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Our Favourites : Finca

I am not a fan of the gaming sobriquet ‘Spouse friendly’ for me it sits alongside Other non PC phrases ‘ such as ’er indoors’ and ‘the Mrs’ . In my house ‘Spouse friendly’ games include ‘Le Havre’ and ‘Power Grid’ - neither which are particularly ‘Spouse Friendly’.

So what do gamers mean by ‘Spouse Friendly’? In a pejorative way it means games that are easy to play, relatively quick, don’t have plastic soldiers, have nice components and a fluffy fun theme - ‘Wasabi’, ‘Alhambra’ and ‘Lost cities’ come to mind.

In a positive way what most gamers (men) mean by ‘Spouse Friendly’ is any game that their wives, partners or lovers will play. Because most of the time when we want to play a board game games there’s only one other person to play with and therefore the choice of game has to be one she will play. Even better is one she will ask to play and, in my household, Finca is one such game.

A Nuremburg 2009 release Finca - ticks a lot of modern game design, politically correct, boxes lovely presentation, easy to learn rules, something in it for casual and serious gamers alike, and plays in 45 minutes. Now I’m beginning to get a little wary of these S dJ wannabees , but being a sucker for the Balearic Isles I could not help opening this one.

And like the Balearics the contents of the box are most attractive the board is divided into two areas, a small and colourful map of Mallorca divided into to ten regions on one side , a picture of a twelve sail windmill on the other. There are also six types of wooden fruits (ok some of them are nuts, but simplicities sake i’m going to call them fruit from now on) in vivid colours. 42 tiles depicting the types and number of fruits required to claim them ranging from 1 to six fruits of different types and six of one type (these tiles are marked with question marks) , twelve windmill sails, representing the different types of fruit with two sails per fruit. There are also some donkey cart tokens ,four ‘power’ play tokens in each colour ,6 wooden ‘fincas’ and two types of bonus tiles.

How does it play? 2 -4 players compete to supply the markets of Mallorca with fruits, by supplying the markets players receive a fruit tile worth victory points- do this in the most efficient way possible and you gain the most victory points for the fruit tiles and other associated bonuses.

To set the game up forty of the forty two fruit tiles are shuffled and are placed face down in each of the regions. The top tile in each pile is then turned face up. The ten small bonus tiles depicting one or two fruits are also randomly placed face up one in each region. The twelve windmill sails are placed randomly one on each Windmill sail space, and a number of donkey carts (dependent upon the number of players) are placed in the centre of the windmill. You are then ready to play.

[Small side note did you know there is only one Windmill left in urban London? The only reason I know is that it sits at the end of Blenheim Gardens, home to the Gurus]

Each player has a number of meeples. They take it in turn placing a meeples on one of the sails depicting a fruit, they then receive one of the fruits they have selected. This sail selection is rather key because after the initial placement each player on their turn can either move one of their meeples round the windmill. Or, two go to market and claim fruit tiles.

Now the meeples movement/ fruit collection mechanism is the heart of the game and what makes it so much fun - think of it as a fruity rondel. On your turn you may move one meeple clockwise around the windmill. You move one space for every meeple on the space you start from and you collect one fruit for every meeple on the sail you land on. So if your meeple starts on a sail on it’s own it moves one sail and it if lands on an empty sail then it collects one of that fruit. Trying to plan your meeples movement / fruit collection is key to the game so that you have enough and the right number of fruits to claim the fruit victory point tiles in the second of actions. Landing on a tile where there loads of farmer meeples thus earning loads of fruits for future use might appear the optimum movement. However, there is worm in the apple of that tactic. If there is not enough of the limited number of fruits for you to collect from the ‘bank’ then everyone else has to return fruits of said type to the supply and you then take your fruits from the newly replenished supply. Voila - a fruit monopoly! So amassing large number of fruits brings the return all fruits closer and players need to keep a keen eye on opportunities to monopolise fruits and punish those guilty of hoarding.

Every time one of your meeples crosses a line that runs through an equator of the windmill you get a donkey cart. The same rule about supply applies to Donkey carts as to fruit, if a player has earned a donkey cart and there are none in the supply then every one has to return their donkey carts. Why do you need a donkey cart? You must expend one to take the second action which is to claim fruit tiles. In the second action available to players ,having returned a donkey cart to the supply you may claim tiles up to a value of six fruits - that could be one tile with six fruits on or (any combination of tiles with a total value of six. As long as you hand over the right fruit types the tile is yours. Some of the tiles have one type of fruit only, some more than one and some a question mark which requires all of one type of fruit.

The numbers of fruits on the tiles are victory points. When the last tile is taken from a region the face up bonus tile is awarded to the player with the most matching fruits on their victory point tiles depicted on the bonus tile. These tiles are worth five points and can make the difference between victory and defeat. A wooden Finca is then placed in the empty region. When a set number of Fincas have been placed the game ends. There are also bonus tiles awarded for completing a set of six tiles worth one to six victory points.

At the beginning of the game all players have a set of power play tiles which they can expend once during the game. If the tiles are not used they are worthy two victory points each. Two of the tiles help your meeples on the windmill, one allowing a double legal move and one allowing you to move to any sail on the windmill (without passing ‘go’ and collecting a Donkey cart). On the island side of the map one tile turns your donkey cart in to a juggernaut allowing you to deliver a total of ten fruits to markets and the other allows you to deliver one less than the amount required on a tile.

Finca is a tactical game that requires you to re-evaluate your options every turn, in a two player game you have some measure of control as you can make some plans for meeple movement around the windmill, whereas in three of four player the game demands keeping flexible and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

If I have to level a criticism, at Finca it would be that, as a colour blind gamer, the olives and almonds look the same to me, and I find it a little bit of a struggle to differentiate between the drawings on the tiles. A minor niggle , however I much prefer to use my negligible brain power thinking about the best move not what is a legal move.

Finca is not going to set the world on fire, or be a game I’m going to champion to my geek buddies. It is has it’s place in my collection for the ‘what shall we do for 45 minutes before dinner’ category and I think it’s going to see regular outings for that reason. It also works well as a gateway, it’s looks lovely and most important of all ..it’s Spouse Friendly.

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