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Showdown: Reykholt vs. Loyang

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Two new Uwe Rosenberg games were released at Essen this year. Spring Meadow as the final game in his puzzle trilogy (Cottage Garden and Indian Summer) and Reykholt which is inspired by At the Gates of Loyang.

In this post, I’ll let Reykholt face its parent, At the Gates of Loyang, in mortal combat to determine which one is the better game (in my opinion). I’ve seen people write that they’re very different games, but I think that the mechanical similarities are significantly larger than the differences.

Let’s dive into why I think this is so and which of the two I prefer.

Context for this post

Before we go any further, it’s important that I note that I’ll only be discussing the two games from the perspective of a solo gamer and that what I write is of course my subjective opinion, not objective truth .

I have played Loyang about 20 times and Reykholt 7 times and in the first 3 Rekyholt plays I missed a rule that made the game impossible to win. Those numbers don’t reflect my opinion of the games, they reflect the fact that I’ve had Loyang for a few years and Reykholt for a couple of weeks.

I should add, that it’s been a while since I’ve played Loyang, so I could misremember some of the finer points. If you notice any errors, please post a comment to let me and other readers know.

Morten Points

As we all know the internationally accepted and highly scientific metric for comparing and ranking games that are similar to each other are Morten Points. In the unlikely case that you haven’t heard about them I’ll be kind enough to explain them to you .

When scoring Morten Points for two similar games, you go through all mechanisms where they’re comparable and assign a number of points to each depending on how well you (subjectively) think that each game does.

The number of points assigned for each mechanism being compared is scaled by the subjective importance of each the corresponding part of the game.

In the end you tally up the scores and declare a winner.

OK, OK, you’re right this scoring system is not the best way to compare two games, since it only factors in the individual points of comparison, not any other factors and little in the way of how the parts fit together to form a cohesive and fun game. That said it’s fun and it actually ends up reflecting my total opinion of the two games pretty well.

Theme

In At the Gates of Loyang you plant, harvest, and sell vegetables in China, while in Reykholt you plant, harvest, and give away vegetables on Iceland.

You could basically swap the names and the art, and the themes would match the mechanisms equally well. That’s not to say that the games are theme-less, not at all, I quite like the games thematically. Instead I’m saying that thematically the two games are extremely similar.

That said, I do prefer the theme of Reykholt, but I think that’s solely down to the awesome art on the front of the box and rulebook. I’ll give 3 points to Reykholt and 2 points to Loyang.

Reykholt 3 – 2 Loyang

Out of the gate, Reykholt is taking the lead, but there’s still a long way to the finish line .

The Loyang river

Before we get to the mechanical similarities I’ll talk about a major difference: A core part of Loyang is buying cards. In the multiplayer game the offer of cards is shared between players, so another player can snatch away the card you want if you’re too slow in buying it. In solo that interaction is replaced by a semi-random card system consisting of three a 3-column “river” each containing four cards that you can buy from.

Cards flow through these rivers and those at the bottom are removed each round and new ones are added to the top. The cards get cheaper towards the bottom, so there’s a trade-off between paying a high price to get it now or wait to buy it later – the latter carries the risk that it might flow out of the river before you buy it.

Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang

The 12 cards at the top is the Loyang river (image credit: ode).

I’m not going to score the games in this regard, since it’s only Loyang that has such a system. Instead the reason for including this section is to make some of the later sections easier to understand.

Fields and greenhouses

Planting and harvesting are done on fields in Loyang and Greenhouses in Reykholt, but that’s almost as far as the differences go and for convenience I’ll use the word field, when I’m talking about both at the same time.

Board Game: Reykholt
Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang

Reykholt greenhouses on the left with prototype components (image credit: Patrick Meyer). Loyang’s fields on the right (image credit: J J).

In both:
1) Each field has a number of spaces.
2) You can seed one of your vegetables on a field and then fill up all other spaces on that field with the same kind of vegetable from the supply.
3) There’s an inverse relationship between the value of vegetables and the size of the fields they can be on, so in both games the most valuable vegetables can only be on the smallest fields and the least valuables one can be on fields of any size.
4) You can harvest a field and do so by taking one vegetable from the field to your supply.
5) You harvest each field once per round and can do it additional times using various actions.
6) You gain one random field each turn and can purchase more.

So, the fields and the greenhouses are mechanically almost identical.

There are two differences in this regard, though:

1) Loyang’s fields disappear when you harvest the last vegetable, while the Reykholt greenhouses stick around, but you can sell them for VP. I think that Reykholt’s approach gives more thematic sense, but gameplay-wise both lead to interesting gameplay.

2) In Loyang I tend to buy more fields (as cards from the river) than I do in Reykholt and this widens the number of interesting decisions and allows for more varied strategies.

This leads to award Reykholt 4 points and Loyang 6.

