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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.
Dice Town from Matagot and Asmodee
Poker dice, The Wild West, Dancing Girls. It’s got my attention.
Bombay from Ystari and Asmodee
Ystari’s first venture into family gaming has been tipped as a candidate for this years Spiel des Jahres.
And two new German language games releases
Apparently this is board gaming Tetris from Reiner Knizia. This game has generated a lot of buzz recently.
Bürger, Baumeister & Co. – a game from Michael Schacht (his third this year!) designed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Frankfurt. Rumour has it the game is much better than it sounds.
Space Alert, from Vlaada Chavatil, has been re-published by Rio Grande games, just in time as we have sold out of the Czech Games edition.
Montego Bay from Queen is a, family targeted, ‘pick up and deliver game’.
Finca has an English language release by Rio Grande Games. I like Finca a lot and have written a review here. To confuse you I still have the German version of the game in stock – it is language independent and I will provide a set of rules. Why buy the German edition? It’s £5 cheaper than the English version
Heroes of the World from Sirius games, an Essen 2008 release, has now been published in English. It has been described as a good looking cross between Risk, El Grande and Ticket to Ride – which is rather intriguing.
Giro d’Italia is Leader One with added time trials, published by Ghenos to celebrate 100 years of the Giro
On the import side we have some crackers
The first is 10 Jahre Alea Schatzkiste – a ‘treasure chest’ celebrating 10 years of the game publisher Alea. The box contains expansions for some of Aleas’s greatest successes including Puerto Rico, San Juan , In the year of the Dragon, Witch’s Brew, Notre Dame and Louis XIV. Note this is a German game and there is not a translation available for this yet.
The second is Die Goldene Stadt (“The Golden City”) from Michael Schacht. I played this for the first time yesterday, lovely looking board which got admiring glances from other gamers, fairly fast paced game with a mixture if area control, route connection and set collection. I like it.
The third is Sherwood Forest from Eggert Spiel, this looks like an interesting game as there are semi-cooperative elements with opportunities for treachery.
And last but not least is Livingstone from Schmit Spiele.
Other games added to the import section include Vineta (the German version with a board, not the disappointing English language release), Clippers (Alan Moon’s re-make of Santa Fe set in the South Pacific),
Re-stocks include Planet Steam, which despite its price tag is close to being my top selling game (Alec has written a review for the blog here - we are both keen on this game) and Valdora (which now has an English distributor) and The World Cup Game.
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.
The Gurus have played this with 3,4 & 5 players and it is equally good with all three groups.
====What it is & what it is not====
On first glance the production seems to point towards an adventure game set in a sci-fi universe, perhaps with variable player powers and exploration.
It is absolutely not that game - you'll want Android perhaps.
What Planet Steam is, is an economy and efficiency game more akin to games like Power Grid or Age of Steam.
In every turn you will experience two auctions, a detailed supply and demand system and agonising decisions over production levels.
You wont be blowing stuff up or exposing conspiracies here.
As usual, the player with the most points wins, but as is the case in many games, points here are synonymous with money - meaning every purchase doesn't just affect cash flow - it affects your score!
======Features Of The Board=====
The board features dynamic tables for prices of goods and their intrinsically linked supply level on the left - as supply changes, depending on its level the price may alter as well. Crucially this supply is not restocked between turns and will only increase if players are willing to sell to the market. Players usually will do this once the price goes up to a significant level.
On the far right is tank supply. All production in planet steam relies on tanks.
To place a tank and produce anything, players will need available "platforms" in their colour. These will be played in the large grid in the middle of the board (players start with two each). Some spaces are prefilled with "neutral" platforms that block them to the players.
The rest of the board is made up of spaces for the supplies of production bits and goods as well as certain information (chiefly regarding tank costs when none are available in regular supply)
The goods available in the game are Quartz, Ore, Water and Energy. To produce anything other than water, a tank must be upgraded using one of the pieces that slot into its side, designating it as an Energy Tank, Quartz Tank or Ore Tank.
(any omissions here - especially costs - are for brevity's sake not necessarily because I've misunderstood the rules!)
In reasonable detail, every turn goes as follows;
First Auction: Players bid for the first choice of "specialist", which will determine turn order and special powers. If available, the winners of each round of auctioning will also get a bonus good.
Second Auction is for a bonus platform, its eventual location decided by the player who picked the Venturer specialist card, crucially shown prior to auctioning.
