Tag Archives: Euro

This Is Hardcore – Craftsmen review

Craftsmen COVER

We’ve had a couple of weeks sabbatical here on the site but are back with a vengance. First review this week, Emma checks out Krzysztof Matusik’s Craftsmen.

When a copy of Craftsmen, this season’s newest Polish cubefest, hit my proverbial desk (Michael, can I have a desk yet? [No Desk For You! – Michael] ), I’ll admit I was worried. I’m not usually huge on Euros, especially the more hardcore ones, and even those I do enjoy I’m usually terrible at, so I was foreseeing hours trying to grasp all the intricacies of some arcane system and coming out at the end of the evening with like three points (an experience anyone who’s played Caverna with me will recognise). Then I spent a while trying to get a preliminary idea of what the game was like by reading the rulebook and checking it out online, and I was orders of magnitude more worried. Everything I could find advertised it as incredibly long and complicated and horrendously counterintuitive, with first games taking upwards of four hours if even playable, and the rulebook didn’t do much to dispel this feeling of dread. I’ve read a lot of rulebooks of varying levels of dodginess, but the awful translation from Polish puts Craftsmen’s firmly among the worst.  Between examples that make things more complicated without actually explaining anything, dizzying levels of confusing nomenclature (the game is divided into three turns, which are divided into four rounds, which are divided into three phases (except every fourth round only has two phases) of which the second is divided into six stages, and if you understood that you deserve a medal) and joyously incomprehensible sentences like “NOTE: Meat is a special kind of half-product.”, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that, if you go into it armed only with the words inside the box, Craftsmen is more or less unplayable.

While it was tempting to give up there and go and do something less taxing (like a graduate degree), a little bird told me I was meant to be reviewing games, rather than rulebooks, so I decided to persevere. Armed with a new understanding of the game courtesy of Rahdo’s remarkably informative run-through of it, I sat down with my brother/part-time guinea pig to try it out. And six hours later, we emerged from the game, brains leaking from our ears and only able to speak in monosyllables, even…

What? Two and a half hours, including learning it? Alright then.

Seriously, coming out of my first game of Craftsmen, my main thought (alongside my usual one of “Wait, I need to play that again and do fewer stupid things”) was “Was that it?”. I don’t know if I’m just peculiarly suited to the challenges of administrating the economy of a small Central European town, but the whole thing really didn’t seem that challenging. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but that’s to be expected from any game where half the weight is made up of multi-coloured wooden cubes.

“But Em,” I hear you cry (and you’re talking to your computer again, I’ve warned you about that) “You’re 500 words into this review and you haven’t actually told us anything about the game yet!” You’re right, of course, but that was kind of the point – as I’ve been describing thus far, there’s a good game here, but there’s a lot of words to get through before you get there. So that was what I was doing there. Parallel structure. Literature degree. Nailed it.

Craftsmen is a fairly hefty Euro for 2-5 administrators, in which you try to revitalise the economy of a small nondescriptly-European town by convincing its six guilds to actually work together and make things. These are:

-The bankers, where you can collect money cards (a neat little set-collection mechanic where sets of money of the same colour are worth more than they would be otherwise)

-The builders, where you can add buildings to your part of the town (everybody starts with a lumber mill, and can expand from there depending on a surprisingly punishing colour-matching mechanic)

-The notaries, where you can buy building plans (provided your money is the same colour as the plans you want – I’ve had far too many turns where my plans were dashed by my apparent inability to simultaneously count to six and recognise the colour green)

-The titular craftsmen, where you can use your buildings to make products (as suggested, this is where the meat of the game is, as your basic buildings make products that go to other buildings to make more advanced products, which go to other buildings to make finished products, which get loaded onto the ships – an extra area-control game which generates most of the points)

-The merchants, where you can buy advanced products from the storehouse to fill any gaps in your production chains

-The town hall, where you can change turn order or buy tokens that do various things (seriously, this is pretty much just the ‘everything else’ space)

This sounds simple enough – get money, buy buildings, build buildings, make things, export things, profit – but the important thing to remember here is that, after you’ve done your worker placement for the round, the actions are always carried out in that exact order, so you’re always buying building plans the turn before you can build them, necessitating a bit more forward planning.

