Friday, December 30, 2011

Belfort Board Game Review

This past week has been hell. Trapped in partial quarantine coughing louder than a back firing car and expelling what could be described as Slurm I was tired of being sick. It's difficult to get a doctor's appointment during holidays and especially between Christmas and New Year's. I avoided urgent care because the last time four hours were wasted only to have a doctor charge my insurance and not to write me a script for an antitussive.  Black tea, whiskey, and lemon were more helpful than that doctor.  

My current health has reminded of an episode of Red Dwarf where a smug Rimmer has placed the crew in quarantine.  Kryten points out, "You are obliged to provide us with minimum leisure facilities. Games, literature, hobby activities, motion pictures." The smeghead Rimmer rattles, "And in accordance with Space Corps directive 312, you'll find in the storage cupboard over there a chess set with thirty-one missing pieces, a knitting magazine with a pull-out special on crocheted hats, a puzzle magazine with all the crosswords completed and a video of the excellent cinematic treat, "Wall-papering, Painting, and Stippling - a DIY guide".  No crossword for me this past weekend, but I have been watching DVD's (Lost in Translation, Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, and The Help) and trying to write game reviews. Luckily, I was able to reach my primary care doctor after hours and get something better than a True Dungeon Horn of Plenty Ultra Rare Token, a script for cough syrup containing codeine.

After four days on the script I am feeling better and was actually permitted out of quarantine to see A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. The medicine is so efficacious I would be willing to let an Afghan farmer plant an opium field in my backyard!

Today, I will be reviewing Belfort by Tasty Minstrel Games. This game is one of my favorite games of the past year. After two rounds of playing this Euro-style game, which mashes together worker placement, resource management and area control mechanics I was anticipating playing this again just as much I want to see the forthcoming The Hobbit Movie; this game is precious! The game art is staggering and simply looks great.

Belfort is a two to five player game.  So far I have only played five player games. Players utilize dwarf and elf workers for resource extraction and actions while gnomes are used for special tasks. Players have seven months (rounds) to build the town of Belfort.  At the end of the game the player with the most victory points is the winner.

The elves, dwarves, and gnomes serve main functions:
1. Resource board actions: Elves and Dwarves help players to receive goods (wood, stone, metal or gold), establish new turn order, and recruit additional elves or dwarves for more actions and during scoring rounds (rounds 3, 5, and 7) the number of elves and dwarves contribute toward victory points.
2. Game board:  Guild Actions. The guilds are a unique feature to this game. Each game five different guilds are dealt and have powerful actions attached to them. Or players may use elves or dwarves to activate property actions or gnomes to upgrade property actions.
3. Players leading in number of elves, dwarves, and gnomes gain victory points during scoring rounds.

Belfort is deceptively complex looking because there are three game boards (Calendar board, Resource board and the main Game Board), but is quite intuitive to learn. I will briefly detail the rules; but with most games the best way to learn to is play.

The game setup begins with five guilds placed on the board. The different guilds increase game play variability and make new game different. Some guilds provide additional resources other guilds increase the amount of player interaction. Years ago when Stone Age came out we played the hell out of it for maybe 6 months. The leather dice cup is now heavily worn. However, Stone Age eventually felt more predictable and we felt we were on autopilot when we played. Belfort has more choices: what and where to build. After the guilds are placed turn order is determined and each player starts with 1 wood, 1 stone, 1 metal and 5 Gold along with 5 property cards and 2 are discarded. Gold is extremely important in Belfort because you will need it to pay for the following during the game: recruiting new workers, hiring a gnome, guild actions, purchasing more property cards and paying taxes. Advice: Don't run out of gold.

The Round Order is as follows:
1. Calendar Update: Move Turn Marker forward. Rounds 3, 5 and 7 (the final round) are the scoring rounds.
2. Placement: Starting with player 1, place workers (elves and dwarves) on the "planks." Planks are locations in the game with specific actions and include: guilds actions, property cards with actions, turn order location, and recruitment of additional workers. Initially, the property card actions are unavailable and become available after building properties. If no guild actions are available and a player does not want to take other plank actions, the player passes and places remaining workers to collect resources on the resource board.
3. Collection Part 1: wood, stone, metal, gold are collected from the resource board. These resources are used to pay the costs associated with building properties. Additionally, if players choose to recruit new workers or get a new turn order marker. These collection actions are always resolved in the same particular order. Part 2: Collect income generated from properties built. This is denoted by gold at the top of cards and pay taxes. Taxes are determined by player's status of the victory point track and increase with the amount of victory points. This method of taxation reduces the run-away winner issue.
4. Actions: Resolve Guild/Property Actions (this actions are usually used first to get additional resources to build properties), Visit Crazy Ord's Trading Post (once per turn exchange resources to get resource flexibility), Build Properties (by trading in resources and place property marker on corresponding building in a district of your choice), Build walls (a way to put property marker on the game board to establish dominance in a district), Build guilds (instead of players playing gold to the bank they pay it to the guild owner; so far no one in our group has bought a guild), Hire a Gnome (cost three gold) They are important! Gnomes are important for two reasons there are a finite number in the game and it’s a race to purchase them. Also, they contribute toward victory points and upgrade action/worker productivity. It's also nice when the gnome guild is on the board. When the gnome guild is on the board gnomes become cheaper to purchase. This is a strong guild. Buy a Property Card (this must be your last action if taken. Buy a property card from one of the three face up cards or take your chances by taking one off the top of the deck.
5. Scoring: Two ways to score establish District Majority by having most number of properties in a district. Points are scored in a (5/3/1 pattern) or Elf/Dwarf/Gnome Majority by having most amount of these workers and points are scored in a (3/1 pattern). While smaller in point value the worker scoring is very important; several of the games I've played with my group the scoring has been very close due to workers!
Belfort is fantastic fun because of the hate play potential. When placing properties on the game board in the districts it is possible to both score points and piss off players by reducing their majority in a district. Also fun is the strategy of placing workers on the resource board. Will you maintain the most workers in an area to receive the extra resource or will the next player place one more worker and negate the bonus resource?
Finally, I want to mention those elusive gnomes. Besides infesting gardens in the Harry Potter movies, the gnomes are important for scoring rounds and because they upgrade the property cards or serve to upgrade your elves or dwarves. Within the game there is a finite amount of them determined by number of players. The upgrades elves or dwarves are akin to Cities in Settlers of Catan. The upgraded workers produce twice as many resources when collecting them. Instead of collecting 1 wood an upgraded elf may collect 2 wood and etc. The resources are vital because they are needed for building costs.

Thumbs Up:
Plays 5 players

Choices: Multiple Pathways to Victory and opportunities to hate play

Game of the Year and more fun than tossing a dwarf (but don't tell the elf)

Thumbs Down:
In most worker placement games, game play is clockwise fashion. However, in Belfort turn order is assigned. If not paying attention the next clockwise player sometimes jumps the gun and takes their turn only to be reminded, “It’s not your turn. Look at your turn marker”

If you like flipping poker chips, flipping the circular dwarves or elves tokens can be a mistake. The upgraded dwarf and elf tokens are on reverse sides of the normal elf and dwarf tokens. Flipping a token accidentally or unconsciously to the upgraded side could be construed as cheating

Belfort English Rules