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Hallertau brings us Uwe Rosenberg’s 36th iteration of managing crops and your animeeples (who knows if that’s right - but it’s a lot). How...

Hallertau by Uwe Rosenberg Hallertau by Uwe Rosenberg

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Economic



Hallertau brings us Uwe Rosenberg’s 36th iteration of managing crops and your animeeples (who knows if that’s right - but it’s a lot). However, I’ve only played half a dozen or so of his designs but this one is as good as they come, assuming you like minimal player interaction and lots of mechanisms that integrate seamlessly with each other.

During the game of 6 rounds, you’ll develop your farm and manage your crops (and sheep) to build your typical ‘Uwe-Engine’ and a smorgasbord of points to claim victory. If you don’t have enough friends to invite over (even if that’s allowed now) and ultimately ignore whilst you crunch through the actions and work out your optimum moves, the game features a solo mode that plays exactly like the friend-version.

Gameplay




Each of the 6 rounds has 10 phases … there are a standard few phases of round prep, and necessary round-tear down-phases at the beginning and end of a round. These are all nearly dealt with simultaneously by all players, so don’t let 10 phases put you off. What separates my experience of this and other games of this ilk is that the worker placement phase (i.e. the Actions in Hallertau) is far from the only phase in which your Analysis Paralysis can be freely exercised.

That extra AP-inducing phase is Progress in which you’ll be clearing the ground (by picking rocks) and improving buildings surrounding your farm/community centre. This will ultimately give you more workers with which to use next round.



Your workers/blue cubes will be interacting with 13 different resources, 4 different types of cards and five buildings all in an effort to get (more workers, because that’s always a good thing) and get the most victory points.

Ten phases, 13 resources, so far so Uwe… but it really is far simpler than it would appear at first glance. The mechanisms are obviously the result of a seasoned and expert designer to the point where even in your first game the rules will quickly disappear and you’ll properly be playing the game instead of the rule book. I’ve got some games where I’m still constantly referring to the rules (here’s looking at your Fields of Fire).



The only real interaction you’ll have with other players is by denying action spaces to your opponents or more accurately making action spaces more expensive for them. This game is the epitome of multiplayer solitaire, and I consider that a good thing. So much of your brain is engaged optimising your choices that any extra randomness would be unwelcome i.e. having your opponents actively trying to subvert your plans would serve to lessen the experience.

There is a little bit of randomness (driven by 4 decks of cards) and quite a bit of setup variability due to having 8 decks of the cards from which you only need to draw 2. That amount of entropy is just about perfect for this ‘Expert’-level game. Just leaving you reacting to the game state and not the other players (for the most part). You only really have two decisions: whether the cost per action is worth it and how best to optimise your building improvements cost. Despite the cornucopia of resources you need to factor into those two decisions, you’re left with what I think is quite a simple game and why you can quickly ditch the rule book.



During the Actions phase in turn order players will place their supply or workers onto the board and immediately resolve the effect. This continues until every player has exhausted their worker pool or passed. The Action board has 20 spaces and they can be chosen at most 3 times each. If one worker has already been placed on the action space, you’ll need to send two workers to take that action again. (Can you guess how many workers will need to activate the space a 3rd time?) The downtime between your turns is no more than a couple of minutes and the game moves along at a fair clip. For such a thinky, four-player game that is an achievement.

Each round the top row of workers will be removed which creates a mini-supply and demand economy for action spaces. The most popular spaces (i.e. Land Sale/Town Hall) will rarely have fewer than 2 workers on and should be taken (IMHO) at every possible opportunity. They are the only space which grants you Jewels, which are often necessary to save your bacon towards the end of the game.





Another brilliant mechanism that keeps you involved even when it’s not your turn is the ability to play a card from your hand at any time. Most cards will either require you to spend resources or just have a number of resources in order to use them. After a game or two, you’ll start to appreciate how important the cards are...if you want to do well you’ll need to optimise your card play. The most important cards are the bonus cards which give you a welcome boost during the income phase. The earlier you can play them, the more decisive their impact. Towards the end of the game, your focus will likely shift to the Point cards but these are often such a high cost to play (they give large numbers of victory points) that in order to use them you’ll have had to have a strategy throughout the game.