And that’s pretty much it. Sure, there are a few more little rules – some worker spaces are worth extra benefits, there’s a market so you can trade your basic products for other ones, you get bonus points for completing production trees – but I just summed up the overall flow and idea of the overcomplicated game that everybody’s been freaking out about in like half a page. And that’s including sarcastic asides.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that Craftsmen really isn’t as scary as you might think. Sure, there’s a decent amount of stuff to think about, but if you’ve played Agricola or Caverna (and statistics suggest that applies to literally everybody in the world) it’s really no more complicated than that. And the board is lovely and elegant (my usual gripes about insufficiently-long victory point tracks notwithstanding) and efficiently manufacturing candles for export has never been this satisfying.

So sure, if you don’t like big Euros or anything that’ll stay on your table longer than an hour and a half (I could see games of this with more players lasting at least four hours), this probably won’t change your mind, but if anything in this review sounded interesting, don’t let Craftsmen’s intimidating reputation and horrendous rules put you off giving it a go.

Craftsmen was designed by Krzysztof Matusik and published by G3 in 2013. Between two and five people can play with games taking around two to three hours. This review is of the multilingual first printing which was provided by the folks at G3. Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow Emma on Twitter for more of her desk-less writings.

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Zinc or Swim – Rockwell review

Rockwell COVER

Guest writer Emma has returned from underground, covered in coal dust like she’s in some Rammstein video, clutching a box tightly in her hands. Seems like she’s hit a Rockwell seam…

A couple of days ago, I spent an entirely enjoyable evening ritualistically casting my employees into the fiery depths of the Earth, and if that’s the kind of thing you’ve always wanted to do…you should probably call the police or something, cos that’s kind of worrying. While you’re waiting for them to turn up, however, consider passing the time by cracking out Rockwell, the new competitive/grudgingly-cooperative mining game from Belgian publishers Sit Down!. (The exclamation mark is part of the name, so that’s totally how you punctuate that. I r good writer.)

Rockwell came out on Kickstarter last December, and it pretty much suckered me in the moment I saw it, due only partly to my poor impulse control, but also a good concept (rival mining companies competing to exploit the maximum amount of non-renewable resources and/or drill to the centre of the Earth), solid-looking mechanics and lovely lovely art. As with all the previous games by Sit Down!, the art’s by Yuio, probably more widely known for illustrating Takenoko and making our hearts all melt with the most adorable panda, and the art in Rockwell is easily up to the same standard. The prettiness of the game continues when you open the box (despite the eight sheets of punchboard – this is very much a million-tiny-tokens game) thanks to both the player privacy screens, each with different colour-coded illustrations showing your new persona as a drilling magnate and occasional Bond villain, and the board. Now, I’m kind of a sucker for modular boards, but even so, this one is lovely. It’s very satisfying to start every game by assembling the planet out of concentric circle tiles, and while the modularity doesn’t really add that much, since the relative positions of certain tiles doesn’t matter in any way I can see, it just looks fantastic. (Also, thanks to my misreading the setup instructions, one game included me stopping play to say, “Sorry, but can we just rotate the Earth about thirty degrees?” At which point we felt like wizards.)

Another Journey to the Centre of the Earth begins... What will be found this time?

Another Journey to the Centre of the Earth begins… What will be discovered this time?

So far so pretty, but if the gameplay makes you think longingly of that summer you earned pocket money by working in a Siberian salt mine (hey, we’ve all been there), all the delicious art and innovative boards in the world aren’t going to make you buy it. Luckily, Rockwell succeeds handily in that department too, with a number of mechanics that I haven’t seen in nearly enough games and that really make this one stand out. First up is the aforementioned aspect of grudging cooperation, brought about through a lovely balance of effort and investment. When you start the game, your drill crews are on the planet’s surface, and have the choice between two tiles of strength 3 and 4. However, all of your drill crews have a strength of 1, meaning they have no hope of shifting that much dirt on their own. Sure, you could send all your crews to the same tile, but then you’ve wasted two rounds while the rest of the players romp ahead, and it’ll probably be an explosion anyway, just to mock your weird fixation on that one patch of dirt.

