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Subject: Review: Die Baumeister Von Arkadia rss

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Scott Tepper
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Game designing can be compared to the creative process of baking a cake. There are many different chefs out there, and as a result, you can find many different kinds of desserts. Most bakeries will have some sort of chocolate cake. The cakes may be similar, and most of the ingredients, like flour, eggs and milk are the same, but you and I know that they don’t all taste the same. Sometimes, an adventurous chef will throw in an innovative ingredient, like prickly pear juice, but for the most part a chocolate cake is a chocolate cake is a chocolate cake.

Every once in a while, though, you will stumble across a bakery that has an outstanding version of the dessert that you’ve been exposed to over and over again. The difference is that in the hands of this talented chef, the basic ingredients are put together with such care that their sum is better than their parts.

Die Baumeister Von Arkadia (the Masterbuilders of Arkadia) is that type of game.

Rudiger Dorn has been on a roll these last few years with games such as Goa, Jambo, and Louis XIV. His string of hits continues with the publisher Ravensburger to produce Die Baumeister Von Arkadia. The last Dorn/Ravensburger teamup in 2001 resulted in Magic Hill, which was geared more towards children. While DBVA is not complicated, it does have a depth of strategy that results in a suggested age range of 10-99.

The theme of Die Baumeister Von Arkadia sets the players as Architects. On their turns, the players will either add buildings to the board, or send workers to work on the buildings. When a building is “completed”, players whose workers contributed to the finishing of the building will receive seals (the kind that go on a letter, not the kind that you find at the zoo) corresponding to the building’s seal. The player whose turn resulted in the building being finished receives the seal that was on the building.

Four times during the game, players, on their turns, can obtain two additional workers and trade in seals for money. The money received is equal to the number of seals being traded in times the number of the same colored seals exposed at that time in the castle. At the end of the game, whoever has the most money wins.

The components of the game are well made and appropriate. The gameboard is primarily a large grid of squares where the buildings and workers are placed during the game. Some of the squares have pictures of tents printed on them.

At the sides of the board are spaces for castle building stones. The 28 stackable building stones (each of which is shaped similarly to a castle piece in Torres) have, on the top, a picture of one of four different seals. Twelve building stones (3 of each seal) are set aside on one corner of the board, 12 more are set aside on another, and the remaining four are set aside in a third corner.

A general supply of cardboard seals in four colors (red, olive, black and silver) that match the seals on the building stones is set next to the gameboard. As in other well-designed games, the different seals each have their own unique icon, so that players who have difficulty telling colors apart can distinguish the seals by their illustrations.

The buildings in the game are Tetris-like cardboard cutouts in configurations of 2-4 squares. These start out the game in a general supply.

Four random building cards that correspond to the different building shapes are given to each player before the game starts. Additionally, each card has one of the four seal symbols on it. Three more building cards are placed face up next to the gameboard, with the rest of the cards in a facedown draw pile.

Each player begins the game with two little plastic workers in their own color (either yellow, green, orange or violet so as not to be confused with the seals’ colors), with eight more workers for each player set aside for later acquisition. Depending on the number of players (2, 3, 4), they receive an additional 3, 2, or 1 neutral (beige) worker(s). The remaining neutral workers are put next to the board.

The cardboard castle base has 10 positions for building stones arranged in a rectangle. Eight of the 10 positions are preprinted with the aforementioned seals. At the beginning of the game, the castle base is placed in the middle of the gameboard. While there is a general area where the base can be placed, there is some variability with its placement, which leads to a somewhat variable starting board for each game.

All players take a player shield in their color to hide their workers, building cards, and gold. Four paper banners are hung from each player’s shield.

Cardboard chits representing gold with values 1, 5 and 10 are arranged to make a bank during the game.

The gameplay is relatively simple. You must do one of two actions on your turn. The first option is to build a building. To do this, you play one of the building cards from your hand onto the discard pile. You then take one of the corresponding buildings from the supply and place it onto the gameboard. A cardboard seal matching the seal on the card is taken from the supply and placed on the building.

The rules for building placement are straightforward. A building, when placed on the gameboard, must be orthogonally touching at least one of the following: the castle base, another building, or any worker on the board.

If the building you just placed covers one of the pre-printed tent squares on the gameboard, you receive a neutral worker from the supply. At the end of your turn, you will pick a building card from among the three face-up building cards, or from the top of the face-down draw pile.

The second option you have on your turn is to add workers to the board. You can place as many workers from your personal supply (any combination of your color and neutral workers) on the board as long as they are all placed around the same building. Workers may not be placed on spaces that are already occupied by other workers or buildings. Placing a worker on a tent space has no special effect.

There is an additional optional action you can do on your turn, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

If, by the placement of a building or worker(s), one or more buildings are now completely surrounded on all adjacent sides (diagonals are not necessary), the building is considered “built” and two things will happen. First, any player that has one of their own workers (not the neutral workers) next to the surrounded building will receive a seal from the supply that matches the seal that is on the building. If you have multiple workers around that building, you receive multiple seals.

The player whose turn resulted in the building being surrounded receives the seal that was on the building. Then, this player takes one of the castle building stones from the first group of 12 and places it on one of the 10 castle base squares. You cannot put a castle stone on top of another castle stone until the previous level has been completely built. In other words, a level must be complete before you can start building the next level of the castle.

Remember the four banners that you hung on your player screen? They are for that optional action I mentioned. At the end of your turn, you may remove one of your banners to take two of your workers from the general supply and put them behind your player screen. You may then also trade in any number of seals that you possess to obtain gold. The amount of gold you receive is equal to the number of seals of a color you trade in TIMES the number of same-colored castle stones that are visible from the top of the castle.

