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Subject: Welcome to Walnut Grove review rss

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Graham Dean
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Welcome to Walnut Grove

Review

Overview

I had become aware of Walnut Grove during my preparation for Essen 2011, and had put it down as quite interesting but probably one I would never check out or buy, since it only played up to 4 and I need games which play up to 5 quite often.

As it turned out quite a few people in our travelling group were interested in Walnut Grove too, so on Friday morning we strolled over to try for a demo, and after a short wait we sat down for a 4 player game.



Components

The game consists of a central board where tokens move around the board selecting actions, individual player boards, tiles, various tokens, wooden cubes and a couple of cloth bags. All fairly standard fare, and all done to the customary high standards we have become used to over the years.

Some of the tiling was cut out off centre in a few cases, which is a minor annoyance but not anything which would impact on play.

Setup

The central game board is placed in the middle of the play area. This represents the Town of Walnut Grove where players go to buy goods and services. Each player is given a player board representing their farm, which has spaces for storing the resources, tokens and buildings which can be acquired during the game.

One point of interest is that the player boards are not all the same. Two lean more towards blue resource production, and two towards yellow. Players are given a pawn in their colour which goes on the central board, and two worker pawns for their player board – one black, and the other either yellow or blue, depending on which player board they got.

Each player receives two copper coins which occupy two of the four available slots in their barn, and (I think) two wood cubes, although I’m a little hazy on that last detail.

The central board is loaded up with the available victory point multipliers, and workers available for hire. Cubes are placed by the side of the board, and coins and tiles are placed in separate bags.

Finally the eight season tiles are split into A and B piles, shuffled, and then placed in a single stack with A on top.

Gameplay



A game of Walnut Grove consists of eight years with four seasons each.

Spring

Draw the number of tiles indicated by the icon on the Spring sector of the season tile from the bag for each player. Each player then selects the 1 or 2 tiles they are allowed to keep, returning the remainder to the bag.

Tiles drawn must be placed next to the player board, but the touching edges don’t have to be the same type – i.e. a blue edge does not have to be placed against another blue edge. However it is better if they do as these will generate resources more efficiently later on.

Tiles also feature a fence, and points are awarded for completely enclosed regions at the end of the game, so this should also be factored in when placing tiles.

Summer

Your available workers are sent out to produce resources. In the first turn you have two workers and there are five different resources they can produce – fish (blue), lamb/wool (we weren’t too clear) (white). Metal/rock (again, not sure) (grey), wheat (yellow) and wood (brown).

Each worker produces a number of cubes equal to the number of contiguous tiles in the field being worked. This will always be at least once as the player board counts as a tile, but only of one colour, which shows why matching the edges of the tiles is desirable. Cubes may be stored on the tile itself, if there are enough spaces. Any surplus can be placed in empty spaces in the barn, with any extra (rare) being discarded.

Autumn

Resources may be sold in town (central board) for coins – there are two spaces on the board which will accept cubes of different colours for a coin each. The season tile indicates which colour will get an extra coin when sold. Coins are drawn randomly from the bag and can be 0, 1 or 2 in value. These represent victory points at the end of the game, and can also be used to pay to move around the central board.

Winter

In Winter workers must be fed and kept warm. The black worker is housed and fed automatically, so it is only the blue, yellow and white workers which need looking after. Blue workers eat fish (blue cubes), yellow workers eat wheat (yellow cubes) and white workers eat lamb (white cubes). In addition (depending on the season tile) some workers are extra hungry and need double the number of cubes. Any shortfall can be made good by taking out a loan, which counts as -2 points at the end of the game. While on the subject, loans may be repaid at any time. However when a subsequent loan is taken out before the original loan is paid off the first loan becomes fixed and can never be repaid.

Workers who live in houses are warm enough, but every subsequent worker who lives in a tent needs to keep a fire burning. The cost is therefore one wood cube per un-housed worker, plus the number of camp fires showing on the season tile.

Select actions

Each player has a token which moves around the central board in a clockwise direction. There are spaces which grant you two cubes, a new worker (blue, yellow or white), a new building (house or barn), a chance to buy a victory point multiplier token, or a chance to sell resources for coins (victory points).

However, moving around the board costs money – in church donations or (I think) taxes. This is paid using coins earned by selling cubes, but if you miscalculate you can always take out a loan and pay it off later.

