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Subject: What I do and don't like about Belfort rss

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Jake Smith
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Why did I buy Belfort?
The theme really grabbed me, reminding me of the Discworld universe, I loved the artwork, and I was intrigued by the mechanics' combination of engine building, multiple-typed worker placement, and area majority. In addition, Tasty Minstrel Games had already impressed me with Village, a solid medium-weight game with some interesting mechanics and great production values. I expected more of the same from Belfort.


What do I like about Belfort?

It has excellent production value.
- Starting here, Belfort lived up to and exceeded my expectations. The artwork is wonderful throughout, the central board is a very cool arrangement of five diamonds that unfold to a pentagon, the resources are cool wooden bits, the cards are solid quality, etc. No complaints here.

Everything almost works.
- I'll put this here, because the list of dislikes was dwarfing the likes, which isn't entirely fair. The concept here is great, and I think this blend of mechanics could have worked very well together. Unfortunately, as the dislikes section will show, I have issues with the implementation of more or less every mechanic. It's tough, because things almost work, and they keep Belfort from really being special.


What don't I like about Belfort?

There's poor scaling for less than five players.
- This seems like such an easy fix to make, given that the board is already divided into five identical sections, all that is needed is a balancing of the available building permits for each player count. As it is, at lower player counts players are free to spread out amongst the sections of the city, pulling tension out of the game.

The individual mechanics are half-baked.
- The worker placement phase is extremely bare-bones, giving you just a handful of actions to choose from before you unceremoniously dump your entire supply of workers onto the resource collection spaces in one fell swoop.
- The engine building never really gets off the ground. You build buildings because you have to to win the game, and building them gives you some stuff, but you don't have the opportunity to stack up complementary cards or climb a tech ladder or such.

Accumulating workers is an obvious decision.
- This is an issue in many worker placement games, but rather than addressing it with an upkeep cost a la Agricola or a placement cost a la Caylus, Belfort bizzarely creates an additional reward for accumulating additional workers by tying ~40% of the games scoring to having the majority of each worker type. With the workers translating, quite literally, directly to resources, there is more than enough incentive to collect them without so obviously tying them to winning.

The Taxes mechanic is a shameless attempt to fix the broken worker mechanics.
- This is a game that definitely could suffer from runaway leader issues, but rather than fix the cause of the issue – namely the overly simplistic worker placement phase and lack of checks on uncontrolled worker growth – the designer has slapped an ever-increasing penalty on players as their score increases. This quaffs whatever little bit of engine building is here, as the taxes eat up the excess resources your buildings will produce for you.

Final Thoughts
As I alluded to above, Belfort feels like a giant missed opportunity. The mix of mechanics is interesting, the theme is quirky and unique, the production values are great, but the whole falls short. The individual mechanisms don't work as smoothly as they could, and the effort to correct their failings is terrible, lazy design. I think they really wanted to keep this a light-medium weight game to match the cute art design, and it hampered their ability to ramp up to the medium-heavy weight this mix of mechanisms needs. That said, this review has been overly harsh for a game that I have rated 6/10. It's solid, it almost works, and it is perfectly playable if you want something lighter.
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Mark O'Reilly
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Hi Jake,
I am with you on player scaling - mbelfort shines at higher player counts, at 4 and in particular 5 players - the area control aspect becomes very tense and engaging.

The flow of the game can feel "clunky" at first, but after a few plays we found it nice and smooth.

I think ( my personal opinion) that labelling the design "lazy" is overly harsh, a lot of time and effort has clearly gone into this game by the designers and there are a lot of different game mechanics to make gel together and for me and my gaming group, it works very well and is an epic and engaging worker placement/ area control game.
This is of coarse at the higher player counts thumbsup

The mbelfort expansion gives a fair bit more choice on your turns and I highly recommend it, it makes the game a lot better
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蓝魔
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Interesting review & thoughts ..
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Locke Alexander
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Thanks so much for taking the time to write a review! Just as a counter-point,it seems to me you didn't like this game because it's not quite what you expected/are used to, but still not necessarily "bad".

