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Subject: Carcassonne's eastern cousin rss

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Bruce Murphy
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Fjords is a quick-playing lightweight game for two. It comes in a tiny box, can typically be found really cheaply and plays fast enough that a 'game' is actually three complete rounds of the game. The game is relatively light but is actually an odd mix of ideas from Carcassonne and Go, tile placement for advantage and area influence and control.

The game is themed with Viking explorers trying to establish farms along the newly discovered meadows lying between fjords and mountains in some Nordic land. Sometimes the tiles will come out right and you'll actually see a coast with fjords appearing before your eyes.

The game's components are nice hexagonal cardboard tiles containing a mixture of mountains, meadows and water. Each hexagon side can contain either two different halves or be just one thing. The game also comes with little wooden farm houses and discs used to mark planted fields in the later part of each round.



The rounds start with three set tiles in the middle containing a mix of water, meadow and mountains. In the first half of each round, players alternately draw and place tiles. The tile supply is random and face down. One quirk of the game is to require each placed tile to match on two sides, so each new tile has to nestle into the concave gap between two existing tiles.

This is a much stronger matching requirement than Carcassonne's square tiles and can lead to cases where a tile cannot be placed at all. In this case the tile is laid aside face up next to the board and another face down tile is drawn. Players are free (but not forced) to use any of the face up tiles instead of drawing a new tile.

For each tile placed, the player can choose to place one of their four farmhouse tokens on the meadow part of the tile (if there is one). Placement of these farms is critically important to the second phase.



Once the last face-down tile has been placed (or found not to fit), the first phase ends. Players are not forced to use face-up tiles. The player who did not place the last tile begins the second phase.

In the second phase, players claim territory by taking alternate turns to play wooden discs representing cultivated fields on the map. Fields can be placed on any empty tile's meadow which is adjacent to a meadow already claimed by the player with a farm or a field. Adjacency doesn't cross water or mountains, the meadowland has to be contiguous.

The empty tile requirement opens up the opportunity to block the other player as well as many disc-line dashes to be the first to claim an open territory.

The final score for each player is the number of field discs placed . The loser begins the following round and the winner is the player with the higher total score after three rounds.



Strategy

The placement of houses is critical as they're the starting point to all your field expansions. The placement interacts strongly with the terrain tiles. It's dangerous to place a house where your opponent can create choke points so that they can completely block your expansion, similarly it's great to create a peninsula that you can fill with fields without competition. Often players will hold back one of their houses that they can try to drop into an uncontested space late in the game.

It's possible to reduce the chances of a hostile entry into a region by keeping your personal areas fenced off with mountains or creating corners with water and mountains that never match any of the tiles in the game.

It's also interesting to note that houses do not count for scoring. Placing a house in an uncontested region will cost you a point for the field you can no longer place there. Despite this, it can still be useful to intimidate another player, though you're more likely just to reassure them that you cannot threaten them elsewhere.

Finally, often the first field placement can be critical as it forces the other player to react to your placements and gets to to any blocking spaces first. It's possible to aggressively work with the unplaceable tiles to either prevent them being placed or choosing your tile placements to allow them placed in order to manipulate who places their field first. Of course, if you've done a good job of the terrain and the houses, this really doesn't matter.

Conclusions

Fjords is a great fast-playing lightweight 2-player game that actually has a little depth to the decisions. The 30-minute playing time on the box is about right and it's easily and cheaply available. There's no reason not to go out and pick up a copy right now!
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Paul Rubin
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I bought a second copy and play using 2 sets of tiles, but just the one set of houses. Makes for a longer game but more challenging.
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Bruce Murphy
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That's a really good idea. Thanks!

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kSwingrÜber
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thepackrat wrote:
...cheaply available.
One gets what one pays for.

thepackrat wrote:
There's no reason not to go out and pick up a copy right now!
Except that it's boring...


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Raul Catalano
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kswingruber wrote:

thepackrat wrote:
There's no reason not to go out and pick up a copy right now!

Except that it's boring...


I agree: the tile placement phase gives most often very limited choices, and the second phase is just a simple consequence of the first.
For casual play it can be slightly fun, but Fjords has not enough meat on it to last. I traded my copy and I never had any regret.
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Bruce Murphy
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The placement phase has as many choices as you make for yourself. How you place tiles can expand or reduce the future tile placements greatly, and then there are the opportunities for aggressive vs expansionist farm placement.

