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Subject: A Meeple Pusher Review of: Fences rss

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David McMillan
United States
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Before I delve too much into the game play, I’d like to take a moment to comment on the look and feel of the game. The printed components (i.e. – pretty much all of them) have a distinctly weird quality of being both high quality and very flimsy at the same time. For instance, the tiles have a nice heft to them, but they’re very thin and difficult to shuffle. I’m going to chalk this up to this being a prototype and I certainly expect the final quality will be much better. The artwork makes me feel weird also; while I find it to be serviceable, some of it is strangely off putting. The box art and the animals on the tiles look great, but the farmers on those farmer cards just look strange. It’s almost as if there were two different artists. For all I know there could have been, but I can’t be sure since neither the designer nor the artist(s) are credited anywhere in the printed material or on the box itself.

This talk of printed material brings me to my last comment about the components. The rule book looks great and it’s evident that a lot of time was put into getting it right. However, that same attention to detail wasn’t paid to the text on the box. For instance, the box implores me to claim my land, “sheppard” my herds, and build my fences. I hope that they have an editor look over things before hitting the “publish” button at the end of this campaign. But enough about the game pieces. Let’s talk about how it actually plays.

It’s almost impossible to play a game like Fences where you’re laying down tiles, placing control markers onto those tiles, and then completing the features on those tiles later on in order to score points without comparing it to Carcassonne (assuming you’ve played Carcassonne). So, the question becomes, what makes Fences special? How is it different and are those differences enough to set it apart?

For starters, Fences is much more streamlined than Carcassonne. Carcassonne presents you with multiple options at any given time (especially when you begin adding in expansions) by providing you with different features that score points in different ways and then forcing you to choose between which of those you want to invest in. Fences removes a lot of that complication. You’re only concerned with one thing here: enclosing fields and scoring as many points as you can for doing so. This just makes it a much easier and much more approachable game.

Secondly, the farmer cards introduce the concept of variable player powers which give the players the ability to score for fields they normally wouldn’t be able to score for. In a game like Carcassonne, the only way that you could complete a feature that belonged to someone else and still score for it would be by either sneaking onto the feature via a connecting tile or through the use of a game expansion. In Fences, being able to score for someone else’s fields right out of the box presents the player with interesting decisions that normally wouldn’t exist. Is it worth it to cut off an opponent’s progress in a field to score a few more points even though it’s also helping them? Or would it benefit you more to wait a little while longer in order to increase your own benefit derived from doing so? And true to the nature of variable player powers in any game, these different play styles provide the game with a great degree of replayability.

So, while similar to Carcassonne, Fences is just different enough that it manages to stand as its own game. And it’s decently fun. In the last game that I played with my wife, she was working on constructing a giant field that was going to net her a sizable amount of points. Seeing this, I managed to scoot in underneath it and drop in a tile that made it almost impossible for her to complete it. Not only was I denying her those points, but I was also tying up one of her barns to boot. The feeling of dread that she would manage to draw the one tile she desperately needed was very real. It took awhile, but she finally managed to draw it. While Fences didn’t blow us away, we both enjoyed ourselves. Overall, it was a positive experience.

In fact, there aren’t many negative aspects to the game. Aside from my gripes about the components, there were a couple of other things that gave me pause. First, the score track in the bottom of the box is difficult to see and manipulate. Because the sides of the box are so high, if you’re looking at the score track from an angle, it is completely obscured. In order to see it, you have to practically stand directly over it looking straight down. These high walls also make moving the houses around somewhat of a chore. It is an odd design choice and I think I would have preferred it if the score track had been printed on its own separate card or if it had been printed on the bottom of the box instead so that the box could have just been flipped upside down.

There also needs to be some way to track your score once it’s moved beyond fifty (the highest the score track goes). At ten to thirty points a pop, the fifty mark is hit and exceeded almost immediately. Also, the rule book doesn’t have any provision for what happens should there be a tie in scoring. Even though this didn’t come up in any of the games that I played, I could see it potentially causing some issue should it occur.

Even though it doesn’t possess the same complexity as Carcassonne, Fences does have just enough depth to make it interesting. If you’re looking for a quick tile laying game with some bite to it or if you’re playing with people that get all cross eyed when they’re trying to wrap their heads around Carcassonne, then Fences might be just the game you’re looking for. Fences is a pleasant game that is not only easy to teach, but also plays fairly quickly, too. If it sounds like something that would interest you, then I recommend taking a look at the Kickstarter for it that’s going on right now.

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