Many cards will also allow you to draw another card when you play them, and having the ability to play cards at any time can lead to playing a 2 or 3 card combo even when it’s not your turn from cards that you’ve just picked up - beautiful. Fulfilling the requirements to play cards is the primary tactical game here. You’ll be choosing action spaces based on the cards in your hand and not necessarily what gives you the most resources.

The other primary tactical consideration is how to most effectively improve your Community Center. This is done in the other AP-inducing phase Progress. During the Progress phase, you’ll slide your community centre as far right as your five community buildings allow. You slide those right by paying their improvement costs - which are each different and are increasingly expensive. By the end of the game, you’ll be paying effectively 6 times what you paid in the first round.

As you improve your community buildings and slide your community centre to the right you’ll unlock more workers (your thriving community can support more workers), allowing you to do more actions. You start the game with 6 workers and this can increase by one per community centre shift up to a maximum of twelve. But the primary purpose of moving your community centre is to get those sweet victory points, the vast majority of which will come from improving your buildings i.e. shifting your buildings right.


There are many other mechanisms that I won’t elaborate on here, suffice to say that Uwe’s expert hand is very visible throughout the game and the different interactions and combos that can be done is rewarding.

Components


The best component is arguably the player aid and the design of the game itself. With the player aid, which is relatively small any player should be able to walk through the entire round with no recourse to the rulebook. This is only achievable because the game, despite the amount of stuff (and phases) you’re dealing with is fundamentally simple … I’m prepared to defend that position too, despite it being contrary to most other reviews I’ve seen.



As ever with a pure Euro we’ve got fantastic wooden bits. I love me some wooden bits and these don’t disappoint. The workers are abstracted to a nice chunky cube and the resources are different shapes and colours and they’re certainly satisfying to move up and down your resource track. They are quite thin, but if they were any thicker then the box would be even deeper than it currently is.

The rules are excellent and should you need them, provide a comprehensive card index (and summary explanation) of every card in the game, of which there are well over 300! The rules also provide a detailed overview of the game which is often lacking in other ‘Expert’ games and I found it helpful to understand the core game before reading the rules properly. I would like to see more rules written like this.

Criticisms


As can be applied to many ‘Euros’ the theme never really grabbed me. I never felt like I was farming hops in Southwest Germany. The names of the resources, Rye, Barley, Flax, Hops were quickly reduced to, ‘the blue one’ or the ‘green one’ for example.



The game is also a bit of a table hog, each player area has got 6 boards in it! However, with so much going on, it’s not really a criticism, more of a ‘be prepared'. I would also like to have bigger cards as they’re the small Euro size but I shudder to think of the required tablespace if they were any larger.

I 3d-printed an organiser for this game which nicely fills up all of the space in the box, (there is still a massive amount of unused space) however even with baggies I found the box to be unnecessarily deep. Unless there’s a plan for lots of expansion content and I don’t really think this needs or could have any, I would love to have a smaller box.



Conclusion


This game has got Uwe stamped all over it. If you like Agricola, Ora et Labora, Fields of Arle et al I am sure that this will be right up your street. I like the seemingly endless amount of resources and different rules at first glance which fundamentally boil down to some simple interactions and easy to grasp rules.

I love the fact that the solo mode is almost identical to the main game. As much as I appreciate a solo mode to many games, I’m not so keen if I have to learn a whole new game (running the AI) in order to play solo. Obviously, we’ve all been a bit constrained with our playing partners but my game groups are back up and running and I can’t wait to play with a few more players. I know this will be a hit.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store, which need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designers: Uwe Rosenberg
Bgg page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/300322/hallertau
Playtime: 50 - 140 mins
Players: 1 - 4




Overview Brass: Lancashire is the latest version of Martin Wallace's classic game set during the industrial revolution of ...

Brass: Lancashire Deluxe Edition Brass: Lancashire Deluxe Edition

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Economic




Overview

Brass: Lancashire is the latest version of Martin Wallace's classic game set during the industrial revolution of England.  The original game was released in 2007 and owing to its popularity was reprinted in 2009 and in 2015. The 2018 Roxley edition eschews the drab-art of the original and provides gamers with the most lavishly produced game I think I have ever seen.

2-4 players take on the role of a Titan of Industry during the late 18th century in the industrial powerhouse of England, i.e. Lancashire. Through the game, players acquire Victory Points by building and using their industries and providing others with resources whilst expanding their own network of canals and rails.