So instead, you start moving your crews onto tiles with your opponents’ crews, but when you cooperate, you have to split all the loot between everybody involved. However, there’s an edge to this that makes it more complex than it sounds at first – when the resources are divvied up, any remaining cubes are given to the player with the most drills present, and failing that, to the player who triggered the extraction. Suddenly, the game turns into a contest of strategic movement, both of your own crews and the crews you’ve bribed away from the other teams, and putting the least effort into getting the greatest reward. And trust me, there are few better feelings than sneaking one tiny drill crew into a deadlocked tile, triggering it, and walking away with that crew’s weight in little wooden cubes.

So many pretty pieces! And the game's damn good too. (Thanks to Ray Reviews Games for the image: http://www.rayreviewsgames.com )

So many pretty pieces! And the game’s damn good too. (Thanks to Ray Reviews Games for the image: http://www.rayreviewsgames.com )

Also, Rockwell does one thing better than maybe any board game I’ve seen, and that thing is achievements. Now, I’m a console gamer as well as a board gamer, and I love me some meaningless pictures and numbers to stave off my encroaching ennui at the boundless, all-consuming abyss of Time. And don’t lie, so do you. But in Rockwell, they aren’t just pointless – in fact, by the end of the game, they will probably constitute the majority of points. Doing various tasks like collecting enough of the various resources, levelling up your drill crews, and, yes, hurling your faithful miners into the roiling mass of molten metal at the heart of the world will all earn you a related little clipboard token, which is worth a certain number of points at game end depending on how early you got it compared to everyone else – sure, collecting ten silver cubes is impressive, but doing it by the time the game economy has evolved to the point that people are trading wheelbarrows of silver for a loaf of bread, it’s slightly less so.

It’s kind of fitting that I should come to achievements this late in the review, since that was the trap I fell into when playing the game too. Sure, it’s fun to excavate and level up your drills and make obscene stacks of cash, but the main endgame condition is one player getting at least six achievements (including the three hardest) so if you aren’t consciously shooting for these, the game will never end. And I’m fairly sure that’s why my first game of what is meant to be a 90-minute game took nearly four hours, so make sure you read the rules properly first and get a feel for what you’re aiming for, or it’ll drag.

So, overall, this is an extremely pretty game, but, appropriately for such an industrial game, it lives and dies on its mechanics. Normally, this is where I’d write one of those wussy conclusions where you should play it if you’re interested in this kind of thing but otherwise you shouldn’t. But I won’t. Honestly, Rockwell’s a fantastically solid game, and when it gets a general release, I would unconditionally recommend it to pretty much any gamer. So give it a go if you get a chance – you might find out you like rocks a lot more than you thought.

Rockwell was designed by Bruno Crépeault and published by Sit Down! in 2013. Art is by the enigmatically named Yuio, and is rather lovely throughout! Between two and four people can play with games taking around 90-120 minutes. Finding copies of the game can be a bit tricky at the minute, but they are popping up here and there – hunt well, my friends!

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Can You Dig It? – Pay Dirt review

Pay Dirt cover

That Tory Niemann is a talented guy. While he only has a couple of games under his belt, when one of them happens to be Alien Frontiers you really should sit up and take a look when it’s announced that he’s got something new up his sleeve. Having moved away from Clever Mojo Games and set up with Crash Games, he’s preparing to unleash something that I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on before it’s even appeared on Kickstarter. Prepare yourself for some hard work and low temperatures – Pay Dirt is coming!

