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Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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Homesteaders is up there with the great Eurogames, nearly all pure resource management and optimization, tons of routes to victory, a stark progression throughout the game, and interaction through auctions and denying other people scarce rewards.

It's hard to get everything you want or need, and yet (in our game) money wasn't too tight or painful, since you can always try something else, instead. It will take several playing to figure out play beyond mere "decent" to "focused". Which is how it should be. I really love it. It has Alex Rockwell's signature all over it.

The game plays for ten rounds. Each round you auction for "action" tiles. If you win an action tile, you can use do the action: if the action is "buy a building", you have to pay for the building. Otherwise you get some small bonus for free. If you pass the auction altogether (which someone will have to do each round in a 3 or 4 player game), you get a small (but progressively better) bonus for free as consolation, and you get to keep your money for the next round.

The buildings give you resources, which let you buy other buildings and eventually buildings that give you victory points. There's a trading market which anyone can use as many times as they want whenever they want, but each trades costs a "trade chip", yet another resource. You can trade for any resource, except trade chips.

It's not perfect. It's actually a little short (!). And, while elegant, sensible, and straightforward, and theme looks like it should be dripping from the pieces, the theme doesn't come through much, and the game is not so ... immersive as Puerto Rico, Agricola, or some other games. It's very nerdy and calculating. You have to love planning and calculating. Trade this for that, these for those, swap these other things for one more of these, build a better income to get more of these, and gain move vp's with these others.

It's also a bit much for my analysis paralysis gamers, because they want to calculate all the possible points for all the possible swaps, and the time to value ratio for this is low. As for me, I just picked a few good paths and stuck with those that enhanced them, dismissing without calculating many other paths as not worth time thinking about. I'll play several more games, trying out a bunch of paths each game, and then I'll have a better idea about which ones work best.

The end buildings that let you buy them and then let you buy an additional building are killer buildings, as are a few of the buildings that appear in mid-game.

One other thing: I think the debt taking is a tad too easy. You can take them whenever you want and there is no sense whatsoever in paying them back before the end of the game. They should really cost $1 a turn to maintain, like people. Undoubtedly Alex tested and discarded this; I'd be interested to know why.
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Sheamus Parkes
United States
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Shade_Jon wrote:
One other thing: I think the debt taking is a tad too easy. You can take them whenever you want and there is no sense whatsoever in paying them back before the end of the game. They should really cost $1 a turn to maintain, like people. Undoubtedly Alex tested and discarded this; I'd be interested to know why.


Personally... the game is already almost too fiddly for me. I imagine Alex just figured that 5 future dollars roughly equated to 2 present dollars.


Nice review!
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Henrik Lantz
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Although I agree that the theme is stronger in Agricola, Homesteaders does not feel themeless or "nerdy and calculating" to me. I think it is the trade chit mechanism that does that for me. You rarely are stuck in this game, if you have trade chits there is often a way out. So, I guess calculation can be reall yhelpful in this game, but you don't have to do it to enjoy the game.
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Andrew
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I like the openness and flexibility the game allows, in the trading and freedom to take debt. But I avoid playing it with AP-prone calculators; I can imagine how frustrating it would be waiting for people to work out all the different scoring possibilities and efficiencies every turn.
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Jordan Spikes
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fateswanderer wrote:
But I avoid playing it with AP-prone calculators; I can imagine how frustrating it would be waiting for people to work out all the different scoring possibilities and efficiencies every turn.

Ugh, there is one such guy in my gaming group. This comment makes me worried about bringing this game to the table now...
 
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Ben
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Nice review. I think the biggest drawback to Homesteaders is that it is so overtly calculable, especially toward the end of the game. I wouldn't dare bring this out with most members of my game group.
 
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Alex Rockwell
United States
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Shade_Jon wrote:

One other thing: I think the debt taking is a tad too easy. You can take them whenever you want and there is no sense whatsoever in paying them back before the end of the game. They should really cost $1 a turn to maintain, like people. Undoubtedly Alex tested and discarded this; I'd be interested to know why.


Well, its because they would be completely horrible if you had to pay interest each turn on them, you would never take any. Paying 5 back at the end to get 2 now works pretty well.

The purpose of the debt is that you are able to have a nearly unlimited amount of money early on, at a cost. This allows you to bid around to what the auction is really worth, which means that people who pass sometimes arent just totally screwed.


Early on in development, there was no debt, and it was all about counting everyone's money at all times and then bidding $X on the auction when everyone is almost broke and the most anyone has is X. Turn order was mattering way too much, because we are both down to $3, and whoever goes first wins the cheap thing and the game, while the other is screwed. Adding easy debt eliminated all these problems.

You are intended to take a fair amount of debt. Most people will go up to between 5-10 during the game in the first half to build their engine. Your engine then makes points and pays off the debt (at 150% interest). It is intended that building a slightly smaller engine but with less debt is perfectly viable. It doesnt have to generate nearly as much money later so it evens out.

The way the debt works, it doesnt stop you from taking the first few, but after enough of them they would become prohibitive. When you're still in the 'reasonable' area, each debt you take costs a couple points (2 points for the gold you dont get to save at the end, or the points you miss out on by passing in round 10, for example). As long as youre still in the region where you can pay it off later without severe consequences, youre basically trading points for money.

So there are 3 levels to the ability to get money:

* Money you make (coins/gold/trades production): You've set up your engine to make this, so you spend it.
* The first X debt: Money you can buy for points at a reasonable rate.
* Debt beyond the point at which you can reasonably pay it off at the end: Money you can buy at an increasingly unreasonable rate.

The trick is to be in the reasonable range in #2.
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Alex Rockwell
United States
Hillsboro
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fateswanderer wrote:
I like the openness and flexibility the game allows, in the trading and freedom to take debt. But I avoid playing it with AP-prone calculators; I can imagine how frustrating it would be waiting for people to work out all the different scoring possibilities and efficiencies every turn.


Yes! These people are the reason that the City phase was cut to two turns and the number of different city buildings was cut to a pretty bare minimum of 7. Because its almost fully calculatable at that point, AP people can take way too long. The number of options is simplified to reduce this problem.
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