Your pawn can be blocked from positions by other players, so some planning is required. You can move any distance you like, although the more spaces you move each turn the more times you will cross the pay spaces and need to spend coins. Turn order changes each turn, starting with the first player who pawn is anti-clockwise from the church, and continuing anti-clockwise.

Ending the Game

The game ends after the eight year, at which point players score victory points for coin value (a copper coin marked zero is not worth anything, whereas a silver is worth 1 and a gold is worth 2). Plus a point for each cube stored safely in a barn. Note that cubes may be moved freely from the fields to a barn at any time, so you can always make sure your barns are full at the end of the game. Cubes left in the fields do not score. There are points for the number of buildings (including the ones you start with) and points from the multiplier tokens. Most points wins the game.

Features of the game

These are aspects of the game which are neither good nor bad, but features which will affect the gaming groups this game would be suitable for.

d10-1 would characterise this as a light-medium weight game, suitable for family and friends with gamer-ish tendencies, or gaming hobbyists who want a fairly relaxed gaming session. There is probably a little too much here for non-gamers and young children.

d10-2 The theme (19th century America) is lightly invoked and without question this is a balanced (Euro) style game, and not a thematic (Ameritrash) one.

d10-3 Walnut Grove caters for 1-4 players aged 10 and up in about 45 minutes. I obviously don’t have much experience, but I would say the recommended player ages were about right. I would expect the game to go a little longer than 45 minutes with most groups, although I am sure it could be played in 45 minutes if everyone knew the game well and didn’t hang around.

d10-4 Player interaction is light. There is no way to directly attack another player. In fact there would be no player interaction at all if it were not for the ability to block a player from their chosen action on the central board.

d10-5 It’s difficult to tell after one demo game, but I suspect that there is a significant luck component which will effect the outcome of the game, due to the selection of tiles to be placed on your board each Spring. This has been mitigated partially by allowing each player to draw more than they need and return the unused ones to the bag, but there is no denying a series of lucky or unlucky tile draws will have a major impact.

What’s good about this game?

thumbsup The quality of the components and artwork is good. There isn’t anything to rave about but nothing low quality.

thumbsup A lot of the decisions and upkeep happen on individual player boards and can be done simultaneously, giving very little downtime.

thumbsup Walnut Grove should not bring out analysis paralysis (AP) in those players who are prone to it. This is not a deep strategic game and the lack of heavy player interaction means that most players will be able to proceed with their plans without having to factor in potential interference from the other players..

What’s bad about this game?

thumbsdown In my copy most of the tiles were poorly printed (or poorly cut) – the tile printing was up to 5 mm out from the cutting in many cases. This has the biggest impact when placing tiles, as (for example) a tile with a yellow edge doesn’t fill the full stretch of that side, so matching them up is a little unsatisfying visually. This doesn’t impact the playability of the game at all, and may not be repeated across other copies.

Conclusion

Before Essen I had heard this described as a light mash-up between Agricola and Carcassonne, and I can see the references. There are bits of several different well known mechanics here (tile placement, worker placement, resource management) which have been blended very well into a good, entertaining, reasonably lightweight balanced (euro) style game. On playing I immediately bought my own copy, and look forward to playing this with my regular Saturday night family gaming group.

Walnut Grove is a very well put together game by a very talented design team, one of whom (Touko Tahkokallio) also produced Eclipse – so a name to look for in the future. I would recommend this game as a potential purchase for anyone who regularly plays with groups who would regard the features above as positives.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Jimmy Okolica
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Excellent review. This has a lot of the information I was looking for on this game. I did have one question...

Uncle G wrote:
Resources may be sold in town (central board) for coins – there are two spaces on the board which will accept cubes of different colours for a coin each. The season tile indicates which colour will get an extra coin when sold. Coins are drawn randomly from the bag and can be 0, 1 or 2 in value.


Can you clarify this? Are you saying how much you get paid is determined randomly?
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Andy Cassola
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Say you sell stuff for 3 coins then you randomly choose the coins. The purpose of the value on the coins is only for the and game victory points.
 