Thematically, we’re dealing with present day gold mining in the wilds of Alaska and there’s only one way to win – simply get more nuggets that your opponents before the ground freezes and the game ends. Starting with a small team of five workers, a little spending money and a bunch of really rather crappy equipment, you slowly get yourself up to speed and work your way through the poor quality claim that you begin the game with. Thankfully, there’s a few nuggets in that patch of land that you should be able to process with some hard graft.

Each game round is split into four phases – Auction, Workers, Hardship and Income. This seems like the ideal time for a quick rundown…

The Auction Phase is where you get to bring useful things and hard-working hardy types into your operation. Three different options are open to you; new equipment will speed up your processing, new claims could bring in a lot more gold, while new personnel allow you to skew the rules a little (and potentially grant you extra workers, giving you more options in the next round). Whatever you choose, everything on offer has a minimum bid that must be covered but with no upper limit it’s very easy to find yourself short on cash! A nice twist in this phase means that the chosen item type isn’t available to the next player, so it’s highly likely that someone will screw over their opposition.

Buy yourself some good stuff in the Auction - your starting Claim won't offer up much gold...

Buy yourself some good stuff in the Auction – your starting Claim won’t offer up much gold…

Once the Auctions are done with, the Worker Placement phase begins. As mentioned earlier, each player begins with five meeples but more can be added to your crew by picking up personnel cards in the Auction each round. Depending on where they’re placed, they’ll either help move Pay Dirt tiles through your processing system (or deal with the wear and tear brought about through regular use), or head to the central board where special Camp and Claim Gear can be bought and those precious nuggets can be sold to bring in some much needed cash.

A quick word about the processing. At the beginning of the game, your setup is… well, dilapidated to say the least. Each player starts with a low quality Excavator, Loader and Wash Plant, and these three pieces of equipment are split into three sections. Placing a worker on one of the three heavy machinery spaces drags a Pay Dirt tile across one single space, and they only turn to gold nuggets when they hit the spot that it furthest to the right hand side. At the same time, you’re also somewhat in the dark as the tiles you’re investing your workers in to move are secret and random, bringing in anywhere between two and six nuggets depending on the ground type. Better gear will cut down on these spaces with the best equipment only showing one space – less workers will be needed and everything feels so much more efficient! The only problem… you’ll have to pay a high price for the finest machines.

Two spaces instead of three may not seem a big leap, but if it saves you a worker it can prove invaluable!

Two spaces instead of three may not seem a big leap, but if it saves you a worker it can prove invaluable!

All equipment is prone to breaking down – must be that harsh Alaskan weather – so you’ll need to regularly devote some your meeples to fixing things up. Every time a new Pay Dirt tile is moved onto it a bright red ‘wear’ cube is added to a machine’s space, and should the amount of cubes equal the amount of symbols shown there it seizes up and refuses to work. Some of the equipment provided by the cheap and cheerful ‘Flimco’ will actually break down totally if not fixed immediately, so it’s a very fine balancing act that keeps things moving on! At least your workers are efficient; using one of them for repairs removes two cubes, and they can be used on both your processing equipment as well as the Camp and Claim Gear that you might purchase up in town that bestow small but vital bonuses on you and your operation.

Once workers are dealt with (and placed on their handy “Unused Labor Force” space on your playmat) we move to the Hardship phase. Whoever has the lowest amount of gold draws cards from the Hardship Deck equal to the amount of players around the table. They then choose a card for themselves and pass the remaining ones to the next lowest scoring player, until eventually the leader is handed a single card that will undoubtedly screw them over. Perhaps it’ll cause extra damage to their equipment or they’ll be forced to hand over a load of their money to someone else? Whatever happens, this (for me anyway) is the best and worst part of each round: best because it’s really rather entertaining, worst due to the fact that there’s not a single good card in the Hardship Deck. Well, there is actually one; the only problem is that it’s in there with twenty-nine other cards that are utterly bloody awful.

Hardships are generally awful - hence the name. Some (like this) last a round, others are a one off effect. Also note the temperature drop in the top right...

