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Subject: Component Quality Review - Separating the Truth from the Hysteria rss

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Martin Manning
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Much noise has been made in these forums regarding the allegedly "poor" quality of the components in Ora et Labora. Since I'm inclined neither to contribute to the hysteria of what I believe to be exaggerated complaints of component quality, nor to act like a fanboy and shamelessly defend the game like it were my own product, I thought I'd try and write a balanced, and hopefully somewhat objective appraisal of the game components.

Those who aren't interested in the details but just want to know whether to buy now or wait for a second printing can skip to the end. Those who don't care about component issues and just want to know about the gameplay should check out some of the other reviews.

Player Boards:
The player boards are made of a card stock that is considerably thinner than the game-board thickness card stock of the player boards in comparable games, such as Agricola. For comparison, the stock is very slightly thicker than the player mats from Castles of Burgundy. This difference alone seems to be cause for panic for some people, but it's worth noting that the use of a thinner card stock here is not, in and of itself, necessarily an indication of poor component quality.

The thinner stock used here is actually quite functional. Throughout the course of a game, players will add additional boards to their play area, laying these alongside their starting board. The use of a thinner card stock ensures that everything lays flat, and that cards don't catch on the edges of boards. Thicker card stocks have more variance in their thickness, and while such variance is imperceptible and unimportant in a game such as Agricola (where players only have one player board), such variance would have been unacceptable in Ora et Labora, and I believe this is why Lookout have opted to use a thinner card stock.

Some people have commented that the player boards in Ora et Labora are prone to warping. I believe such claims are inaccurate. More accurately, the boards may have a slight curve to them when you first open the box. This is, I believe, a result of the printing process. Typically, when thicker card stocks are used (such as the boards in Agricola or Le Havre), what actually occurs is that the printing is done on thin paper which is then glued/mounted to thicker card. The card stock in use in Ora et Labora, on the other hand, is printed on directly, and as rollers move the card through the printer, a slight curving occurs. This is very easily remedied by gently bending the card, and once this has been done, the boards will retain their flat shape (the absence of glue in the card stock ensures that the boards are warp-proof).

Verdict: For their use-case, I believe the choice of card stock is preferable to a thicker card stock. The player boards are of a good quality.



Counters:
It has been reported that copies of the game that were sold at Essen featured improperly cut counter sheets. Because it's not possible to make a cutting tool that cuts an entire counter at once, most German printers use a two-step cutting process for counters: first they cut the edges, then a separate set of blades cuts the corners. For comparison, many cheaper printing outfits (particularly Chinese and American printers) use a single-pass cutting procedure that does not fully separate the counter from the frame. This is why many wargames require that the counters be cut from the frame with a knife. Essentially, what happened with the copies of Ora et Labora sold at Essen is that the second-pass with the cutter did not occur, and so the counters had to be cut from the frames.

Fortunately, Lookout noticed the problem and rectified it, and all non-Essen copies of the game should have properly cut counters (I say "should"; a few have slipped through the cracks, but Lookout is replacing these). Unfortunately, the counters aren't all cut perfectly; they don't all just "drop" out of the frames the way counters from Ludofact-produced games do. From my experience, less than 10% of the counters needed to be punched a little more carefully. Most of the time, this was just a matter of tearing off a fragment of paper at the corner that had come off from the frame, although about 15 counters (out of 450) needed some assistance with a knife. All in all, I spent maybe 2 minutes longer than I normally would punching this number of counters.

Punching-out issues aside, the counters are of a good quality. In fact, these counters are even thicker than those in Le Havre. Just as the thinner card stock for the player boards improves their usability, the thicker card stock for the counters aids their usability, making the picking up and flipping of counters that much easier (and this is important in a game such as this).

Verdict: The cutting on the counter sheets isn't the best in the industry, but is also far from the worst. The counters themselves are excellent, and better than in previous Lookout titles.



Resource Wheel:
The resource wheel is perhaps the single most controversial component in Ora et Labora. The concept is brilliant; it keeps track of a range of factors, and significantly reduces the fiddliness over a game such as Le Havre. Unfortunately, the wheels are double-sided (there are two wheels, and which of the four faces is used varies according to player count and desired game length). This is problematic, because the plastic clip that holds the pointer onto the wheel is not easily removed without the assistance of tools not included in the box.