Players compete with each other to fulfil the markets' demand for coal, iron and cotton at the same time as using the same coal and iron to expand their empire. The economic mantra of 'buying low, selling high' and the euro-gamers mantra of 'do what others aren't' are pivotal for success here.

Halfway through scoring the Canal Era
This version of the game was kickstarted by Roxley Games and as a frequent consumer of Kickstarter projects, I can honestly say that this was the best campaign that I've ever had the pleasure to be part of. I think Roxley have set other publishers the gold-standard of how to do a Kickstarter and I will consider backing any future campaign they run purely on the merits of this Kickstarter.

Gameplay

The game consists of approximately 16 rounds split over 2 eras. In each round, every player will take a turn of two actions by playing cards from their hand. Each round the player order will alter depending on how much money players spent during the previous round with the least amount going first.

On their turn, players will be doing 2 of 5 possible actions; attempting to sell cotton, building industries, building connections between towns and markets, taking a loan from the bank or developing their industry to get more bonuses when it is eventually built.

Handy Player Boards
The industries in which players can invest and use are (left to right in the image) cotton mills, ports, shipyards, iron works and coal mines. As you would expect each of them has different yet thematic attributes which provide a benefit to the owning player and often the other players as well.  Just as in the real world no industry will thrive without customers.

All of these actions and industries are played through the use of a hand of cards. The cards depict either a location on the map or a specific industry type.  Every action must be 'paid for' by discarding a card. The build action, however, requires the correct card to be used. For example, a player can place any industry into the specified location on the card, or the specific industry on the card into a location that is part of or adjacent to their own network.

Card Art Example
However, having the correct card to build an industry is far from the only consideration players have to think about when building. Some industries, require access to and the use of coal and/or iron in order to place them. Exhausting the resources of connected players may provide them with a larger benefit than building your own industry does to you. Your cards may lead you to focus elsewhere requiring a change of tactics. Money is also quite tight in this game and often you will not have enough money to build what you want without taking a loan first.

Constraining each player to two actions per turn does lead to some agonising choices, particularly around shipyards, that have very limited possible spaces on the board and iron works, whose market cycles far quicker than coal or cotton.  I nearly always wish that I could do a third action thereby, for example, preventing another player from building the iron works before I can afford it, or have access to coal in the right area and allowing me to fulfil the iron demand and 'flip' my tile.

Player tokens and flipped industries
Flipping a tile is done when it's resources are depleted. When you first build an industry a certain number of coal or iron cubes are placed upon the tile to show on-map availability of those resources. As they are exhausted the industry tile is flipped which will score Victory Points for the owning player at the end of the canal and rails eras and an immediate income bonus. Each industry is quite different from in this respect; shipyards flip immediately providing large amounts of VPs and little income. Cotton and Ports have no resource placed on them and are only flipped when the sell cotton action is taken.

Generally, earlier industries provide more income bonus and later ones provide more Victory Points. Striking the balance between building industries and developing them, i.e. getting access to the later industries is key.  However, another important source of Victory Points, especially in the Rail Era are the connections. Each industry tile at either end of a connection will score a Victory Point per connection. So a single rail link may be worth up to 7 Victory Points to its owner; there is normally a mad rush at the beginning of the rail era to build as many links as possible, primarily for this reason amongst others.


Halway through scoring the Rail Era
There are a plethora of difficult choices per turn for each player whereby you have to balance immediate tactical benefits with longer-term considerations, and the cards that you've got available with the actions/areas that your opponents are playing.

Components

I feel like I say this for most board games these days but truly Roxley has delivered a game with the most superb components I've ever seen. Granted the iron and coal are standard wooden blocks but this is entirely functional and does nothing to detract from the gorgeous art that permeates the rest of the game. The artwork on the board is second to none, likewise, the cards are similarly designed. I appreciated the industrial flourishes, littered throughout the game.

Flourishes aplenty
However, the best components in this game are the Iron Clays. These are the poker chips that are provided with the Deluxe edition of the game. They feel wonderful to touch and are the most tactile poker chips I have ever used. I normally substitute cardboard or (heaven forbid) paper money with poker chips in games and my generic chips feel and look terrible compared to these. Apparently, there is a Kickstarter for Iron Clays from Roxley later this year (or early next, considering we're almost in December) that I will definitely be backing to replace all of my chips.

