Saturday 25 June 2022

Fields of Arle

The Game

In Fields of Arle, Uwe Rosenberg tells the story of his home region. This is a heavy Eurogame with worker placement as its core engine. It is a game about farming and small industry. It is for two players only, but with the expansion it supports three. 

This is the main game board. On the left are buildings you get to buy. They have different powers and point values. On the right you have many different action spaces for worker placement. Each player has only four workers, and this number doesn't change. You only get to perform four actions every round. One thing unique about the worker placement mechanism here is the action spaces come in two types - summer and winter. The game rounds alternative between summer and winter. In summer you can only perform summer actions, and in winter winter actions. 

These are the player boards during setup. On the left you have your lands. You already start with some buildings and fields. You have swamps, which can be cleared for peat, one of the resources in the game. The top half of the land board is submerged under water and unusable. You need to build dikes to keep the water out and unlock more land parcels. The horizontal bars are the dikes. One of the actions you get to perform is to move them upwards. This is how you unlock land parcels. 

The board at the top right holds trade destinations. The board at the bottom right is your garage where you keep your horse carriages and other equipment. 

This trade destination board is one of the player boards. Each tile here represents a city you can trade with. You can trade with a city just once per game. You assign one of your horse carriages to travel to the city, and you sell specific goods in exchange for food. One element which is similar to Agricola is the need to pay food at the end of every round. In case you don't have enough food, there is a penalty. However in Fields of Arle you'd have to do pretty badly to be unable to afford food. Food is one of the currencies in the game and is used for many purposes. 

The left side of this board is a reference table showing the administrative steps to be taken at the end of a summer round as well as a winter round. For example harvesting crops in summer, and animals breeding in winter. 

The orange marker is the round marker. The game is played over 9 rounds, alternating between summer and winter rounds. 

The horse carriages are an important element of the game. There are many different types of carriages in different sizes you can buy. Once you have a carriage, you can use it every round. Loading stuff onto a carriage is a free action. There are two types of tiles you can load onto your carriages. The first type is destination tiles (photo above). This represents traveling to the city and doing trade there. When you supply the specific goods needed by the city, you get food in exchange. Each destination tile can only be used once. Ideally you want to supply as many goods as the city wants, fully utilising the destination tile. 

The second type of tile you can load is goods. When you load specific goods onto your carriage, you flip them over to become the upgraded version. Wood becomes timber, linen becomes summer wear, and so on. The upgraded versions are worth more points. 

There are many tracks at the centre of the action board. These represent your skill levels in different areas, and they affect specific action spaces. If you intend to perform a certain action frequently, it is best to improve your skill related to that action, so that your actions become more effective. The star icons mean point values. Some skills are worth points if you train yourself hard enough. 

The left edge of your land board is for keeping track of the travel destinations you have been to. Whenever you do trade with a city, you flip the travel destination tile to show the road segment at the back. You connect these road segments into one long road, and the star at the end of this road shows the points you receive for traveling. 

The track along the right edge of your land board is for keeping track of various resources. At the end of the game, if the resource markers are high enough on the track, you score points. Anywhere you see stars, there are victory points. 

This is a development game and a resource conversion game. You upgrade your farm and expand your industries. Many things get you points. The buildings are an important source of points, and the large buildings are part of your long-term strategy. You need to plan ahead for them and save resources to be able to afford them. You need to beat your opponent to them too, since there is only one copy of each building. 

The Play

The first play was a little daunting, since there were many different actions to digest. The game has many moving parts. Essentially this is a resource conversion game. You produce different types of resources, you then spend them to get other resources or you upgrade them to become more valuable resources. The game does tell a story and different aspects of farming life in Arle. They are represented by resource production and conversion, ultimately into victory points. In terms of game mechanisms, there are some interesting ideas, but nothing particularly innovative. If you like Uwe Rosenberg's style you will feel right at home. The game feels familiar and comforting. 

Variability comes from the buildings. Some buildings are picked randomly during setup. I have only played one game, so I can't say for sure that different building combinations will drastically change the game. I believe it will affect how you play. 

You need to focus on some areas, for example maybe you want to be a good weaver, or a butcher. If you want to be good at something, i.e. to be efficient and productive, you have to invest time to learn and hone your skills. You also need to make sure you have the right equipment and production facilities. All this means you have to plan your actions to be coherent. Focus on a few things, and be good at them. The strategic space is wide and you can explore different areas of focus from game to game. 

