Wednesday, 12 August 2015

La Granja

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

La Granja seems to be quite popular with the folks at I was a little late to the party. I missed it a few times and only got to play it recently. It is a game from Spielworxx, which is well-known for it's heavy Eurogames.

La Granja is a game about farming, which is no longer a weird topic nowadays (it was when Agricola came out). You produce goods at your farm and deliver them to fulfill contracts, which give you victory points. There are a few other ways to score points, but delivering goods is the main one. You play 6 rounds, and must make the most of your limited actions.

This is the player board. You can see many cards tucked beneath it. This is one interesting aspect of the game. Every card has four different functions, but when you play it, you can only pick one. Where you tuck the card determines its function. Tuck it on the left, and it becomes a field which yields produce every round. Tuck it on the right and it may give you extra cash, extra cards, extra space for livestock (pigs) and/or additional delivery capacity. Tuck it at the bottom, and it gives you a special ability. In this photo my swineherd card gives me two additional spaces for rearing pigs. Tuck a card at the top and it becomes a contract you can fulfill to earn points (in game terms it is called a market barrow).

This the main board. There are six areas called craft buildings where you can deliver goods to fulfill contracts. These are the boxes with four rows of icons. Each player has his own row so there is no blocking. However being first to complete a contract at a craft building gives you an extra 1pt. The base point value you get depends on the current round number. In Round 2 a completed contract is only worth 2pts, but in Round 6, it is 6pts. However there is a reason for delivering early - you gain a special ability (those square tiles). Naturally the earlier you gain the ability, the more it will help you during the game.

The honeycomb area in the centre is the marketplace. When you complete a contract at your player board (i.e. you fill up a market barrow), you get to place one of your tokens here, on a space with the same value as the market barrow. Tokens here give you 1pt every round. When you place a token, you kick out all opponents' tokens immediately next to your newly placed token if they have smaller values. So there is some risk in completing small market barrows - your token may not last very long at the marketplace.

Everyone only has one type of token, the octagon. However a token means different things depending on where it is placed. At the extreme left, when placed on a field, it represents the corresponding produce. On the right, when placed in a pig sty, it is a pig. When placed in a warehouse (lower left), it is whatever goods that warehouse stores (grapes in this photo). When placed at the trade commodities location (the box icon at the centre), it is a trade commodity. A trade commodity can be spent at any time for various uses, like getting $4, getting 2 different raw produce and drawing a card.

The arrows you see on the board tell you how some goods can be processed to become other higher valued goods. This can be done at any time by paying cash. Some actions let you do this for free. Olive and grain can be turned into food. Pigs can be transformed into bacon. Grapes become wine.

This is what you do in a round. In Phase 1 you play cards, draw cards and do basic production. In Phase 2, dice are rolled to determine extra goods production and extra actions. Players take turns claiming whatever is available for the round. At the start of Phase 3 everyone secretly picks a donkey tile and then reveal at the same time. These tiles determine turn order and the number of deliveries you can make. Most deliveries are done in Phase 3. Phase 4 takes care of most other ways of scoring points, and round reset.

The Play

From reading the overview of La Granja, it may sound like a cube conversion game. It is more a planning and coordination game - you produce stuff and deliver them, and you try to produce as much as possible and deliver as much as possible within the 6 rounds of the game. There is actually not a lot of conversion going on. It's just basic goods to finished products, and often doing this does not require an action. You usually just pay for it, or spend trade commodities.

The cards make players' farms different. You want to play to your strengths. The variety is good and it makes things interesting. There is not a lot of player interaction. Some player interaction is of the I-take-it-before-you-can nature, but in La Granja this is much less punishing than Agricola. You won't be forcing your opponent's children to starve and beg for food. In the central marketplace you do kick out your opponents' tokens, but this doesn't happen all that often, because you don't complete that many market barrow contracts in the first place.

I like the challenge posed by the cards. You need to work out a cohesive strategy based on what you draw. In our game I was the king of pork. My cards let me breed pigs like rabbits, so I had many butcher friends.

The game looks complex, but once you start playing, it runs smoothly. It's not a gateway game though, so it will still be a little difficult for players new to the hobby. If you are a boardgamer, it should not be hard to learn. Some actions in the game are free and unrestricted. You don't need to wait for your turn, it does not cost a player action. E.g. upgrading goods. At any time you can spend money to upgrade, or spend trade commodities to do so. This makes me feel I have a lot of freedom to manage my farm, and I do not need to manage any tedious series of actions which span across multiple turns and multiple rounds. The main thing that is limited is the number of deliveries you can make. This you need to count carefully and plan meticulously. You need to make sure you can make enough deliveries to complete the contracts you intend to fulfill.

These are the items and actions which can become available during Phase 2 of a round. After the dice are rolled, everyone takes turns claiming a die and performing the corresponding action, e.g. claiming certain goods, performing a delivery.

This was late in the game. I (green) had two almost completed contracts (lower left). I was waiting for Round 6 to complete them because I wanted to score the full 6pts. This means I had given up on the special abilities which I would get from these craft buildings.

The Thoughts

La Granja is a medium-to-high complexity point-scoring Eurogame. It's a planning and coordination game, where you try to maximise and optimise goods production and delivery. Player interaction is on the low side. What I find satisfying is how the cards create much variety and character to each player's farm, and how you need to work out a viable strategy based on what you are dealt. This game will appeal to players who like management games. There is nothing particularly new or striking, but the overall package feels unique.

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