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Subject: UMCR Walnut Grove Review: Welcome to a Fantastic game! rss

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Nick Van Dam
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Anderson
Missouri
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I want to thank Richard Ham for putting this game on my radar. The description as Carcassonne meets Agricola, and a lighter version of Agricola put this on my wish list, and when I saw a copy on Craigslist while visiting my parents over Christmas I had to pick it up and give it a try. An added bonus was that when I mentioned that Little House on the Prairie was the source of the setting, my wife immediately was more interested in the game. While the connection is small, it did open the door. I personally see more of a connection with Bonanza (a show I watched a lot in reruns)

Components
- The game is made up of one central board and individual player boards. All the cardboard components are of good quality. They are of good thinkiness and have nice art work.

- The main board depicts the town of Walnut grove and have a fun feel to it while still being easily understandable.

- Your player board depicts your homestead. Your main house and your ranch hand wagons are depicted along with the start of your Homestead.

- The land tiles, charity tiles, coins, and special goal tiles are all of good quality and have a nice look. The special goal tiles symbology isn't entirely intuitive so you will need to look at the rule book the first few times you play to determine what they mean.

- Wooden bits... Your piece in the city is a nice pawn that looks like a farmer with a hat. The pawn at your homestead are basic pawns of different colors. The resources are cubes of different colors. All are nice quality wood bits, and the symbols on the board match what they look like.

- The rule book is well written and easy to understand.

Game Play

The object of the game is to establish your homestead. This is measured in victory points. Victory points can be gained in a few different ways. Points can be gained through the accumulation of coins, the fencing off of parcels of land, the accumulation of workers, building of houses and barns, and special end goal tiles which allow for bonus points.

Each player starts with their homestead, 2 copper coins, a black pawn that represents them, and a ranch hand/worker pawn that is either yellow or blue depending on the board they start with.
The homestead comes with 1 barn which allows for 4 storage and 1 main house for your black pawn to live in. The worker stays in a covered wagon.

The game takes place over the course of 8 years. Each year is depicted on a disc in the center of the board, having 4 seasons. In the Spring each player will draw a certain number of land tiles from a bag. From 2-4 tiles and keep either 1 or 2 tiles depending on the year. You place these tiles expanding your settlement as you "explore". These provide locations for your pawns to work and generate resources.

After these are placed the summer phase takes place and you place your workers on a section of the settlement. For each tile that makes up the field, mountain range, lake, or cow pasture that your worker is one you generate a resource of that type.

For instance, if you place your a worker on a cow pasture that is contiguously connected through 3 tiles, then three milk cubes (white) are generated. These are placed in the squares on that pasture. If there are not enough open spaces in the pasture you can put them in your barn(s). If there isn't enough space in either location they are lost.

The next season, Autumn is the town phase. You have a pawn that travels clockwise around the town. There are locations like the church and post office that allow you to simply receive cubes of your choosing. There are places to sell resources for a random coin draw. There are places to buy extra housing or barns to improve your farm and increase storage. There are also places to buy goals which will give you bonus points at the end of the game. Tiles like a well that will give you an additional point for every worker you have, or a tent that will give you 2 bonus points for every structure.

Finally there are 2 places in town that require coins to pass. The church where you tithe, and the city hall where you pay taxes. If you don't have a coin you can take a charity tile which is worth -2 victory points. These however can be removed if you pay 3 resources. However if you ever have 2 or more charity tiles at the same time then all but one become permanent.

The final Season is Winter. In winter you must feed your workers and heat their homes. Each worker's color denotes the type of food they eat, some years require 1 of that resource per worker, other years require 2. The same is true for wood to fuel the fire, but if you build a house for your worker then the fuels for the fire is not required.

Finally, Coins can be used as any resource during the game, just as if you used it to buy what you needed. This is the main advantage to copper coins as there is great incentive to use them this way.

Our experience

I got this to the table playing 3 player with my family. My wife and I had really liked Agricola, and the tile placement looked fun to me. The first game moved a bit slow as we worked through all the phases. There are a lot, but they do make sense thematically as seasons which helped. We did have some problems with remembering how scoring worked, which would have been helped by individual player aids. Ultimately the game was a success and we played a second time the next day too.

Pros
- The game is fun
- multiple paths to victory
- not overly confrontational, some interaction but not really a lot of take that.
- at the end you have a neat looking homestead you've built
- Easy enough my mom could understand it and do well.
- really nice art work, great job Klemens Franz!
- a nice mixture of random draws in land tiles and special powers along with strategy which allows for a lot of replay-ability.
- simultaneous actions in placement which speed up game play


Cons

- The end game tile symbols are not always intuitive and require referencing.
- The tile placement caused some AP (analysis paralysis) in our games.
- The resources and workers would have been better as resource shapes and meeples.
- with the AP the game length was a bit long.

Response to Cons

- The symbol issue would have easily been addressed with player aids, these are easily made, we just photocopied that section of the rule book. This along with repeated game play solves that concern.
- The AP with the tile placement was addressed by simply providing everyone the tiles at the same time and letting people choose simultaneously. There are enough tiles in the bag to do it this way and it speeds up the game quite a bit!
- The game has really nice components, and it is did come out before animeeples and resources bits were common. That said this game can easily be upgraded, and I like it enough I may do just that. This said, the bits it comes with are really good quality and don't detract one bit from the game play. Still super fun!
- the first game was a bit long, but after we instituted the streamlined tile selection/placement, and became more familiar with the game the pace picked up a bit. If time is still an issue it is very easy to shorten the game by removing one or two year tiles so that it is only 7 or 6 rounds in the game. I prefer the entire 8 years, but I don't think it would significantly hurt the game to shorten it in this way.

Final Thoughts
This is a great game! It is puzzley and interesting. It integrates the theme well, and I really find the season mechanism to be a wonderful part of the game. It definitely was worth the trouble of seeking it out. It is lighter than Agricola, while still providing some of the same challenging choices. It also provides a lot of the fun that I find in Carcassonne.
I really like looking at the ranches that we've built at the end of the game, and the story of the 8 years. It is a fun theme for me as well as a great puzzle.
If you can find this game at a reasonable price, or have a chance to play it I highly recommend it.

I rate this game a 10/10


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J P
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There are great player aids in the files section!
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Jon S
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Wish it were available. Hard to find. Great review though!
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Nick Van Dam
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Anderson
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jsaah wrote:
Wish it were available. Hard to find. Great review though!

Thanks for the kind words Jon. I agree! I hope it eventually comes back into print with the wooden bits upgraded so more people can enjoy it!
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