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Subject: Vor den Toren von Loyang - by Uwe Rosenberg rss

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Grzegorz Kobiela
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On Saturday, July 26th, we playtested 'Vor den Toren von Loyang', a game designed by Uwe Rosenberg that is the predecessor of Agricola, but will be published hopefully in 2009. It can be played with 2-4 players. I'll explain the 4-player game and note the changes in a 3-player game at the end. A 2-player game is pretty much the same as a 4-player game.

This game is all about goods and money. Each player starts with 10 gold and one field that consists of 9 spaces - each space can take one good, which there are 6 types of in the game. Currently the goods have no real names, just that of the color their representative cubes have: blue, green, red, yellow, orange, purple.

Your first field is also the round counter - the game lasts exactly 9 rounds. In these you try to make money with your goods by fulfilling 'contracts' or 'orders' which I will talk about later. Also, in front of you there is a small player board in form of a capital letter 'T', where you can find your 'shop' on the left, and a victory point track starting in the crossing of the T and going to the round and across the vertical line of the T. It's numbered 1,3,4,...,20. I'll tell you later how to use it.

Your 'shop' has 3 spaces for a blue cube, and two for each of the other types of goods in the order given above. Blue costs 3 gold, green 4, red and yellow 5, orange and purple 6. They sell for 1 gold each, except orange and purple which sell for 2 gold. You may only buy a cube if it is still available in your shop and you may sell one so long as there is a free space of the appropriate color - so we have a supply and demand mechanism here.

At the start of the game you fill all of the spaces in your shop with cubes, except orange and purple which get just one cube. Then, starting with a random starting player, each player may select one blue, green or red cube from their shop to sow it. The so sown first field of each player will now be filled with cubes of the same color from the supply. Thus, each player starts with 9 cubes of a color. Note, only up to two players may take the same type of goods. After that, the game begins.

The first action of each player is to harvest exactly one cube from each field they have. At the beginning this will be just the first one. They put this cube in their 'storage'.

Then each player receives a new field. The sizes may vary from 3 to 6 spaces, and the smaller the field size the more types of goods can be sown on that field. You'll be able to sow purple, for instance, on 3-space fields only. To guarantee that each player will start with about the same fields, each player was dealt one field of all 4 sizes (3,4,5,6) and has shuffled that stack face-down, and now draws the top-most card of that stack. After 4 rounds, however, each player will get a new field from the general supply and this can be various field sizes.

After each player was dealt a new field, the starting player deals 4 special cards to each player. These show one of 5 things: a 'contract', an 'order' (both placed on the right side of your player board), a 'person', or a 'market' (both placed on the left side in seperate rows). The 5th type of cards is another field.

BUT, this is not that easy. Before the players can lay out these cards in their play area, a cool drafting mechanism is performed. Each player has to lay out one card from his hand and one from the 'common supply'. This common supply, however, is not the draw stack, but will be created by the players themselves by throwing cards from their hands to the middle. The starting player has no option, but to discard one of his 4 cards to the middle. This will be the first card of the common supply. After that each player, including the starting player, may either on his own throw in a card to the supply and therefore passing the turn to the next player. Or he takes one card from the supply, one from his hand and lays them out in his play area. The remaining cards in his hand will be put in the common supply. So, having many good cards in your hand is no good, as you have to first throw one of them in, to later take it yourself. But you risk that another player will take it before you. Even if you are the last player to have cards in your hand, you may not take two of them. You have to take one already laying in the supply. BTW, all the other cards not taken will be added to the stack and the stack will be reshuffled prior to dealing 4 cards to each player on the next turn.

So, what are the cards you were dealt and what can you do with them in order to win the game?

The MARKET is easy. It shows 3 pairs of spaces. A cube of the color mentioned on the space will be put on the right space of each pair. This is what you can get on the market. During your turn, you may place any cube on the left space of a pair to immediately get that cube on the right one. This way you can trade goods for much better values than through the shop (remember the buy price is much higher than the sell price). However, some markets show a double-left-space for orange and purple cubes. This means you have to spend two cubes of any color to get this one orange or purple cube.

The PERSON cards are also very easy. They have a text written on the card telling you what you can do once, after which you must discard the person. Some of them give you alternatives and you have to choose one of the available alternatives when playing the card. There are a lot of persons with a lot of different actions. Some allow you to trade goods on another player's market. Some allow you to harvest more than one good. And so on. Nearly every aspect of the game is also covered by one person giving you better outcome of a particular action.

An ORDER card shows three types of goods (may be the same, like red-red-purple) and a value. During your turn you may fulfill as many order you can pay buy discarding the goods demanded from your storage to the general supply. The value on the card (from 8-14) is the outcome in gold you get for the fulfillment. However, if you have too many orders, you get a 2 gold penalty; if you have very few orders, you even get a 2 gold bonus. This depends on how many contracts you have. If you have more contracts than orders, you get the bonus, if you have fewer contracts than orders, you get the penalty. Nothing special happens otherwise. However, there is a person card allowing you to ignore the penalty for an entire turn.

The CONTRACT cards are tricky. They show 4 pairs of spaces. Each pair has a value. The card itself mentions two colors (may be the same on some contracts). Contracts are the only actions you have to do in your turn. Each turn you must fulfill one (and not more) pair of cubes mentioned on the card. You start with the lowest value and after 4 rounds you have fulfilled the whole contract. However, if you cannot fulfill a row the first time, you get a glass bead marking an admonishment. The next time you cannot fulfill a row, you have to pay 2 gold as penalty for each contract you cannot fulfill and which has already a glass bead. So, try to fulfill the contracts. Of course, the best way to do it, is to get cubes in the colors needed each turn in the harvest phase.

