Uwe Rosenberg Retrospective
Tony Hodge
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Uwe Rosenberg is my favorite designer. He designed my favorite game and I've played a large number of his games, the majority of which I have really enjoyed.

Despite having multiple games in the top 100, heck, he has multiple games in the top 10, it is popular to hate on poor Uwe. Especially Agricola. A game that was once number one probably receives more hate from the community than any other game.

A lot of his games share themes and mechanics. This has earned him a lot more criticism about rehashing the same game over and over again. I, personally, really enjoy worker placement and can love a game with a theme I don't care for or even one without any theme to speak of if it has incredibly engaging and clever mechanics. That is something Uwe almost always delivers on.

So, to proclaim my love for Uwe and defend him against the haters here is my completely biased, uninformative, personal opinion on all his titles I have played.
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1. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:372]
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Uwe's developer page has 11 pages of "related items". I'm only going to comment on just those I've played and I'm going to go in order of year published.

First up, we have Bohnanza. While Uwe designed games published before this one, Bohnanza is generally accepted at the game that put Uwe on the map. It was a Spiel des Jahres recommendation in 1997 and to this day is still popular enough to justify somewhere in the realm of 250 expansions per year.

Bohnanza is called such because Bohne in German means bean. What we have here is a game all about planting sets of beans for points. The mechanics here are all about hand management. You can play cards for yourself, trade them with other players, or even give them away. The reason you would want to just give cards away is because you can only plant the card at the "front" of your hand and you cannot change the order of cards in your hand. So this very clever little card game comes with it a lot of nuance. There is a lot of helping your opponents involved for the greater good of helping yourself more.

While this is the first popular Uwe Rosenberg title published it is far from the first one I've played. I played a few others before this and up until this point Uwe could do no wrong so I had to pick up the game that put him on the map. And I was disappointed.

This is my least favorite game from Uwe. I certainly can't fault it from a logic standpoint. I recognize that it is an incredibly clever and well designed game. I could hate on the randomness of card draws but that's really the point here isn't it, you need to corral that randomness in ways that work for you and sometimes they aren't always the prettiest solutions. I typically like games that present those kinds of hard choices. I could also claim that I typically like heavier weight games, which many of Uwe's titles are much heavier than this one, but I like lightweight games as well so that's not really it either.

In the end I think it just doesn't resonate with me. I didn't get enough out of it and just got bored playing Bohnanza. There are certainly decisions to be made and clever ways to play but I never found them rewarding and nothing here encouraged me to revisit it.

So in the end, great game but not for me and it was good to find a game that made Uwe really more of a lesser god in my eyes than one that could do no wrong.
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2. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:17]
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I've heard nothing but positive things about Bargain Hunter and Babel but those are big gaps in my Uwe Rosenberg experience. As it is, as much of a Uwe Rosenberg fanboy as I am, there is a decade between Bohnanza and the next game from Uwe Rosenberg I've played, 2007's Agricola.

This is my favorite game. Not my favorite Uwe Rosenberg game, my favorite game. This is at a time Uwe's most successful and popular game and now seems to be his most maligned. Literally any negative geeklist posted. "worst games", "overrated games", "boring games", you name it, will not go long without someone posting Agricola.

I think this is the perfect game and it is the only one. I have found something, no matter how minor, negative in every other game I've played. Agricola is the only one I can say I have never found a fault with. For those somehow unfamiliar with the mechanics this game is about the tumultuous life of a farmer. Each player runs a farm and each round will use their family members to improve their farm in some way from planting crops to raising livestock. The kicker is that at the end of certain rounds your family will need to eat to survive, actually you survive either way but if you can't feed your family you will need to beg for food which comes with a huge point penalty.

I love worker placement games. I think true worker placement is the easiest understood while most strategically and tactically deep mechanics you can build a game around. Especially in Agricola where many of the spaces accumulate goods across rounds. There are so many decision trees there, "do you take the goods you need now or risk it accumulating again next round?" "Do you take the goods your opponent needs desperately this turn even though you don't have a use for them?" "Do you go after what you need immediately or try not to advertise your strategy too heavily and risk waiting for it?"

