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Arriala: Canal de Garonne» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Locked in? Play this. rss

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"Make History and Become the Greatest Project Manager" exclaims the back of the box. It's a tagline sure to pull you in. Saying that, if you ignore my sarcasm and actually open the box you'll be rewarded with a really fine 30 minute game that can be played by 3 or 4 players. At this point I have played the game once, it was a 4-player game and was a hit, one to definitely play a lot more. And here is why.

Le Stuff Vous Get

For me the box is always a good starting point for any good game. Good artwork and graphic design draw you in, and it is what first got my attention. Well that and it's about my second most favourite theme, canal building (and I'm not being sarcastic this time either). The mixture of beautifully loose ink-based sketches and tight framing just oozes French class. The great artwork extends onto the board and cards. The cards themselves are a delight as they detail some wonderfully thematic scenes that have style as well as a hint of self-deprecation.

The board itself depicts a region of France containing some towns. Between the towns the route of the canal is laid out and broken into spaces. There can be between 4 and 10 spaces between each town. Alongside the canal route are some vineyards that can be worked, points of interest to be developed, and a couple of sites to build an architectural wonder (which have beautifully large wooden pieces to place when built). Also on the board is a summary of the actions a player can perform, and a scoring summary. Around the bottom and left edge is the ubiquitous score track. Again, the design and artwork is beautiful, giving that really skilled hand-drawn look.

The rulebook is equally superb. It's short and clearly lays out all the rules. Unusually for a rulebook it is easiest when explaining the game to new players to just read aloud the rules. Best of all it has something so many rulebooks miss, a short recap listing in bullet points how to score points. That I am confident enough to write this review after one play is because of the very clear and simple rules.

Le Game de la Area Control en Messing with People

In the game each player has five workers. During a turn a player spends up to 5 action points to perform a variety of actions. These actions can cost between 1 and 4 action points each. So on a turn you should be able to do at least two things. The first action will usually be to move workers onto the board. After that workers can be assigned to tasks such as move along the canal route, move into vineyards, construct additional canal-side developments, and build locks. Players can also draw special action cards or play cards from their hand.

At its heart this is an area control game. A stretch of canal is scored when it is filled with workers, these can be from multiple players. A stretch of canal to be scored is either between two towns, between a lock and a town, or between a lock and a lock. As the locks are placed by players for actions points in their turn then the length of a stretch can vary, and calculating when it will be completed not so straight-forward. The number of points is based on the total number of workers in that completed stretch, but is awarded solely to the player with the most workers.

What makes this game interesting though is that worker movement, and some cards, can be applied to any worker, not just your own. Naturally this means the game can be quite cut-throat as you move opponent's pieces out of a canal stretch to give yourself a majority, or even move an opponent piece in to a stretch just to make it longer so you score more points. This simple rule really elevates this game. It hugely increases the number of possibilities open to a player, and something you have to watch out for. No longer is this a simple area control game.

The action cards the players draw and hold are the only luck element to the game, but there are enough of each card in the deck that things should really even out across the game. Saying that, the game lets you make your own luck. Having cards gives you much more flexibility in your turn, so smart investing of action points to take a card into your hand will give you a pay-off. Generally the cards give you ways of doing normal game actions cheaper. For example, a move 5 spaces card will enable you to move a worker upto five spaces along the canal route for the cost of 3 action points (2 for taking card, if not already in you starting hand, and 1 point for playing the card) instead of the usual points (1 action point per space moved).

Le Conclusion

I really enjoy this game. The theme and mechanics blend wonderfully, it's not worker placement for the sake of it. It's about moving a workforce around to achieve something. For example, you may score big in one stretch, but now you could have workers a long way from the next bit of action. So time to employ some delaying tactics on your opponents. I love that you can move your opponents pieces, it's what takes this from being a filler to a being a proper game with proper decisions and multiple approaches. Best of all it makes the game much more interactive.

The 30 minute play time is down to the fairly small map. This does an excellent job of ensuring the game doesn't outstay its welcome. The game never drags or seem to go slow. Of course, this might also limit the amount of replayability, but I think there are enough tactical choices, strategies, and cunning little tricks to apply, that the game is going to remain very fun for a long-time.
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