The game is not a typical worker-placement game where you agonize over where to place each worker: there's only a bit of that and most of your workers go to resource gathering. I don't see how this is inherently a negative... it adds a lot of complex decisions because every worker placed on a plank means fewer resources you can gather that round.

I also don't really understand how you can say the scaling is poor for less than five players... It seems to work pretty much the same at all player counts, and although with fewer people there are more available spaces, that change affects everybody equally, keeping tension in the game. I played with three players earlier tonight, and there was still competition in every district, so it's not as if with fewer players people will end up with districts to themselves. Furthermore, I would say this is the only area control game I've ever played that works (at all) with two players, and indeed, I have found it still to be a tense, complex, and strategic experience.

Of course gaining more workers is an obvious decision... it is one of the two point-scoring goals of the game! To me, this is a bit like saying that chess is a bad game because you are "obviously" supposed to capture the opponent's King. The same is true about almost every-other worker placement game, and I, for one, found the ability to grow my workforce without having to worry about the consequences of it extremely fun and satisfying, and people I've played with say the same. Even though it is obvious that you need to grow your workforce, the way to most effectively do so is not and depends on careful analysis of what guilds are in play, what cards are in your hand, and, most importantly, what other players are doing. In this regard, I'd be cautious in suggesting that the game is light-weight... It's much more complex than first meets the eye and a good player can (and will) stomp a newbie.

As far as the taxation goes, I agree that this is an extremely simple catch-up mechanism. That said, it is more clear, and more effective, than a lot of others I've seen, and successfully mitigates runaway leader issues. While I agree that the system isn't the most nuanced piece of board game design I've ever seen, I really feel you're being unnecessarily cruel by calling Sen and Jay's design "terrible" and "lazy". Not only do they frequent these threads (and are likely to read these personal, hurtful words) you can tell from their design notes that a ton of time and effort went into this game.

In general, even though the review suggests that it contains what you did and didn't like about the game, the way it is written ignores the biases of your own taste and instead suggests that elements of the game that some may find interesting and unique are inherently "bad" because they are different from other games you have enjoyed without specifying, exactly, how they hampered your game experience. For example, when you say things like: "You build buildings because you have to to win the game, and building them gives you some stuff, but you don't have the opportunity to stack up complementary cards or climb a tech ladder or such," it feels as if you think the game is bad because it's not a different game, but beyond that, I don't understand what you see as an actual flaw in it's design. (Which is not to mention that, of course, certain buildings work in combination better than others...) Which is a shame, because negative reviews, when thoughtfully-done, can be extremely insightful, especially when it is an opinion that differs from your own.
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bestia immonda
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so Agricola is broken as well, because the obvious choice is to gain more actions/family members that also are worth juicy points?
BTW the first game ( 4 ppl ) of Belfort that I experienced, it was won by who had the FEWER workers....
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glen.
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I'd argue with some sets of guilds, you're never really able to spend the time you want accumulating workers; certain sets of guilds, the guy who spends time trying to do that fails as others take their resources and spend them on other things. It happens a lot when there are a lot of interactive guilds which steal things from other people. So grabbing workers isn't always the smartest move.

Also, the actual ability to grab workers itself is difficult: you need at least two gold come Resource phase, you need to make a decision if getting workers is better than any guilds or other open planks, you need to beat others to those spots on the Recruitment Office (which may mean jockeying for position in the King's Camp), you might need to fight others for the Recruiters guild, etc.

Also, I get the tension of higher player counts, but sometimes I just prefer 3P. It's still a game of efficiency, even if it's not always the game of competing for correct spaces in the districts. Also, WAY less AP.
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theintangiblefatman wrote:
In addition, Tasty Minstrel Games had already impressed me with Village, a solid medium-weight game with some interesting mechanics and great production values. I expected more of the same from Belfort.


This is actually a bit of a misplaced expectation.

Publishers do two things:
1. Put out their own games, "in-house," where they are instrumental in the game design development, art, and components.
2. License existing games from other publishers that were put out in different languages or countries. Essentially they are acting almost as a distributor. Sometimes they will change the art and components, but usually it's exactly the same, made the same place as the original, same art and components, it's just got the new language and the new publisher labeled on the box.