Four of the buildings are cheap, and they provide benefits every round. They are affordable in the early game. In our game I bought three, and Allen one. I soon realised these early game buildings were intended to be fought over by the players, and each player was expected to claim two. These early game buildings would define the strengths of the players and pull them in slightly different directions. Since I had two more buildings than Allen, this gave me a large advantage, and it was cumulative. He did manage to beat me to buying a peat boat and a plough in the early game. However the early buildings were more powerful. 

A good general principle to hold on to is to maximise every action you take. You will only ever have four actions every round. There is no family growth and no increase in actions. To do more, you have to make your action more effective. Some actions let you do two things. Ideally you want to time your action to allow you to do both. You also want to increase your skills in specific areas, so that when you take those related actions, you receive more resources or get more work done. 

This was Allen's garage. He had more equipment than I did. 

One interesting twist is every round one player may perform an out-of-season action. E.g. you may perform a summer action in winter. There is a cost to it though. You have to surrender the start player token to your opponent. 

I only had large carriages in my garage. I could not fit in any more by now. I had many fields because one of my early-game buildings gave me a free field every round. 

Animals produce milk. Sheep produce wool too. The dikes have space for one animal each. 

At game end, only the animals types in which you have the fewest of and second fewest of score points. That means you want to increase your animal count evenly for every animal type. There is no point having many animals in just one type. It wouldn't score points. 

Despite being a 2-player game, Fields of Arle takes up much space.

The Thoughts

Fields of Arle has the Uwe Rosenberg signature. It is a heavy Eurogame. It has worker placement. It is about farming. Most of the game mechanisms are familiar to those who have played his games. There are some interesting quirks, which are nice. Just don't expect anything earth-shattering. I imagine this is a very personal game to the designer. It does feel like he is taking you on a tour of his home region where he grew up. 

Friday 17 June 2022

Alphameet playtesting event

I went to the May 2022 Alphameet organised by TTGDMY (Table Top Game Designers Malaysia). Alphameets are for game designers to come together to playtest one another's prototypes. They are more about playtesting, giving feedback and exchanging ideas, and less about purely playing games. I brought quite a few prototypes and managed to get two of them played. My games tend to be simple and short, and the convention at Alphameets is to play shorter games first. So I got to play my games earlier. I have only participanted in an Alphameet just one other time. Back then I could only join late in the event, and I missed most of the activities. This time I managed to join at the start. It was a small event this time. We only had two tables. 

The first game of mine I managed to get playtested was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This was the first time I got it playtested. I didn't even have a proper prototype then. I used cards from a standard card deck. This game needs at least 5 players to be fun (I think), so it isn't something I can playtest easily at home with my daughter. Those who playtested it with me at the Alphameet seemed to enjoy it. We played two games back-to-back. I later decided to make a proper prototype, using drawings found on the internet. One of the game designers Jon who playtested Snow White later played it with his friends. They found it interesting and played for one an a half hours straight. That was certainly encouraging. I was moved that this little game borne of a simple idea brought joy to people. 

This was Haireey's football (soccer) game. It was a light game based on the Malaysian football league. Haireey is not new to game design. He designed Drama Pukul 7, a card game poking fun at Malaysian soap operas. He said many people found Drama Pukul 7 too complicated, so he wanted to design something simpler with a wider appeal. This was the first time he playtested his football game, and there were aspects he expected to adjust, but I could see this working with casual players. football is something many people can relate to in Malaysia. The game will be attractive. 

This was my gambling game Saikoyu. I brought my own cheap plastic poker chips. There is a fair bit of luck. You have no control over what card you get. You have some control over the ante of the round. You need to watch your opponents' expressions and behaviours and try to guess their thought processes. It may give you important information. The twist in this game is you don't know your own card. Like Hanabi, you can see everyone else's card but not your own. You have to place bets based on incomplete information. I am not entirely happy with this game yet and I need to tweak it further. 

This was Jon's traitor game. The players were managers reporting to the Devil himself. We were responsible for taking care of and guarding Hell. Hell was constantly being attacked. If a certain number of departments were destroyed we would lose. Every three rounds we had to pool together to pay a tax. If we failed a second time we would lose. With 5 players, there were two traitors among us. They would be trying to sabotage us. In addition to the traitor mechanism, this game also featured worker placement. Each of us had two pawns to place every round. 

Jon probably intended to get us to play just the first three rounds to get a feel, and then ask us for feedback. However the more we played, the more we wanted to play on, to see how things would turn out, and to find out who the traitors were. Eventually we ended up playing the game in full. 

