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Jesse Dean
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Homesteaders: More Than Meets the Eye

Homesteaders, the first published game by BoardGameGeek regular Alex Rockwell, is the latest in a long line of resource management games that seem to be a mainstay of Eurogame design in the last few years. In it players, are each responsible for building up a town, starting with a homestead and slowly expanding from there until the game ends. Whoever has the most victory points, representing how much they continued to building up the town, is the winner at the end. Of course, as this is really just an auction and resource management game, the theme is merely a means to an end and you can effectively ignore it.



The game’s structure is relatively simple. Each round, individual players assign their workers to any one of a number of potential spots on their available buildings, produce their income, pay their workers, and then have an auction for a building opportunity. Each player who won an auction then picks a building from a subset of the available buildings and pays the required resource costs. The player who did not win an auction moves their token up the railroad development chart and picks which bonus they want. The round ends and resources are generated. This continues for ten rounds before final victory points are tallied.

Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Despite this straightforwardness, there are a lot of interesting little wrinkles that makes the game enjoyable:

The Auctions Are the Game, Resources Are Just Your Stance
The resource generation phase, while engaging, is really just the set-up for the auctions, which are the game. The resources in your supply determine the value of specific auction spaces for you, and drive some of the conflict that makes some of the auction fun.

Building Opportunities, Not Buildings
During each of the Amun-Re/Evo/Vegas Showdown-style auctions you are bidding for the opportunity to build a type of building rather than for a specific building. This further enhances the appeal of the auction, as you can never be absolutely sure if you are competing for the same building with another person or not, which creates an additional level of delightful tension in the auctions.

Getting Behind In The Engine Building Does Not Mean You Lose
One of the things that is particularly clever about Homesteaders is how the economic engine is designed such that even if you pass on the first (and maybe even the second round), you are not left in a detrimental position. This is because all of the buildings that are available during the first round require workers, and winning a first round building auction will not give you the worker you need to man your new building. By passing you gain access to a bonus based on your position on the railroad development track, do not expend any resources, and leave yourself in a position to acquire a more powerful building in the second turn, including one of those that generates resources without the need of additional workers. Timing when and where you pass is another key decision that can potentially win or lose the game.

Debt
Like many other economic-oriented games, Homesteaders allows you to take debt in order to provide you with additional spending capital. In fact I would go so far as to say that it is silly not to take at least some debt over the course of the game both because of how easy it is to pay back some debt in the final round and because of the limited impact that a low amount of debt has on your final score. As a general rule, if you can get a significantly better building in exchange for taking some debt, it is usually a good idea to take the debt, assuming that by the end of the game you can get your total debt level to two or less.

Trade Tokens


In order to prevent individuals from being locked into particular strategies based on the type of resources generated, the game includes a way for a player to change the particular resource spread that they have: trade tokens. Each trade tokens allows you to use the game’s marketplace, trading a resource plus a trade token into money and a victory point or allowing you to turn money and a trade token to into a particular resource. This allows a player to, with enough trade tokens and debt, get any set of resources that they need. Additionally, it opens additional alternative strategies where a large amount of money and trade tokens are produced, exchanging the efficiency of resource generation into extreme flexibility. Managing your trade token flow is one of the tougher aspects of the games. It is very easy to generate too little, and not have the flexibility you need, or generate too many, and suffer an opportunity cost for other items that would have been more useful.


Subtle Interactions
When I first started playing Homesteaders, I thought that the game was pretty interesting but was being held back from truly functioning effectively by the "low" number of available buildings. More was better, and increasing the number of interactions that were available would only help the game. While I still believe that it is generally the case, I do not think that the number of buildings needs to be increased in order for it to work, it works quite well with the number it has now.



The items I mentioned previously are part of the framework for why this is the case but what it really comes down to is how each and every available building is contextually very useful. There are no truly bad or suboptimal buildings in Homesteaders, and each one has situations where getting it can make or break a particular player’s game. Because of the general quality of the buildings and how differently each game can play out, there is quite a bit of variability contained in the 31 different buildings available over the course of the game. It is because of this variability that I have also found writing a comprehensive strategy so difficult for this game. Each time I work on it I think of a new avenue I need to explore or another question that I do not have enough experience yet to answer. I have, personally, found this difficulty to be especially intriguing as it indicates that, for me at least; there is a great deal of potential to explore in this game, more than is apparent after a few initial plays.

Things That Could Turn You Off

Components
The game’s components are pretty mediocre. Luckily they are functional and the game itself is pretty inexpensive ($26 at Coolstuff), that I do not feel like the game is a poor value for the money. That being said, I would probably appreciate it even more if the game were of a high production quality.

Euroconformity
THIS GAME IS A TYPICAL EURO RESOURCE MANAGEMENT/AUCTION GAME. If you are someone who needs to feel the breeze in your hair or smell the dung of the cattle while playing a game, you are probably not going to like it. If you enjoy exploring interesting mechanical constructs and like to explore how a game ticks then this one will work pretty well for you.