The former tells you a lot more about a publisher than the latter.
Village was licensed by TMG from another publisher, and no changes were made from the original, so it was category 2. So it will only tell you a limited amount about the publisher (basically, the fact that they liked the game and believed enough in its hit potential enough to license it)
Belfort was category 1, it was an in-house game they put out themselves.

You can tell the difference by looking at the versions on the BGG game entry and seeing what the earliest version's publisher was - that is usually the original publisher who actually put out the game, rather than license it from someone else.
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Another funny thing, when I was introduced to Belfort by my very experienced gaming group, everyone told me to AVOID playing with 5 people and stick with max 4 ppl. Guess is a personal choice to enjoy more or less breathing space....
 
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biffta wrote:
I think ( my personal opinion) that labelling the design "lazy" is overly harsh, a lot of time and effort has clearly gone into this game by the designers and there are a lot of different game mechanics to make gel together and for me and my gaming group,


He didn't say the overall design was lazy - just the tax mechanism.
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nicktaruffi wrote:
so Agricola is broken as well, because the obvious choice is to gain more actions/family members that also are worth juicy points?


He states why Agricola is different in the review.
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Idaho11 wrote:
biffta wrote:
I think ( my personal opinion) that labelling the design "lazy" is overly harsh, a lot of time and effort has clearly gone into this game by the designers and there are a lot of different game mechanics to make gel together and for me and my gaming group,


He didn't say the overall design was lazy - just the tax mechanism.


IIRC the tax mechanism was something suggested by playtesters during the playtesting phase. Maybe that's why it seems a bit "patched on" and less integrated into the design.

Personally I like the tax, and I like that the designers were open and flexible towards playtester input.

I agree with others that the OP just seemed to be more looking for a different game, the criticisms felt more like "XYZ is the kind of game I like and this game didn't have those things, I want to go up a tech tree, I want to have consequences and limitations on number of workers, etc". It's just not that game, it's a different game, very good for what it is. I personally rate it 9.5/10.
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Mikołaj Węgrzyn
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What a terrible and lazy review ;P

It seems like you have no point in any negative you have listed. More like you are dissapointed that you have spent money on the thing and you simply do not like it. It is personal taste and you are free to judge. Just don't name a design terrible and lazy, since it is not.

The attempt was a mixture of genres and mechanics and that is what attracted you in the first place. Then you state as a negative that worker placement was not the main thing and "bare-bone". Well, that was the point, wasn't it? The neccessity of gathering more actions is inherent in almost every game with worker placement, ridiculous to point that one out.

Scaling is fine, just different length and competition, so you can tailor to what you want to get out of it. That is very far from not working (check out King of Tokyo for two).

Finally taxes. This one is to smooth things out rather than catch up mechanics, imho. It is not THAT big of a deal. To me, it is more of a luck trimmer. Lets say card draws vs spots on the board, player order vs available actions and resources with bonus all entwined in a way very beneficial for one player. Now in exchange for a lead over others he has to face a small fine and every other player gets a (supposedly) better run with what they have kept from the last turn. If you are a retard you won't catch a leader just because of a few gold coins.

EDIT: Ok. You just suggested "lazy" and "terrible", oh just inches from being that...
 
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Idaho11 wrote:
nicktaruffi wrote:
so Agricola is broken as well, because the obvious choice is to gain more actions/family members that also are worth juicy points?


He states why Agricola is different in the review.


Well, he just states that Agricola's extra workers have an upkeep cost.
But in Agricola there's no heavy upfront price to gain a new worker ( 2 gold + 1 worker is quite a lot in a tight-money game such as Belfort ), and there's the guarantee that those workers will net you points, while in Agricola they are ALWAYS worth points.
I think that in Agricola is almost mandatory to rush for extra workers/actions, while in Belfort you have to carefully purusit the "less traveled road" by the other players.


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nicktaruffi wrote:
Idaho11 wrote:
nicktaruffi wrote:
so Agricola is broken as well, because the obvious choice is to gain more actions/family members that also are worth juicy points?


He states why Agricola is different in the review.


