First Play Friday

2011 New Year's resolution: Play games from my collection I haven't yet tried.
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Bohnanza - I'm a mathematician, not a bean counter!

The Dave
United States
La Jolla
California
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So it’s back to First-Play Friday (well, sort of). This Friday, The Wife and I hosted our good friends Nate and Lesley, Rachel, and two new gamers Kristi and Kevin. New isn’t quite right, because they’ve played 7 Wonders once, but neither of them really “got” it.

As an aside – I find 7 Wonders to be an enjoyable enough game, especially if you have about 30-45 minutes to spare. Initially I thought it might make a great gateway game because the gameplay mechanics are pretty easy to grasp, the artwork is vibrant, and it plays quickly. But in reality it is a terrible gateway game. First, if you have any experienced players they will absolutely smoke the new players, and woe be to the experienced player that isn’t sitting after the newbie (or even worse string of newbies) in the first and third ages. Second, while the game mechanic of take a card and pass the rest is easy, learning the multiple different types of cards, how they all chain throughout the ages, when to build a wonder, and most importantly what to keep out of the hands of your opponents takes many plays to really understand. I dread teaching 7 Wonders now because I know it’s going to be three or four messy games of destroying the newbies before any new player really is competitive.

Also, don’t get me started on scoring. That might be the highest barrier to a new player really understanding how to play the game…

Now where was I? Oh yes, Bohnanza. We had 7 and for the aforementioned reason, I thought we’d try Bohnanza. The main reason Kevin didn’t like 7 Wonders was because he lost so terribly. With The Wife in the mix, that was bound to happen again, since she is perhaps the world’s premier 7 Wonders player (claim not verified by any reliable source, but merely stated as a humorous one-liner). I’ve been playing Bohnanza on the iPad for awhile, but had yet to play the physical version and against real people.

Rachel really wanted to play Bootleggers, but that’s for only 6. Lesley wanted to play Fresco, but that would leave a few of us out. I suggested Bohnanza, and immediately they asked what it was about. Bean farming. Yup – bean farming. Oh you think that theme is dry? Too bad. We’re farming beans tonight, people, and ya’ll better like it!

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I will now review Bohnanza according to the following criteria. Keep in mind this is a review of the game after only one play.

Accessibility (1): How easy was the game to teach and learn? Is it complex and/or fiddly? Are the rules easy to understand and follow? How long did it take to go over the rules?

Fun (1): Is it fun? Included in this might be a theme-to-mechanics metric, or a player interaction metric.

Length of first play (1): Some games say 60-90 minutes, but the first play might take you 3 hours. Not included is length of rules explanation.

Desire to play again (1): Typically I would rather play a new game than play a game I’ve already played (with some exceptions). I know – I am crazy. This will be a good measure of how much I like the game.

Review:

Accessibility:

As before in other reviews, I have to admit that teaching this game was easier since I learned how to play on the iPad. I will say the rule book isn’t as intuitive as the tutorial on the iPad is, but that’s probably an obvious statement to make. Kevin and Kristi seemed to be the most confused, but their gaming experience thus far had been limited to 7 Wonders and Sorry. It took probably two turns for Kevin to get the flow of the game, and Kristi got it after 3 or 4 turns. Everyone else “got” how to play after one practice turn.

After playing the game I think that the best way to teach this game is probably to play a practice round or two, reshuffle the cards and start again.

In general, this game was neither difficult nor easy to teach and learn. It is well-deserving of a .5!

Score: .5

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Fun:

Bohnanza is the type of game that can be played seriously or casually. There was a mix of both for our play, in that for the first half we were seriously trying to learn the game, so there were a lot of questions about game play, strategy, and the rules. But about midway through we started taking on different personalities – Nate was the shady used car salesman who would offer a deal that usually included unnamed cards, I became the Russian weapons exporter (complete with terrible accent) who drove a hard bargain yet always seemed to have the card you needed, and so on. These sprung up organically, and some of us got more into the trading aspect than others, but everyone was laughing and having a good time. We would laugh when someone suggested a terrible deal, then gasp when it was accepted. We laughed when someone forgot you had to plant the first card in their hand – because let’s be honest, harvesting 4 Green Beans instead of one blue bean, only to plant a stink bean with a green bean behind it – that’s funny! (or at least it was in person – typing it out it just sounds dumb…whatevs)

So yeah, we had fun.

Score: .7

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Length of first play:

The game definitely didn’t overstay its welcome. At one point Nate noticed the draw deck was still pretty thick, and pointed out we had to go through it three times. The undertone was that the game might take awhile. But he was pretty shocked when the game ended (and of course he realized why it moves much more quickly than he thought it would – as you snag cards for coins and tie up other cards as unharvested beans, future draw decks will be smaller and smaller).

Score: .7

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Desire to play again:

Meh. I see this one getting played a lot with the family – you know, Grandma and the young kids want to play a game, but you don’t want their brain exploding trying to figure out De Vulgari Eloquentia. So you bring out a game – a CARD game no less – that you can teach and start playing in about 10 minutes. I think I’ll definitely bring Bohnanza to the next family gathering, but I don’t think I’ll request the game on a random game night. I would DEFINITELY play it again if someone else really wanted to play it (and Kevin and Kristi do, a good sign!), so it’s not that I don’t like the game. It just doesn’t scratch many itches for me as a face-to-face game.

Now the iPad version on the other hand? I play it allll the time!

Score: .2

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OVERALL: 2.1/4

I like Bohnanza. It’s a nice trading game, with some memory elements, and some valuation skills are required to be really good at it. I also like that new/non gamers can easily be playing it quickly, and even competitively. I don’t really have a strong desire to see hit my table again, but I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. There’s a pretty good game in that tiny package, and that is hard to find.

Up Next: Walnut Grove & Strasburg. Stay tuned – First-Play Friday is officially back! (well, at least for now…)
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