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Subject: Short Review of Fields of Arle: Tea & Trade as a Solo Game rss

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Fields of Arle is an outstanding game.
To me, it is one of the best (if not the best) solo games. It gives a wealth of options and a level of immersion, both thematically and mechanically, that I do not find anywhere else.

Tea & Trade is an expansion for Fields of Arle.

I have, so far, only played Tea & Trade as a solo game and thus I will review it as such. I have played this expansion four times so far.

Tea & Trade, fortunately, is a worthy companion to Fields of Arle.

New rules are only about three pages with lots of illustrations. Nothing to be afraid of if you already know standard Arle.
There are three new elements in Tea & Trade: Tea, Trade, and Drainage.

Tea is a new commodity, that can be used in different ways and can also be upgraded to the even better East Frisian Tea (which is a very nice variety of black tea in real life too, and could be described as an even richer and slightly more malty version of English Breakfast blends. Try it if you can get it where you live). Tea can be used to increase the tier on the craft tracks by one. East Frisian Tea can even increase it by two. This enables you to make effective use of those craft tracks that you have not increased (not used that Master craft track action on). You can also spend two East Frisian Tea to use an action space (not only on the craft tracks, but everywhere) twice. This is quite powerful and allows for very speedy development.

Trade is not really a new element as such, but rather a variation on the vehicle theme. You can now also build ships: Fishing ships and trading ships. Both work similar to normal vehicles, but fishing ships can also provide food and trading ships can trade goods for other goods. for example, you can trade wheat or flax for wood. Trading ships are also the most effective way to get Tea, so they are quite important.

Drainage allows the building of drainage channels between the spaces on your board. Having drainage makes plowing much easier (two fields instead of one per plough) and you can also breed sheep in spaces connected to the drainage system. Three sheep are allowed on such a space, thus allowing you to breed sheep without stables.

There is a wealth of new buildings, which also change the game and which provide new strategical options. Some of them are extremely powerful (the Mennonite Church provides a big trading ship and a total of 19 points) and some of which are more subtle and need integration into an economic engine to justify the expense.

I very much like the ships and I also do like Drainage. Both are mechanically elegant and they both contribute to a more polished playing experience. Trade provides another way to get goods for your economic engine and it also somewhat improves the value of agriculture (i. e. wheat and flax fields and their respective products). Drainage makes agriculture strategies a lot more attractive, since you can now easily have a lot of fields (and you can trade their produce with your ships).

Overall, I like this expansion. It provides (even) more options and it does so without adding a lot of special rules. The new options are fun and since you get three Tea right at the start, there is a lot more variation in the opening moves.
Drainage and the ships are very easy to understand, very easy to do, without distracting from the rest of the game.

Playing time is slightly longer than in standard Arle. I needed about one and a half hour for most of my games, some being closer to two hours.

The one new element that I am a bit sceptical about is Tea. Arle is a game that demands a relatively high level of planning anyway; and Tea makes this a lot more difficult to do, even overwhelmingly so. Especially in the later half of the game, a well placed build double action with two East Frisian Tea can trigger a chain reaction of developments that are hard to plan. It is, however, necessary to do so to play effectively. While this adds to the puzzle character of Arle in the solo game, I see how this could lead to analysis paralysis in the two player game. It is also the main factor in increasing the playing time.
Plus there is a single exception as to how Tea works, since it's effect is decreased when used on the oven (baking) action. This might be necessary for balance, but it is unintuitive and will easily be overlooked during the game.

I would recommend this expansion to anyone who likes Fields of Arle.
The new elements are fun and entertaining. Especially recommended if you find that you have played the basic game to its exhaustion and need a fresh challenge (which did not happen to me and which I find unlikely to happen to anyone, but you never know...)
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