Hardships are generally awful – hence the name. Some (like this) last a round, others are a one off effect. Also note the temperature drop in the top right hand corner…

Another thing to think about is that the card in front of the leading miner is the one that triggers the fall in temperature. A drop can be anywhere from one to three degrees, and when that meter hits zero or below there’s only one more round left in the game. Everything wraps up with Income, where each player receives $2 from the bank regardless of their position in the game. As long as it’s still warm enough, play continues and the cut throat action continues apace.

While the version of Pay Dirt I’ve got at the moment is a prototype, it’s pretty much a finished product that’s ready to go to the printers. The art is done, the pieces are pretty much there (though I was sent some actual American coinage instead of plastic money – oddly, it seems to be cheaper!) and though the rules concise, they’re well written and cover all potential questions. Sure, it’s not the final version of the game, but knowing how well produced previous releases from Crash Games have turned out, I can only hope that Pay Dirt continues the streak of high quality products.

Like Alien Frontiers before it, Tory’s newest game hits that sweet spot of demanding that you think about everything you’re doing in the game while still remaining wonderfully accessible. Each action you perform, every decision you make, the worker meeples you place… they all need to be deeply considered. It’s quite easy to dig yourself into a hole (pun not intended), though thankfully it’s possible to get yourself back into the game with a couple of well constructed rounds. Pay Dirt is beautifully balanced and players will find themselves involved in tight games after only a few plays to get used to how things works. Once you’ve got the processing system down and understand moving your tiles from left to right, you’ll be grand.

The usual warnings apply for those of you who suffer from Analysis Paralysis. With each turn requiring a finely executed plan that could potentially contain up to ten different actions (assuming you somehow maximise your workers, which is admittedly rare), things could get tricky and time consuming. However, most people will simply get on with the dirty business of digging for all that gold and treat Pay Dirt as it should be treated – as a thoroughly enjoyable game that you’ll want to come back to again and again. It deserves to be as successful as Alien Frontiers and I can’t wait to see how well it performs when it hits Kickstarter shortly.

Pay Dirt was designed by Tory Niemann and will be published by Crash Games later in 2014. Between two and four people can play with games taking around an hour. The game is now on Kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crashgames/pay-dirt-designed-by-tory-niemann-of-alien-frontie – head on over there and get your money behind this excellent game!

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Hunting High And Low – Amerigo guest review

The Judge returns from his training for his upcoming bout, takes to his gaming table and cracks open the latest Stefan Feld offering from Queen Games. Is it any good? Well, you’ll find out in a moment…

Amerigo COVER

Following Rialto, Bora Bora & Strassbourg, the most successful and prolific designer of his generation, Stefan Feld, is at it again. But first, a personal message…

Dear Mr. Feld,

How do I love thee’s games, let me count the ways! Oh look at your innovative mechanisms that allow me to score a veritable salad of points. Your love of quirky, randomisation devices is so cute! So, you may be unburdened by the concerns of theme? It matters not! None of that flouncy periphery! Just cold, hard, raw game! Yay!

Lots of love! Your favourite fanboy…

(Apology to the editor – I shall use less ‘!’ from now on. I promise!)

[I’m pretty sure you won’t but we’ll let it slide. Amerigo is worth it! – Michael] 

That said, Stephan Feld’s fourth and last game of 2013 (probably: who knows what magic may escape from his mysterious German laboratory before the year’s end?) is certainly more thematically slanted than much of his oeuvre. It is also perhaps both the heaviest and best entry of the 2013 ‘Feld Four’ (TM: The Judge). The game casts players as assistants to famous Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, discovering and colonising the islands of South America. Players compete by taking actions to move your ships around the large, modular map, placing settlements and expanding to take over the new world. Points are gained by planning and constructing Tetris-esque building tiles, scooping up natural resources to trade – such as coconuts, tobacco and cotton – all in the interest of scoring the most points.

