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Subject: A GFBR Review: Too early to call it a classic? rss

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GeekInsight
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I’ve enjoyed a number of games from the fine folks at Tasty Minstrel, so I went about acquiring one of their earlier games, Homesteaders. Homesteaders brings an interesting mix of auctions, resource management, and indirect competition for buildings – the resource engines. Further, in my plays I’ve noticed several distinct long term strategies any of which might result in a win.

The Basics. Resource management is the name of the game. Players must produce or trade (with the game, not with each other) for what they need to achieve the most points at game end. Each player starts with a Homestead that can produce wood if stocked with a cowboy. Each turn, the players collect income, pay their employed cowboys, and then proceed to auction to add more buildings to their settlements.

The auction phase is a critical component of the game. Lots will come up for auction semi-randomly. If a player wins the auction for a “commercial” lot, then he may build a commercial building. If he wins an “Industrial” lot, then he can only build an industrial building. Based on the available buildings, and the individual strategies of the players, the value of the lots can differ.

At auction, a player places his cube on a bid space (starting as low as $3). From there, another player can outbid by placing on the $4 space and so on. The increments jump higher as the bidding goes up. But, there will be multiple lots to bid on. So if a player gets outbid on the lot he really wanted, he can always go to the next lot and bid there instead.

There will be fewer lots than players, so each round at least one player will not add to his settlement. This means he will get to save some resources for the next round, and he also gets a consolation prize represented by the track on the bottom of the board. Judicious use of your funds is key to the game. Interestingly, unlike other auction games, bidding up an opponent can be very risky. There is more than one auction and the opportunity exists to merely move to another lot rather than compete in a bidding war with you.

Once the buildings are selected and built, the process starts again. But, rather than have a random assortment of buildings, the game has a built-in throttle for development. For the first four rounds, only “Settlement” level cards are available. These are highly useful, yet comparatively weak. The following four rounds allow “Town” buildings, which can be the core of any good strategy. The final two rounds have “City” buildings which are generally ways to earn bonus points at game end.

Along the way, points are earned for buildings, by building functions, for trades, and a slew of bonuses is available. All resources and points are kept hidden, so the final reveal can sometimes be surprising.

The Feel. Frankly, when I first played this game, I got this sense of playing Puerto Rico. The games are completely dissimilar, so I’m not saying that your love or hate for that game will translate to Homesteaders. But when I play Puerto Rico, I know that I’m playing a classic. A game that has withstood countless plays and yet still retains fun and staying power. Homesteaders is the same. It feels like a game that had untold hours of playtesting and one that will not quickly lose its luster.

The buildings are presented in a wide array and give rise to a host of effective combinations. Gold can be produced at one location, then traded in cleanly for points at another. And, despite the auction element, a “money only” strategy is rarely effective. Homesteaders is all about managing the various resources, with money being only one of seven.

The auctions are interactive and tight. The buildings are effective. And many of them can produce an income only when cowboys are assigned. Thus, players also have to manage their workforce – and paying for them. Players may take out loans from the bank, but they are negative points at the end of the game, and increase those negatives exponentially as more loans are taken and not paid off.

But, the greatest joy from this game is in acquiring the buildings and really getting your resource engine humming. This is definitely a euro style game and there are no “take that” elements or direct attacks. Instead, the game is all about efficiency and production.

The game does come with two negatives, though. The first is the components. While the resources and the tiles are fantastic, the game strangely uses very, very thin stock for the auction board and the punch outs were printed incorrectly. On many of the chits, the printing was off-set from the premarked punchboard which results in large white areas on the pieces. It’s quite strange to have these problems since, in other areas, the components are top notch. However, Homesteaders’ second printing purportedly fixes many of these errors.

The other area of concern, at least initially, is that the exact same buildings are available in every game. So, isn’t it possible to just secure a specific build order and “solve” the game? While that was an initial concern, it isn’t nearly as bad as it might appear. If the perfect build order requires a specific building in round three, that lot may not come up then. Even if it does, your opponent may want it just as much as you and a bidding war could result that ultimately damages the efficacy of your engine. Still, if you rely on a favored strategy rather than doing what works best in the particular game, I could see it becoming artificially stale.

Components: 2 of 5. Though the resources and other items are fantastic, the poor quality in other areas really brings this area down. The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve. While I’m hoping the second printing corrects most if not all of this, I can only judge based on my first edition print.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Nearly every decision in the game is left to the players. And, while the order the lots go up for auction is semi-random, those lots are available to all. With the same choices available to all, luck isn’t a strong factor in influencing gameplay. And, with a variety of potential options, different strategies will emerge. At the end of each game, it definitely feels like you’ve won or lost based on your own decisions and not on the whim of the fates.