Well, he just states that Agricola's extra workers have an upkeep cost.
But in Agricola there's no heavy upfront price to gain a new worker ( 2 gold + 1 worker is quite a lot in a tight-money game such as Belfort ), and there's the guarantee that those workers will net you points, while in Agricola they are ALWAYS worth points.
I think that in Agricola is almost mandatory to rush for extra workers/actions, while in Belfort you have to carefully purusit the "less traveled road" by the other players.




Which would have been an awesome response the first time around!
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Craig C
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I think it works well with three players, because the opportunity to spread out is tempered by the "majority" VP idea, so players choose to jump into each others' areas of town, even at lower player counts.

It does sometimes feel like the game ends just when you've unlocked some cool building effects, but that's part of the specialization vs. spreading thing, I suppose, so it's not an overly bad thing.

The only beef I have about the tax mechanic is you can't go "in the hole", so players can just blow their gold on other things and just pay whatever they have left to The Man, with no repercussions if they pay 1 gold instead of the full 5. I suppose it could be argued that it's highly realistic, though, since the highest earners have to pay the most, and a lot of people rack up huge tax bills and then negotiate a much lower payment. So maybe it's actually the most realistic tax mechanic ever invented.

We're going to play tomorrow night with the brilliantly-named Expansion Expansion for the first time, so it'll be interesting to see how that changes the game.
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Sen-Foong Lim
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bird94us wrote:

The only beef I have about the tax mechanic is you can't go "in the hole", so players can just blow their gold on other things and just pay whatever they have left to The Man, with no repercussions if they pay 1 gold instead of the full 5.


For every gold you can't pay in taxes, you will lose a point - there is a penalty. So in your example, that player would lose 4 points.

To the OP, thanks for your opinion and thanks for playing the game.
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Jake Smith
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Goodness, many responses!

First, yes, Belfort is obviously not the game I was anticipating based on the mix of mechanics and impressions I had heard/read. The game I envisioned was a mix of Dominant Species with the engine building/worker specialization of The Manhattan Project; Belfort is significantly lighter than that, opting to use the simplest possible implementation of each mechanic. I am disappointed by this decision, as the hybrid above is a game I would still like to play.

The "openness" of the board in an area majority game is a matter of taste. I far preferred the more cluttered board of the five player game to the relatively wide open board of the three player game. Others may see it differently. Board scaling would be a relatively easy thing to house-rule in, so this is a minor quibble; I just find it strange that it is not the default.

I don't wish to get into a debate on the opportunity cost of a worker in Belfort, as that is better suited to a strategy article than a review, but they are being overstated. Since workers will produce a known minimum of resources (more if you can snag a lucrative guild or a resource majority!) over the course of the game, it is very easy to determine whether investing in one will pay off or not. For the first half of the game the answer is always yes. In addition, placing on the recruit worker space allows you to delay placing on the resource spaces by a turn, which often allows you to claim a resource bonus, decreasing the cost of recruiting the worker. If you are fortunate enough to have drawn an Inn at the beginning of the game, then that cost is cheaper still! There is no reason to further incentivize what is typically a beneficial and risk free choice by awarding VP for making it.

Compare to Agricola, as that seems to be the comparison of choice to make, where it takes multiple actions to gather resources, construct a room, and finally add an additional worker. On top of this, you must have constructed an engine that is capable of generating enough food to pay upkeep on the new worker. While I would agree that it is often the best play to acquire a third worker as quickly as possible, workers beyond the third are not as clear cut, given the diminished returns of actions late in the round as other players expand their family as well.

I apologize if my evaluation of the taxes mechanic offends. I only mean to point out that is an obvious band-aid slapped on, if the above poster is to be believed, after the remainder of the game was designed. This is poor design. If the game often has runaway leaders, and you consider that a problem, then the thing to do is to fix the underlying mechanics that lead to that game state.
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If you like Manhattan Project, you should check out Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, it reminded me in some ways of MP.
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senfoonglim wrote:
bird94us wrote:

The only beef I have about the tax mechanic is you can't go "in the hole", so players can just blow their gold on other things and just pay whatever they have left to The Man, with no repercussions if they pay 1 gold instead of the full 5.


