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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!

Worker Placement



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




Cooper Island pits one to four players against each other to reclaim and settle their own peninsula in the Island of Cooper…  It is a heavy-...

Cooper Island by Frosted Games and Capstone Games Cooper Island by Frosted Games and Capstone Games

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

Worker Placement


Cooper Island pits one to four players against each other to reclaim and settle their own peninsula in the Island of Cooper…  It is a heavy-weight Euro-smorgasbord of mechanisms: worker placement,  tile placement, engine builder and rondel with intricate interplay between how you score points and how the $*&# do you score points? (At least for your first few plays.)

Gameplay

The game plays out in punishingly-few-five turns.  Each turn consists of 3 phases, the Income Phase, the Worker Phase and the Clean-Up Phase.  Two of which are simultaneous and which give the game a surprisingly low downtime per player when you consider how much stuff you’ve got to think about on your turn.

The Harbour Master in the Second Round

There are only 8 action spaces for your workers to be placed onto, but you can also perform an almost unlimited number of five Anytime actions.  As your peninsula develops new spaces will be revealed on your player board giving additional bonuses and sometimes extra stuff for you to do.  I don’t think I’ve ever been as bewildered by a game on the first play as I have this one.  Working out how to score points was not even on my radar on my first playthroughs of this.


I came away from my first game (with a terrible score) with a numb brain and I had only just realised that my anytime actions were pivotal for any type of success in this game.  On my second play through my brain was hurting even more because I was trying to optimise my choice of actions spaces with the anytime actions that I had at my disposal.  However, I was still trying to do a little bit of everything and consequently didn’t receive too many points. 

A really close game - not my first

It wasn’t until the third play-through that I even considered trying to score points (instead of them just happening as a result of my actions) and actually have a strategy; which currently looks like - optimise to get more workers as soon as possible (by fulfilling Milestone Tokens) and then Settle and Build at the highest level possible… This could be utterly wrong, maybe exploring your peninsula or building statues is better… I still don’t really know how to do well.


The earlier you can get more workers the more benefit they will provide over the course of the game is an age-old, (well at least Agricola-old) strategy of building your engine.  However, you need to fuel that engine and your workers will need feeding, however, there isn’t the same level of jeopardy that you feel when you can’t feed you Agricola-family.  In this, you just receive an anchor token which prevents your ships moving around the peninsula.

2 Normal and 1 Special worker need feeding

So with 5 Anytime Actions, 8 worker Actions (each with their own bonus actions), 4 terrain types, 6 resource types, 18 unexplored hexes to fill, 8 sandbanks to visit, 5 ruins to explore/statues to build, 3 different types of buildings to construct and two different types of workers, 6 boats to build and a player-dependent number of Bay Water and Harbour spaces to visit; you’ll hopefully begin to understand how wide the decision tree you are faced with is at the start of the game.  However, finding good combos and synergies between your anytime actions and your workers’ actions is what makes this game tick.


The pace of this game is perfectly balanced. The first one or two rounds are much simpler, (you’ve unlocked fewer bonus actions) which helps new players to become familiar with the core actions and flow of the game and during the fourth and fifth round, your combos can be magnificent and convoluted.  Keeping track of a resource as it moves from a fourth level hex to pay for an action which gets additional bonuses and more market stock to pay for further bonus actions can almost feel like you’re doing the work, but it’s damn rewarding.

The end of a solo game - not too shabby  

The Income Phase is a simultaneous affair where you quickly take the income (shown by Terra Mystica hands) revealed on your player board.  Additional hands can be in play by building one of your Income Boats.  The standard income actions allow you to draw a double hex tile from the bag into your personal reserve and place a double hex tile onto your peninsula from your personal reserve.  The important thing to understand that any time you have actions to do (including your anytime actions) is that you choose the order of them, which adds another wrinkle to your brow when you’re trying to optimise actions.


