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Subject: The Return of Uwe Rosenberg rss

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Jesse Dean
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Introduction
Ora et Labora is the latest game by star designer Uwe Rosenberg. His 2007 game, Agricola, took the board gaming world by storm, producing massive sales and doing what was previously thought impossible: knocking Puerto Rico from its #1 spot on the BoardGameGeek rankings. Rosenberg returned later with the meaty, logistically-focused Le Havre which, while not as successful as Agricola, also performed well, ultimately ending up in the BoardGameGeek Top 10. Since then, he has released two further titles, but neither of them was nearly as well received as Agricola or Le Havre. Both were of a different style than his previous releases, and fans of his earlier games clamored for a return of the meaty gamer’s games that originally brought him to prominence. Ora et Labora is an answer to that demand, being very much in the vein of Rosenberg’s 2007 and, especially, 2008 releases.



Ora et Labora, like many of Mr. Rosenberg’s previous releases, is a game where players take steadily accruing piles of resources and convert them into increasingly advanced resources, making them more valuable in points, fuel, or food as conversions or made, or into buildings. These buildings allow for increasingly more sophisticated resource conversions or allow the players to manipulate the game’s constraints. This is very similar to Le Havre, but the resources used, and how they are used, are very different. Ora et Labora also adds a spatial component that is stronger than anything found in his previous games, allowing for an interesting new dimension of game play.

As I have played Agricola and Le Have over 140 times combined, I will be making references to how Ora et Labora compares to these two games in this review. In general I have found that it has stronger associates with Le Havre than Agricola, but it has harvested some of the better ideas of each of them to build the overall game.

Components
The components for Ora et Labora are basically what you’ve come to expect from Lookout Games/Z-Man productions of Uwe Rosenberg games at this point, with a large number of cardboard pieces, a smaller number of wooden components that are exclusively to track resource accumulation, and a number of small, euro-sized, cards that drive the game. The cards are in fact the smallest I have seen in any Rosenberg game to date, which makes figuring out what is on them from across the board somewhat problematic, even for those of us that have relatively good vision. I imagine it would be much worse for someone who lacked it. This is problematic because information on the cards is important when you are making your action selection for the round, and until you memorize the cards and internalize what they can do the difficulty in looking at these small cards from across the board could increase the amount of AP present in the game.

Much has been made of Ora et Labora’s resource wheel for good reason, as it does an excellent job of conveying how much of each resource is available at any given time without needing to go through the additional step of transferring the resource tokens from the supply to available resource locations. By making it so resources are merely moved from the supply to the player, it saves time and reduces the overall fiddliness of the game. It also allows for an easy way to track the introduction of new cards in the game, as well as whose turn it is to go first, and while both of those items were secondary in usefulness to not having to continually place new resources on the board, they are still handy and make me wish that Le Havre also had such a wheel.



The player colors are slightly problematic for those of us with red-green colorblindness, with fairly indistinct red and green pieces but the game is such that they are largely irrelevant. Turn order is clockwise around the table, and determining player incentives is based on their resources, board layout, and board composition. The exact position of individual pawns is relevant to your own decisions, but since they never leave an individual player’s area until the final round, their color is not. While it is less relevant for this game, I do wish more companies would use more distinct colors for players who have red-green colorblindness issues. White, black, and yellow are all good in this regard.

Resource tokens are the same double-sided format of Le Havre, with the tokens themselves being thick and functional, with illustrations that are generally equal to or better than those seen in Le Havre. I was satisfied with them in Le Havre and I am satisfied with them here. It can be a little difficult to tell across the table how many resources your opponents have, but this is no different in this game than it is in any other game that features a large number of resource tokens.

Interaction and Mechanics
Structurally, Ora et Labora is fairly simple. Each player has three workers (two monks and one prior). On their turn, they take a single action, which may use one of their workers, one of another player's workers, or no worker at all. The available actions are pretty much what you would expect for this sort of game: constructing buildings, gathering resources in two different ways, and using buildings. Players may also spend no action to turn grain into straw (important for constructing buildings), turn 5 1 coin resources into a 5 coin resource, or buy additional land. Workers stay in their placed location until the beginning of a round when all three workers are on the board; at that point they all become available again.

