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Subject: A nice sunny day in Switzerland... let's play Helvetia! rss

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We had an... après-midi jeux here in Switzerland; literally, "gaming afternoon". The weather was great after two consecutive Sundays and the stakes where high for a great afternoon. I had recently borrowed from a local ludothéque one of my favorite games and it was about time to introduce to my swiss co-players... Helvetia.

(The game box. Image courtesy of W Eric Martin.)

This is a game unknown to most Swiss gamers I've played with, so far. A popular swiss-themed game here is Cantuun, a trivia game in French/German, thus unplayable in another language. To them, to see a worker placement game, was a complete surprise.

Explaining the game

That was my very first time explaining the game in French. My level's A1 but I've learned quite a lot from gaming-related vocabulary. Having the Rules in English and French also helped...

I had devised a learning routine and was prepared for that.

1. I set up the game: 3 villages, using the predetermined starting buildings, according to the letters on the back of the villages. I showed them step-by-step the process to also place the first initial couples, and marry in the village to their left.

2. Goal of the game: have 20 (or more) points at the end of a round. It's very important to show to new players the goal of the game, early-on, to understand why are they doing certain things.

3. What can I do in my turn? Choose a person, pay him and perform actions. I demonstrated how to use the people in the following order:

-- The merchant: the basic way to get victory points. A villager that produces stone is put to sleep and I deliver the stone for 1 victory point.
-- The night watchman: how can I wake up the villager that just went to sleep?
-- After that, the nun, the priest (and the extra coins as a dowry) and the builder. In all cases, I "played" these characters to show them how they are actually used.

4. Explained the bonus points (level 2/3 goods, chains) and when the round ends.

5. We started the actual first round! I explained the adjustment process between rounds after the first round had ended.

The actual gameplay

Both caught up pretty quickly! They started marrying their citizens in the other villages, to get their coins and access to other resources; meanwhile, I took an early advantage of the couples I had in my village and start having babies quite early. The other two players took the two markets early on; that was a blow to my strategy but I could adapt.

By the end of the first round, I had a mineral ore in possession, a wheat farm, access to wood-brick-stone and married to a nice girl working in a market. Meanwhile, the other two players had started delivering products to the market, to gain the extra "first delivery" points.

At this point, blue player had taken an early lead with 4-2-0 points.

I played conservatively; during most of the game I would be left with a single coin and become the starting player in subsequent rounds. Victory point buildings started to pop up; I immediately snatched the windmill, having access to wheat and ore and exchanging wood for water (no pun intended...). An ironworks factory helped me to put in a church as well, while I also continued to have children. Meanwhile, my opponents continued to marry like crazy here and there and deliver goods to the market. Cow and goat bonuses had already gone, beer and iron where next. However, most of their buildings where unfortunately empty.

For the first time, I made a huge jump and went first in the scoring table, to the surprise of the others. I had immediately about 10 points.

The cow and goat market popped up in the next rounds. Meanwhile, the tavern, a VP building, had popped up and the white player went on to marry in my goat market to get access to beer and build the tavern. DENIED. I read her move and immediately went on to build the tavern and complete my village. The 4 bonus victory points where already in my pocket. By this time, the other players realized they should have more babies, so the nun bonus token was eventually taken away from me.

I was close, so I just needed to make some final moves. I precisely calculated my last two workers and build a cow shed and a butter maker. The blue player immediately married in my butter maker to steal it from me, but unfortunately... he had already used his trader bonus action. I managed to deliver my butter on time and get the 2 VP bonus. I also had built by then my fourth VP building. At this point, I was out of coins and had exactly 20 points... or I thought so, as both my opponents conspired against me.

I had 4 coins on the builder, 1 on the trader and 1 on the night watchman. The only tile I had was the night watchman. So, they coordinated against me; the white player put 2 coins on the night watchman and the blue player 4 coins on the builder. At the end of the round, I was left without any bonus tiles nor the start player tile. Their plan had succeeded... for now. I had exactly 19 points and it left them with one extra round to catch up.

In the next and final round, doubles of the VP buildings started to pop up, giving a chance to my adversaries to catch up. Indeed, they started to get the easy ones, like the windmill, but not all of them. Some of their buildings where still empty, as they would still marry their kids from school. The blue opponent managed to deliver his first level 3 product, the cheese, while the white player was close to completing two chains in the market; one would give him +4 points and another one +2 points. Blue player was also one product behind completing the left chain, for +4 points.

As for me... I had placed my production buildings very close to each other and took advantage of the 2nd ring. With one coin on the night watchman, I could wake up my people on wheat, cow ranch and cow market. I took the first delivery on bread to get the +1 bonus and also delivered 3 more level 1 materials. By this point, I had secured 24 points plus one bonus tile for 25 points in total.

Blue player came close second with 20 points. He seemed very happy to cross the 20 point mark! White player came third with 17 points, still quite a lot for a newcomer.


Overall, we had much-much fun, played about for 90 minutes. Very competitive game, I was constantly feeling their pressure when I jumped ahead in the scoring table. It was really clever to see them, during the penultimate round, calculating the exact number of points I had and conspiring 2v1 to strip me of my bonus tiles, so that they could get one more turn. This was really clever and I has happy to see that my learning routines had done a good job in creating two good players in that game.

At the end of the game, they had realized that not giving birth to many children was what kept them back during the game. I'm happy to have played Helvetia with two very competitive swiss players.
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Thomas Leitner
United States
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Nice write-up. Thanks for posting this.
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