I was a loyal manager, so I kept wondering who the traitors were. It was tough being a manager. We had to worry about defenses as well as financials. In addition to that, we also had our personal goals. In order to win we not only needed Hell to survive, we must also complete our personal goals. This was just like Dead of Winter

By the final round we had exiled and exposed one traitor, and I knew who the other one was too. Hell went through much hardship, but it was going to survive. At that point we had enough money to pay the final tax too. We had failed once, and were we to fail again we would lose. Thankfully I was the commander in the final round, so I could exclude Haireey (the traitor) from the tax payment process, so that he couldn't mess us up. When the money bag was emptied, we found that we were short! That player whom I had trusted turned out to be the traitor. Haireey was a legitimate manager. What the hell?! In the 9th round, we had come to a point that we would win on lose depending on whether that player whom I trusted was a traitor. We were in a bad place and we had to gamble. If he were a traitor, he would have botched the tax payment then and caused all of us managers to lose. However he didn't, so I had concluded that he must be a loyal manager. Later we found out that at the 9th round, he had misunderstood a part of the rule, and because of that he contributed enough money to ensure the tax payment was successful. That screwed up my deduction. I had to apologise to Haireey for not believing in him. Sorry bro! This playtest experience was great. I hadn't expected an early prototype to be this enjoyable. 

Saturday 11 June 2022

boardgaming in photos: REXKL, Star Realms, Ticket to Ride

9 Jun 2022. I attended the TTREXKL event as one of the gamemasters. This is a series of events organised by Kaki Tabletop and REXKL, at the old Rex cinema in KL city, near Chinatown (Petaling Street). The event promotes tabletop gaming and is not specifically for game designers and their prototypes, but it is an opportunity for me to get my games playtested with the general public. I brought five games. I had already decided to self-publish Dancing Queen, but I brought it anyway. I still wanted to get it played with more people to see if I could further polish it. The other games (all prototypes) were Beethoven vs Newton, Saikoyu, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Police. I managed to get four out of five games playtested, and I was happy with that. I wanted to observe people play, and learn from that. 

I was surprised that people seemed to be quite fond of Snow White. It was kind of okay for me. It seemed to click with people easily. This is a one-vs-many game, so technically it is Snow White versus the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White is the one-person team. The rest of the players are the dwarfs and they are one team. Snow White needs to find out who Happy is (I decided on this name so that I could make this dad joke: yeah, everyone is searching for happiness... ) while the dwarfs need to deduct who has overslept and has been left home. So this is a deduction game, but there is no doubt about who is on which team. Snow White's identity is known up front. The game is simple, but you do have to pay close attention to what everyone is saying in order to be able to make your deductions. This keeps people engaged, and I think this is what makes people quickly take a liking. I will need to playtest this more with different groups to see whether it works consistently. Maybe this can be a publishable game. 

Saikoyu (mock Japanese name for "Psycho You") in play

Video by Shean from Board Game Fantasy

This weekly event is still ongoing on Thursday nights, I think for two more weeks. If reception is good they may extend it or plan another run. 

This is the HABA game Mimic Memo, a game which teaches children to make and recognise various facial expressions. There are a few game modes and this is just one of them. This one is a cooperative memory game. The U-shaped track is the countdown track, and the pawn at the bottom left is for counting down. If it reaches the end of the track, the players lose. The green and blue cards will be shuffled separately and spread around face-down. On your turn you flip over a blue card and a green card to see if they match. You also have to make the facial expression on the first card you reveal. If the two cards match, you are successful and you remove them from the game. You goal is to remove all the cards. If the two cards don't match, the pawn advances and you turn the two revealed cards face-down. 

There are many different facial expressions, and some are quite similar. You need to watch closely what others are doing to correctly identify the expressions. This game is part of the HABA Learning Program I run. It teaches children to express themselves and to recognise other people's expressions and emotions. 

I taught Allen to play Remember Our Trip. This game is his, but he passed it to me to read the rules and teach him to play. We played the Singapore map. At this point we had built two landmarks (violet). Prior to this I did the Kyoto map with my younger daughter Chen Rui. 

Here you can compare how our individual boards differ from the common board. By examining the violet tokens on our individual boards, you can tell that we each built one landmark on the common board. 

This was a milestone. I had played 1000 games of Star Realms. I still maintain the habit of logging my game plays on

It had been a long while since I last played The Princes of Florence. This was one of the earliest games I purchased when I got into the boardgaming hobby. I am still fond of it. 