The construct a building action is special in that it is a gateway for getting bonus actions. During a normal three player game of Ora et Labora, a given player receives thirty three of the basic actions noted above. When constructing a building if a player has their prior available, they are able to immediately place it on their newly constructed building, activating it immediately and thus generating a bonus action. This has interesting implications in how players select and use their actions, since it is so beneficial to get these extra building activations out of the Prior. Frequently it will be worthwhile for a player to take an action that might not be immediately useful if it allows that player to get their abbot back more quickly and thus get more bonus actions. This also causes them to have more workers tied up and used at any given time, making it so that other players have fewer options when paying to use other player’s buildings. This dance of workers and its implication on other player’s actions provides a large amount of the interaction-based decision space in the game, with players having to not only consider which spot they want but also how it impacts the building flow and action selection of all the other players. When you combine this dance with the race for limited resource and special abilities (buildings/major improvements) that you find in Agricola or Le Havre, it is as interactive as any of Rosenberg’s recent titles.

The Spatial Element
One of the things that stood out about Agricola was how well a player was doing in a game was reflected in how their farm looked. As the player advanced their position in the game, this was reflected in the appearance of their farm, as a small two room wooden house gradually expanded to a larger and more structure, and empty land was filled with fields imbued with grain and vegetables and pastures brimming with animals. The exact placement of fields, pastures, and rooms were important, but ultimately there were few decisions here after the optimal placement for these items was identified. Agricola: Farmer’s of the Moor added a few more decisions to farmyard placement by putting in forest and moor spaces that can be removed for resources but also constrict placement of typical farmyard spaces until that occurred. I found this to be an improvement as it made it so that there were still decisions in building your farm even after you identified what the optimal placements were. Le Havre did away with the spatial component. While players constructed buildings, it was not relevant where they were placed, only who owned them.



Ora et Labora is the most spatially oriented of Uwe Rosenberg’s recent games. It takes the forest and moor spaces from Agricola: Farmers of the Moor and make them an integral part of the resource collection process while also constraining building and settlement placement until after they are removed. It also adds the ability to purchase additional land tiles and makes it so that the terrain on this land impacts which buildings can be built. One of the two different included scenarios, France, also includes buildings that give benefits based on other, adjacent buildings. Finally, it introduces settlements making it so where you construct things is very important.

Rather than having the feeding phases that were logically included in Agricola and illogically included in Le Havre, Ora et Labora has settlement phases. During each of these phases a player may select from among their available settlement cards, paying some combination of food and fuel based on the particular settlement, and places it on the board. At the end of the game each settlement scores points based on both its victory point value and its settlement value, which is defined by the settlement itself and the settlement value of all adjacent buildings.


A significant number of the buildings are yellow-tinged cloister, buildings, which may only be built next to other cloister buildings. These are generally valuable, both for their points and special abilities, and it can be painful to accidentally box yourself in from constructing any more.

This combination of settlements and terrain means that players have to make a number of interesting spatial decisions. Particularly as the settlement phase approaches, players will scramble to ensure that just the right place is available for settlement placement, as it is fairly punishing to miss a settlement phase. While it is possible to place additional settlements using a late-game building, you want to use that building to expand your number of played settlements, not catch up with everyone else.

Goods
Like Le Havre, much of Ora et Labora’s focus is on taking successive actions to turn regular goods into more advanced goods. In Le Havre goods came in three main varieties: those that were used for construction, those that were used for food, and those that were used for energy. There were items in all of these categories that were useful for late game shipping for victory points, and a major part of the game was constructing or controlling the buildings that allowed for access to more advanced goods, creating the ships used to make these conversions, and taking the action that allow this conversion to occur. As a result of this reliance on advanced goods to construct late game items, there were frequent situations were accruing basic goods would be ignored for a long time as it was no longer worth the action to take them, no matter how big they would get. However, there still would be occasions where some particular pile would become valuable to a player later in the game, so continuing to build the piles would still be necessary, just so that an accurate amount would be present for these situations.