The scoring in this game is brilliant as well, each category scores its own points. Number of pastures, number of each of the three animal types and two crop types, number of and quality of rooms, etc. Most of the categories also come with a point penalty if you don't have at least one by game end so the game forces you to diversify. This combined with the fact that most of the categories also have an upper limit means you can't pick one thing you do really well and just focus on that, you need to find ways to do other things as well.

This is the most replayable game I have ever experienced which is a huge factor for the love fest I'm putting on for this game. I'm cheap so I adore when you get a lot of bang for your buck from a game and no other game offers a different experience after each play than this one. This is mostly due to the minor improvement and occupation cards. Each game players will get 7, yes SEVEN, of each of these which give bonuses in tons of different areas from plowing, to baking, to raising animals, etc. I'm not going to comment on expansions in this list because there is too much but Agricola has released a dozen+ additional decks of these cards that you can incorporate into your game. I own them all and no game will ever present me with the same options.

Probably the most criticized mechanic in this game is the need to feed your family. It is difficult and stressful. You can grab an animal or crop and need to feed that to your family before you can breed or harvest it and get no return for your work. I, personally, adore the tension. It gives the game meaning and stakes and something to strive for rather than a leisurely game dropping piles of sheep and vegetables onto your player mat. But at the same time, I get it. People inherently don't like stress and tension, especially in a game which is meant for entertainment. But I could compare that to other forms of entertainment, people enjoy movies that scare and depress them because the experience is engaging. If it weren't for the dire need to feed your family I would ask, "what's the point?" You need some kind of challenge to overcome or else the experience is just masturbatory and empty.

This will be the longest comment I write but I really just don't get the hate this game has gotten and wanted to fight back at it. I really feel it is just a case of needing to bring the big guy down after enjoying such a long stint in the spotlight. This is an extraordinary and PERFECT game, cementing in my mind that Uwe Rosenberg is a genius of game design.
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3. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:38]
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This was the first Uwe Rosenberg game I played. Le Havre was published one year after Agricola with many similar mechanics, making it a member of the unofficial "Harvest series" from Uwe Rosenberg.

Le Havre is French for harbor and in this game each player is managing their own company's dealings at a city harbor. Each round a certain good is imported and the amount available to take of that good increases until a player claims it. Players will also purchase ships to export goods and buildings that do a variety of different things such as turning basic goods into advanced goods which have more utility and ship for larger rewards. There is also the need to feed your workers at certain round intervals in this game and there's even a small harvest and breeding mechanic where some of your goods will multiply themselves.

I certainly see the similar mechanics and themes in this game from Uwe's previous year's installment and we will see the same mechanics and themes show up again and again in future installments but I also find this to be a very different game than Agricola that offers a very different experience. In Le Havre feeding your family is a lot easier, also scoring points is now not based on diversity. In fact there are many that would call this game "solved" since there is a certain strategy that is incredibly successful.

The buildings in this game come in two different flavors, ones that are in every game and others that come from a deck and are distributed randomly each game. While not providing the same variability as something like Agricola this still offers quite a bit and the ability to play the game using different strategies each time and get a different experience.

Le Havre is a great game and a great followup to ride the high he was on after Agricola (although for me his high has yet to end). This game is still in the top 25 seven years later.
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4. Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:239]
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Once upon a time the Harvest series was the Harvest trilogy after the release of 2009's At the Gates of Loyang, another game with harvesting crops as a central element.

This is one of only two games from Uwe I don't adore, the other being Bohnanza which I actually dislike. This one I don't dislike but I don't really enjoy it either, I'm quite agnostic about it. In this game players are each managing a business of growing crops and fulfilling orders of those crops for customers that are looking for very specific combinations of the game's 6 crops.