Mechanics: 5 of 5. This is where the game just shines. Shines I tell you! The game’s rules are only about four pages long. It can be taught in five to ten minutes. And the basic concepts of auctions and resource management are familiar even to non-gamers. That said, the strategies and tactics are rich and varied. Player choice is always at the forefront. Even as a good engine gets going, the players must use more cowboys to get the full benefit – which results in more cost and even tighter margins. The balancing act is fantastically engaging.

Replayability: 4 of 5. I’ve never turned down a game of Homesteaders when suggested by my gaming groups. The variety is amazing, especially in light of how it is achieved. Unlike a deck building game where the variety is established by using a small subset of the available whole, Homesteaders does it by making every building worthy of consideration in some strategy or another. Every building can be attractive to the player and I find myself constantly exploring new avenues.

Spite: 1 of 5. Spite is very low in Homesteaders. There is no “take that” element in the game, and nothing that can hurt another player’s buildings or points. In fact, the only real opportunity is during the auction round. As in any auction game, part of the game is to bid up the other players and make them pay more for what they want. Still, that tactic is more dangerous in Homesteaders since the player has alternative auctions to pursue in lieu of getting into a bidding war.

Overall: 4 of 5. This game is an excellent blend of the familiar. And it does so in a way that provides a lot of opportunities and several viable methods for earning victory points. While some of the bits in the first edition aren’t the best, they do not impact gameplay. Playing Homesteaders is both satisfying and enjoyable. While it lies well on the euro side of the euro/ameritrash divide, I can recommend it for any fans of euro style strategy.

(Originally posted, with pictures, on the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)
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Geoffrey Ulman
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MyParadox wrote:
The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve.


The second edition corrects all these problems in spades. It's a really high quality job for what I agree is an excellent, excellent game.

Also, you should put a link in at the bottom where you note that this is a cross post from your blog! I was intrigued by the name, and it's not that hard to type the name into Google, but still would be nice for the lazy among us
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Mathue Faulk
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ulmangt wrote:
MyParadox wrote:
The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve.


The second edition corrects all these problems in spades. It's a really high quality job for what I agree is an excellent, excellent game.


Agreed! The 2nd Edition components are outstanding! If you play Homesteaders enough, then I'd at least look into seeing if you can make some type of trade for it..

I really wish I could get this to the table more often. I think this game is severely underrated, but it's battling with a bunch of new games (most notably Eclipse and Ora et Labora)...

It's nice to see some new reviews on this game! (I hear there may be another big one this week...)

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Kevin B. Smith
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MyParadox wrote:
The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve.

In a thread here on BGG, Alex (the designer) said the wobbly screens were a feature, not a bug, because it adds the constant threat to the game that the screen might tip over and reveal what you were planning. I assume he was joking, but it's a fun idea.

Are the screens actually stable in the 2nd edition?
 
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Mathue Faulk
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peakhope wrote:
MyParadox wrote:
The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve.

In a thread here on BGG, Alex (the designer) said the wobbly screens were a feature, not a bug, because it adds the constant threat to the game that the screen might tip over and reveal what you were planning. I assume he was joking, but it's a fun idea.

Are the screens actually stable in the 2nd edition?


Yes, they're on nice, thick stock and significantly larger...


(also, if you browse the other photos posted by this user, then you'll see a few photos comparing the 1st and 2nd editions)
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The root of all evil... but you can call me cookie.
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ulmangt wrote:
MyParadox wrote:
The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve.


The second edition corrects all these problems in spades. It's a really high quality job for what I agree is an excellent, excellent game.


OK OK, the screens were small and some people's copies had offset printing...I still didn't mind 1st edition and the only reason I own 2nd edition now is because of the bundle deal TM did with Belfort and Jab. I then had 2 copies and offered a friend of mine his choice either 1st edition used or 2nd edition brand new in shrink. He's a lot like me and took 1st ed. leaving me with 2nd.

Still I like the board in 1st edition BETTER than the 2nd. The thin material gives it an almost leather like feel and added to the theme of the game immensely. My copy was only slightly offset and I just couldn't see where it mattered in any cases at all. It just bugs me when a really great game like this gets beat on for what gaming snobs feel are "sub-par" components.

On the subject of the game...I've owned the game since it first came out and it kind of grew cold but I started bringing it around again recently and taught it twice in the past month. Seems to be getting a great reception again.

