…

      The original prototype has this coffin shaped box, because a valid use of the word “casket” was previously meant to be a jewelry box – and thus, the box was originally shaped like a casket. Now, it is rectangular and the term is Jewel Box.

      I have edited my text above to reflect this

  2. Jonathan Warren says:

    Are there only 4 quadrant boards in the game (i.e. are there more than 4 and you select 4 for the game)? Are the 4 quadrants fixed, or can they have variable positions?

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