Summary
I like Homesteaders quite a bit and consider it an excellent entry into an otherwise crowded genre. It takes a lot for a resource management game to impress me these days, but Homesteaders has succeeded where others have failed, making it my third most played game at this point in 2010. I rate it an 8, but could see it easily hitting a 9 if my further explorations prove that the game is as deep as I think it is. I recommend it.
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Matt Musselman
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Great review! My favourite Homesteaders review so far I think.

One comment about the components is that their quality is pretty subjective. My wife loves them. Some friends hate them. I think they're cool but different. It depends on what people expect and value.

Good:
- Cool, intricately shaped wooden "meeple" bits for cows, food (apples), steel, workers, copper, and decent wooden wood and gold tokens. Definitely more fun than the games (like Le Havre, for example) which have cardboard chits, or which have uniform cubes (like Caylus) or discs (like Agricola) in a dozen different colours.
- Interesting, thematic artwork. This is no drab Medici.

Bad:
- The auction board is pretty floppy, and just plain weirdly constructed. It doesn't really affect the game, but raises lots of "what the hell?" questions from gamers.
- Because of the oft-discussed moisture issues, punching the money, debt, VP, and other chips from the sprues is difficult, and takes a lot of care not to tear any. Just be careful and/or use a craft knife, and you're in great shape.

Maybe?
- The wooden components are of a different makeup than typical meeples. They're more detailed (like the multicoloured cows), but also thinner. Some meeple purists seem vaguely disapproving of them, for some reason. I personally think they're being snobs.
- The artwork in general doesn't feel as typically "Euro" as some games. It's unique, and I like it, but others have called it "sparse," among other things. Your mileage may vary.

At any rate, didn't think it was 100% fair to say the components are mediocre -- it's kind of a mixed bag. If a future edition has monocolour "animeeple" style cows, for example, some gamers will be pleased that they're more traditional, whereas others will be scouring eBay for the super-cute black and white 1st Ed cows.
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KAS
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Thanks for the review Jesse. Of the many games in my "own but have not played yet" category, this is currently at the top. I need to run through the rules one more time before I teach it to my group next week, so I am glad to hear you like it.

Do you think it plays equally well with both 3 and 4 players?
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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I played it once, and found it too much like Pillars of the Earth, which I like a lot. Have you played Pillars (with the expansion!) and do you see the comparison?
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The implementation of loans here means that auctions in Homesteaders are always lost by choice, and not because one player simply had more money than another. This alone does wonders for the game. Furthermore, bowing out of the auctions is never just a lost turn.

Homesteaders does auctions and resource-snowballing better than most games I can think of, and the theme fits quite well because you are purchasing land to develop. I don't think theme-hounds are going to object to this game. I also don't think it deserves to be dismissed as "more of the same." Alex Rockwell's execution here was certainly better than 90% of the competition.

"More Than Meets The Eye," Indeed. Nice review.
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Alex Rockwell
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doubtofbuddha wrote:

Getting Behind In The Engine Building Does Not Mean You Lose
One of the things that is particularly clever about Homesteaders is how the economic engine is designed such that even if you pass on the first (and maybe even the second round), you are not left in a detrimental position. This is because all of the buildings that are available during the first round require workers, and winning a first round building auction will not give you the worker you need to man your new building.


I like that someone noticed this.
Yes, buying on turn 1 is really just 'upgrading' what your first worker is doing by a bit, and adding more future potential. (Or for the Market, adding one trade chip of income, and an option of money or wood for the auction, which are fairly close in value).

You dont fully benefit from the round 1 building until later when you get more workers. And as you note, the Round 1 passer can get something larger round 2 that gets the full gain immediately.

Balancing this so that the round 1 passer wasnt just screwed was very important to me. Passing on both rounds 1 and 2 is probably poor, imo, but Pass, Build, Pass is also fine.

I like that the strength of passing is relative to the bid level that the other players end up paying.


Quote:

When I first started playing Homesteaders, I thought that the game was pretty interesting but was being held back from truly functioning effectively by the "low" number of available buildings. More was better, and increasing the number of interactions that were available would only help the game. While I still believe that it is generally the case, I do not think that the number of buildings needs to be increased in order for it to work, it works quite well with the number it has now.


While I wouldve loved to include more, it was just too hard for new players, so I had to cut it as much as possible to a reasonable number. At one point I made 'the great cut', cutting it from 60 to 30. I probably went through several hundred building ideas to settle on the 32 that exist.

But I tried to make sure that every building was useful in at least some situation, so there is no complete chaff. Certainly there are buildings that are powerful, and there are some that are useful only in more limited scenarios, but I think that nothing is just terrible and overcosted, or never useful.