Double hex landscape tiles and islet tiles form the core of your peninsula and they build up to an attractive looking board with nice, chunky card being placed on top of each other.  You can shim a mismatched terrain height by using one of your Anytime Cartographer actions (assuming you’ve got the necessary amount of Cartographer points).  Each time you place a landscape tile you’ll place matching resource cubes onto that tile. The height at which the resource cubes are placed determines their value.  However, once a hex is a Meadow hex, for example, it is always a Meadow hex you can’t change its hex type (unless you decide to place a settlement tile onto it). Building your landscape in this fashion (following all the tile placement rules) is like a 3d puzzle and could be a challenging game in its own right.

This looks great on the table

The Worker Phase is the core of the game and you only start with two workers to place onto the board.  Those two workers have a choice of 8 spots in the central island board to occupy.  Four of the actions will let you place additional landscape tiles into your peninsula (following the placement rules) and which gives resources.  The other four actions require you to pay resources you’ve just gained to build buildings, statues, boats, or supply some cargo which all have their own specific benefit and most importantly answer the first question of ‘how the $*&# do you score points?’.


Traditionally in worker placement games, a worker on a spot will prevent other players from taking that action.  Here, you just have to pay the player 1 resource to go on top of their worker.  This adds an unexpected boost often at opportune times.  I suppose it would be possible to determine the board state of another player to work out where they are going to place their workers, to maxims this boost to you, but my gameplay is so far from this level – I’m just gripping on to my ships pennants keeping up with my own game.  I just consider it a nice and often welcome surprise if it does happen to me.

The worker actions spaces / central island board

You can unlock special workers (the ‘square’ discs…) which provide a more powerful version of their action space.  However, to get these new workers, you’ll need to remove a normal worker but also unlocking additional victory points.  Deciding the optimum strategy of whether the new worker should be normal or special is well beyond the processing power of my brain.

The Clean-Up Phase is a blessed relief on the grey-matter, even though you have to start by feeding your workers.  It is another simultaneous affair in which you may get points and you reset your workers and market and move the round tracker.  There is a decision to be made to pay or not to reactivate an asset, however, in my experience, you only have one maybe two assets that even need reactivating and it’s nearly always worth it.  This is the easiest decision in the game.

A clear and easy to follow rulebook

This game plays in about 90 minutes to two hours.  If you all know the game 4 players can complete the game in under 2 hours which is a huge achievement for such a dense, crunchy (in a good sense) game.  Few games can provide the same level of challenge for four players in the same length of time as this does.

Components

Some of the components deserve special praise. The landscape hex tiles are deliciously thick and create a good-looking peninsula after the game.  The player colours are standard red, green, blue and black pieces and the resources are contrasting shades of brown – wood, purple – cloth, grey – stone, pink – food, and yellow – gold.  These pieces, resources, workers and buildings are all made of wood – which I prefer.

All good here

The rulebook does a tremendous job of conveying how the game plays.  Each section is colour coded to relate to the actions. This colour coding exists throughout the game i.e. on the player board so after reading the rules, you’ve got a good idea of how the game will play.  This is an amazing achievement for such a dense game.  The rules are contained in 27 pages of very well written text and copious examples littered throughout.  Although I did find one non-game affecting typo relating to page number references.


The player boards and central island board, at first glance, contain a dizzying array of icons, but as is the case with most heavy Euros, once you’re familiar with the actions themselves, the icons provide a non-textual and intuitive prompt for what is going on, and what you should be doing.  I thought the player board with its colour-coded sections, and icon design allows a returning player to pick the game flow back up very quickly.

A bit of a table-hog.  2 Player game

I was disappointed that there is no insert of any type in the box and similarly the two-piece player boards are made from quite a thin card stock.  However, these are just minor quibbles for me as I’ll end up 3d printing an insert for this and I understand that another 3 or sheets of board stock with different die cuts would have been much more expensive.

Criticisms

The only criticism I have is not really fair to level at Cooper Island, as it was designed to be a complex worker placement, is that it's a complex worker placement game.  You’re not going to have a good time introducing this to gamers more comfortable with Splendor and Ticket to Ride.  However, there is a place in the market and my collection for complex Euros like this.  If you buy this I am confident that you’ve already done your research and you’ll know exactly if this game is for you or not.