Truthfully, this is foolish component design on the part of Lookout. Take a look at the spinning wheel from Artus and you'll see how this could have been done better; the pointer need not be physically attached to the wheel, so long as it is held reasonably in place. But of course, this really highlights the absurdity of the controversy; there is no need for the pointer to be attached to the wheel prior to every game. Ora et Labora includes a plastic base with a cylinder that goes through the wheel and pointer, and a plastic plug that fits in the top. The base alone is sufficient to keep the pointer in place during play (it's a few millimeters higher than the top of the pointer):

Had Lookout left out the plastic plug, it would have avoided the "dis-assembly" problem and we'd all have been none the wiser.

Verdict: The plastic clip that is included is a foolish design, but any "problems" will go completely un-noticed if you throw away the plastic plug and just use the plastic base.



Cards:
The cards are of a standard quality. They have a smooth finish, and are of a medium thickness; they're certainly not as thin as the cards in Bohnanza, but they're not the thickest cards I've seen either. The cards are a standard mini-Euro size, the same as in Merkator, but smaller than in Agricola or Le Havre.

The choice by Lookout to go with smaller cards is almost certainly to due to concerns about table space. Unlike Le Havre, the exact placement of cards is important, and this means that players cannot re-arrange their tableau to fit the available table space. Thus, it's necessary to use smaller cards to ensure that the game fits on most tables. Unfortunately, some people have had difficulty reading the cards from across the table. To an extent, this is a valid criticism, however, the player aids provide a summary of the functions of all usable buildings, so providing one can make out the name of a building, there is no problem. It's also worth noting that as players learn the game, they will recognize buildings from their illustrations, so the small font becomes much less of an issue.

Verdict: The cards are of a good quality, although their smaller size (necessitated by concerns over table space) can present some readability challenges when playing on a larger table. The player aids remove the need to read an entire card however.



Player Aids:
The player aids included with the game are shit. The information contained on the player aids is certainly well organized and easy to read, but there are two issues: Firstly, the aid is split into two sections, one for each of the two scenarios (France and Ireland) included in the game. Since only one section is ever relevant to the game, it would have been sensible to cut the player aids in half, particularly since they are a full A4 size sheet. Secondly, the paper on which the aids are printed is thin; similar in feel and thickness to a good magazine stock (e.g. National Geographic, Cosmo).

While it's true that player aids are non-essential to the game, and replacements could easily be printed by users, their quality is still disappointing. However, in context, they're hardly reason enough to avoid buying the game. I'd love to see Lookout/Z-Man come up with some sort of a $5 promo for the game, and include with it a set of 8 (4 Ireland, 4 France) A5 player aids on the same stock as the player boards. In the meantime, I'll be using binder sleeves to protect my player aids.

Verdict: The content of the player aids is fine, but the thin paper stock is disappointing. The player aids are serviceable, but far from impressive.



Other Components / Miscellaneous:
Ora et Labora comes with a small baggie full of wooden components. There is one differently shaped tokens for each of the game's resources (the actual resources that players take are represented by counters), and there are three wooden figures in each player colour representing the prior and two lay-brothers. All of the wooden components are of a good quality, with a finish typical of German components: the coloured lacquer is vibrant and glossy, but translucent enough to show the wood grain underneath (unlike the opaque matte colours typical of Chinese-made games). A minor criticism is that the player figures are generic, rather than being custom-made thematic pieces, however, they are nonetheless an improvement over the flat discs of Agricola.

There are four different rules documents that come with the game: a set-up guide, a building index, a detailed rules booklet, and a rules overview. Some people have suggested that this is too much, while others have indicated that they prefer the rules to be organized like this. As this is a matter of personal preference, I won't comment, except to say that the information is well presented, with clear diagrams and examples.

Finally, the game includes a small pad of score-sheets for tallying up victory points at the end of the game. It is the same size as the one included with Agricola, and (judging by thickness) has the same number of leaves as the Agricola score-pad too (at least, the same as my first-edition Z-Man copy). Personally, I never use the score-pads included with games, preferring to keep them pristine and use scratch paper instead, but I suppose that if you wanted to be finicky, the score-pad is only about a third the thickness of a standard Yahtzee score-pad, and could therefore easily be thicker (though, to be fair, a game of Ora et Labora takes more than three times as long to play as Yahtzee, so it's not as if you'll use up the score pads in a hurry).