More please!
The poker chips are only in the deluxe edition of the game which can still be ordered. The retail version features cardboard token for the money, and I'm sure they're functional and perfectly fine, but if you can and you're interested I would definitely recommend the deluxe version as these Iron Clays are something special. I even learnt to shuffle poker chips because I enjoyed handling them so much...

Criticisms

I wouldn't recommend learning this game with 3 new players or trying to learn where all 4 of you are new, you must have an experienced player to instruct.  I taught this to two of my group; they came over requesting a 'brain-burner' and this was a perfect choice.  It did take the best part of 3 hours despite only reviewing the rules for about 20 minutes or so before we got into it. However this isn't really a criticism as any more-complex game will suffer from a similar learning curve. However, don't think that this is overly complex as the rules fit into just 10 pages, the duration came from every player suffering similar 'hard decisions' as mentioned above.


I've played several games with less experienced players now and they thought that they were largely at the mercy of the cards they drew. There certainly is an element of randomness induced by the cards but experienced players should be able to manage and mitigate any 'bad cards' by strategising their hand and current opportunities. I've played the original game, and the excellent PC (also available on Android and IOS) many times and I don't think this is a valid criticism.  I would however, love to see a collaboration between Cublo and Roxley to update the app with Roxley graphics...

In most of my games with the Roxley Deluxe edition, we have run out of coal cubes by just 1. Especially at the beginning of the Rail Era when lots of coal mines have just been built in preparation for the Rail Era. I have also seen bgg forums suggesting they've had games where they had run out of iron cubes, which I find hard to understand how that is possible. However, this doesn't affect game-play as you can substitute anything else for the missing cube but one or two more coal cubes (maybe iron cubes as well) would have been nice.  This is a very minor nit-pick though.

App screenshot
Conclusion

All elements of this game play subtly different from each other, for example, the cotton market can be exhausted, whereas coal and iron will always be available in the market. Each industry tile has different rules regarding their bonus and utilisation, canal links and rail links have different rules regarding their building and coal and iron themselves have different rules to determine players access to them. These differences are all clever design choices to more thematically represent the industrial revolution in this medium-to-heavy Euro economic game.

The game is littered with hard choices and the ability to deny your opponents spaces and opportunities is rife, especially if you manage to pull off a last/first turn order combo effectively getting two turns on the bounce. You're constantly having to reevaluate your position with respect to your cards the available resources and it is certainly a brain burner that warrants its playtime and reputation in the hobby.

Despite the over-the-top production, I thought the price remained reasonable and for the retail version is an absolute bargain. It's not a game for everyone though, as there are lots of subtleties to grok before you're going to be competitive and there is a significant but-easily-surmountable-with-an-experienced-player learning curve.  The next time anyone requests a brain-burner, this is the game I'd recommend.

I'd like to thank Roxley Games and especially Paul Saxberg for providing the review copy of this game.

Publisher: Roxley Games
Players: 2 - 4
Designer: Martin Wallace
Playing time: 60 - 120 minutes
Deluxe version: Pre-orders still open for $75 + shipping
Retail version: Best price (delivered to UK) at time of review: £46.10

The box in all its American 2-2-0 glory. The Last Spike is a simple economic game that plays in about 45 minutes. That time is accura...

The Last Spike The Last Spike

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Economic



The box in all its American 2-2-0 glory.
The Last Spike is a simple economic game that plays in about 45 minutes. That time is accurate for your first game and if every one at the table is familiar with the rules the game still plays in about 45 minutes... The rules are one of the simplest I have come across, almost as light as a party game which is a little strange coming from Columbia Games. This game serves as a very basic introduction to railway games, economic games or block games, take your pick, but you're not getting a comprehensive induction to either of those genres by playing this. However, don't think I didn't like it either, I did and it's in my 'games to take to game group bag' from now on; read on for my thoughts.

I have had this game for months waiting for a review but every time I'd pull it down, or take it to a game group, it wouldn't get played because the box is not as attractive as games from a triple-A publisher like Asmodee, or FFG.  The game, or at least my attempt to play it with both of my gaming groups, almost became a bit of a joke so I pounced on some unsuspecting house guests, neither of whom are/were gamers for my first play.  Even my wife (Queen of the non-gamers, at least that's what it feels like to me!) played it and spoiler alert... everyone enjoyed it. 
The quiet early game
My wife even went so far to say that although she thought she would hate it, primarily because of the drab brown box it came in, she would definitely play it again; that's a massive two thumbs up from me.  My gaming group were reluctantly subjected to this game the week after, on my insistence, and we played with a full complement of 6 players, which the rule book advises is not the ideal number of players (3-5 being optimum) and no real slow down in play was noticed. 