Ora et Labora is different. The basic construction goods, wood, clay, stone, and straw, are used throughout the game and are thus valuable throughout the game. There is no point where any individual resource becomes worthless for the purpose of building. Resource conversions are largely focused on creating items that produce more food or fuel, or simultaneously provide victory points and serve as the basis for producing the most valuable victory point item in the game: wonders. Because of the difference in purpose between basic and advanced goods, all goods retain value throughout the game, and each one’s particular value depends on a player’s strategy and particular position. I find this to be a definite improvement as it adds to the breadth of decisions in the game, since actually having to consider, rather than largely ignore, late game goods results in an even broader decision space.

Interplay Variability and Strategic Scope
Certain people have claimed that the lack of randomness in Ora et Labora’s set-up or play and relatively low level of interaction would result in game with low levels of interplay variability. Now that I have played Ora et Labora a bit I can say that this foolish, misguided person is probably wrong, as the sheer breadth of Ora et Labora’s decision tree is sufficient to ensure that there is enough going on to allow for many repeat plays. The breadth is such that I would assert that Ora et Labora has a greater degree of interplay variability than Le Havre, though perhaps not as much as Agricola.

Both Agricola and Le Havre have been criticized for the limitations they impose on the overall strategic decisions players may make. Agricola has been criticized for the inability to achieve true specialization in a particular style of farming due to how the scoring system rewards having a bit of everything. Of course, these critiques ignore the difficulty in getting maximum points in all categories and points gained from building improvements or, in the case of Farmers of the Moor, breeding horses. Le Havre, while not having the enforced generalization of Agricola, is noteworthy in the primacy of steel and coke in setting the tempo for the late game. Le Havre technically has three primary areas of scoring, buildings, shipping, and boats, but getting access to the big scoring opportunities for these areas largely requires control of coke and steel or at least ensuring that all players maintain a balance in the pursuit of coke and steel while other scoring opportunities are sought. This is so overwhelming that even early decisions frequently end up being focused on setting oneself up for these late game scoring opportunities and key buildings related to them such as the shipping line or colliery.



Victory points in Ora et Labora are gained through a combination of buildings, settlements, and victory point goods. There is some overlap in how you get points from these items. In order to create the advanced goods, you mostly have to convert materials that could have been used for buildings, while in order to get lots of points for settlements you have to construct buildings adjacent to them. Ideally you will get a large number of victory points in each category but with a limited number of actions, and access to buildings that is limited by pawn placement and what is actually built, the actual victory points earned will depend a lot on a player’s decisions and the developing game state.

With three players, the quantity of buildings in Ora et Labora is such that there will always be a reasonably large number that do not enter the game. Since each building is an essential part of a different strategy, the lack of a single building has numerous implications on how the game develops. Even with the same set of buildings in the game, the timing of when the buildings enter the game also has an impact on the game, as do the numerous other little decisions that create little butterfly effects across the breadth of the game’s decision space.

This effect is even more pronounced when taking a look at the available late game buildings. Once you hit eras C and D, there are numerous ways to set oneself up for big late game scoring opportunities. Those that are built, both by yourself and by your compatriots define what a given game’s major scoring opportunities will be. So even if there are lots of different ways to get to a winning position, these opportunities do not eliminate the tension from the game. Instead they provide new means to influence what your opponents are able to do in the game. If you are able to take advantage of their buildings more effectively then they can take advantage of yours, you are likely to be in a good position when moving into the end game.