For example, if you had 5 black, 2 olive, 3 silver and 4 red seals in your possession, and at the moment, there were 1 black, 1 olive, 3 silver and 5 red castle stone seals exposed (visible from the top of the castle), you could, at the end of your turn, remove one of your banners to take two of your workers from the supply, and trade in your silver and red seals for a total of 29 gold pieces (3 silver x 3 + 4 red x 5).

After the first 10 of the 12 castle stones in the first group have been placed on the castle, the remaining two are placed next to the four that were set aside at the beginning of the game. The game then continues using the second set of 12 castle stones. When 10 of the second set have been placed on the castle, the remaining two are placed with the others that were set aside, and the last round is triggered. Each player gets one more turn. If buildings are surround in this last round, players choose from the remaining 8 castle stones to add to the castle.

After everyone has taken their final turn, all players trade in any remaining seals for gold using the current seal values (the number visible from the top of the castle). The player with the most gold wins.

How does it play? Very well. While you can only do one of two things (either build a building or place workers), you really have a lot of strategic choices to make on your turn. Usually you’re trying to obtain as many seals as possible, so you need to be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to close off buildings.

You’re also looking for places to place your workers, usually as an investment to score seals in the future. Optimally, you’d like to place a worker so that it borders four different buildings. That could potentially give you four seals if all four buildings are completed. This won’t happen too often, though, because your opponents should be watching you and placing their workers and buildings to prevent you from maximizing your workers.

When you complete a building on your turn, the choice of which castle stone to add to the castle and where to place it adds to the depth of strategy as well. Do you place a stone with a seal that you could use now to score, knowing that this stone may be covered up by the end of the game? Or do you purposely not choose a stone with the notion that it will possibly be available to you for the endgame scoring? Is your opponent hoarding black seals? Then you might want to cover a black seal up to reduce the gold she could make if she wants to trade a banner in anytime soon.

Choosing the optimal times to trade in your four banners is tricky as well. Maybe you need more workers, but the values of the seals you currently possess are relatively low. Should you trade seals in now for a guaranteed payout, or hold off hoping that the seals will be worth more later in the game?

Die Baumeister Von Arkadia is an excellent example of a game where you want to do more on your turn than you’re allowed to do. You usually want to place buildings AND workers on your turn, but you can only do one or the other. I tend to like tile-laying games as well as games where there is some sort of variable multiplier for objects you collect during the game. DBVA does a great job of combining these two mechanisms, and adds an additional level of strategy by permitting you to trade in your seals during the game and not just at the end,

The banners are cute variation on the trade-this-in-to-do-something-special-a-limited-number-of-times-during-the-game mechanic. These could have been cardboard tokens, say, as in Himalaya, but the choice to make them banners that hang on your player screen is a nice touch that shows that the Ravensburger is conscientious about the entire product that they produce.

If you couldn’t tell already, I greatly enjoy this game. DBVA lasts between 45-60 minutes, just as the box promises, and the game plays just as well with two players as it does with four. In fact, It’s a tighter game with two as you have a greater chance of making use of whatever you did on your previous turn. With four players, odds are good that if you were trying to set something up for yourself on a future turn, someone else will take advantage of it before your turn comes around again.

Replayability is very high in this game because of variability in the placement of the castle, the randomness of card draw, the variability of strategy of placement of buildings and workers, and the myriad ways the castle can develop. While there really isn’t anything ground breaking about DBVA, everything is put together so well, and the mechanisms are so tight, that this game is worthy of being in everyone’s game library.

Overview
Rules explanation time: 10 minutes
Difficulty: Family-game level
Production level: Very Good
Effect of luck: Low
Replay Variability: High
Good with: 2-4 players
Game length: 45-60 minutes

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Nice review Scott.
I have this game since past December, but i haven't played it yet. Just looking at the game bits is a joy for itself. The components are really great. The rules are very easy to learn and i'm looking forward to try it soon.
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Mario Aguila
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Scott Tepper wrote:
Game designing can be compared to the creative process of baking a cake. There are many different chefs out there, and as a result, you can find many different kinds of desserts. Most bakeries will have some sort of chocolate cake. The cakes may be similar, and most of the ingredients, like flour, eggs and milk are the same, but you and I know that they don’t all taste the same. Sometimes, an adventurous chef will throw in an innovative ingredient, like prickly pear juice, but for the most part a chocolate cake is a chocolate cake is a chocolate cake.

Every once in a while, though, you will stumble across a bakery that has an outstanding version of the dessert that you’ve been exposed to over and over again. The difference is that in the hands of this talented chef, the basic ingredients are put together with such care that their sum is better than their parts.

Die Baumeister Von Arkadia (the Masterbuilders of Arkadia) is that type of game.

Ok, so which of your previous favorite desserts would you discard (sell) in favor of this new and better one?
 
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Scott Tepper
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Mario, Mario, Mario...as an avowed chocoholic, I find no reason to restrict my selection of dessert sites.

Regarding games, however, I may have to, at some point, cut back. Luckily, I don't have to make that choice just yet, because, honestly, I know analysis paralysis will set in.
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Al Johnson
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Nice review. Only one question. You state the following:

"Each player begins the game with two little plastic workers in their own color (either yellow, green, orange or violet so as not to be confused with the seals’ colors), with eight more workers for each player set aside for later acquisition. Depending on the number of players (2, 3, 4), they receive an additional 3, 2, or 1 neutral (beige) worker(s). The remaining neutral workers are put next to the board."

I could find nowhere in the English rules where you received the addition neutral workers at the beginning of the game as stated in your second sentence. Any help?

Al
 
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Al Johnson
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Never mind - I found out this is only if you use the beginner setup...blush
 
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This review led me to ordering this game. Thanks very much. I even liked the seal joke.
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