Verdict: The other components are all of a good quality. There's nothing to make you stand up and take notice, either in a good way, or a bad way. This is standard, rock-solid German-made Euro stuff.



Conclusion:
With the exception of the player aids, which are printed on thin paper and may need to be sleeved in A4 binder sleeves, the components are all what you would expect from a complex Euro publisher such as Lookout, Alea, or Ystari.

Complaints about other components are overblown. Assuming gamers take care in punching out counters, and don't mind doing a one-time-only gentle-bending of some cardboard, there is no reason to hold off buying now other than the player aids. Gamers will need to determine for themselves whether the expense of $0.50 worth of A4 binder sleeves is worth it to play the game a minimum of 6-12 months before an as-yet-unannounced and in no way guaranteed second printing.

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Alexander
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I agree no real problems, at least in my z-man edition ( i have as you said 16-18 counters with torn corners, i put them in a separate bag and possible i will never have to use them anyway), great game .
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Jonathan
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A thoughtful and considered review of the components. However, I have a problem when someone passes off their review as definitive and everyone else's concerns as "hysteria". Surely all views are equally important (including this one)?
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Wade Nelson
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Agree with the review on all points. Upon reading the "Game Setup" sheet we immediately decided to use the boards and spinners with only the plastic base as suggested.

If you're not horribly concerned about ink, all the manuals and aids can be downloaded from Z-man's site. We printed the player aids out on thick stock.

My primary concern is that the asking price for the game is a bit steep for what's provided, but ultimately that decision is up to the individual and this review will help with that decision.
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Richard Dewsbery
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I agree with the OP - although some counters punched more cleanly than others, the only real issue is the player aid sheets (which can be laminated after all). "Throw away the top part of the resource wheel axle" is also very good advice.
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Justin Dee
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Yeah, I agree with pretty much this entire review. Except for the magazine-thin player aids (which aren't an essential game component), I can see why all components were made the way they were, and wouldn't like it any differently. I can't understand the hysteria about the resource wheel; Like Richard above, and the OP, it took merely one trial unplugging of the resource spinner to realise the top section is totally irrelevant and unnecessary, and immediately threw both away; hey presto, easily reassembleable resource wheel, I don't even need the duplicate spinner beam or plastic component.

You mention in your review how the height difference between thicker and tinner boards would have made making the Heartland pieces thick cardboard unwieldy, and I suppose the counter arguement to that is that if you made ALL of the district and plot add-on boards thick as well, then you probably wouldn't have this problem; however, speaking as someone who's recently bought the Goodies expansion for Agricola (and hence all the seasonal game boards), this would make the game SO HEAVY! I like ot be able to take a board game over to a friends house if we want to play there, or onto campus for the board game club, and I just can't do this with heavier games like Agricola, Dominion, or Carcassonne when they're expansioned up. Weight is an important factor, and frankly, I don't think thicker boards would increase play experience at all anyway.
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Jason Rupp
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I think you are making the mistake of thinking that everyone's counter sheets were the same quality as yours. They had some major printing mistakes and a lot of people have had counters with ripped corners. It saddens me every time someone gets 3 wood and one of the wood I give them has horrible white corners. To write this off as a non-issue is not right.


It's true that you can have a workable solution with the spinner by not snapping it on. Although, sometimes it comes off or moves a bit too easily. It's not an ideal solution and is still an issue.

I've been able to flatten out the player boards so the warping is not an issue at this time (knock on wood). However, I'm a little worried about how the thin boards will survive through time. They aren't very sturdy so I'm worried that I'll need replacements in a year. Only time will tell.

Everything else I agree with. You didn't mention the gameplay though, that's the most important part! Did you enjoy the game?
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Scott Nelson
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I use the fork method and use the base and plug. Vut, the OP is correct, no need to use any thing to hold them together since we don't ever "spin" the thing like a spinner in a US game would require. I think we are lucky they wanted it to be fastened down, because many games that are published with a tracker type thing, expect you to not bump the board and just set it on top of the other piece. I think they went with a spinner connection thing because it looked like one, not that they had to.

I still say the printer for the chits has a dull blade or two on the right bottom side of my sheets; every sheet had the same problem in the same place; everywhere else, they nearly fell out on their own.