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Ubergeek
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Quote:
In my copy most of the tiles were poorly printed (or poorly cut)

In talking with the publisher at Essen, they said the component issue was being addressed. The next print run won't have those issues (hopefully) and they are looking at ways to get the bad components reprinted and out to those owners with bad copies. I didn't have room to buy a copy but they were nice enough to make me aware of the component issue before buying it. If you got it at a sales booth, they may not have been so forthcoming with that information, or even knew a problem existed.
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Jimmy Okolica
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the_spy wrote:
Say you sell stuff for 3 coins then you randomly choose the coins. The purpose of the value on the coins is only for the and game victory points.


So, I can sell something for 3 coins and get anywhere from 0 to 6 VPs?
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Adam O'Brien
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
the_spy wrote:
Say you sell stuff for 3 coins then you randomly choose the coins. The purpose of the value on the coins is only for the and game victory points.


So, I can sell something for 3 coins and get anywhere from 0 to 6 VPs?


That seems to be the case from the description. I am curious if you can use 0 value coins to pay the taxes for central board movement?
 
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Andy Andersen
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Excellent review. On the radar.
 
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Kevin B. Smith
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3dicebombers wrote:
Butterfly0038 wrote:
So, I can sell something for 3 coins and get anywhere from 0 to 6 VPs?

That seems to be the case from the description. I am curious if you can use 0 value coins to pay the taxes for central board movement?

That's what it sounded like to me. In which case you would sell goods for coins, pay your 0-VP coins to move, and be left with 2-VP coins at the end of the game. But of course it depends on whether you go through the game with a surplus of coins or not. Maybe you end the game with an average of 2 coins, in which case those values are more like a tiebreaker. Since loans seem to be important, coins might be scarce.
 
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Eugene
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I'm interested in whether you think WG will work with you, Kevin. It's almost devoid of player interaction. Occupying a space on the town action track is the only potential for inter-player interference.

That said, I enjoyed my one play of WG, in a cute, puzzly, euro kind of way.
 
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Eugene
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3dicebombers wrote:
Quote:
So, I can sell something for 3 coins and get anywhere from 0 to 6 VPs?

That seems to be the case from the description. I am curious if you can use 0 value coins to pay the taxes for central board movement?

Yes and yes.
 
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Kevin B. Smith
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garygarison wrote:
I'm interested in whether you think WG will work with you, Kevin. It's almost devoid of player interaction. Occupying a space on the town action track is the only potential for inter-player interference.

It looks like a game I would like to try. The low level of interaction is a plus for me, as you guessed.
 
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Star Fix
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Great review - Thank you. I'm going to be all over this.
 
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Matt Tonks
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Very good review, Graham. I am glad I took you, Jason & John up on the chance to try out WtWG - I had heard about it beforehand but wasn't feeling too excited & had I not tried it, I would have surely passed on it.

It is deceptively light in appearance but it actually gave plenty of food for thought. Quite a nice quirky theme to it as well we should have another game of it one Thursday soon.
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Touko Tahkokallio
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Great review, I'm happy to hear that you liked the game!

Just a short comment about the luck aspect in the game. There is some genuine luck in the game for sure, so people who really dislike luck might want to avoid it. But by clever play, you can deal with most of the luck in the game. Let me take some examples.

Tiles: You draw tiles at random, but as the reviewer said you can always choose from 2-4 tiles. Also, all tiles are pretty much equally good overall. Tiles which have lots of fences have less storage spaces, for example. Of course, if you want to expand certain fields and don't get to draw them, you certrainly can blaim bad luck... but this comes to my second point about the tiles. Generally, it is much better try to first work the fields needed and AFTER that pick a worker in the corresponding color. So, it is more risky to pick a certain worker in specific color and then hope for that kind of fields. Of course it is valid move (and sometimes worth it), but players should be aware of that they are pushing their luck.

Coins: Copper, silver and gold coins can be all used equally during the game. They only give you points differently at the end of the game - if not used until then. So it is true that it is better to draw gold than say copper coins, but the impact is not usually as big as you would think.

For example, let say you draw few gold coins in the beginning of the game. You would like to save them for the scoring, but they take a lot of space from your barn... Trying to desperately save them until the end of the game can sometimes hurt you more than help you. So drawing different type of coins during the game mainly pushes you towards different strategies. If you really want to save those coins, you might want to try to expand your barn!

Say in the very end you sell goods for 3 coins, you may get 0-6 points. There is quite a bit of variance for sure. But I would consider selling goods on the last year typically as quite desperate move! If you know how to play well, there are usually much better options available. Again, no need to push your luck, if you don't want to...