While this is a member of the Harvest series and has harvesting crops as a central theme I think this is incredibly different from the previous year's entries into the series, Le Havre and Agricola, which had several similarities. At the Gates of Loyang is much more about building your own personal economy. Money is very tight in this game and not only do you find yourself having to choose between immediate returns or larger returns later on investments but this decision is made even more complicated by the fact that in this game you purchase your victory points with your earnings. And the earlier in the game you purchase those points the cheaper they are. This is a very clever and unique mechanic.

I think the reason it doesn't attract me as much as many other Uwe titles despite recognizing that it is a very tight, clever, original, and well designed game is the mostly solitaire play it presents. Except for the abilities of a very few helper cards there is almost no interaction between players in this game and I'm not a huge fan of multiplayer solitaire. With the worker placement of Agricola and Le Havre there is an inherent ability in those games to disrupt (and be disrupted by) your opponents. If I could get the same experience playing the game by myself as I would with others it's not for me. Like I said earlier as well there is less variety and variability in this game than Agricola and Le Havre but that's more just a comparison of Uwe's other excellent designs than an outright criticism of this one.
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5. Board Game: Merkator [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:824]
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In 2010, Uwe Rosenberg released this beautiful game. That's sarcasm of course, this game box is ugly and boring. But just like every parent tells their child when they're young, it's what's inside that counts and inside this really is a beautiful game.

Let's talk about that awful box for a little bit more first though. How bad is that? "Really bad" is the correct answer. All of the art in Uwe's games since Bohnanza has been cartoony and fun and this is a sleepy collection of browns. I actually first only played this game because a friend owned it already, I had no idea it was even a Uwe Rosenberg design because of how different it looks from his other titles. That looks like a box to a Martin Wallace game. ZING! SHOTS FIRED!

Anyway, not only does it look very different outside but it is a pretty different design from his other titles as well. This is a pretty tried and true pick up and deliver game. In the game players are moving around a map collecting resources and using those to complete orders for increasing point values. There are a couple of really novel things that makes this better than other standard fare pick up and deliver though. For one time is a resource in this game you have to carefully manage. Certain locations you travel to use more time and this accelerates the game end. If you are going to end the game you want to be sure you are the one winning and each player has hidden goal cards so you can't be sure what end of game points your opponents will get.

The other thing and the thing I like most about this game is the amount of resources. This game includes 8 different colored good cubes (that are stored in nifty little 3D chests) that each can represent one of two different goods. So this game has 16 different goods for you to manage. The way these goods are collected I think is very clever as well, when you pick up cubes you are picking up a color and assigning it to which good you want. It might immediately matter for an order but what if one of your opponents fulfills that order before you? Now you're stuck with a bunch of cubes of one good type that might no longer be needed.

I've already commented how I love variety and this really offers for some interesting decisions and a lot to manage which while it might seem overwhelming from explanation really isn't once you're in game. The pick up and deliver is reasonably basic so you can focus all your attention on managing the 16 different goods.

There is one more pretty unique mechanic that I also really enjoy and think makes for some more out-of-the-box thinking. Each player has a maximum number of liquid cash they can have at any one time. This needs to be considered constantly for two reasons. The first is that you need to constantly spend money so that you don't lose money when fulfilling orders if you go over this limit. The other is that you purchase point cards in this game and the late game point cards cost more than your 16 coin cash limit so you will need to fulfill orders the same turn just to afford those.

In the end this box cover does the game a great disservice, underneath is a really original, clever, and entertaining design far from the boring game the box suggests lurks behind it. Well worth a try.
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6. Board Game: Ora et Labora [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:90]
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This was the third game in MY Harvest trilogy. This was the third game from Uwe Rosenberg I played and we return to working the land. Ora et Labora from 2011 is latin of course for Pray and Work. And this time we are making booze!

Since I spent so long ranting about the awful box art for Merkator I think it is only fair that I mention the production issues here. This game contains somewhere in the vicinity of one million pieces and not a single one of them was properly punched. So many of the pieces in my copy of the game are now missing little slivers of art where they tore when trying to punch out the pieces. But that is besides the point, this is a great game.