Conclusion

I really like this game, the huge amount of actions you have over five short rounds is impressive.  I appreciate the design and all its complexities coming in under 2 hours.  However, I don’t think it will see the light of day (or game night) at the moment – I don’t think I can face continually teaching it to lots of new players.  Maybe when life is a bit more settled and less crazy I’ll feel a need to train my brain after another relaxing day in the office (/s) and I’ll pull this out for some stimulation.  However, 2020 is not that year, my work has been manic of late and I just don’t feel up to Cooper Island but I look forward to the time when life is a bit more peaceful and normal and this will become a regular on my table.


P.S. The solo mode is fun and challenging (I’ve only beat the first difficulty level) but I feel less pressure when playing this solo and not teaching the game.


I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. This is in stock in many stores and you can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store who need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designer:  Andreas "ode." Odendahl

Bgg page:  https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/269511/cooper-island

Play time:  90 minutes

Players:  1-4

These are interesting times we’re living in. As a gamer you may think that our options to play games are limited but in my experience no...

Caylus 1303 Caylus 1303

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

Worker Placement

These are interesting times we’re living in. As a gamer you may think that our options to play games are limited but in my experience nothing has been further from the truth. Not only are there fantastic online resources to help us connect virtually to one another, there is also a growing demand from non-gamers to connect, for contact, conversation and to alleviate the monotony of whatever situation they find themselves locked down in.  We’re perfectly placed as a community to help many people in our own small way.

Prior to the lockdown in the UK I was sent a copy of Caylus 1303 to review. I am writing this as part review and part-a list of resources (at the end of the review) I’ve used to play games online.

Caylus 1303 is a revamp of the eponymous and genre-defining worker placement classic Caylus.  If you’re not familiar with the original, it has spawned a sub-culture within the gaming community of bland-euro art, mean-looking dudes on boxes and arguably the most infamous character in gaming – the Provost! I’ve only played the original a handful of times but it still sparks memories of being screwed over, or inflicting the same screwage onto my friends… I’m pleased to say all this is still present in the new streamlined version of the game.

Gameplay


Caylus 1303 is played over 9 rounds, in which players are trying to get the most prestige points (i.e. victory points) by contributing to building the town of Caylus and constructing the castle.  Thematically this makes perfect sense as the town of the same name in France is famous for its castle.  However, in the game, this theme feels loosely tacked on as a mechanism to place workers and screw with your opponents.
Initial setup for 4 player game.
The game has a randomised setup and a variable turn order, two features that are a must for me when it comes to theme-light euros.  The setup is relatively quick and aided by excellent graphic design throughout the game.  After your first game, you’ll be able to setup the board in a matter of minutes.

One huge benefit of virtual gaming is that the chore of setting up any game is largely removed from the players. I am very experienced in using both Vassal and Table Top simulator both of which have free modules for nearly every board game you can imagine (at least ones you’d want to play!). TTS is much newer than vassal and has a much larger user-base and I’m constantly amazed at how quickly game modules are available in the workshop. Vassal caters more to the typical GMT-crowd
Table Top Simulator - opening splash
Caylus 1303 (a relatively new game has an unofficial port on TTS but only with lower resolution scans. I still managed to convince a few gaming buddies to give it a try and I found it perfectly playable through the TTS module. The easiest (and best) solution I have found to talk to my opponents is through Discord. This enables multi-player comms and text chat if you’re so inclined.  If you’re just playing 2 player games then Zoom is free to use and has a useful screen-sharing option.

During the lockdown I have played online with gaming opponents, Caylus 1303, Mage Knight, War of the Ring, Pendragon, Undaunted Normandy, Combat Commander Europe.  However, what has surprised me most is how up for games ‘non-gamers’ are during these times. I have had countless family and social group quizzes, I have had success playing Scattegories, played a Fake Artist Goes to New York, hosting a murder mystery evening, pub quizzes and even a scavenger hunt for kids.  I have used Zoom for a lot of these but also Kahoot and Quizziz to run the quiz nights.
Some of the Characters
Each player in Caylus 1303 will also have a character with bonus abilities on certain actions. This, however, is not guaranteed to stay with you long.  There is no text anywhere on the board or components so I couldn’t tell what the characters are (without referring to the rule book) but once again the icons are brilliantly designed and intuitive.  I know it’s cheaper to translate a game with no text (just the rulebook) but I would have liked a characters name on their cards at least…