The ‘hook’ that separates Amerigo from its fellow Feld Point Salads is apparent from anyone who opens the box – the presence of a large cube tower pinched from Queen Games’ successful euro-war games, Shogun and Wallenstein. In those games this tower was used to decide the outcome of battles by throwing in the troops represented by cubes and seeing who was victorious by what fell out the bottom and didn’t getting snagged up on the many shelves and compartments inside. In Amerigo, however, coloured cubes are poured inside each round, with the pool of cubes that escape revealing what actions are available for the players. Owing to the nature of the tower, cubes from the current round may be trapped away, and others from previous rounds are nudged free making offering unpredictable actions on each round.

Ludicrous dice tower is ludicrous. It's exactly the same inside as Shogun, by the way!

Ludicrous dice tower is ludicrous. It’s exactly the same inside as Shogun, by the way!

This random element can lead to amazing situations where you pour 3 white cubes in, only to have them disappear (presumably through some kinds of portal to Narnia) and a red, a green and two blues appear… Much like the dice rolling in Bora Bora or Castles of Burgundy, these results are random, though somewhat predictable. Geoff Englestein described this as ‘Pink Noise’ on a recent episode of his excellent Ludology podcast, but put simply the opportunities created will force players to adapt.

What do I really like about Amerigo? Well, the game has a certain narrative. Sailing and claiming ports around the various islands is really important at the start of the game – but less so as the areas are colonised. Building multiple settlements on an island is an obvious winning tactic – as it multiplies the available points for covering the whole settlement with buildings. The thing is, the larger islands can be really big and a heavy drain on time / resources to complete. This forces players to co-operate to complete the islands and share the points. Alternatively, you could always highjack a single port and block the filling of an island to cost a player a ton of points.

This says NOTHING about the game, but it's certainly nice to look at.

This says NOTHING about the game, but it’s certainly nice to look at.

Simply colonising the islands with buildings is fun too, offering a spatial, tetris-like puzzle where the challenge comes from making best use of your available building tiles whilst scooping up the natural resources scattered around. More so than Bora Bora and Burgundy for that matter, Amerigo is remarkably simple to learn. The mechanisms get out of the way and the actions you can select are fairly straight forward. This is not a difficult game to teach and players are able to make short, medium and long term strategies right from the start. So yes, this is more of the same point grabbing from Feld, but with a distinctly different flavour. The clever, innovative inclusion of the cube tower is an interesting and fun way of adding some light randomisation into the game’s design. The spatial elements offered by the map offers fresh challenges, and even the end-game scoring is relatively painless and obvious.

The very lovely designer has done it again. Yes, it’s not a cheap game, but it comes in a giant box that is filled with game that will last you for months – or at least until another masterwork escapes from Castle Feld.

Amerigo, designed by Stefan Feld, was released by Queen Games at Essen 2013. Between two and four people can play with games taking around an hour and a half. Expansions are also available that add even more into the game experience through the Queenies range. Should you want to grab a copy – and why wouldn’t you? You have taste! – you’ll be looking at around £50 for a copy once they become available through retail next week. Thanks as always to Stuart for his review – follow him on Twitter via @Judge1979

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That Woman’s Got Me Drinking – Vinhos review

For a man so adept at handing out six-packs of whoop-ass, The Judge has a lot of time for some pretty hardcore Euros. Stuart Platt steps up once again to discuss Vinhos, a game of wine production through the medium of cube pushing…

Vinhos has a reputation amongst even established and grizzled Euro-gamers as somewhat of a monster to learn and teach.  Yes, this game is not short of mechanisms.  Yes, this does feel, at times, that you are simultaneously playing 3 pretty weighty cube shufflers as if you were a grand-master level chess player.  Ahhh, but once you get up to speed and the variety of interlocking gears begin to make sense, you reveal a challenging, competitive and exciting journey into Portuguese wine production.

This will NOT be a detailed breakdown of the rules – as the required length would be dull, dry and would eat up poor Mr. Fox’s bandwidth in no time.  Instead, I refer you to a very good Geeklist at BGG – http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/59669/vinhos-how-to-play-list – which helped me get a good grip on things from a rules perspective.  My article is all about why Vinhos is worth the considerable investment of time and effort to learn and explore the game.

