Farm Shop – This probably would have flown under most people’s radar if it hadn’t been for the Author – Rudiger Dorn, who is sometimes erratic but always worth checking out. In this case The Farm Shop is a childish looking game disguising a very decent filler, reminiscent of Point Salad and Sushi Go in its feel. Fast and easy to play, players roll three dice on their turn, choose one to use to buy one of 6 cards on offer in the centre of the table, and the two other dice to score one of the cards already on their mat, catan style fashion, according to the sum total of their two dice. Just like catan, everyone else also gets to use the two dice to activate their card too. The cards that are printed on the player mat are fairly basic, yielding tokens of milk churns, honey, and other farm produce. However some cards give you a burlap sack, which can be paid to increase or decrease a die by one; and some give you sunflowers in exchange for farm goods, which may be placed next to a number to increase the yield of a card placed in that slot. As the game progresses, players will upgrade their player mat with cards obtained with that one die I mentioned in the beginning, and will gravitate towards a preference for a few of the many farm products. They do this because some cards they upgrade to give you coins (which are Victory points) for one or a combination of products that you store in your farm shop. So the fun comes from arranging to have a good little “machine” going to for example, produce eggs and sell two for 4 coins. Since the game plays very quickly and evolves quite rapidly the feel is similar to the other filler games mentioned above, where you feel you do have a choice of how you use your dice and what upgrades you go for. All in all a very nice filler game that I will be buying – I love it.
Anno 1800 – Encouraged by Larry’s mentioning of the English rules last night, I jumped into a game of this today curious to see what Martin Wallace had made of his task to deliver a good ‘Anno’ game to Kosmos. Firstly it’s good to note that rules are available in English and the in-game German text is very very small (a few words), so this should not be a blocking point for most people. Anno 1800 is essentially a “technology climbing” game, where you place workers (in the form of 5 different colours of cubes, each one being harder to get than the previous) onto Industry or other technology tiles on your player mat to generate resources which are immediately used to buy either cards or more resource generating tiles. To play cards requires a combination of 2 or 3 resources – some of them are basic and already exist on your player board, but many of them will come from technology tiles yet to be built. New tiles have to fit on your mat but you can expand your island to make more space using ships which you start the game with and can add to during the game. You start the game with a few worker cubes and a few cards – and it is these cards, plus the many you acquire during the game, plus some public objective cards, which earn you points at the end of the game. On top of the cards and tiles, players may use ships to trade with other players for resources and to explore new regions, bringing back strange animals and treasures or trading links with new nations which will assist you in building certain industries or playing certain cards.
On your turns you must try to be as efficient as possible, using every cube at your disposal, and obtaining more worker cubes through your cards and tiles, because when they run out you have to do a dreaded “carnival” action – take back all your cubes and ships and skip a turn. So the pressure is always on to plan what you want to do and buy and in what order. Fortunately the game system is quite forgiving when you find you have made a mess, and there is very often something you can do to wriggle out of it – something that I particularly like.
There is a a choice of 9 actions but most of them revolve around manipulating the workers you have, in the right order, in order to obtain the technologies you are after (the tiles on your mat) to then obtain further technologies and be able to play the cards you have drawn. Getting more cubes allows you to obtain more cards but the twist here is that the player who has played all his cards ends the game. So I suspect it is a tipping game where at some point you must decide to stop getting new cubes and new cards and new technologies and start focussing on the end game. I say “suspect” because after 3 hours playing online in a two player game we had to stop, still being nowhere near the end. And that may be a problem because it was all very engaging and a natural time to stop hadn’t become evident Now, while some the delays are definitely due to the time-travelling vortex that Tabletopia sucks you into, where weeks go by as you try to place a cube onto a tile or zoom into 4 or 5 different tiles to figure out which one you want to build (and to be fair Kosmos have a very good implementation of the game in this case) our turns were not ‘that’ slow and the game box says 120 mins per game. Eventually though, I am sure the game will reach a climax and it is not, for me at least,. at all boring to be there for the ride. The reader should also bear in mind that this was my second go of the game, in one day, having already played it earlier in the day with 3 others for a couple of hours including the rules walk-through with a rep from Kosmos. I actually found this longer attempt very satisfying, but was disappointed that we didn’t seem to near the end point. One thing I really liked about the game was how the theme crept through each element of the game; I also liked the fact that it was not a worker placement game as such, and not a resource churning game either; or an engine-building game. It is stripped, Wallace style, of all those much-overused elements and is essentially an engaging, fast and attractive techniology tree-climbing game in which you are racing against your opponents to optimise every turn. I still need to play a full-length game of this, preferably with real components which are easier to see and use, but I suspect that while this is not in the higher echelons of Wallace’s games it will pique the interest of all the strategic (and possibly AP-prone) gamers out there. I like it,a nd I may love it with a physical game. I’m told by Kosmos that they are also working on a solo game.
Polynesia – I didn’t have this one on my shortlist but I was pulled into a game with friends and while I enjoyed the game, I won’t be buying a copy. Essentially players are trying to move outwards from an island in which a volcano is about to erupt, using their and others’ boats to reach the surrounding polynesian islands in which they will receive, if present at the end of a round, a fish or a shell; or at the end of a game, a victory point or other bonus as determined by objective cards and randomised tokens. To move across the sea you must either place your own ships or use other player’s ships, in which case you have to pay them for the privilege using shells or fish. The most interesting and original part of the game is that each round has 3 phases, and during the first phase you have three movement actions, the second phase 2, and the third phase 1. So it is good to move in the first phase but you may need to build a ship first, and ships cost 3 fish or shells in the first phase, 2 in the second, and only 1 in the first. So you are left with a puzzle as how to best optimise the phase you are in. If you don’t wish to move or build a ship you can instead extract some of your people from the surroundings of the erupting volcano and the number you extract never changes with the phase. At the end of each round the start player chooses which of the two resources all players must discard – either all their shells or all their fis; and then they also pull a cube from a bag and if it is red, add it to the erupting volcano – 5 red cubes and the game ends. The beginning of the game is interesting and the game evolves quickly as you organically spread out into the islands, placing ships and using other people’s ships and looking for the bonuses on offer. However the end of my only game dragged as you get closer to the eruption of the volcano without knowing when it will happen. In our case, towards the end there were two clear leaders and two of us who had no way of catching up which didn’t help. The game reminded me a little of Kahuna, the two player Kosmos game from way back, and while I thought it was clever in parts, the overall feel was not that of a particularly original game and it did not engage me throughout. That said, I wouldn’t refuse to play it again – neutral.