I'm laminating my overview sheets or printing a new set on card stock. I'm not sure which is the best way to go on that since a new printing of it could be cut in half which shrinks down the table space.
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Andy Andersen
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I just want my copy to arrive. whistle
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Regarding the player boards, I agree the thinner stock is functional for OeL play, but for a different reason: picking up playing cards from flexible boards is easier than from thick, stiff boards, in my opinion. And the slight warping hasn't caused a problem for us; we gently counter-bend them, as we do with playing cards of any sort.

If I were to suggest a change to the player boards (for a potential second printing), it would be for the corners to be rounded. Tight radiuses (radii?) -- same as or smaller than the playing cards -- so when they are butted up against each other there aren't gaping holes. This will help remedy the one complaint I have about them: dinged corners. It seems like once a corner gets blunted, it attracts more damage.

From my experience, this means the boards will need to be die cut instead of guillotine cut, and that usually means they'll be more costly, although not dramatically. But I think it'll be worth it.
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Tadeu Zubaran
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rrrrupp wrote:
I think you are making the mistake of thinking that everyone's counter sheets were the same quality as yours.

You are obviously hysteric.


ludopoly wrote:
minimum of 6-12 months before an as-yet-unannounced and in no way guaranteed second printing.

facepalm, enjoy your warped maps and half plastic thingy.
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Shawn Fox
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In my opinion, even though the OP says I am suffering from hysteria, I give the components an overall grade of C. Not failing, but certainly in need of substantial improvements. Perhaps the OP buys a lot of games with crappy components, but in my collection O&L falls in the bottom 10 (out of around 100 games) in terms of component quality. Whatever the reason for his opinion, whether nefarious or not, his opinion does not match the opinions of anyone else that I've talked to.

My grades:

F for the counter sheets
F for the player boards, districts, and plots (too thin)
F for the dial/resource wheel connectors
D for the player aids
B for the cards
B for the resource wheels
B for the resource counters (those which punched cleanly)
B for the other various components

The game itself, however, is very good and I'd buy it anyway just because it is a great game of the type that I really like to play. That is not to say, however, they I will not continue to complain about the subpar component quality. If you really love games like Le Harve then this is a must buy... just hold your nose and do it. If you just find Le Harve ok, then wait for an improved printing.
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Scott Nelson
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I'm just glad the player boards are of better quality than Vegas: Showdown.
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Tadeu Zubaran
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I agree with you my hysterical friend, but we are (roughly) 10-14 weeks to an improved version (in USA, in Germany may be even faster, but even if it was 28 weeks) that addresses my (and most of the other hysterical people) mains concerns. No point in keep arguing, people who are in a hurry and don;t care for components can have their version now, the hysterics wait a bit and get their wish as well, everyone is happy. I don;t think I will be singing praises to the components but the announced fixes are enough for me.

sfox wrote:
In my opinion, even though the OP says I am suffering from hysteria, I give the components an overall grade of C. Not failing, but certainly in need of substantial improvements. Perhaps the OP buys a lot of games with crappy components, but in my collection O&L falls in the bottom 10 (out of around 100 games) in terms of component quality. Whatever the reason for his opinion, whether nefarious or not, his opinion does not match the opinions of anyone else that I've talked to.

My grades:

F for the counter sheets
F for the player boards
F for the dial/resource wheel connectors
D for the player aids
B for the cards
B for the resource wheels
B for the resource counters (those which punched cleanly)
B for the other various components

The game itself, however, is very good and I'd buy it anyway just because it is a great game of the type that I really like to play. That is not to say, however, they I will not continue to complain about the subpar component quality. If you really love games like Le Harve then this is a must buy... just hold your nose and do it. If you just find Le Harve ok, then wait for an improved printing.
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Idle Muse wrote:
speaking as someone who's recently bought the Goodies expansion for Agricola (and hence all the seasonal game boards), this would make the game SO HEAVY! I like ot be able to take a board game over to a friends house if we want to play there, or onto campus for the board game club, and I just can't do this with heavier games like Agricola, Dominion, or Carcassonne when they're expansioned up. Weight is an important factor, and frankly, I don't think thicker boards would increase play experience at all anyway.