Also, as wathing some people playing, I noted that some players have missed the following small detail: although you gain coins at random, you may improve your hand. For example: You already have 2 coins and room for 2 new ones. Say you draw 4 new ones. Now you may discard down to 4 coins from all of the 6 coins available.
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Mark Llewellyn
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Touko wrote:
although you gain coins at random, you may improve your hand. For example: You already have 2 coins and room for 2 new ones. Say you draw 4 new ones. Now you may discard down to 4 coins from all of the 6 coins available.


This can be a good strategy for boosting your score, another important point is that coins can be used as a joker for any other resource.
 
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alan beaumont
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PollutedMonkey wrote:
Great review. The component issues is a little upsetting - hope this isn't a general issue with the game.

In my copy only the coins (on the value side) look bad, but they are still usable.
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jood shine
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only my coins are off centre but as they are in the bag or turned over in the game you are not looking at them anyway so im not bothered...remember le havre!

only played this twice but love it - think its got great replay too.
gorgeous board and tiles too.

the bags are plain white cloth so i replaced them.
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Edwin van de Sluis
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My coins and the rulebook were completely missing soblue
Sent a mail to Lookout about this - no reply yet.
Tiles are indeed a bit off centre as well, not really bothering me.

Played and enjoyed the game anyway.
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Andres Voicu
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Notice that there is a limitation: coins can be used as a joker only for payment in the town.
E.g. in Winter, if you can't feed-heat your workers with grain/fish-wood, you cannot use coins instead of goods.

Notice also that the printed rules show slightly different VPs than the ones explained above, in the end of the game section.
VS are: -2 for each neighbour aid (if any),
2 for each worker/farmer, 1 for building/closed fence, the no. on the back of each coin (= 2, 1 or 0), points for every Improvement bought.
1 point per every good in barn(s) is only an example of an Improvement. If you don't buy that Improvement (or it didn't come out in the random disposition at the beginning of the game), your goods are worth nothing.
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Graham Dean
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Andres wrote:
Notice that there is a limitation: coins can be used as a joker only for payment in the town.
E.g. in Winter, if you can't feed-heat your workers with grain/fish-wood, you cannot use coins instead of goods.

Do you know what happens if you can't feed or heat a worker?
 
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Mike Walko
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Uncle G wrote:

Do you know what happens if you can't feed or heat a worker?


You get a neighbourly help token, which is -2 vp at the end. At any time you can give up 3 resources of any kind to get rid of your most recent token.

It is a little interesting because, whenever you get a help token, if you already have one, the previous one becomes permanent (you cannot get rid of it)

So for example, if you had 3 help tokens, you'd have -4 VP at the end of the game for sure, and a chance to get rid of one token.
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Andres Voicu
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kakitamike wrote:
Uncle G wrote:

Do you know what happens if you can't feed or heat a worker?


You get a neighbourly help token, which is -2 vp at the end.


So, it is worth to note that the decision to employ a new worker doesn't seem so obvious.
In fact, even if your tiles are well placed, often a worker in Spring produces only slightly more than the food he needs in Winter, while your farmer (= the black pawn) has worked to take... the wood for all the workers you have!
And the needs of the workers improve during the years: during 3 of the first 4 years one kind of your workers eats double food and you need one more wood to heat them; during the last 4 years two or all three kinds of your workers (yellow, blue, white) want double food and you need one or two more wood pieces to heat them.
 
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Mike Walko
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One thing i didn't quite understand, is if you lose all unspent resources at the end of winter, because a tip in the rules said to spend excess resources from your barn first, but i couldn't find a reason why it mattered.
 
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Graham Dean
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kakitamike wrote:
One thing i didn't quite understand, is if you lose all unspent resources at the end of winter, because a tip in the rules said to spend excess resources from your barn first, but i couldn't find a reason why it mattered.

I don't think you do lose unspent resources. I think the advantage is very minor and conditional on which victory point multiplier you buy. One of them gives one point for each resource in a barn (the only way these count for points at the end), but as you are free to move resources down from the fields to the barn at any time, it makes sense to spend from the barn first as this gives you maximum flexibility. You can't move resources back up from the barn to the fields to make room.
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Matt Tonks
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And, of course, if you leave resources in the barn they take up spaces that could be used to sell stuff & get some '1' or '2' value coins for extra points.
 
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