This is a fast-playing fairly light weight game, but there is definitely a game in there.

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Russ Williams
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Raul Catalano wrote:
I agree: the tile placement phase gives most often very limited choices, and the second phase is just a simple consequence of the first.

The second phase is certainly a consequence of the first, but I wouldn't call it a simple consequence. Just as there are nontrivial endgame situations in go, so there are in Fjords.
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David desJardins
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russ wrote:
The second phase is certainly a consequence of the first, but I wouldn't call it a simple consequence. Just as there are nontrivial endgame situations in go, so there are in Fjords.


I'm doubtful there are ever nontrivial endgame situations in Fjords. It may depend on what you mean by nontrivial. I don't think I've ever seen a situation where I couldn't find the best move with a bit of thought. That's certainly not the case for Go.

I think of it as like Galaxy Trucker, the second phase is basically the "scoring phase", where you find out how well you did in the first phase.

The first phase is not lacking in choices, if nothing else you always have the decision about where to place your huts. Even if the tile placements were fixed (which they aren't) that would make a real game.
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Russ Williams
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DaviddesJ wrote:
russ wrote:
The second phase is certainly a consequence of the first, but I wouldn't call it a simple consequence. Just as there are nontrivial endgame situations in go, so there are in Fjords.


I'm doubtful there are ever nontrivial endgame situations in Fjords. It may depend on what you mean by nontrivial. I don't think I've ever seen a situation where I couldn't find the best move with a bit of thought. That's certainly not the case for Go.

Fjords is certainly not as complex as go, of course I agree. But I would still not call its phase 2 "simple" in general. I would argue that there are plenty of positions with big fields and several houses where the best move is not simple to find.

(And how do you know you found the best move every time, as opposed to believing you did?)

But then I still have not reached consistent dan level in go either. Quite possibly I am just not so good at such endgame play.
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David desJardins
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russ wrote:
(And how do you know you found the best move every time, as opposed to believing you did?)


I just said I'm doubtful. Why don't you post some examples to show what you mean?
 
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Russ Williams
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DaviddesJ wrote:
russ wrote:
(And how do you know you found the best move every time, as opposed to believing you did?)


I just said I'm doubtful. Why don't you post some examples to show what you mean?

Basically any situation where there's a big open field with several houses around it, so that there are lots of potential interactions from different directions. If you like, you can construct an example by making a big mostly empty field in the center with various interconnected valleys to the sides, and houses around the edge of the field. It's obvious that it's good to grow into the field, but from which house, and to which hex? Of course with sufficient analysis one can solve it (as one can solve any combinatorial game in principle with sufficient analysis) but it's just a bit more thinky sometimes than what I'd call 'simple'.

I do agree that, just as in go, eventually the board gets subdivided into independent regions that no longer interact (like a good classic combinatorial game), and so it is then much more obvious what the best move is. Sente, gote, etc are all applicable in an easy simple way once the board is broken into simple independent regions. But at the start of phase 2, I'm often not so sure what's best. As I say, quite possibly it's because I'm just not as good at the game or analyzing the positions.

Although, thinking about some of the endgame examples in the Mathematical Go book, I imagine one could construct analogous positions in Fjords that are very hard to solve without pulling out some serious combinatorial game theory.

I keep thinking I should try doing some more formal analysis on Fjords in that spirit, but never getting around to it.
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David desJardins
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russ wrote:
If you like, you can construct an example by making a big mostly empty field in the center with various interconnected valleys to the sides, and houses around the edge of the field.


If the situations that arise in actual games are non-obvious and difficult to solve, why don't you post some of them? That's what I was asking. We have lots of chess and Go endgames that are very difficult to solve. I haven't seen any example of a Fjords endgame that is difficult to solve. Maybe they exist and I haven't seen them, that's why I was hoping to see your examples. Or maybe you're right that they are harder than I think, and you could point out where my solution is wrong, again that would only be possible with some examples.
 
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Russ Williams
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DaviddesJ wrote:
If the situations that arise in actual games are non-obvious and difficult to solve, why don't you post some of them? That's what I was asking. We have lots of chess and Go endgames that are very difficult to solve. I haven't seen any example of a Fjords endgame that is difficult to solve. Maybe they exist and I haven't seen them, that's why I was hoping to see your examples.

Fair enough! I will try to remember to photograph the board when we play it next time, so as to get a "real life" example.
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