I played with my wife Michelle and younger daughter Chen Rui. This was the first time for Chen Rui and it was slightly overwhelming for her. We did not compete fiercely at the auctions. The Princes of Florence is best with 5 players, and the auctions is where the game is most interesting. With 5 players it can get brutal. We had only three, and we were not competitive, so our game was a little too peaceful. Well, that was the way Michelle and Chen Rui liked it. So I guess what was important was they were happy. 

My works

I hadn't played for a long time and had forgotten some of the rule details. When completing a work, that work card itself being completed also counts as 1 point. Initially I thought it didn't count. I had to double check the rulebook. 

Jesters are valuable, especially when you buy them in the early game. I remember they are worth about 600 - 700 florins in the early game. The starting bid is 200 florins, which means there is much space for competition. No one wanted to fight me for the jesters though, so I kept buying them. 

Chen Rui insisted on placing all the buildings onto an unused player board, like playing Tetris. 

One problem with the scoring board is it doesn't have numbers on the multiples of 5. Only the multiples of 10 are numbered. This makes playing the game slightly inconvenient. This is a usability problem. 

When our game ended, Michelle (red) lost to Chen Rui (blue) by just 2 points. They were both just shy of 50 points. 

These were Michelle's cards. She bought Bonus cards to help boost the values of her works. She also bought Prestige cards which gave her points at game end. 

I brought out The Princes of Florence mainly because I was gifted two mini expansions by a fellow gamer. Chen Rui hadn't played the game before, and both Michelle and I were rusty. I wanted to play the base game at least once before trying the expansions. We still haven't actually played the expansion. 

This is the African map of the Ticket to Ride series, called Heart of Africa. The route colour distribution gives you a tough time. Red, yellow and orange tend to clump together. Also blue, green and purple; and black and white. It is often challenging to collect enough of the colours you need. 

In the early game we already had a crisis moment. Michelle, Shee Yun and Chen Rui all needed to be in this area and they claimed routes hurriedly to avoid getting blocked. 

Things got hairy for me (green) in South Africa too. I expanded here along the western coast, while Chen Rui (blue) came along the eastern coast. We didn't know how far the other needed to reach, and we were both nervous that we might be too late and end up getting blocked. 

One unique element in Heart of Africa is the terrain cards. When you collect enough of these, you may spend them when completing a route to double the route value. Normally when I play Ticket to Ride I don't bother scoring the routes I complete. I do the route scoring all at once only at game end. In Heart of Africa I follow the standard rules because some routes will score double. I can't wait till the end of the game because by then I might forget which routes to double. 

The south east was competitive. Thankfully it didn't involve me. I was green. 

Most of my tickets were in the western half. 

This was around end game. With 4 players things were already tough. I imagine with 5 it would be downright punishing. 

Routes entering Mozambique were almost all claimed.

This is the Switzerland map, my favourite. It supports at most 3 players. 

My (green) situation was bad. I had started out from the capital Zurich and headed west. When I reached Bern, Chen Rui (blue) blocked my path. She not only claimed the route heading west from Bern, she also claimed the one heading north, and the one heading southwest. I should have said to her in the Darth Vader voice - Look! I am your father! How could you do this to me?!

I (green) had to get to Geneva in the southwest. Eventually I had to build a new path all the way from Zurich, parallel to the first path I had attempted. I did manage to get to Geneva, thankfully. Chen Rui wasn't trying to screw me over out of evil. She really did need to connect a number of those cities. 

In this Switzerland expansion, jokers (locomotives) cannot be used on regular routes. They can only be used on tunnels (spaces with a bold outline). It is sometimes excruciatingly hard to collect enough of the colours you need for a regular route when you can't use jokers. 

This expansion has country-to-country tickets, and the four countries neighbouring Switzerland all have 3 or more connection points. One big part of this expansion which I like is how you can draw tickets at a lower risk. If you have a decent network, chances are you will get a ticket which is already fulfilled, or one which is nearly fulfilled. Gambling and getting lucky is a wonderful feeling. It is not rare to finish the ticket draw deck. 

Sunday 5 June 2022

Eminent Domain

The Game

Eminent Domain is a 2011 game, and one of the early deck-building games. Dominion, the first deck-building game, came out in 2008. The setting of Eminent Domain is the same as Race for the Galaxy. You are expanding your intergalactic expire through conquest and colonisation. You develop new technology. You produce goods and engage in trade. Some of the game mechanisms are similar too, in how you pick a particular role to perform actions, and everyone else gets to perform a similar action. This is like Puerto Rico, San Juan and Glory to Rome. You build your empire, and eventually your planets and technology are worth points. Doing trading gets you points too. When the game ends the highest scorer wins.  