Each round of the game consists of 4 phases.  Planning, Activation, Delivery and Stewardship.
Each player places out their workers on free spaces containing a building during the Planning Phase. Trying to plan out your actions based on resources you get later in the round shouldn’t be difficult…but I have not played any game where I didn’t mess this up at least once. The number of workers you have each round will also change allowing you to do more actions or saving them to move the Provost even more...
First Round Planning Completed
Activation resolves each worker’s action space (building) from the beginning of the road to the space just before the Provost.  The first four buildings are fixed in each game and provide their specific effect.  An additional 10 buildings are placed on the road at the beginning of the game.  These comprise 8 starter buildings, 1 wood building and 1 stone building. The road will have 13 empty spaces in which players can build. All buildings provide also provide prestige points as well as their effect.

The best thing about Activation, and really what makes this game Caylus is moving the Provost.  Any workers on buildings after the Provost will not get their effect.  Each player will get the opportunity to move the Provost in player order up to 3 spaces, forward or back. There is also a building that can move the Provost and also one of the Character’s abilities moves the Provost as well. Buildings later on the road, will generally have more powerful effects but their use is not guaranteed. Placing your workers on them is a risky but rewarding business.
A small selection of the Starting, Wood and Stone Buildings and Monuments
Moving the Provost in front of your opponents is a delicious feeling, unfortunately it’s going to happen to you too. But this is where the fun is, if you don’t like confrontation in your games then this is not for you.

The Delivery Phase allows players to sacrifice their resources to build the castle gaining 5 prestige points and a favour.  In order to go here, each worker will generally need three different resources so it won’t be used too much in the early game, but it is a powerful way to gain lots of prestige points later on.

During the Stewardship Phase owned buildings can be changed to residences, thereby removing the effect, and residences can be changed into Monuments (lots of Prestige points).  However, one side-effect of this is that there are fewer spaces on the road for workers to go.  This combines with generally more workers being available to players later in the game.  This surplus is tailor-made to spend on moving the Provost.  However, in order to gain the most points you will need to pivot away from Residences (gaining more workers) and into Monuments (gaining more points).
4 Players in the 8th (penultimate) round
The winner of the game is the player with the most Prestige points at the end of the ninth round.

Components


Once again I have nothing but praise for the physical components.  The card is lovely and thick and punched out cleaner than almost any other punchboard I can remember.  The wooden components are nice and chunky and their shape represents the resources.  The art and graphic design is clean, consistent and nice to look, but the stand out feature for me is the iconography. They are largely intuitive and once a player is familiar with the rules, sufficiently describe the actions.
Fantastic insert
The insert is a rare example of a publisher actually providing something that I’m not going to chuck out straight away.  It even handles vertical storage without plastic bags which I’m particularly grateful for.

Criticisms


I don’t think I can recommend the two-player game.  At two players, the take-that decision and screwage gets a bit samey.  The designer has compensated the more empty board by starting with more workers but this doesn’t really compensate and it feels quite a different game.  At three players the board isn’t quite as busy but still quite fun.  At five it runs a little long but is still fun – I wouldn’t recommend a 5 player game for your first time out.
A clean and short rulebook

Conclusion


This is a beautiful game and one I’m glad to play and introduce to anybody. I would even recommend this as a gateway game to a non-gamer if they’re not going to be too precious about being attacked (albeit indirectly by the Provost) at every opportunity.  After the first round, the rules are easily remembered and the only repeated questions were around the construction site and favours, neither of which I’ve detailed here but they’re not hard to grasp.

Waiting to play IRL
I like the randomised setup and variable turn order in this game.  These elements are only possible with finely tuned mechanics, else the game will break more often than it’s fun.  That is definitely not the case here, with over 30 years of playtesting (the original Caylus) this revamp has streamlined the original and maintained the essence of what made Caylus, Caylus.  The mechanics and gameplay are rock solid and it will be a welcome addition to my next game night.  Fingers crossed it comes soon.

Stay safe and see you on the other side

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending this review copy.  Many local game stores will still have this in stock although they may not be open currently, their online shopping portals may still be open. You can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to find and support them during this difficult time.


