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Our Favourites : Eine Frag Der Ahre

I have read the title translated in to English about four times and the explanation twice as many times. It’s a pun in German I don’t get it. But then as some one (probably an English man) once said 'A German joke is no laughing matter'. It has been explained in the forums on the geek. The game was going to be going to be called ‘Heartland’ and from a thematic and sales (to an English speaking population) point of view might have been a wiser choice.

However, Germany is the top board game market so a game about farming in the mid west got saddled with a pun (no pun intended). Not that it effects game play at all it’s just that unless you are a lover of Germanic sounding games you might let this slip under the radar, which would be a pity because it is a good game. The game box only has German text on it, however English rules are included in the box and the game is language independent.

In my last review of a farming themed game, Finca, my only gripe was that it was not as colour blind friendly as I would like. I have no such problems with the art work of Eine Frage. The tiles for the different vegetables are coloured in distinct earthy tones with the five different products of the earth drawn accurately drawn the potatoes don’t look like the beets’ and the corn looks like corn and not wheat. Like Finca 'Eine Frage' has top production values; the tiles are made of thick card stock, and the board is attractive and satisfyingly solid.

Eine Frage is a 2 -5 player game about farming in the mid west my wife describes it as cross between dominoes and 3d Carcassonne and if you add in the, obligatory, multiple path to victory thrown in in the form of barnyard technology with a choice between instant points or longer term gain then you have the game in a nut shell.

The solid and good sized board is divided into two areas, the barnyard and the fields. Unlike the fallow fields of Agricola there are crops all ready growing on the board and ready for harvest. The field half side of the board is a, roughly, hexagonal grid of squares with the five crops (potatoes, Corn, Wheat, Beet and Rapeseed) spaced evenly on the board, rather like a rooty patch work quilt.

The other components include 60 large tiles divided into two halves, on each half is one of the crops some of the tiles have the same crop on both halves of the tile. These tiles are shuffled and each player gets three random tiles as their stating hand. They also get a set of five single tiles, each tile depicting one of the five crops. These tiles have two tech advancement symbols on them, the larger tiles might have two, one or none on each half of the tile. Each player also gets five markers to record their advancement up the barnyard tech columns and two farms which they may use later in the game given sufficient barn yard tech.

The barn yard is five columns wide by seven rows high and at the top of each column is placed three tiles; a chicken at the bottom, a pig tile in the middle and a cow on top. Each of these tiles is worth a random number of victory points, the chicken from 1 -5, the pigs 6-10 and the Cows 11- 15.

Next to the tech advancements column is a column for the players farms, depending on the number of players the farms are placed on different rows, for example in a four player game all the players first farms are on the third row and the second on the fourth row.

Six of the double halved tiles are mixed with a tile that signals the last round and then everyone is good to go.

Player turns are pretty simple. You play a tile , either one of your three big tiles or one of your five small tiles. How you lay the tile depends on what you want to with it. If you want instant victory points you lay your tile so that one or both of the halves add to exiting fields of the same crop. On the first turn the layout of the board means you could create one area of three and another of two. You would then score for each half of the tile you have laid, one point for each orthogonally connected square. If the tile laid has the same vegetable on both halves you score the same area twice. In my first two player game this led to some very large crop areas being created as it seemed too good not to go for the points on offer. However, this is a dangerous tactic because if one of your opponents has a double tile they can score mega points with one move.

There are some restrictions on placing the tiles. They can not be placed so that either half of the tile is placed over the same type of crop and they must be able to lie flat on previously placed tiles or the base board. To be able to create a flat surface for a tile you can use one of your small tiles turned over as a leveler. Handy if you want to create a huge harvest area for scoring but using up a precious tile that can be used to further your progress up the barn yard tech tree. There are other restrictions on placing tiles on your own or other players ‘farms’ but more on this later.

The second action available to players when laying your big tiles is to not score the area you have created and to use the symbols on the crop to advance your market up the respective crop column in the Barn yard. You can do this for either or both sides of the large tile, or the small tile (which always has 2 tech symbols). By taking this action you are forgoing immediate victory points for the ability to create a farm and claim one of the animal victory point tiles at the top of the barnyard. For each tech symbol on the tile allocated to the barnyard you move up a row on the respective crop column. When all of your five markers have reached or passed your farm you may immediately place the wooden on a tile on the board. This area is now yours and can never be claimed by another player. Moreover, at the end of your turn (and every turn thereafter) you score points for the number of squares covered by the area in which sits your farm. So farms provide a permanent source of income for no more actions. However, they don’t last for long as expanses of open fields. Whilst, both you, other players can not add to your farm area and score victory points they can (and will) lay tiles on it to cut down the size of the farm and create new crop areas for instant scoring. You can’t add to your farm and nor can other players score the area by adding a tile adjacent to it.

If your tech marker reaches the top of a barnyard column you remove the market from the game and claim the top animal tile.

And after playing a tile you draw a new one to bring your hand size up to three.

The game enters it’s last stage when the main pile of face down tiles have been drawn, then players draw from a pile of seven shuffled tiles, one of which is the end of game tile. The current round is finished, players reveal the point’s values of their animal tiles and add them to there score. Most VPs is the winner.

At heart 'Eine Frage' is an abstract game, a genre I’m not normally a fan of. However the fantastic quality of the components (not to mention the game play!) gives it a sufficient veneer of theme for me to enjoy playing it and I enjoy it a lot; it plays in about 30 minutes. It is moderately challenging, provides different routes to victory and rewards good timing. It has proved very popular with the younger gamers in my family (Ages 8 to 11). To win you have to play break up other people’s farms so gamers who don’t like a little mild take that might not be so keen. I would thoroughly recommend this as a family game and for gamers who fancy a night away from the heavy stuff.

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