For every gold you can't pay in taxes, you will lose a point - there is a penalty. So in your example, that player would lose 4 points.

To the OP, thanks for your opinion and thanks for playing the game.


Whoa. Didn't realize that. Thanks for the knowledge. We'll need to fix the way we play.
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Jeff Kayati
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A well articulated negative review, but one I disagree with on every negative point. It seems this is more about Belfort not being the game you expected it to be, than the merits of what Belfort actually is. Many people classify Belfort as a worker placement game. It's really not. It's an area control game with a worker placement mechanic. The worker placement is secondary to the control of each city section.

The game scales fine. I haven't played two player, so I cannot comment on that aspect of the game. I prefer five players, but the game works just as well at three or four. Here's the thing, though. The game plays differently at each player count. Where I'm building is highly dependent on player count (and who the leader is at any player count)

The mechanics are fine tuned. You're expecting a worker placement engine to dominate that game. Since the WP aspects of the game are secondary, so is the engine building. It's there, but it's not the primary focus of the game. The engine I get, or don't, is entirely dependent on the building I choose to build. I may get an engine where I can recruit many workers (or gnomes), or earn many gold coins, or I may choose to not build much of an engine and choose buildings that help my dominate the board.

Accumulating workers isn't always the right choice. Many times it's a trap. This choice is highly dependent on the guilds in play and the buildings I have in play.

The tax mechanic creates a slight drag on the leading players. It's not a huge hindrance to the leading player, but a minor annoyance that helps slow them down just a bit. An in any area control game, the catch up mechanism is for lagging players to take away control from the leading player(s), and not from each other.

Belfort is a fantastic game, and one I look forward to playing many more times over the years.
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Belfort is a favourite in my house (it's one of few games on my, quite large, shelf that gets asked for on game's nights - so it stands out in the crowd). You identify several aspects of the game that you didn't like, and I'd like to provide a counter-point to several of your assertions:

1) On Workers
You claim that getting more workers is an obvious action, in part because worker majority accounts for "40% of the game's scoring". While it's true that having a majority of workers is worth more points (for each type), the max points you can earn for a worker majority (3) is equal to the second place points you earn for area majority (3), and there are 5 areas versus 3 worker types. Also, it's not guaranteed points - it's a competition (and remember the rules for a tie, tied players all score equal to the next lowest score - so if two players are tied for most Dwarves they each get 1 measly point). That alone makes it more interesting than you give it credit for, because scoring for workers is a tug-of-war with other players (and not everyone can get more workers every round, the action spaces don't permit it) Given that, let's do the math on worker points:

The *maximum* points you can earn for workers per scoring round is 9 (maximum Dwarves, Elves and Gnomes). The *maximum* points you can earn for area majority is 25 (winning majority in all five districts). So, workers account for a mere 26% of the maximum possible points you could earn per scoring round (and less overall). The worker majorities, aren't that important. It's far more important to secure districts. Belfort is an area majority game. I always saw the points for worker majority as a "catch up" mechanic, a reward to offset the opportunity cost of getting a worker!

NOTE: This is one reason you DON'T remove districts in a 2player game. If you played a 2 player game with only 2 districts available then workers would be worth 47% of the maximum possible score you could get - and make the game mostly about worker majority and not area majority.

2) On Taxes
You felt like the tax mechanic was a tacked on band-aid fix for a runaway leader problem. Even if it is (and I don't know that it is), it's important to appreciate how it fits into the game overall. As you noted, there are very few worker placement options besides "get resources", but most of those cost gold. It also costs gold to get more building permits (which are your only path to area majority - because walls are really inefficient). In short, if you don't manage your gold well you'll end up with none and so unable to do anything but "get resources" (which, if certain guilds are available, can really set you back).

All of this said, taxes aren't just a way to rein in leaders, but actually part of the strategy. My wife is pretty good at Belfort, in part because she's very good at "planning her score" so that she finishes scoring round 1 and 2 at the top edge of a tax bracket. She aims to maximize her score while minimizing her taxes, and as a result has the gold to use guilds all the way into the end game. On the last scoring round, she usually jumps way ahead because she has things set up for a final round sprint. It's a pretty damned good strategy, and it's only an interesting and possible one because of that tax mechanic.