From playing this game I discovered I suffer from an affliction called "Transformer Syndrome". When I play games I get a baseless enjoyment out of turning things into other things. If you, too, suffer from this affliction than this is your hard drug. Those one million pieces are all double-sided resource tokens. In this game players will be clearing land on their own personal player areas to build a ton of different buildings that will turn these resources into other resources. The better resources are used to build better buildings and many of the higher level resources simply score players points outright at game end. This is just another example of the variety and variability that comes in so many Uwe Rosenberg games that I absolutely adore.

There are some really neat and original mechanics in this game. The first is how the amount of basic resources available for collection is handled. There is one universal resource wheel with markers on it for the different resources. So one player taking all of a particular resource denies the other player that collection. The other is the contractor piece each player has. The buildings players build are action spaces. This is, in the end, another worker placement harvest game. Well each player has a contractor piece they can place on an opponent's space. You will need to pay that opponent a fee for using that space but it also denies use of that space for that opponent.

If you're like me and can't handle a bag full of jumbled together pieces this one can be quite a bear to set up and put away as I definitely need to sort and separate each type of piece. But for me it is worth it for a clever, variable, and engaging game. Another home run from Uwe.
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7. Board Game: Glass Road [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:208]
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After skipping 2012 Uwe got busy and released two games in 2013. The first and less popular of the two is also my favorite of the two, Glass Road.

Glass Road shares some similarities to Uwe's previous game, Ora et Labora. In this game each player is building buildings on a personal player mat, these buildings are built using resources and the resources are collected according to a wheel. Unlike Ora et Labora each player in Glass Road has their own wheel so resetting a resource does not deny other players theirs but these resource wheels are kind of neat because they require you to balance resource counts if you are after certain converted resources. The different basic resources can be combined to create brick and glass, the advanced resources. The tokens for the advanced resources are separated on the wheel by a divider and whenever all of the basic resources are above zero you need to automatically adjust the wheel to put the lowest resource at 0 and creating one or more glass or brick. This may seem inherently beneficial since glass and brick are the "advanced" resourced but you may have needed those basic resources you just lost more than the glass or brick you created automatically. This is much harder to understand via text but just take my word for it that it is very clever and offers new and unique ways of thinking.

That's not even the most clever part though, this game also has some really interesting card play. Each action players take during their turn is based on the play of one of 3 specialist cards they choose from their collection of 15. Each specialist has two abilities on it. If you are the only one to play a specialist in that round you get to do both abilities. However, if you play a specialist that another player chose they have to immediately play that specialist as well and you both only get to do one of the two abilities. Not only are you presented with the options of attempting to be the only one to play a certain card to get greater use out of it but you may also want to play a card you are certain an opponent will play to diminish the returns they get. On top of this order matters because the cards are played one at a time so if an opponent has chosen the same card as you but needs to wait to play it you can force them to play it early for lesser or no affect. The number of decision trees is deep and brilliant. But by 2013 I would expect nothing less from Uwe.

This is probably the quickest game on this whole retrospective. I even originally thought it ended TOO quickly but I think the balance the game hits is almost perfect I would be afraid of throwing that off by adding extra turns. Plus there is a lot positive you can say about such a deep and brilliant game that plays at such a fast clip.
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8. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]
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Uwe's current hotness came out the same year as Glass Road. I should say up front I do still like Caverna. But I do have some negative things to say about it.

This game is Agricola with training wheels. It really is. It borrows so much from Agricola and the game knows it, right in the rulebook you are instructed to skip large sections if you already know how to play Agricola. The biggest difference is this game holds your hand all the way through. Not only does it hold your hand but it massages your shoulders and whispers encouragement softly in your ear at every step.

The biggest difficulty in Agricola is setting up an engine to reliably and efficiently feed your family while doing so much else. I loved that tension and I thought it gave the game a point, teeth, an actual obstacle to overcome. Not in Caverna! In Caverna it is harder to starve than to feed your family. No longer do you need a cooking or baking improvement to create food for your family, you can just convert crops and animals to food at any time. Hell, there are even spaces on the map that just give you free food for building there in case that's still not enough.