Reykholt 7 – 8 Loyang

Action selection

Both games are action selection games at their core. Each give you a number of actions to choose between. Loyang allows you to take as many actions per round as you can afford (with one exception) while in Reykholt you can to only take each action once every second turn and you take exactly 3 actions per round (it’s using the same 2-color worker placement system as A Feast for Odin and Nusfjord). Because of this system and because the game is only five rounds in solo you can at most take an action 3 timess.

Thus, there’s a larger degree of freedom in Loyang and wider decision space, while Reykholt has a more puzzly feel. I prefer the former and score the two games 3 – 7 here which makes Loyang catch up and overtake Reykholt.

Reykholt 10 – 15 Loyang

Special ability cards

Reykholt has a set of service cards each with a special ability. Three of them are randomly selected for each game and are available from the beginning. You get them by taking a specific action and this additionally gives you a vegetable. Because of action spaces being blocked for an additional round, the fastest you can get the service cards are one for each of rounds 1, 3, and 5, which means that you will only be able to use the last one for one turn.

Loyang has a set of helper cards each with a special ability. A number of them will become available at random times via the river system during the game and you can pay money to get them.

So, the games are similar in this regard, but more will normally be available for purchase in Loyang than in Reykholt, which allows for a wider range of strategic options. I see this as a huge plus for Loyang. On the other hand, Reykholt has more special ability cards than Loyang and since you only see 3 each game, it’ll take you an order of magnitude longer to see all the card in Reykholt.

For me Loyang wins this one and it gets 6 points while Reykholt gets 3.

Reykholt 13 – 21 Loyang

Story mode

Reykholt has a story mode (a campaign) built in that you can play after you have grokked the game. It consists of a series of five scenarios that each adds a twist to the game as well as an event deck from which you turn over one card per round. These event cards can for example make you lose or gain a specific vegetable and sometimes they won’t have an effect because of the current game state.

I think that this is a first for an Uwe game and I it’s a nice improvement to an otherwise pretty static game. It’s important to say that I’ve only played the first scenario and I don’t want to spoil the others by reading them ahead of time, so my ability to evaluate it is limited.

I won’t score this part of the game separately but will instead roll it into a later section like I did with Loyang’s river mechanism.

Scoring tracks

Your goal in both games are to advance as far as possible along a victory point scoring track. Each has you paying a gradually increasing cost per space you advance, each enables you to pay to advance as many spaces as you want to, and each gives you one free advance per round.

Board Game: Reykholt
Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang

The Reykholt scoring track (on the left, prototype components) are a line of tables going around the edges of the board (image credit: Patrick Meyer). Loyang’s scoring track on the right (image credit: Steve Duff).

In both games your score is basically the number of spaces you’ve advanced plus a secondary score equal to the how many vegetables/coins you have towards advancing to the next space.

Loyang is a beat your own high score game while Reykholt has an additional win-lose criterion. That criterion is simply: Did you reach space X? Which is extremely simple, but it’s still an improvement for me. I know that I could simply set a win-lose scoring criterion for myself in Loyang, but such a goal doesn’t feel nearly as satisfying as one set by the designer (yes, I know this is silly).

Because of this I’ll give Reykholt 3 points and Loyang 2, but the difference is not enough to catch up.

Reykholt 16 – 23 Loyang

Advancing along the scoring tracks

While the core ideas of the scoring tracks are identical, there’s a significant difference in how you advance along them: In Reykholt each space has a cost in a specific vegetable and the free advance is not only free it also gives you the vegetables that would otherwise be the cost of the space.

The costs are the same fixed sequence each game: 1 tomato, 1 lettuce, 1 mushroom, 1 cauliflower, and 1 carrot in that order, followed by 2, 3, 4, 5, ... of each) and you can skip 1 step for each of the five rounds. The goal is to advance at least 21 spaces.

Loyang, on the other hand, has an advancement cost in money (1, 2, 3, ... 20). Money can be gained from any vegetable and the free advance doesn’t give you anything beyond advancing.

The difference might not sound like a big deal and Loyang’s system where all spaces have a cost in money might sound samey compared to Reykolt’s alternating vegetable costs. Nothing could be further from the truth, though.

Since the Reykholt scoring track costs are a fixed alternating sequence of vegetables you’re basically forced to produce all five types of vegetables and do so in a somewhat specific order. You do have the free advance each turn and one other mechanism to change this up a bit.

In the multiplayer game, there’s interaction between players where you can use the positions of other players to skip spaces that you’d otherwise have to pay for and it looks like the solo mode loses that in translation.

Loyang on the other hand gives you a lot of freedom, because any vegetable can be converted to money by buying customer cards from the card river and then selling vegetables to those customers. These customers do have constraints in which vegetables they’ll buy, but they’re not as constrained as in Reykholt and you can choose which to buy. This means that you have a wider decision space, and it can be a viable strategy to focus on a few vegetable types and it can be a viable strategy to spread out your production. Thus, there’s more variation and freedom in the strategies you can use.