Taxes don't just punish leaders, they punish players who don't take the time to plan their scoring (every point you lose to not paying taxes is caused by inefficiency in the strategy you've been developing).

3) On the Review Overall
Your review treats each mechanic in Belfort as if it were in vacuum. You dislike how simple the worker placement is, how the area majority scales, the scoring for workers and the tax mechanic. If that's all there was too it, I would agree with you - those mechanics, on their own, are bland and make for an awful game. BUT, that's not Belfort.

Belfort isn't a collection of pathways leading to victory points, it's a complex spider-web of digestible mechanics fit together around a central area majority scoring system. In short, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts - and by evaluating the parts each on their own, you've ignored how they intersect, integrate and interact with one another to create a surprisingly interesting and strategy laden decision space. Which, for me (and my friends), makes for an interesting and fun game.
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I thoroughly enjoy Belfort because the seemingly simplistic mechanisms belie the complexity of the strategies of the game.

This is an area control game at heart, yet the worker placement mechanism might lead you to believe otherwise. As pointed out above, the points available from area control constitute nearly 3/4 of the points available per scoring round. With only three scoring rounds, it is a necessity to position yourself to maximize the points you earn each round. To accomplish this, I try to build at least one building per round. This can be a very difficult task to accomplish given the limited options available each round. It is quite a balancing act to obtain the necessary resources to build and get enough gold to pay taxes, without even considering using a worker to improve your turn order position, obtain additional workers, or unlock a building's abilities.

I find Belfort to be a fun and challenging game. The Expansion Expansion adds even more to the balancing act and blends in smoothly with the games mechanics and themes. I have even been known to intentionally lose a point to drop me to a lower tax bracket so I can use that gold piece in a more beneficial manner.
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Mathue Faulkner
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I just thought I'd point out that Belfort doesn't have a lot of "engine building", and it doesn't advertise to have it either. It was a misconception of the OPs to think that Belfort would be a engine building game. Belfort is really an area majority game that uses worker placement. I didn't love the game, but I'm also not a fan of area control/majority games.
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Richard Kurgas
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The group I game with has completed four four-player games of Belfort so far. We have used the beginner's guild mix each time, which has made it extremely valuable for one player to buy up as many guilds as possible early on, since there will be three resource guilds that everyone will use.

The choice of guilds we've seen so far has been limited, with my pleas for us to go to normal guild distribution being ignored. This means we have the same-old, same-old effect as far as they go, with construction happening at breakneck speed due to the additional resources available.

I agree that the worker placement phase is a bit underwhelming. With workers contributing to victory points, we have heavy competition early-on for placement at the recruitment desk. If any one of us tried to pull away a Worker to put on the King's Camp, that person would fall behind on resource acquisition. Seems like a no-win situation, but going first or second doesn't seem to guarantee obtaining the key to Belfort, as far as I can tell.

We already have another player who is a strong candidate for the "runaway leader" title. He has ended each game we've played in first or second place, and in the second game, he won with 20+ points more than the next player! He has made every effort to be first or second in any turn, but in the game where he won big, he was fourth for most of the game, only starting first during the first two turns, then reclaiming first move in the sixth turn. The guy who had exchanged with him ended up in third place in victory points, because diverting a Worker to the King's Camp set him behind enough that he could never catch up.

I haven't really seen the "taxes" accomplish much of anything so far. We all quickly figured out how to set ourselves up so we're covered, one way or another, without anyone being slowed down by that factor. I wish the game did require upkeep for the Workers, to prevent people from storing up too much Gold and just paying their taxes out of that.

Frankly, I think my group needs to move on past the beginner guild mix, and we should discuss general and specific strategies among all the players, to understand that we need to work together to stop anyone who seems to be going after recruiting or buying guilds too strongly, or jumps out to a big early lead, especially with no interactive guilds to use as counters.

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Steve Duff
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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billk1928 wrote:
Frankly, I think my group needs to move on past the beginner guild mix...


Absolutely. It should only be used for the first learning game. After that, unleash the real game.
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