A Study In Theme
While theme is not the most important aspect of my gaming interests, I do appreciate games that have tight themes, where most items in the game make thematic sense and you can feel the theme permeating through the game both in both obvious and subtle ways. Ora et Labora is a game with a tight theme. The functions of buildings largely make thematic sense, and even those that don’t have direct a connection to the building’s name and historic function become a bit clear once you think about them. Similarly, the game encourages thematic building patterns through the use of settlement values. Buildings that would have been valued near places where individuals worked or lived are given high settlement values while other, such as the slaughterhouse, have ones that are low enough that you try to build them as far from inhabited areas as possible. Tidbits like this are scattered throughout the game, and I have greatly enjoyed discovering them while playing the game. I expect to find even more of them once I start playing with the English version of the game.

France and Ireland
Ora et Labora comes with two different scenarios: France and Ireland. Each one has a largely different set of buildings, with a few necessary buildings existing in both versions of the game, and a different set of unique resources; hops, ale, and whiskey in Ireland, and grapes, wine, flour, and bread in France. These resources vary in both difficulty of acquisition as well as impact. The French resources are easier to acquire but are also less valuable; bread provides less food than ale, while wine provides less victory points than whiskey. This creates a rather different experience between them as the particular habits you can develop in one of the scenarios will prove to be counterproductive in the others.

The style of buildings also varies between the two scenarios. French buildings have more that manipulate workers and game state, while Irish ones are a bit more straightforward. I suspect that I will eventually prefer France more because of this, as it feels like there are slightly more opportunities for clever play. I also anticipate that there is room for even more buildings built around various fun shenanigans with the release of further expansions. Hopefully Ora et Labora does well enough to make an expansions of this sort a possibility.

Conclusion
It is hard to deny that Ora et Labora and Le Havre have strong parallels. They have some strong stylistic similarities, particularly in the way each player’s turn maps to a single action and how both games are focused on constructing buildings that allow for increasingly sophisticated resource conversions. Whether I can recommend this game to you depends entirely on your reaction to this style of game. If you found Le Havre to be an interesting but flawed game and would be interesting to explore further games of the same style or if you love Le Havre and would like to explore a game that is similar at the core but has a lot of differences that I can definitely recommend it. If you like Le Havre but value having lots of very different games in your collection then you can probably pass on it. If you dislike Le Havre and most of Uwe Rosenberg’s designs then you can definitely avoid Ora et Labora, though I do wonder how you got all of the way through this review.

I, personally, am quite enraptured with Ora et Labora and now that I have played it a handful of times, it has moved from a game that I was cautiously optimistic about to one that is a strong contender for my game of the year. The source of my increasing disillusionment with Le Havre has been further clarified by my plays of Ora et Labora, which resolves all of my issues with Le Havre, while also providing an entirely new gaming environment to explore. I enjoy it so much that it has already rocketed into my Top 10. If it continues to perform in future plays as it has for the first five I could see it joining Agricola and Race For the Galaxy as one of my 10s. It is very good and may very well be great. While I find it perfectly acceptable for it to be very good, this potential for greatness has me very excited about its impending release, as I expect a very interesting 2012 delving into this games depths to find out which, exactly, it is.
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Loren Cadelinia
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Thank you for the Agricola/Le Havre comparisons. I found it very helpful as I do enjoy both games very much.
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M T
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Great review! Very helpful summery. I absolutely love Le Havre, so I certainly want to try this now.
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John Rogers
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Hey Jesse,

Great review. thumbsupthumbsup

Rosenberg's style is generally not for me; however, my best gaming bud LOVES Agricola and I'm interested in possibly getting him Ora et Labora as a gift.

My only reservation is the type of player interaction so common in Rosenberg games. You say that the level of interaction in Ora et Labora is comparable to Uwe's other titles; however, I find his games to have, at best, indirect interaction. An example would be blocking another player out of action in Agricola, a move I make not to intentionally block but rather to take the best action for me. This is the closest thing to interaction in an otherwise largely solitaire affair.

Is this indirect style of interaction what you're referring to or is there something more in Ora et Labora?

Thanks.

John
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Curt Carpenter
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Do you think it would be reasonable to remove one building randomly for variety?
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Chris Linneman
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curtc wrote:
Do you think it would be reasonable to remove one building randomly for variety?