The game starts with everyone having a personal card deck which is exactly the same and one uncolonised planet. Your hand limit is five. On your turn you do two things. You play a card to perform an action (which is specified on the card), and then you play a card to select a role. Selecting a role means you perform an action related to the role. Other players get to follow you if they have the right cards, i.e. perform the same role, but as the active player you enjoy some privilege. Before you end your turn, you may discard cards from your hand. You then draw back up to your hand limit. If you have more cards than allowed, you have to discard down to your hand limit. What you do on a turn is quite simple. 

Let's talk about the roles. There are five. When you pick a role, you claim a role card from the centre of the table. This becomes your card and it boosts your action. This is how you augment your deck. The more you perform a certain role, your deck becomes better at that role, whether you like it or not. If you have multiple cards with the same role icon in your hand, you can play them all to boost your action. E.g. a planet may take 5 colonisation cards to colonise. If you happen to have 5 colonisation cards, you can play them all within one turn and complete the colonisation, as opposed to spending 2 or 3 turns doing it.  

One important implication of claiming cards is the game ends when a certain number of common stacks run out. If many players decide to keep picking a certain role, the game may end quickly. The other way the game ends is when victory point chips run out. You claim victory point chips when you do trading. 

The roles in the game are survey, colonise, warfare, product/trade and research. You survey to find new planets. You colonise or conduct warfare to capture planets. You use the same role to produce and later to trade. Earning victory point chips is a two-step process. 

Doing research gets you new cards which are more powerful than the basic role cards. In addition to special powers, they also have role icons. So they can be used to boost role actions. It seems wasteful to use them for merely boosting a role action, as opposed to using their special powers, but sometimes it's worth it. It's better to look at it this way - tech cards give you an additional option. 

Many of the tech cards have the same power, only the combinations of the role icons are different. This is a valid consideration when you decide what to research. In addition to the research cost, there is also a planet requirement when you research. E.g. you need to have two planets of the fertile type in your empire before you can research a particular tech. So research and colonisation / warfare are linked. 

Some planets when added to your empire give you additional abilities. Some enable you to produce specific goods. Some give you a role icon, boosting your role action in future. 

When the game ends, you score points for planets and techs. These are added to whatever you have scored from trading. 

The Play 

You grow your empire. As you expand you get more powerful. You can afford better techs. Your deck grows too, possibly becoming more specialised. You can do more and more. Your decisions build your empire and augments your deck at the same time. Every role decision has a long-term implication. In the game we played, I did not bother with thinning my deck. My deck grew a little unfocused. I did plan to focus on producing and trading. I was the only one who went into this area. However I probably didn't focus on it well enough. I wasn't very efficient. I slowed the growth of my empire too soon. In the later game I fell behind, and I was left at an obvious disadvantage. I should have grown my empire more before switching to do heavy producing and trading. 

Picking a role is sometimes quite a dilemma. If I keep picking the same role, I may exhaust the common stack sooner than I'm ready for. If I'm still behind, bad idea. The tempo of the game was a constant concern a the back of my mind.  

Han was the only guy doing warfare, so he didn't have to worry too much about the warfare role stack running out too quickly. 

These are the details of a tech card. Notice the two role icons at the top left of the card.

Details of a role card. 

At this point all three of us had three planets, and we had also found a fourth planet to colonise or conquer. 

I was red (first row). Later in the game I fell far behind in the number of planets. By this time Allen and Han both had six planets and I was still stuck with just three. 

When the game ends you can see all the cards in your deck and all your planets. 

In Eminent Domain you need to think about not just the deck building but also your hand management. Whatever you happen to draw presents a tactical problem. How are you going to fully utilise your hand? I find deciding whether to discard cards quite a dilemma. Do you keep them so that they will combo well with whatever you draw next? Do you discard them all and give yourself better chances of drawing more useful cards? How your opponents have built their decks and their strategies need to be considered too. 

The Thoughts

Eminent Domain is a game with deck-building and role selection. The individual components sound familiar, but when put together, the whole package becomes something different. I am familiar with the many games which have similar mechanisms, but when playing Eminent Domain I felt I had to learn a new game from scratch. It felt fresh and alien. I had to experiment and feel around for the balance. It was a new challenge. I tried to mimic the produce and consume strategy in Race for the Galaxy, but I got the timing wrong and that messed up my game. 

Eminent Domain is more than 10 years old. I have heard of it before. How it had been described sounded familiar to me. I had played many other similar games. I never really felt the urge to try it. Now I am glad I gave it a go. It turned out to be a much more interesting experience than expected. It's available at so giving it a go is convenient.