First Play Friday: Ora et Labora and Kingdom Builder

New year, new feature! First Play Friday is new to LMDS and is pretty straightforward. While it won’t pop up on the site every week, I plan on regularly giving a few opinions on games that I’ve managed to try out for the first time that week. Of course, these aren’t going to be full reviews – they’re more like early impressions after getting to experience a game for the first time. Complete reviews may well follow soon after, mind you, so keep an eye out!

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First up, Ora et Labora, the brand new Euro hotness from Uwe Rosenberg with the English language edition coming from the fine folks at Z-Man Games. I may well have my gamer’s licence revoked for admitting this, but I’ve never played Rosenberg’s much loved Agricola. I know that it’s meant to be an incredible game (if only because Tony from Surprised Stare Games keeps saying so) but the chance to get a game has never arisen. I plan on changing that in future (and quickly) because Ora et Labora is brilliant. There’s an awful lot going on for a game about clergy building stuff, but not enough to totally destroy your brain.

We played the France variant of the game with four people – two variants come in the box that apparently have slight differences, the other one being based in Ireland. The game starts slowly with players collecting basic resources to create low level buildings, developing engines to make bigger and better things, eventually getting some big point items. With some resources also usable as energy or food, the amount of options that you have can initially appear quite daunting, but I have the feeling that after a few plays strategies will make themselves more evident. Thankfully if your opponents pick up buildings that you’ve had your eye on you can still use them by paying out your hard earned cash (or wine, I later discovered), meaning that your long-term plans can’t be ruined by someone else grabbing what you hoped would soon be yours.

There’s a great mechanism with doling out resources too, a wheel that moves on one step every turn that incrementally increases the amount of stuff that’s available of each type. If a resource is chosen, it’s moved to the zero space and begins slowly growing again. The wheel also marks the passage of time in the game so you know exactly how long you’ve got left to get your ideas into action – something that I pretty much screwed up, but the fact that even though I did that *and* lost by a good sixty points but still want to play again is surely a very good sign. With so many ways of getting points, I’ve already got a few ideas for next time I get to give it a shot.

I also tried out Kingdom Builder from Dominion designer Donald X. Vaccarino, a game I saw a lot of people picking up at Essen 2011 but didn’t get to play myself. It’s very light indeed but that’s not a bad thing (especially after two hours in medieval France). With a quick set-up and even speedier run-through of the rules, the four of us set about placing our little houses on the board. You play a single card each turn and put your buildings on the matching area type, occasionally grabbing bonus tokens that can be used once every go and bend the rules ever so slightly.

Scoring happens at the end of the game and is dependent on three cards that are drawn from a wide selection – in this instance it was all about making long lines of buildings, dominating one of the four quadrants that make the board, and then getting bonus points for the lowest amount of buildings in one section. You also get points for having a building near city spaces marked on the board, something which I failed to do quite spectacularly. Still, an interesting little game that while I probably wouldn’t fork out hard cash for I’d certainly keep an eye out for it in a trade.

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Watch out for the latest episode of The Little Metal Dog Show which will be available next week. There’s a look back at some gaming highlights for 2011 as well as what’s on the radar for 2012, plus an interview with celebrity gamer Rich Sommer from the mighty award-winning TV show Mad Men! Next week should also see the release of The Dice Tower’s Best Of 2011 show which has contributions from pretty much everyone from the Dice Tower Network including me. Keep an eye on Twitter (where I’m @idlemichael – do add me!) for more updates as and when. Have a great weekend!

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