FWIW you can switch out the little wooden rail markers with some of your spare Ticket to Ride trains in the appropriate color and also give the start player token a standee thing to add a couple easy micropimps to your copy of the game.
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Kenny VenOsdel
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mfaulk80 wrote:
peakhope wrote:
MyParadox wrote:
The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve.

In a thread here on BGG, Alex (the designer) said the wobbly screens were a feature, not a bug, because it adds the constant threat to the game that the screen might tip over and reveal what you were planning. I assume he was joking, but it's a fun idea.

Are the screens actually stable in the 2nd edition?


Yes, they're on nice, thick stock and significantly larger...


(also, if you browse the other photos posted by this user, then you'll see a few photos comparing the 1st and 2nd editions)


The new screens are awesome. When the talk of a second edition started that was the first thing I asked for. Or was it chicken meeples?
 
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Jeff Binning
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thoia wrote:
FWIW you can switch out the little wooden rail markers with some of your spare Ticket to Ride trains in the appropriate color and also give the start player token a standee thing to add a couple easy micropimps to your copy of the game.


My wife and I have been using the trains from Stephensons Rocket.




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Alex Rockwell
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peakhope wrote:
MyParadox wrote:
The thin auction board, wobbly player screens, and poor punch out prints all combine to give the game a shoddy feel that it doesn’t deserve.

In a thread here on BGG, Alex (the designer) said the wobbly screens were a feature, not a bug, because it adds the constant threat to the game that the screen might tip over and reveal what you were planning. I assume he was joking, but it's a fun idea.

Are the screens actually stable in the 2nd edition?


The second edition screens are awesome and sturdy.

The 1st edition screens are jokingly a 'feature', because they are just like our playtest screens, which would tend to tip over a couple times a game and reveal your stuff.
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Colorado_Jeff wrote:
thoia wrote:
FWIW you can switch out the little wooden rail markers with some of your spare Ticket to Ride trains in the appropriate color and also give the start player token a standee thing to add a couple easy micropimps to your copy of the game.


My wife and I have been using the trains from Stephensons Rocket.



Wow those do look great but 1. I don't have Stephenson's Rocket and 2. TtR gives you 2 extra trains in each base game in case you lose some so you got "extra's" anyway.

Here's what start guy looks like standing up BTW:

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I'll stick my neck out and say it, even though I don't think the provocative headline was addressed in the review text.

Yes its too early to be called a classic, and I'm not sure it will ever be a classic. Its a nice auction game, but honestly not that memorable other than being a nice auction game not by R.K.

For me, I've enjoyed games of it, but I put it in my "just ok" list. I'm not fond of the sprawl of the buildings, and I'm not fond of this style of auction mechanic.
 
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Mathue Faulk
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aaarg_ink wrote:
I'll stick my neck out and say it, even though I don't think the provocative headline was addressed in the review text.

Yes its too early to be called a classic, and I'm not sure it will ever be a classic. Its a nice auction game, but honestly not that memorable other than being a nice auction game not by R.K.

For me, I've enjoyed games of it, but I put it in my "just ok" list. I'm not fond of the sprawl of the buildings, and I'm not fond of this style of auction mechanic.


I feel the same way about Puerto Rico, but that doesn't make it 'not a classic'...
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Justus
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mfaulk80 wrote:
aaarg_ink wrote:
I'll stick my neck out and say it, even though I don't think the provocative headline was addressed in the review text.

Yes its too early to be called a classic, and I'm not sure it will ever be a classic. Its a nice auction game, but honestly not that memorable other than being a nice auction game not by R.K.

For me, I've enjoyed games of it, but I put it in my "just ok" list. I'm not fond of the sprawl of the buildings, and I'm not fond of this style of auction mechanic.


I feel the same way about Puerto Rico, but that doesn't make it 'not a classic'...


Well if I was to take personal opinion of the game out of it, then I would be even MORE strident to say its NOT a classic YET.

I should mention that I'm not fond of Goa, but I freely admit its a classic, though I wonder if being OOP for a while has helped its "classicness" by creating a scarcity to its aura.

Reinserting personal opinion in terms of prognosticating potential classic status in the future of Homesteaders, I can imagine it happening because it is a nice game. But I still don't think it is likely because I don't think it is particularly innovative or groundbreaking. Also I feel that it is caught in the middle of being more complex than one of the tight streamlined RK auction trilogy games, but not so complicated or different enough to be compared against a different set of games.
 
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