If enough testing does reveal a couple buildings to be useless, thats still okay. I'd be fine with 10% of options being 'false choices', provided that almost everything is useful and nothing is too powerful/broken. The existence of University as a building does not ruin Puerto Rico, for example. But 10 of them might.


Regarding theme, I tried to make the game as a 'well themed euro'. Certainly this isnt a fantasy flight game, but I dont think its tacked on either. Theme did drive many of my decisions and mechanics, especially in the buildings. I think that its much better in this respect than a typical euro.

Thanks for the well written review!
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jschlickbernd wrote:
I played it once, and found it too much like Pillars of the Earth, which I like a lot. Have you played Pillars (with the expansion!) and do you see the comparison?

I've never played Pillars with the expansion, Jennifer, but I have played both basic Pillars and Homesteaders and I don't think there's much in common at all. Maybe you could elaborate why it reminds you of Pillars?
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Matt Musselman
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Larry Levy wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
I played it once, and found it too much like Pillars of the Earth, which I like a lot. Have you played Pillars (with the expansion!) and do you see the comparison?

I've never played Pillars with the expansion, Jennifer, but I have played both basic Pillars and Homesteaders and I don't think there's much in common at all. Maybe you could elaborate why it reminds you of Pillars?


I'm curious as well.

Yes they're both resource conversion / VP engine kinds of games, and I do like Pillars a great deal, but they feel so different. I think Homesteaders has much more in common in mechanics with Le Havre and Caylus than with Pillars, and it feels much more free and breezy than any of them.

But I suppose everyone has a right to her/his own opinion.
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Nice review Jesse!!
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Kurt R
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Nice review, Jesse. Excellent job on pulling out the parts of the game that appeal to you without taking us through the rulebook. So happy to see us both agree on a game we really like. We have a few, eh?

I took to this game from the start, and don't get to play it enough (only 7 so far). I've struggled finding a path through the buildings (and I have a string of 3rd place finishes to show for it), but I find the design to be so wonderfully tight and the tension full on every turn that I keep coming back. I rated it a 9 from the start and see it staying there.

Count me in with those who don't see a comparison to Pillars and this game. Curious to see what that's about...
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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Larry Levy wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
I played it once, and found it too much like Pillars of the Earth, which I like a lot. Have you played Pillars (with the expansion!) and do you see the comparison?

I've never played Pillars with the expansion, Jennifer, but I have played both basic Pillars and Homesteaders and I don't think there's much in common at all. Maybe you could elaborate why it reminds you of Pillars?


They both turn one thing into another more valuable thing. And I'm not saying that other games don't also do that, but Pillars is my personal favorite of all of those types of games. I like it better than Phoenicia, for example, although I do like Phoenicia. So given that I already own both of those two, I'm not sure how much play Homesteaders would get over time.

EDIT: In looking at the other responses, one would have though I'd compared it to Poker or something. That's the other thing I don't like about the game. People seem to be slathering all over it because someone familiar to BGG created the game. Apparently I can't voice an opinion without invoking a lot of questions. I frequently ask reviewers to compare the game they review (that I'm interested in) to another game; I've never seen this type of response before.

Jesse is one of the few people who I have on my buddy list but have never met, so his opinion goes far with me. I naturally congratulate Alex on his publication but that shouldn't exempt his game from examination, just like any other game out there.
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Kurt R
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jschlickbernd wrote:
EDIT: In looking at the other responses, one would have though I'd compared it to Poker or something. That's the other thing I don't like about the game. People seem to be slathering all over it because someone familiar to BGG created the game. Apparently I can't voice an opinion without invoking a lot of questions. I frequently ask reviewers to compare the game they review (that I'm interested in) to another game; I've never seen this type of response before.

Well, speaking for myself, I just don't see the comparison to Pillars is all (and I'm a Pillars fan), and I was curious as to what you saw. I wasn't calling you out or anything; simply curious about your stated opinion.

I'm certainly not slathering over the game. I don't know Alex Rockwell in the least; I just appreciate the game design. I'm a fan of auction games, and this game has made Vegas Showdown pretty much obsolete for me while remaining very challenging after 7 plays.

As for me, I've always equated Pillars with Power Grid in that you "fire up" your workers to produce VPs. Maybe that sounds odd to you.
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jschlickbernd wrote:
EDIT: In looking at the other responses, one would have though I'd compared it to Poker or something. That's the other thing I don't like about the game. People seem to be slathering all over it because someone familiar to BGG created the game. Apparently I can't voice an opinion without invoking a lot of questions. I frequently ask reviewers to compare the game they review (that I'm interested in) to another game; I've never seen this type of response before.