Designer: William Attia
Play time: 60-90 minutes.
Players: 2 – 5 players

Online gaming resources

BGGs distance gaming guide https://boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/Distance_Gaming_Guide (a comprehensive how- to)
Vassal Engine http://www.vassalengine.org/ (program to run board game modules)
Vassal Mods http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Category:Modules (repository of many board games)
Table Top Simulator https://store.steampowered.com/app/286160/Tabletop_Simulator/ (cross platform application that has many users) and it’s workshop where all the games are: https://steamcommunity.com/app/286160/workshop/
Tabletopia https://tabletopia.com/ (browser based alternative to TTS)

Chat and Comms

Discord https://discordapp.com/ (gaming focused communication platform)
Viber https://www.viber.com/en/ (Open source secure comms and video calling)
Zoom (Easy to use software with unlimited calls for 1 to 1 video-conferencing i.e. wargaming)

"Paladins of the West Kingdom is set at a turbulent time of West Francia’s story, circa 900AD.  Despite recent efforts to develop ...

Paladins of the West Kingdom Paladins of the West Kingdom

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

Worker Placement


"Paladins of the West Kingdom is set at a turbulent time of West Francia’s story, circa 900AD.  Despite recent efforts to develop the city, outlying townships are still under threat from outsiders. Saracens scout the borders, while Vikings plunder wealth and livestock. Even the Byzantines from the east have shown their darker side. As noble men and women, players must gather workers from the city to defend against enemies, build fortifications and spread faith throughout the land.  Fortunately you are not alone. In his great wisdom the King has sent his finest knights to help aid in our efforts. So ready the horses and sharpen the swords. The Paladins are approaching."
Rule book introduction

Gameplay

Paladins of the West Kingdom is not your typical worker placement game. Normally you’re denying action spaces to other players on a shared board.  Paladins gives each player their own board on which to place their own supply of workers.  A criticism often levelled against worker-placement games is one of being multiplayer solitaire, and that is definitely the case here.  However, the game is that crunchy, that I feel increasing the interaction between players would actually lessen the overall game and I am happy that my opponents aren’t able to thwart my well-considered plans (too much).  

The game is played over seven rounds in which all players will be taking multiple actions with their supply of workers.  Each player will take as many actions as their workers permit and there are often clever ways to combine effects and abilities to increase the amount of workers during your round.  If you don’t mind a bit of analysis paralysis, then you will be able to work out an optimum round. However, this game continues to reward my impulsive play; I often realise possible combinations half-way through my turn and I have been able to exploit it immediately.


Player board at the start
Aside from the player boards, there is an elongated main board which holds a variety of King’s Orders and King’s Favour cards.  Each game will consist of 3 Orders and 6 Favours and there is twice this number provided in the box.  This means that the focus and overall objectives of each game will be different.  I have played this a number of times now and in each play, the different cards and sometimes order in which they’re revealed, significantly change the game and keep it feeling fresh.

Each player has their own deck of Paladin cards from which you’ll select one to be your Paladin for the round.  The selection mechanism is quite clever as you’ll know one of the Paladins which will be available in the next round (from a choice of 3).  I’ve tried to plan current turns to optimise my next turns’ Paladin but for some reason, either lack of brainpower, or just getting sidetracked by the number of options, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to exploit this.  However, I like the mechanism and look forward to trying again.


Main Board at the Start
There is also a shared pool of Tavern Cards which are chosen individually by each player.  These combine with the chosen Paladin card to give players the workers shown on both cards to use for the round.  This will normally be 6 workers of various colours unless you passed in the previous round and kept workers to use the next round; I have started a round with 9 workers. There are a few spaces on your board which only require one worker per action, but most require 2 or more workers.  You can feel like you’re burning through workers quite quickly, particularly at the beginning of the game.

One of the best aspects of this game is that you’re able to change the requirements for some spaces through the use of Workshops.  If you take the time to Develop your board you can reduce some 3-worker spaces down to 1-worker spaces.  This is crucial to stretching your turn and giving you more actions each round.  However, you won’t get very far by just building workshops, the most Victory Points come from focusing on the attribute tracks at the side of the player boards.