Finally, you might get a FIELD card. This is an additional field to the one you already got. And as fields and sowing is so important in this game, this type of cards is the only one to cost 2 gold to play. Such a field might have up to 7 spaces.

So, you now know the cards you can get and the actions associated with these cards. Other actions during your turn are:

SOWING - take one cube out from your storage and put it on a free field. Take additional cubes from the supply to fill all the spaces of the field. However, if a field is empty after you harvest a good, you have to discard that field. So, you can only use newly gotten fields. This is the reason why a field card costs 2 gold if you get it with the special cards. In the first 6 of the 9 rounds you play, you will need a lot of fields to get a steady supply of cubes each turn. It's like in Agricola: one grain is just one grain, but sown it will be three. It needs its time to get those three, but you know they will be there.

Another action is to buy and sell to your shop. These and all of the above mentioned actions can be performed multiple times (except contracts, you must fulfill one row per contract only). The last available action is to buy new special cards. You take two cards from the stack and you pay as many gold as you have persons or markets - whichever number is greater. You may take both, one or no cards and lay them out in your play area. However, if you take both, you put on onto the other - so you have first to use/fulfill the upper card to get to use the card below.

At the end of your turn you may buy victory points. The first victory point you buy in a turn costs 1 gold. Each other victory point costs the listed price. Example: In round one, you have earned 11 gold. You may advance to the '4' space of the victory point track for 8 gold. The 1 costs 1 gold, then the 3 and 4 cost 7. The next turn, say you have 17 gold. You can now advance to the '7' space for 14 gold. The 5 costs one as it is the first victory point space purchased, the 6 and 7, however, cost 6+7=13. This way early money is more precious than money earned in later turns. Note, there is no '2' space on the victory point track, thus the 8 gold to pay to advance to the '4' in round 1. This is also a very clever mechanism of this game. Usually, in a good game you'll get to the 17 or 18 spot of the victory point track.

This was an entire turn of one player. As the actions may take some time, and to fasten the game, Uwe Rosenberg has invented another ingenious mechanism: instead of each of the 4 players to wait for each other, the starting player selects a partner among the remaining players. This pair and the remaining one play simultaneously. That is: the starting player performs his actions and his partner watches to check the correctness. Also, for the purpose of person cards, his partner is the only player he may interact with. And vice-versa. So if he has a person that allows to use another players market, he may only use one of the markets of his partner. After he finished his turn, his partner performs his actions in the same manner. Simultaneously the other pair does the same. The player of this pair sitting on the left-most side of the starting player begins.

This way the game lasts 9 rounds as mentioned before. After round 6 most of your options will be obvious, also it will not be so profitable to grow further crops, so the turns will be played much faster. All in all, you will play about 3 hours. But that's OK and it's a very enjoyable time.

Some last notes on small rules I did not mention above: Should you ever need money and have no money left or you are not willing to sell your precious goods to your shop, you may take a credit of 5 gold. You immediately receive those 5 gold, BUT at the end of the game, you need to go back one space on the victory point track for each credit you have. You cannot pay back the credit earlier. Effectively, the payback of a credit will cost you about 17 or 18 gold, depending how far you were on the track. So, take credits wisely. Uwe Rosenberg said, usually players taking at least one credit don't win. I won the game we played having that one credit. So, if you play wisely, you should manage to win. It's not easy, however. Honestly, I was tied with another player. If you are tied on the victory point track, the player among those tied who has the most money left, wins. But we both had 6 gold left.

A last note on the other player counts: as the 4p game is pretty much a 2x 2p game (except the drafting phase), the 2p will not be very much different from it. The 3p game, however, is a regular one-by-one game where you play sequentially.

So, that's 'Vor den Toren von Loyang' (in English: 'In front of the gates to Loyang'). This game is all about money and wise agriculture. It's a very hard game and you really have to plan wisely. I very much enjoyed it and am waiting until it will be published. And for all Americans, don't be afraid, Uwe very probably will release an English edition parallelly to a German one - he said, he won't do the mistake with Agricola again.

Hope this small review/rules overview helps to get a picture of how the game works. If you are able to meet Uwe and play this game, do it. It's really worth it.
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Corin A. Friesen
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What about ties? With so little points scored, are ties common and how are they resolved?
 
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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Money left breaks the ties. If this is also tied, there is a draw.
 
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Matthew Giglia
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Thanks Ponton! Whenever I see your avatar on this site I always know I'm getting quality information. I can't wait to see this game after reading this excellent overview.

An aside: Americans such as myself do not know any foriegn languages, I suppose it's a part of our culture. All the Germans and other Europeans who post on this site have superb English writing skills, it makes me want to learn some German so at least I could write a Thank You in you're own language.
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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Thank you so much for your kind words!
I'm so excited what the published game will look like.
Klemens, again, is doing a great job!
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Alfred D.
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fragilehalos wrote:
An aside: Americans such as myself do not know any foriegn languages, I suppose it's a part of our culture. All the Germans and other Europeans who post on this site have superb English writing skills, it makes me want to learn some German so at least I could write a Thank You in you're own language.
Being on this site requires knowledge of English.

Trust me, there are plenty of Europeans who only speak their local native tongue. You won't see them around here. So, don't feel bad about it.
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ode.
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To be exact: There's another tie-breaker. The potential of your fields. The one with the most goods on his fields will win in a case of tied game on the scoretrack an with money...

Don't want to be a wise-ass. Just for the curious masses...
 
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