Next, all players choose where they want to build their own cover for this turn. They nominate a location and roll the dice, on a 4-6 they can place the cover in the nominated spot, on a 1-3 they must place it on another empty space in either of the same column or rows. (See concerns, below)
You can see from this that one player (who won the second auction) will have placed two platforms this turn instead of one.
You want your platforms to be adjacent if possible, and ideally one in the central row (where a water producing tank will work without needing energy)
Next you enter the building section, where in turn order (as determined by your specialist card) you buy tanks, upgrades for those tanks and extremely valuable compressor domes (that increase a tank's production and are the most valuable in terms of end points). In this phase you must always spend one water in order to do anything at all.
You may choose to move your tanks and their upgrades around as much as you like without cost. If two or more tanks producing the same thing are adjacent you achieve "synergy" and your production increases as a result.
You can then buy upgrades for your "carriers", which represent your maximum holding of any of the four major goods, with every upgrade you can hold onto more of the goods at a time, if you're willing to pay the cost.
Once all this building has done, the players produce at their tanks. Each tank costs by default one energy to use (barring energy tanks) and produces one unit of its relevant resource.
The exceptions are the energy tanks (which produce one unit of energy without cost) and plain ol' water tanks, so long as they are in the central column they need not use energy.
Tanks with "synergy" will produce extra goods depending on how many there are - extra production is equal to number of tanks minus one.
e.g. If you have two energy tanks next to each other, they will produce one unit of energy each as normal, and one extra for synergy (2-1) so three in total.
You also get an extra produced good in each powered tank in the column above the energy coupler, a special piece placed by the player who chose the "Fireman" specialist card in the first auction.
Once all goods are produced, the marketplace comes into play.
In order, the players choose whether to buy or sell first Quartz, then Ore, then Water and finally energy, bearing in mind that the prices will change after each players decision depending on the level of supply. This means the last player may see no goods available in the market or an deflated price when they want to sell.
The balance of where you want to be in the turn order for optimum sales and purchases is utterly crucial - mess this up and nothing will go right for the whole game.
Next the players have the option to spend some of their goods on "licenses", one of which is worth $50 at game end, and the other allows them to avoid having to roll the dice when placing platforms and also to place a platform where a neutral platform is currently placed.
After this, the players turns are over and a global "update" phase occurs, where new tanks are made available if possible, and things are rest for the next turn.
New tanks will only be produced if there is at least one of both energy and ore available and the number produced is equal to the lowest supply of either (i.e. it costs one energy and one ore to make a tank). The goods for making these come from supply, so the entire remaining supply of ore or energy will be used up at the end of every turn.
If there is none of either available, no tanks are produced at all, meaning the price of the missing good jumps up.
Once this production is determined, specialist cards are returned to the pool and the next turn begins.
Once all turns are done, players count up their points not yet converted to money (I won't go into too much detail) and I would recommend turning these into cash to enable easier counting.
The player with the most money wins.
======Is it any good?======
I think so, yes.
It is not a game I will ever be wonderful at, despite winning my first game I have since been very quickly out of the running in the later ones.
I do think anyone who likes Power Grid will get a lot from it - if you think of the tank placement as a far more integrated version of the placement of towns in that they directly affect your future turns in much more detail, and they are directly worth points when created or upgraded.
I also like, as in Age Of Steam, that points=money=points, where every decision to purchase you make costs you points as well as money.
My one huge concern with the game is its reliance on the dice for placement of covers - there is nothing to prevent you rolling the "wrong result" every single time you try and place your tile which would undoubtedly ruin your chances.
Without wanting to overstate how this one aspect can affect you, by unlucky rolls you lose synergy, choice and much of your efficiency.
With the game relying on some fairly well balanced systems it just seems odd that a 50/50 chance is given such rein over your success.
======Variants I'd like to test======
A late aside on ideas that we have come up with after our games;
First, an option to pay in order to avoid the dice rolls. Though this would have to be carefully priced to avoid devaluing the building licenses.
Secondly perhaps a specialist who allows you to perhaps attack your opponents platforms - for player interaction perhaps less preferable to....
Thirdly, shared synergy in that you could join up your tanks with your opponents for mutual gain. I don't want people to be able to say "no" to it, but certainly there should be a cost to move your tanks if this variant is to be used.
Whatever your feelings about the game, and whether you agree with my opinions or not, I hope you enjoyed reading the review and get to play games as much as you wish.