Also gone are the minor improvement and occupation cards which were the best part about Agricola. They gave each new game a new personality and a new feel making it endlessly replayable. Instead, in Caverna, you get variability out of the collection of rooms you can build into your caves. Each room grants that player a different ability for use the rest of the game. There are a decent number but they are all available each game so the game is nowhere near as variable as Agricola. Sure, you can try different strategies each time by building different sets of rooms but this only offers a handful of logical paths to go down.

It's not all doom and gloom in my eyes though. I do really enjoy the adventure mechanic. Your family members now can equip weapons and go on adventures that offer the player bonuses. I even like the mechanic that family members with weaker weapons always have to be placed before those with stronger weapons so you can't go on valuable adventures early during your turn and block off those spaces from opponents (without spending one of the valuable ruby resources anyway).

I think it is a tragedy that this game is enjoying so much more buzz right now than Agricola when really to me, it is a worse game in every way. I get it, really I do, it is leagues more accessible so a lot more people are willing to give it a try and even more are willing to come back to it. I think a game should offer a challenge and not coddle you but many don't agree with me. Also by saying it is "worse" that is in comparison to a game I think is perfect. I still actually really like the game. It is probably my least favorite of the Uwe games I like and own (which includes everything on this list except Bohnanza and At the Gates of Loyang) but I enjoy every play of it and it is more likely to get played with a wider variety of people than Agricola ever did.
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9. Board Game: Fields of Arle [Average Rating:8.17 Overall Rank:53]
Tony Hodge
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And so we come to the end of my Uwe retrospective. I know he has a more recent game out now called Patchwork but I haven't yet played that one. I think that, Bargain Hunter, and Babel are the only real holes in my Uwe catalog.

Fields of Arle is another member of the Harvest series. This 2014 title, as I understand it, is set in a place that is important to Mr. Rosenberg. His father grew up in the town of Arle in Germany and his parents were married there. His family, if you could believe it, grew up as farmers. This game is far from just a nostalgic reference to Mr. Rosenberg's family though, it is a deep, complex, and incredibly clever worker placement game for 2 players.

If I could take one last opportunity to heap praise on Agricola while talking about another game, I think Agricola is wonderfully designed for player counts from 2 to 5. The game actually changes with different player counts quite drastically. With 2 players wood, clay, and reed are all equally rare and things like stone and cows are almost impossible to get early in the game. With 3 players reed is the single most rare resource and with 5 you can retrieve stone and cows on the first turn.

Fields of Arle is a game for 2 players only and has often been labeled just a 2 person version of Agricola. Agricola already has a 2 player version and it is fantastic, as fantastic as with any other player count. Fields of Arle definitely shares some theme and mechanics with many of Uwe's other games including a farming theme, worker placement, and building and managing a farm. But it also has its own identity. The ability to use one space from the next season by giving up first player is a very interesting and clever way to handle turn order. I also really like the way trading goods is handled in this game.

What's on offer component-wise is also fantastic. Something I haven't mentioned before that a lot of Uwe's games share are the little Easter eggs in his game's art. On a table on a room tile you might find Agricola set up for play or on a field tile you will see the beans from Bohnanza poking their heads out. Fields of Arle is no different, it's almost like a little treasure hunt each time you place a new piece and see a hidden gem on the tile. Everything else about this game's components is fantastic as well, everything is very solid and sturdy and boy is there a lot to it. This box is as big, if not bigger, than Caverna and everything in here is just for two players. That may actually be daunting to most but don't worry, this is a little complicated as far as Uwe's titles go, but it certainly isn't insurmountable.

For me this is yet another winner and one that I enjoy getting out when I am playing two player games. That concludes my Uwe Rosenberg retrospective, please let me know your thoughts. If this gets any interest I may do others for my other two favorite designers (behind Uwe Rosenberg of course).
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