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Subject: What a difference a theme makes rss

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Eric B
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There are many reviews here on BGG that provide great, useful detail on the gameplay and component quality of Fields of Green. I don’t propose to go very deep on that here. I would, however, like to share a few of my thoughts on why this game resonated with me so strongly when other similar games did not.

Most Fields of Green reviews point out that the game is largely a reimplementation of Among the Stars, a card drafting/tile placement game from a few years back. When I first became aware of Fields of Green I was surprised that I had never looked into Among the Stars because the core game mechanisms are typically very appealing to me. Then I realized the problem. The theme. I know that some would argue that a good game is a good game and that if the game is good enough then the theme shouldn’t matter. That sounds quite reasonable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always hold true for me. Science Fiction and space themes have never, ever, resonated with me. I am one of those people who feel that sci fi peaked with original Star Trek series and quickly went downhill from there. I watched a few review and gameplay videos for Among the Stars and couldn’t make heads or tails of the game largely because of the theme. On the other hand, I pulled up a couple of Fields of Green videos and was immediately sold. In Among the Stars, I had a hard time understanding how many of the different tiles related to each other because I just didn’t ‘get’ the nomenclature whereas it all made perfect sense to me in Fields of Green. Now that I own the game I appreciate the opportunity to try out different strategies to see how I can organize my farm as effectively as possible. The smooth and (fairly) quick gameplay helps keep gameplay from lagging, especially since players can perform the sometimes complicated Harvest Phase simultaneously.

I also appreciate the fact that the game sets up quickly. While I said that I wouldn’t dwell on component quality, I will just say that they are just right and provide enough detail that the game can be picked up quickly, even by those who are relatively new to the hobby. While component quality does not spoil my enjoyment of a game (one need look no further than The Castles of Burgundy for proof of that), it’s nice to find a game where the components add to rather than detract from gameplay. My only minor quibble is about the size of the box. I assume it is sized to allow for expansions but even for that it seems excessively large.

Finally, I want to mention (as others have done already) how much I appreciate the thought that went into the creation of the two-player variant. It is simple and works perfectly as a substitute for the more standard dummy player variant found in many other games where card drafting is a central mechanism. Not being a big fan of dummy players, this was most welcome and really takes the game to a place where it works equally well at all player counts. As a frequent solo gamer as well, the user-created solo variants are also quite good and provide a satisfying gaming experience when you find yourself looking for that sort of thing. (As an aside – has anyone incorporated this two player variant into 7 Wonders?)

Fields of Green has seen a lot of play on my table in a short period of time and has proven to me the importance of theme in a game, even in what some might call a simple euro. In fact, I find that the theme is deeply embedded and quite important to the Fields of Green experience. Congratulations to the designer and all those involved in bringing this reimplementation to the gaming community.
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Steve Wrenn
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What? You thought I'd have some interesting overtext?
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Couldn't agree more on theme mattering! Among the Stars was the first game I enjoyed enough to prompt me to write a review. I love the science fiction theme. Farming a field...snoooooze feeest. In all seriousness, while I would play it if it were put on the table, and probably would have fun given that it's so similar, I certainly would never buy the game, and wouldn't likely have written a review of it. Bottom line, theme matters.
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Wim van Gruisen
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The problem with a theme is that it has to fit.
I don't have the game, so I may be mistaken. But I understood that the theme is farming during the last fifty years. And during the game you build a tableau of cards of wheat fields, different sort of livestock, and so on.

But that type of 'mixed operation' ('gemengd bedrijf' in Dutch, meaning a farm which has all sorts of agricultural activity) is what you don't really find anymore - at least not here in the Netherlands. The trend during the last fifty years has been increased specialisation. Farmers specialise in just pig breeding, for instance, and within that sector you have farmers who breed piglets which they then sell to other farmers who raise the piglets to pigs for the slaughter. These farmers don't grow their own crops; they buy feed from feed producers.

Similar specialisation has been going on for other sorts of livestock. Dairy farmers usually grow their own feed - at least partially. They grow maize and grass, which is good food for cows, and mix that with additives from - again - the feed producer.