If the prospect of forking out £400 for a dinner for four at Nobu is sending your Sashimi sour then why not order in a copy of Wasabi!(£23.99) , a take away (£20) add in a couple of beers and a bottle of wine (£15) and hey presto - you have saved a princely £341.01.
Is that exotic holiday looking a mite out of reach? No need to fear – you can see any country or region in the world by staying at home with a board game. Always wanted to do the Grand Tour – let Ticket to Ride Europe (£28.99)whisk you between Lisbon and St Petersburg. Or if further afield is more to your taste then why not spend 10 Days in Africa (£13.99)? Thousands saved.
Now you are saving money – and perhaps want to see if you can do better than those buffoons who got us in this mess. Try Take Stock (£10.49), Stack Market (£14.99) or Acquire (£17.49) – for an investment of less than £20 you can show those pin-striped wonders how it should be done.
If it’s all too unbearable – then why not just escape for good? Race for the Galaxy (£22.99) will help put your earthly worries behind you, well at least for an evening.
Hard times breed hard solutions – if thinking the unthinkable then think again. Before rushing in to a life of crime why not try Cash ‘n Guns, Bootleggers or Fagin’s Gang first to see if you cut the mustard as a gangster?
It’s no coincidence that Monopoly was invented at the height of the Great Depression. Board and card games not only save money compared to a night out, they give the brain a train and bring people together.
Guru view : A blast - great fun when played with younger gamers or at the end of the evening with a beer in hand. Obligatory mummy groaning noises must be made when playing this game. The Game is played on a vertical magnetic board which has one player “The mummy” on one side and up to four “adventurers” on the other. The adventurers want need to steel treasure from the crypt – the mummy has to capture the adventurers. Simple ,attractive and fun. On re-order, back in Shop 8th May
Guru View : After 3 plays (April 09) i think this is a game of genius - the market mechanism is as good as any i have played. Will appeal to lovers of 'Brass', 'Container' and 'Wealth of Nations'. A serious economic Sim with a sci-fi setting
Guru View: From the noise being generated from six grown)men standing round a table at London on Board last week you would have thought that Kate Moss was some where lost in the melee. Not so they - were playing PowerBoats. It has the same effect on family too - Last weekend I played this for a solid three hours with my family – Ages ranging from 73 year old father to 7 year old Niece. And I was not allowed to take it home with me when I left. Deceptively simple to play it’s a must for lovers of race games which have some dice action.
We had two new releases in this week :-
Talisman: The Dungeon Expansion – the first ‘big’ expansion for fourth edition Talisman – this takes the adventure underground.
‘War for Edadh : The Beginning’ – from new English games publisher Warrior Elite comes this much heralded 2 player card game. Described as a "really innovative system...fantastic game...I love it." by Tom Vasel and "one of the best games I've played of the year" in The Dice Tower episode #135.
Steve Oksienik in his review on BoardGame News said “I’m happy to say that War for Edaðh is a major league player that should put WarriorElite Ltd. squarely on the gaming map...This fresh and inventive game is sure to make waves in the gaming community."
I’m rather looking forward to playing this one myself!
This coming week new releases are thin on the ground - we have ‘Crunch’ from Terror Bull, who brought us ‘War on Terror’ – a, no doubt, hugely amusing and well play tested , look at the root causes of the Credit Crunch.
The Import and Scoop section of the shop has been an amazing success – so much so that I have already sold out of some items and have had to re-order. Games added to this section include Uruk : Wiege der Zivilisation, Der Schwarm, Finca, Islas Canarias, Eine Frag der Ahre, Maori, , Fluch der Mumie (“Curse of the mummy”), Der name der Rose (“The name of the Rose”) and Bausack. All are language independent and just need a rules translation to play which I will provide. Valdora and Space Alert are almost sold out and there are no more in stock at my supplier – so hurry whilst stocks last…..
I am adding more games to this section next week.
I have also added the Project Gipf series of abstract games to my range. This is a series of 2 player games that are considered the finest modern examples of their type. Read here if you’d like to learn a bit more about them.
Reviews on the blog have been few and far between recently – mainly because Alec and I and have been too busy selling and playing games too have many considered thoughts about them. Hopefully this will change soon……
Last week “The Times ” newspaper came to photograph ‘
Talking of Media attention the BBC are making a three part (serious) documentary series called ‘Gaming Britannia’ which will chart the history of games in British life from Roman times through to Video games (via Boardgames). They are looking for volunteers to be filmed playing ‘Diplomacy’ – if you are interested please contact me.
What next? Pictures of 'Dominion' on page three of the' Sun'