To me this is a huge point in favor of Loyang and the factor I think is the most important one for the fun of the games. Reykholt’s story mode diminishes the difference a bit, but there’s still a wide gap. Therefore, I’ll give Loyang 12 points and Reykholt 6.

Reykholt 22 – 35 Loyang

Brain burn

Both games are brain burners where you can and must think multiple actions in advance and to a significant extent they have a feel of of being combinatorial puzzles, but Reykholt is more so than Loyang.

Each reykholt round makes you run through many steps in advance before you actually do anything. E.g. I can use my tomato to pay to advance the first step, then if I do X I can advance the next, then I can use the free advance to move the next space forward, which will help me advance to the space 5 steps ahead in the next round, in between I’ll do action Y to pay for the next seed lettuce that’ll help me advance 5 steps ahead from there and then [... multiple extra steps]. OK, now let’s try to roll that back 3 steps and instead do Z etc. ...

The reason that I do this more in Reykholt is the alternating vegetable costs, the static nature of the game and the higher number of advancements you have to do in a lower number of rounds as well as the constrained decision space all of which makes it possible and required to think very far ahead if I want to win (at least it does for me).

For me Reykholt goes too far in this direction and so I’ll award it 3 points and Loyang 5 points and Loyang now has a significant lead.

Reykholt 25 – 40 Loyang

Rule complexity

Ruleswise Reykholt is a light game, not Carcasonne light, but quick and easy to learn for core gamers (well, OK, I did miss one mayor rule, but that’s on me as it was clearly spelled out in the rulebook). Loyang is a far cry from being rules heavy, but it is a more complex game and took me longer time to learn.

Therefore, Reykholt was quicker to get the table the first time and will be quicker to get back to the table again after having it packed away for a while. For someone as me who have limited spare time this is a point in favor of Reykholt scoring them 5-3 in Reykholt’s favor.

Reykholt 29 – 43 Loyang

Playing time

I haven’t timed myself playing the two games and as mentioned it’s been a while since I played Loyang, but my best guess is that it takes me 20-25 minutes to play Reykholt and roughly double that for Loyang.

As mentioned above I’m often spare time constrained and it’s hard for me to get games to the table and so a short playing is a big benefit for me, since that’ll make it much easier for me to actually play the darn thing.

When evaluating playtime independently of the amount of fun had during that time, I’ll count this one in favor of Reykholt and give it 5 points vs. 3 for Loyang, thus further shortening Loyang’s lead, but there’s still a long way up.

Reykholt 35 – 46 Loyang

In game time

Now, a short playing time is a good thing, but the advantage of the longer playing times is that you have more time to build an engine and progress through the game in Loyang and to me that’s a big advantage.

In Reykholt, you only have 5 rounds and 15 actions and so you can quickly get to a point, where it no longer makes sense to get new green houses, seed fields, or buy special ability cards. This leaves me a bit frustrated feeling that the engine building ends too soon and I’m saying that as someone who thinks that an engine builder should stop before the engine becomes too powerful, but 15 actions are simply too few for me.

A game of Loyang might give you twice the number of actions – probably more (my memory is fuzzy on this one), which let’s you do more engine building and allows multiple long-term strategies.

Because of this I’ll award Loyang 8 points and Reykholt 4.

Reykholt 39 – Loyang 54

Price

The publisher of Loyang, Tasty Minstrel Games, lists the MSRP as $59.95 while Renegade Game Studios, the publisher of Reykholt, lists that game’s MSRP as $60. I’ll be generous towards Renegade and declare this one a wash and award each game 2 points.

Reykholt 41 – 56 Loyang

Conclusion

It should be clear that I prefer Loyang, but then again it has always been my favorite Uwe game for solo and I put it as number 6 on my top list of solo games out of roughly 150 so using that as the basis of comparisons is a very high bar to set and I’m definitely not saying that Reykholt is a bad game, I’m saying that Loyang is an awesome solo game.

Which one you’ll like the best will depend on whether or not you prefer the puzzly-think-many-steps-ahead feel (Reykholt is goes furthest on that point), how wide you want your decision space (Loyang is widest), how much development and engine building you want to do (Loyang has the most) and what rules-weight you prefer (Loyang is heaviest, but definitely not heavy).

As you’ve seen I prefer Loyang on the 3 of those 4 parameters that are most important to me and that is reflected in the final score and as a solo game I think that Loyang is simply the better.

As a multiplayer game, though, I think that Reykholt improves because of the scoring track interactions and an increase in the actions available as well as the number of rounds played.

Total scores in Morten Points: Reykholt 41 – 56 Loyang

I'll add that there's a promo available for Reykholt that adds a random one-shot action and while I haven't tried it out yet it looks like it would add a point to Reykholt's score.
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