Homesteaders is currently ranked in the high 300s and has an average rating of 7.57 (lower than most high-profile new releases). There are 16 Essen releases currently ranked ahead of it. I'm not sure I see the "slathering," and I don't understand why a few questions about a comparison warranted an attack on the fans of the game. Homesteaders is based around a series of auctions; Pillars isn't. Pillars is an action-drafting game; Homesteaders isn't. It seems natural to ask - politely and earnestly - for a little clarification; how else are we supposed to understand where you're coming from?
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An excellent review. As the publisher it warms my heart when I see reviews like these.

Thank You
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Jesse Dean
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mussels wrote:

At any rate, didn't think it was 100% fair to say the components are mediocre -- it's kind of a mixed bag. If a future edition has monocolour "animeeple" style cows, for example, some gamers will be pleased that they're more traditional, whereas others will be scouring eBay for the super-cute black and white 1st Ed cows.


That is fair, and I did note I thought they were decent for the price. I would just be willing to pay more in order to get better components, and am usually just a little sad when I consider the components themselves. I could totally see others being happy with it.
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Jesse Dean
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kneumann wrote:
Thanks for the review Jesse. Of the many games in my "own but have not played yet" category, this is currently at the top. I need to run through the rules one more time before I teach it to my group next week, so I am glad to hear you like it.

Do you think it plays equally well with both 3 and 4 players?


Indeed. I am a pretty big stickler for player count in games, and I think this one works very well with both. I can not comment on the 2 player variant.
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Jesse Dean
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jschlickbernd wrote:
I played it once, and found it too much like Pillars of the Earth, which I like a lot. Have you played Pillars (with the expansion!) and do you see the comparison?


Unfortunately, I am completely unfamiliar with Pillars. It is generally disliked enough among my geekbuddies (6.76) that I have also not been any real hurry to try it out. So I can't answer your question.
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Jesse Dean
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Alex, I think you did a great job balancing the buildings. While I agree that a few buildings are useful in corner cases only, all of them are useful at some point. In particular I feel the opening buildings are all pretty well balanced. I may prefer some options (Foundry, passing) more than others, all of them provide interesting opportunities and paths forward.
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Jesse Dean
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[q="enzo622"]Nice review, Jesse. Excellent job on pulling out the parts of the game that appeal to you without taking us through the rulebook. So happy to see us both agree on a game we really like. We have a few, eh?
[q]

Indeed. This is part of the reason I was surprised about our low correlation. Even though there are a handful of games that we majorly disagree with there seem to be a ton of them that we do really like. So I doubt there will ever be a point where we will have difficulty finding games to play together.
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
jschlickbernd wrote:
I played it once, and found it too much like Pillars of the Earth, which I like a lot. Have you played Pillars (with the expansion!) and do you see the comparison?


Unfortunately, I am completely unfamiliar with Pillars. It is generally disliked enough among my geekbuddies (6.76) that I have also not been any real hurry to try it out. So I can't answer your question.


That's OK Jesse. Thanks for the response. The Pillars expansion improved it a lot.
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Jesse Dean
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If you are going to be at BGG.Con or Gen Con this year, I would be more than willing to try it out (with the expansion) with you. What about the expansion makes it so much better?
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Jennifer Schlickbernd
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
If you are going to be at BGG.Con or Gen Con this year, I would be more than willing to try it out (with the expansion) with you. What about the expansion makes it so much better?


Long answer.

Again thanks for the review and since I can get it at Coolstuff pretty cheap, I think I'll pick Homesteaders up anyway.

EDIT: I do plan on being at BGG.con. I'm pretty easy to find too
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Jesse Dean
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Excellent. We should get ahold of each other as the convention approaches and make arrangements.
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
kneumann wrote:
Thanks for the review Jesse. Of the many games in my "own but have not played yet" category, this is currently at the top. I need to run through the rules one more time before I teach it to my group next week, so I am glad to hear you like it.

Do you think it plays equally well with both 3 and 4 players?


Indeed. I am a pretty big stickler for player count in games, and I think this one works very well with both. I can not comment on the 2 player variant.


I've played the 2 player variant.

Regarding challenge, interaction, and so on, it's nearly as good as playing with 3 players, but at the cost of some fiddliness in having to operate the phantom bidder.

The auction is a little less tense, but the "one of every building" aspect adds a lot of tension on building choice instead.

It's worth a try to see what you think.
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Alex Rockwell
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On Homesteaders vs Pillars:

Yes they are similar in that they are in the same genre, they both have different resource types, they both have you build an economic engine, and both have an auction mechanic.

They arent the most similar games in the genre, I think Homesteaders is much more similar to Vegas Showdown, Phoenicia, and Le Havre. Homesteaders is all about the auction mechanic, while Pillars has a minor auction mechanic and a major worker placement/drafting mechanic.
So I'd say they are somewhat similar.

I like Pillars, I think its pretty good, I played it 40 times on BSW. I havent played the expansion, but it probably makes it better, from what I have heard.
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