I think it's possible, but unnecessary. As Jesse mentioned, you don't end up building a good number of the buildings in a 3p game. The buildings the players choose to build create the variability.

Also, I think removing the building randomly could be problematic as some buildings are more 'necessary' to the proper development of the game than others. For example, removing the Quarry (and thus making stone very hard to come by) might warp the game a bit too much.
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Grand Prince Poutine Lord High Thrifter
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A very fine review. I congratulate you and thank you for it.
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Mathue Faulk
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Excellent review! I had bumped this from my pre-order list for Eclipse, but your review has me thinking about sticking Ora on there as well....

Are most of your plays based off of the short or long games? And will it feel incomplete if we stick to the short game? Any comparisons in game length relative to Le Havre and Agricola?

Also, while At the Gates of Loyang was released after Le Havre and Agricola, it was actually developed prior to the other two games. So, Uwe really only developed one poorly (?) received game since the big two.

Thanks for the great review!

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Maciej Teległow
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My only but major problem with Le Havre was that there were so little opportunities for getting high score in the game. You had to focus on coke and steel. If Ora has not this problem and if you can play it in many different ways I am sure I would love it.
How long does the three players full game play ?
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Re: The Return of Uwe Rosenbergf
Thank you for the extensive review. With the low buzz on Merkator, I'm hoping this one will turn out good. I love Le havre and I'll definetly try this one out (once available at at my FLGS) as per suggested.

Your close comparison between this and Le Havre made me believe this will be a hit for me. I just wish it can support up to five players like Le havre does. Hopefully there's not much rule difference/change in the solo play, like Le Havre (too much in Agricola, thus making the experience different).

Again, thanks for the review.
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Jesse Dean
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John Rogers wrote:

Is this indirect style of interaction what you're referring to or is there something more in Ora et Labora?


Yes, if you feel that Le Havre and Agricola only have in direct interaction than Ora et Labora is not going to change your mind. It is the same style, you go on buildings other people want, you access shared resources before other people like, etc. This does not bother me, because I can feel the tension and pressure from this style of interaction just as much as I can the other style, but this one is definitely in the same family as his other big games. If that was your big problem with those, then you will also find Ora et Labora to be unsatisfying.
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Jesse Dean
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curtc wrote:
Do you think it would be reasonable to remove one building randomly for variety?


I essentially agree with what Chris said. It is very easy to do so, but I don't see a point in bothering. That idea my prove useful after 100+ plays, but there is so much to the game I don't see a point at this time. At the very least you should try playing the game without the removal until you have a good grasp on it (maybe 5-10 plays in?) and then decide if that removal is needed for your continued enjoyment.
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Jesse Dean
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mfaulk80 wrote:

Are most of your plays based off of the short or long games? And will it feel incomplete if we stick to the short game? Any comparisons in game length relative to Le Havre and Agricola?


All of my games were on the long game and, with the exception of our 4 player game, all of our games were 90 minute to 2 hour affairs.

The short game for Ora et Labora may be worthwhile, but I doubt I would ever play it. Even after 40 plays, I still have never tried out Le Havre's short game, and I think I've played Agricola without the cards only once.
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Jesse Dean
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MacTele wrote:
My only but major problem with Le Havre was that there were so little opportunities for getting high score in the game. You had to focus on coke and steel. If Ora has not this problem and if you can play it in many different ways I am sure I would love it.
How long does the three players full game play ?


From what I can tell five plays in, this is not the case. It is very helpful to get wonders, for example, but there are at least two worthwhile paths to get wonders in each scenario and other ways to make up the equivalent (or more!) bonus points that you would have gotten from wonders through things like building additional settlements that I think on the whole Ora lacks the stranglehold that largely defined Le Havre.
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Phil Campbell
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Thanks for a really interesting review.

Your conclusion focused on how the game compares to Le Harve (which I haven't played) and I'd be interested to hear how you think it compares to Agricola (which I have).

Thanks.
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
but it has harvested some of the better ideas of each

I see what you did there.