Your turn consists of playing one of the four track tiles in your hand, buying a city card and refilling your hand of track tiles back up to four.  There are a few exceptions to this for example if a track connecting two cities is completed by your track, the city will pay out to every player who has bought the connected cities cards, i.e. invested in that city.  The end of the game immediately happens when a continuous route from Saint Louis to Sacramento can be traced. This action will also bequeath a $20,000 bonus to the player who place the eponymous 'last spike'. 
City Investment Cards
Each track piece can only be placed in a specific spot, indicated by the coordinate on the tile and the matching coordinate on the board, e.g. B3 or Z1 etc.  This allows you to play a little tactically by holding back pieces that you know your opponents are waiting for, although this does severely limit your own hand from 4 pieces to 3, and you have to balance your satisfaction from denying your opponents a big pay day, with limiting your own opportunities. I think the longest I've held onto some track, hoping to cause an opponents bankruptcy (it never happened) was about 6 turns. 

Talking of money, you start with $35,000 denoted by white red and blue wooden discs ($1, $5 and $10 respectively).  Although I described this as an economic game it doesn't ever feel like you're going to run out after that first pay day. I have seen a player down to $4,000 as they had heavily invested in one city (not recommended by the rules) and it hadn't payed out in the early game.  I would have like to see a slightly tighter economic game, especially at higher player counts - it never felt like money was an issue and by the end of the game every one is as rich as Croesus. 
The train-robbing end game
The winner is simply the person with the most money, bearing in mind the $20,000 bonus for laying the last spike, at the end of the game. The end-game is where this game is best. During the early stages of the game it doesn't really feel like you're doing much as the board is relatively empty and your track lays don't feel like they have much consequence; other than looking to see which Cities are most likely to pay out earliest. However, the end-game feels very different; by then everyone has a firm grasp on all the rules (achieved by the second round) and is attempting to work out how to be the last player and getting the $20K bonus.  This is largely down to the tile draw but delaying tactics can buy you some time and sometimes the game.

Unfortunately that end-game tension does not have an early game comparison. The beginning of the game feels more like a full on cooperative game with no 'take that' present, yet in the last 10 minutes the game morphs into a hybrid between all working towards the same goal and doing their upmost to crown themselves winner, or denying others that chance. 


"Hunky Chunky ... Game Blocks"
Some would see the very simplistic game play as a negative but this game (in terms of game play alone) went over very well with my family, my pseudo-non-gaming-but-will-humour-him-if-necessary friends and my game group. The one resonant criticism that those groups all had was the components. They criticised the board, the box and even the counters which I don't think is particularly fair, but it does highlight that I think this game would be most enjoyed by a non-gamer who will probably not be enticed by the aesthetic of this game. The tired-but-have-got-time-for-one-more-game type of gamer (I fit nicely into that category on game night), can easily overlook those criticisms and in fact would champion small publishers releasing interesting games that maybe don't have the production quality of the big hitters.

The blocks are the familiar nice and chunky size of those in a block wargame and I have no issues with the stickers or cards.  However, I'm not a fan of the money, although it does its job, unmarked denominations feels a but under-produced. The board and box are fine, nothing more, although maybe not what you would expect these days. However, as a small publisher, I would rather Columbia Games continue to publish games with solid game play like this, than waste their money trying to match CMON's latest Kickstarter.
The box slip cover
I was pleasantly surprised by this game, the game play is very easy to pickup, and is the perfect game to play either at a game group whist waiting for another table to finish up, or to introduce the very basics of train, economic or even block games to someone. There is variable game play, as you progress through the game it gets progressively meaner and there certainly are some interesting tactical decisions to be made later on. The components are a bit of a mixed bag, I really like the blocks, I didn't like the money discs, and everything else was perfectly fine.

I would like to thank Columbia Games for sending this review copy of the game and also send my apologies for taking so long to convince my friends to play it... Somehow I don't think it'll take so long to get it back to the table now that they've tried it.

You can still pick up a copy of this at many online retailers or direct from Columbia Games if you want to support a small independent board game publisher directly for $39.99 which I think is a very fair price for the amount of wood in the box. They also publish the rules on their website here. 
PixelPLaybox.co.uk