Plant producers do things differently. Partly, they specialise. Growers of tomatoes and so on specialise in their thing. But then you have the producers of grain, maize, and so on. They make a plan every year of what crop to grow. Because each crop extracts different minerals from the soil, and if you grow the same crop on the same patch of land each year, the soil will be less and less able to feed the crop, which results in poorer harvests. That is why farmers use crop rotation (and they've been doing that for centuries). As I said, I haven't played FoG, but it would surprise me if crop rotation is part of the game.

Another point in FoG is that in four years time, the farm quadruples in size. In the real world (at least in the Netherlands), land use is at a premium. There aren't any wild, unused patches of land that you can simply expand into. Now my country, being very populated, may be an extreme case, but I don't think that there are many countries where farms can simply add acres and acres of land to their farm each year.

And then there is the flow of the game. You start with fields, I understood. The fields produce feed for the livestock, so when you have harvested you can start producing livestock.
In the real farming world, the line is not in one direction, but rather circular. Crops produce livestock feed, but livestock produces manure that crops need to grow. If you buy into the image of self-sustained, non-specialised farms of FoG, then you should think about where you get the manure from to grow your crops.

Long text, and coloured by the fact that I'm working for a publisher of agricultural magazines, which gives me a bit of knowledge about farming. That knowledge makes me see how the way the theme comes forward in the game conflicts with the reality of the theme.

I think that if you use a theme from the real world, you have to make sure that it reflects the real world. In FoG, it doesn't. The abstractness of building a space station is much safer.

I like both SF and farming as themes. But the danger of the latter is - especially when you look at modern farming - that the theme would deviate from the real world. And that makes the theme less strong for those who know it.
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Tim Tix
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Whymme wrote:
Long text, and coloured by the fact that I'm working for a publisher of agricultural magazines, which gives me a bit of knowledge about farming. That knowledge makes me see how the way the theme comes forward in the game conflicts with the reality of the theme.


So is there any modern farming game you recommend?
 
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Woo-Hoo Gamer
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Whymme wrote:

I think that if you use a theme from the real world, you have to make sure that it reflects the real world. In FoG, it doesn't. The abstractness of building a space station is much safer.


I’ll respectfully disagree. There are a ton of [great] games that are themed around something in the real world that do not adequately reflect it in the real world.

Dominion = You are a monarch...
Suburbia = City Building
Patchwork = Quilting
Istanbul = a Grand Bizarre
Castles of Mad King Ludwig = Constructing Castles

The majority of non-sci-fi themed games won’t come close to adequately reflecting what it’s like in the real world. It’s just a game. As some would say, the theme is just “pasted on”. And while the theme may have little to do with the actual gameplay, it may make the game more/less appealing to some gamers.

If the theme of FoG doesn’t draw you in, that’s ok. For my group, FoG hits the table more often than Sci-fi themed Race or Roll for the Galaxy...mostly b/c people find the farming theme more attractive. They’re not expecting it to be a true-to-life representation, but for them, growing crops and feeding horses is more entertaining than robot aliens or constructing a space station.

All in all, everybody has their preferences. One gamer’s preference isn’t “right” or “better” or even “safer” than another gamer’s preference. It’s just a preference.

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Thomas S
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Quote:
The problem with a theme is that it has to fit. [...] I like both SF and farming as themes. But the danger of the latter is - especially when you look at modern farming - that the theme would deviate from the real world. And that makes the theme less strong for those who know it.


I'm not sure about this. When I watch a movie like Star Wars, for example, I don't want to be taught what intergalactic relationships could really look like. When I watch a movie like Ocean's Eleven, I don't want to be shown why a heist like that could never work. I want to get drawn into an enjoyable universe and have a great time there, and in order to achieve that I'm willing to suspend disbelief.

Great games manage to have that same effect.

For me personally, Viticulture is an example of a superbly thematic game, and from what I've read so far, Fields of Green could scratch the same itch, too.

Thank you Eric for the excellent review!
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