Nice review. Thanks for the thoughtful and comprehensive comparison to some of Rosenberg's other heavy hitters. The theme for Le Havre never seemed like a good fit for my household, so I have high hopes for Ora et Labora.

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John Rogers
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
John Rogers wrote:

Is this indirect style of interaction what you're referring to or is there something more in Ora et Labora?


Yes, if you feel that Le Havre and Agricola only have in direct interaction than Ora et Labora is not going to change your mind. It is the same style, you go on buildings other people want, you access shared resources before other people like, etc. This does not bother me, because I can feel the tension and pressure from this style of interaction just as much as I can the other style, but this one is definitely in the same family as his other big games. If that was your big problem with those, then you will also find Ora et Labora to be unsatisfying.


Thanks Jesse.

I feel that Uwe's titles would translate well to the computer where set-up, maintenance, and tear-down could be streamlined and playing time reduced. With the interaction so indirect I really don't need others in the room; I don't believe this to be bad, it just isn't my cup of tea.
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
John Rogers wrote:

Is this indirect style of interaction what you're referring to or is there something more in Ora et Labora?


Yes, if you feel that Le Havre and Agricola only have in direct interaction than Ora et Labora is not going to change your mind. It is the same style, you go on buildings other people want, you access shared resources before other people like, etc. This does not bother me, because I can feel the tension and pressure from this style of interaction just as much as I can the other style, but this one is definitely in the same family as his other big games. If that was your big problem with those, then you will also find Ora et Labora to be unsatisfying.


The interaction with other players' workers is a small step above anything I see in Le Havre/Agricola. In addition to having to worry about a building being occupied on your turn, there's also the matter of someone using your last worker at an inconvenient time (i.e. when you still have an action remaining in the round).

It's not someone stealing your resources or anything like that, but it's definitely something that needs to be prepared for.
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Kelly Fischer
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Great review, thanks for sharing.
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Vital Lacerda
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As always, great review, Jesse.
Now that I played Urban Sprawl 4 times and completely agree with your review(s) I'm hopping to see that you are also right about the new Rosemberg, especially this one being so close to one of my ever favorites. Now I'm eager to try this out.
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Marc Mistiaen
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What a review should be: not a components description and rehash of the rulebook, but insight, reasoning and argued opinions. I expected as much as per your blog.
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Jesse Dean
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Vital, you are going to like this one, I can almost guarantee it. I can't wait to see CO2!
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Very well written review. I liked it enough to subscribe to your blog.
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Daniel Kearns
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mfaulk80 wrote:

Also, while At the Gates of Loyang was released after Le Havre and Agricola, it was actually developed prior to the other two games. So, Uwe really only developed one poorly (?) received game since the big two.


Just wanted to say that Loyang is currently ranked 128 overall on the site, so really not too "poorly received" unless by that you meant "also really really well received but only slightly less so than the chart-topping Agricola and Le Havre".

Also, I love At the Gates of Loyang and I don't care who knows it!!!!
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Jon
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
curtc wrote:
Do you think it would be reasonable to remove one building randomly for variety?


I essentially agree with what Chris said. It is very easy to do so, but I don't see a point in bothering. That idea my prove useful after 100+ plays, but there is so much to the game I don't see a point at this time. At the very least you should try playing the game without the removal until you have a good grasp on it (maybe 5-10 plays in?) and then decide if that removal is needed for your continued enjoyment.


I'm mildly curious about the opposite. What if a random building (probably from a specific subset) was put into play at the beginning of the game? I'm not sure if that would work, as I don't think there is an equivalent to a building not being owned by a player in Ora et Labora, right?

The Le Havre equivalent would be to start a building (either one of the main set, like the Shipping Line, or a Special Building) to be owned by the town along with the constuction buildings, with possibly a collary rule that this building would have to stay owned by the town throughout the game (so it could be used by anyone but not bought).

This is just a thought experiment though. I suspect by the time I got in the 100+ plays there would be some official expansion. I'm not even close to being bored by Le Havre or Agricola yet.

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