Green Workshops (being ignored)
Three attributes (Faith, Strength and Influence) are measured per player and drive the whole game.  Most spaces require a certain amount of one of these attributes in order to place a worker there, however, there is usually a reward in another attribute. For example, if you wanted to attack an Outsider I would need to have a specific amount of strength and I would be rewarded with Influence.  Although this is a pure-worker placement game, the game and its actions do make sense thematically, if it is a little loose.  I still can’t quite work out why, when I pay tax I am taking money from the Tax Supply.

Not only are there attribute requirements but there are also worker requirements, for example, a red space requires a red worker.  There are 6 different types of worker in the game and the right colour must be used on a coloured space.  An outlined space can take any colour worker. However, the purple worker (a criminal) breaks this rule and can go on any space, coloured or not (apropos yes?).  These colours are defined as red-fighter, black-cleric, green-scout, blue-merchant, purple-criminal and white which is a generic labourer.  These colours also are linked thematically to their corresponding action spaces, for example, the Pray action requires a cleric, (arguably the only space that you should definitely use each round).


Absolve, close-up 2 Clerics and a Merchant.
There is very little downtime for any player unless you’re the first player to pass early in a round and your opponents still have a handful of workers left.  If so, you’re likely doing something wrong and that is probably only your fault.  However, this downtime could only be 5 minutes at the absolute most.  Normally I would expect your turn in a four-player game to come round within a minute or two.  You will be involved and thinking about your turns or taking your turns right to the end of this game.   Your success and failures of the consequences of your actions alone and that is something which I like. 

The are several mechanisms through which you can affect other players games however none do so significantly.  You’re limited to just denying certain cards or spaces from your opponents, but there will usually be other cards (and spaces) still available.  I don’t think you would be competitive if you were playing to hurt your opponents instead of playing to benefit yourself.


End-game main board - there are still open spaces.
It is quite difficult to determine which player is ahead until the end-game scoring through which there is a veritable point salad available to players.  I found that games where I thought I was romping home and clearly ahead (in points) were actually much tighter.  Even if you think you’re well behind on scoring, I’ve found that the scores have been tight and I’ve not been able to deduce from glancing at all the player boards who the leader is.  Players score points from a wide variety of cards and board spaces which can really only be calculated at the end.   This keeps all players involved in the game right to the end.


Components

The art design throughout the game shares the same distinctive style used in Architects of the West Kingdom and the third game in this trilogy, Viscounts of the West Kingdom.  The wooden components are great and there are approximately 200 of them in six different sculpts and seven different colours. There are also approximately 100 cardboard components which weren’t just standard circles and squares and they all punched cleanly.


A perfect fit
Once you’re familiar with the rules and actions there was/is little need to refer back to the rulebook. The iconography on the board is intuitive and consistent throughout the game.  Each action space is sufficiently described on the board to allow new players to grasp the rules within about 20 minutes.

What is great (in terms of components) about this game is the box size.  I have seen negative comments about the box size and some people finding it difficult to get all the components back into the box.  When the game is all bagged there is literally no free space left in the box, to my mind that is a perfect box size. However, I can understand if you’ve sleeved your cards then you would struggle.


Criticisms

The biggest criticism I have is one of table space.  Although the box is deceptively small, what comes out of it is ravenous in terms of its appetite for tablespace.  The mainboard is long, (but thin) and around that there will be at least six different areas for card decks and tableaus.  Each player board is a more typical size of player board but again you’ll need space around the sides to place recruited Townsfolk cards, converted Outsiders and any successful attacks in their own face-down deck.  That's without storing your workers, provisions and money. I can’t recommend this game if you’re table is on the small side.


A deceptive table-hog.

Conclusion

This game ticks a lot of boxes for me; it’s fairly crunchy with lots of interactions between your own resources and attributes.  Affecting them in positive ways and the decision to focus your efforts on one over the other is a nice decision space.  Fortunately, other players aren’t really able to affect your own path to victory too much and in this game, that is a good thing.  It would be intensely frustrating to have your plans ruined by another player's actions purely by chance, and in this game, I feel that you’re not able to play to hurt your opponents; there’s too much going on, on your own board to be concerned with your opponents. 