So, we’re wine producers based in Portugal (hence ‘Vinhos’) and over the space of six years / turns (making just twelve actions in total) we will produce wine, selling it both locally and to export markets. We then present the best of our wares at Wine Shows to generate money and, ultimately, victory points.  The most points after the third show wins the game.

Gameplay is based around the movement of your action pawn around a 3 x 3 grid, with each space providing a different aspect of the process. It could be selling goods, enlisting experts or production – to increase the quantity, quality and therefore value of your wines as they are generated each turn. Placement of player’s pawns and the turn marker as it moves around the grid affect your move.  Nothing is blocked, but it costs money (given to the player who’s in your way) when moving to an action that is already occupied.  In addition, moving more than one space on the grid costs you as well. These deterrents don’t sound like much, but they WILL change your decisions – in Vinhos, money is pretty tight and is not to be wasted.

The game is full of difficulties.  This isn’t a negative, these are difficulties in the same manner as having to feed your family in Agricola – it’s all part of the game.  Reflecting life, one of these is dealing with the bank.  When you sell goods, the money is transferred to your bank account.  The more in your account at game end, the more Victory Points you gain.  Great!  However, you need cash in hand to do anything – so you have to spend an action doing banking!  Your twelve actions throughout the entire game are precious.  Having to spend AN ENTIRE ACTION at the cashpoint can be a killer but you’ll probably have to do it, and you have to plan for it, and hope that others don’t do it when you need to.

This is the end of a two-player game. TWO players. It looks like you need to buy a second table if you have three or more…

I haven’t even mentioned the mini-games that involve exporting & investing, let alone the Wine Show mechanism could easily be a game unto itself. It involves comparing your selected produce against specific requirements of the judges to generate bonuses, get Victory Points and unlock special abilities.

So there’s a lot going on – but does it all work together, and is it fun?  To answer that properly, I will compare it to another heavy Euro I recently played called Pret a Portér [which I’ve reviewed here – Michael]. On a surface level, it’s pretty similar.  Both have unconventional themes (Wine / Fashion), both involve a fair amount of cube and chit shuffling, and both have a ‘show’ format for which you need to produce and prepare.  Except I found that Porter was painfully dull; it was the most transparent example of cube pushing for cube pushing’s sake that I have ever played.  That theme felt tacked on and abstract.  All the disparate mechanisms felt completely separate and disconnected from the main game.  The flip side of that coin is Vinhos.  Even though there is a huge amount going on, once you get past a 30 minute rules introduction all of the elements fit together because – both mechanically and thematically – the game makes sense.

Like Agricola (which I consider the perfect example of theme teaching the game as you play – “why do these white cubes multiply at the end phase? Oh, they’re breeding sheep”) all of the elements work together.  You buy vineyards to produce more wine.  Wineries are built and enologists are hired to make the wine better etc.  Ryan Sturm (our fellow Dice Tower Network member) presented an excellent piece on using schemata to teach games some time ago – and he could easily have been talking about the learning process in Vinhos.  The game realises there is a lot to get through and the theme makes that process a thousand times easier.

In terms of gameplay, Vinhos is a triumph. I found that each game is filled with ‘O.K, I’d do THIS differently next time’ moments.  Even as a relative newbie, when you find yourself in the pits of despair as you’ve miscounted your money and you feel like you’re wasting one of those oh so precious turns, you also feel like you’ve learned – and you’ll have fun doing it.

So get past any pre-concepted notions that this will be a dry, humourless experience.  Take my advice, buy yourself a good vintage, pop the cork and sit down to a cultured, full-flavoured gaming experience that is Vinhos.

Vinhos is a Z-Man Games release from 2010. Designed by Vital Lacerda, between two and four players can attempt to conquer the world of wine in around two to three hours. If you’d like a copy, it’ll set you back around £35 from the good folks at Gameslore.

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