There is very little downtime throughout the whole course of the game and after two hours you do feel as if you’re brain has had a good work out.  Of course, you could just go along for the ride and select actions with no clear purpose, just to see how the game works, but I guarantee that you’ll do terribly when it comes to scoring.  This game rewards, clever play and finding combinations to extend your turn, getting additional workers is critical for success. 


Set up takes about 10 minutes.
There are a finite number of components that will fit in any box and I’ll admit I’m amazed at how much they’ve managed to cram into this box.  But due to the King’s Orders and Favours changing each game, the tactics and strategy that were successful in your previous play won't necessarily be successful in your next.  After your first game, which will just be a learning game, you’ll have a wide array of tactics to consider each turn which will be different each game.  This game has high replay value. 

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending this review copy.  Many local game stores will still have this in stock and you can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to support your FLGS or use their online shopping web store. 

Publisher: Garphill Games
BGG Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/266810/paladins-west-kingdom/
Players: 1-4
Designer: Shem Phillips, S J Macdonald
Length: 90-120 minutes

Underwater Cities gives players the opportunity to terraform the last ‘habitable’ spaces on Earth by building cities and their supportin...

Underwater Cities Underwater Cities

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Worker Placement


Underwater Cities gives players the opportunity to terraform the last ‘habitable’ spaces on Earth by building cities and their supporting infrastructure under the waves.  That’s the premise at least of Underwater Cities which is a hybrid tableau builder and worker placement game.  In the game, 1-4 players build tunnels, cities and other building on their own player boards by taking one of the available action slots on the main game board.  That sounds like a dozen other tableau builders out there but there are enough wrinkles and differences here, aside from the theme, which will keep this hitting the table for some time to come.

Gameplay

Each round of the game, every player will take three turns.  A turn starts off being a simple affair in which you choose a card to play from your hand of three cards and an action slot on the mainboard.  If the chosen card and action slot colours match, you can do the actions on both, if they don’t you’ll be limited to just performing the board space action.  This provides a significant amount of difficult decisions (this is a big plus), right from the beginning of the game.
The mainboard
However, the best part about choosing your turn actions is that at the beginning of your turn you must discard down to the hand size limit of three cards.  This doesn’t seem like it would have much of an impact of the game, but it allows for tactical thinking on other players turns, choosing which cards to discard and keep, and it means there is little-to-no downtime in between your turns.  This is no mean feat for a multi-player medium weight board game.

Like most worker placement games when a board action slot has been taken no other player can take that action.  The main game board is double-sided to accommodate 1-2 players and 3-4 on the other side.  When playing with 3 or 4 players, there are 15 actions slots on the board, 5 each in yellow, red and green which correspond to the card colours.  This means that a 3 player game will feel less congested than a 4-player game and your options to meddle, intentionally or not are limited.  In a 4-player game, however, you’re constantly re-evaluating your decision as invariably the action slot you want to take has been, probably 3 times, before it’s your turn again…thankfully this will often happen sooner than you’re ready.
2-player end game - player board
From the middle game onwards, because of the action cards that have been claimed into your tableau, there are often action combos that can be pulled off.  This is facilitated by the rule that you can resolve either the action card or board space action in the order you choose.  Where there are multiple actions within those areas, you can choose the order in which they’re resolved as well.  This means that you can often be a little a clever on your turn to maximise your benefits and doing something like this gives me at least, a great deal of satisfaction.

Finding these synergistic combos isn’t that easy though.  During your ‘downtime’ you’ll be scrambling to choose which cards to keep and which to get rid of at the beginning of your turn, choosing a card to play for your action – assuming the action slot is still available and trying to find the most optimum combo.  I never had the chance to play with anyone that I hadn’t taught the game to, but I assume that experienced players will be able to do all this as well as minimise the remaining options to their opponents.  That was not me though, I found the size of the iconography too small to see clearly in your opponents’ area.
3-player middle game - mainboard
Underwater Cities also features a variable turn order track, although it is simple, this must be one of my favourite mechanisms because nearly all of my favourite board games feature them, e.g. Brass, Dominant Species, Age of Empires etc.  However, one of the underlying rules in this game is that whenever you cover an icon up you get that immediate bonus.  In this game, if you get into the 3rd space or higher of the turn order track you will also get a bonus, which on many occasions permitted additional actions to be taken.

There are a plethora of icons on your own player board to cover up as well, giving a specific bonus, which can – and often do permit additional actions to be taken.  Which brings me onto another aspect of ‘tight’ worker placements that I enjoy.  The Euro-gamers perennial struggle to ‘feed your people’.  Not so much an issue in this game but overall resources are very tight.  There are three production rounds separating the three eras of the game, after which you’ll feel like Croesus; this will be short-lived.  However, I’ve nearly always found a way to do something worthwhile for my progress on my turn.  I never felt like I was treading water (ba-dum tish), or as last player or out of the game.
Inside the rule book

Components

There is a traditional bewilderment of icons in this game however after the first round or two of my first I found them all to be intuitive and easy to follow without referring to the rulebook.  There is also a fantastic Player Info card which details the cost of each build and what they produce and how to conduct Production rounds.  However, as mentioned earlier when those icons are in your opponents' area across the table, their size makes it difficult to see what they are, but this can be levied against most tableau builders.
Good looking cards
Most of the other components: the cards, mainboard, metropolis tiles, player markers, city domes etc. are completely unremarkable considering modern game publishing i.e. they’re of excellent quality and just what I would expect.  However, there are a few component issues that are worth mentioning.  The player boards and player info cards are really thin card stock, almost a heavy bond paper.  The resource and money tokens seem a little odd in their design choices.  The money comes in 1s (small size), 5s and 10s which share the same size…I don’t understand why they’re not consistent and make the 10s bigger or keep them all the same size.
A random assortment of bits
However, probably the biggest issue with the components is with the 3 resource markers.  They look just like a pile of singles with a 3 in the middle.  This is better than earlier printings of the game, which didn’t have a 3 on these tokens, but it’s still not great.  Unless you keep the stacks of singles and 3s separate you can’t really tell how many you’ve got.

Criticisms

Aside from my component criticisms, my quibbles with this game are all fairly minor and I can easily overlook them.  The first is one of scalability.  I have not tried this solo, but the 2 and 3 player game feel quite different from a 4 player game.  I prefer the 4 player game, as long as you’re not teaching the rules, otherwise, it can drag on.  This goes against the bgg consensus that suggests 2 players is the sweet spot.
After my initial sorting
I would normally comment on the box insert in Components, but here they haven’t bothered with anything.  No cardboard trench, no ill-fitted plastic tray.  You just get all the bits thrown into a few bags and card decks and a box.  Unless that box is jammed with counter sheets and rules, like many wargames are, then this is poor practice.  Especially considering that this version comes from Rio Grande Games, one of the bigger players in the board game world.  I think my 3d-printed insert will work out just fine.
Much better, - still don't like those 3s
The vast majority of the scoring will be done in the end game, there is no way to see who is ahead or behind up until you start counting up your final scores.  This, alongside the difficulty in seeing your opponents' tableau to allow you to choose the action slots your opponents want, turn this into not much more than multi-player solitaire - not necessarily a bad thing.

Conclusion

With all that said, I do enjoy Underwater cities a lot.  It gives players an array of decisions to be made and there are some really smart design choices that make this gameplay quick and it is definitely on the crunchier end of the spectrum.  Discarding card(s) at the beginning of your turn makes so much sense.
3 player end game - player board
Many people have compared this to Terraforming Mars, and the main differences between the two, for me, are the board of Mars, in which players are able to have direct conflict with one another, which is a plus Terraforming Mars.  Underwater cities, pros compared to Mars, are the way in which you play and resolve cards and those synergistic combos, which I didn’t really find in Terraforming Mars.

If you like thinking games and finding optimisation strategies with a minimal amount of player interaction then I can easily recommend this game. 

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending this review copy.  Many local game stores will still have this in stock and you can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to support your FLGS or use their online shopping web store.

Publisher: Rio Grande Games
BGG Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/247763/underwater-cities
Players: 1-4
Designer: VladimĂ­r SuchĂ˝

Playing time: 2 hours +

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