Umm... maybe you have a physical limitation which prevents you from carrying more than a few pounds, but seriously... that is absurd. You are acting like a fully loaded copy of Agricola weighs 50 pounds or something. Certainly it does not weigh more than two standard college textbooks do. Making the player mats, districts, and plots out of a standard thickness cardboard would easily fit into the O&L box and would weigh less than the base version of Agricola does. The amount of cardboard in the 5 Agricola player boards plus the three game boards is much more than it would take to make all the O&L boards.
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Scott Nelson
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sfox wrote:
Idle Muse wrote:
speaking as someone who's recently bought the Goodies expansion for Agricola (and hence all the seasonal game boards), this would make the game SO HEAVY! I like ot be able to take a board game over to a friends house if we want to play there, or onto campus for the board game club, and I just can't do this with heavier games like Agricola, Dominion, or Carcassonne when they're expansioned up. Weight is an important factor, and frankly, I don't think thicker boards would increase play experience at all anyway.


Umm... maybe you have a physical limitation which prevents you from carrying more than a few pounds, but seriously... that is absurd. You are acting like a fully loaded copy of Agricola weighs 50 pounds or something. Certainly it does not weigh more than two standard college textbooks do. Making the player mats, districts, and plots out of a standard thickness cardboard would easily fit into the O&L box and would weigh less than the base version of Agricola does. The amount of cardboard in the 5 Agricola player boards plus the three game boards is much more than it would take to make all the O&L boards.


And all of the 5 counter sheets? and the spinner sheets?
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Greg Lott
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Agree with the OP. There was so much naysaying regarding the components, I was pleasantly surprised when I actually got mine.
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ropearoni4 wrote:
sfox wrote:
Idle Muse wrote:
speaking as someone who's recently bought the Goodies expansion for Agricola (and hence all the seasonal game boards), this would make the game SO HEAVY! I like ot be able to take a board game over to a friends house if we want to play there, or onto campus for the board game club, and I just can't do this with heavier games like Agricola, Dominion, or Carcassonne when they're expansioned up. Weight is an important factor, and frankly, I don't think thicker boards would increase play experience at all anyway.


Umm... maybe you have a physical limitation which prevents you from carrying more than a few pounds, but seriously... that is absurd. You are acting like a fully loaded copy of Agricola weighs 50 pounds or something. Certainly it does not weigh more than two standard college textbooks do. Making the player mats, districts, and plots out of a standard thickness cardboard would easily fit into the O&L box and would weigh less than the base version of Agricola does. The amount of cardboard in the 5 Agricola player boards plus the three game boards is much more than it would take to make all the O&L boards.


And all of the 5 counter sheets? and the spinner sheets?


Yes. I laminated all of the O&L player boards, districts,and plots. That took 7 sheets of laminate with a lot of extra space. Therefore that would be less than the weight of 7 boards in Agricola. In Agricola you get the 5 player boards, the 3 game boards, 1 board with scoring information, and 1 board to hold the major improvements, so a total of 10 boards. That weight difference right there (+3 boards and the empty space on the other 7 O&L sheets) would easily account for all the counters and the resource wheels in O&L. Then throw in all of the cards that Agricola has (much bigger cards and far more of them than O&L) and the wood cubes and disks for resources, 65 wooden fence pieces, and 25 farmer disks and Agricola is way over the weight of an upgraded version of O&L.

It may seem that O&L has a lot of components, but in reality the districts, plots, and initial player boards are actually pretty small when compared to the size of the boards supplied with Agricola. The initial player boards in O&L are less than 1/2 the size of an Agricola player board, the districts and plots are under 1/4 the size of the Agricola player boards, etc. The publisher just decided to make O&L as cheaply as possible as there is certainly no weight/space issue with having thicker boards, districts, and plots.

[EDIT - added this]
The whole point of my reply though, was the absurdity of not being able to carry a copy of Agricola to a friends house because it was too heavy. Maybe the weight would be a problem if someone has a physical disability or if you have to trek through the wilderness on a 10 mile hike, but I just can't see the weight of Agricola being an actual limitation for 98% of the population. Certainly not a typical 18 to 25 year old college student.
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rrrrupp wrote:
I think you are making the mistake of thinking that everyone's counter sheets were the same quality as yours. They had some major printing mistakes and a lot of people have had counters with ripped corners.


Throwing in my anecdotal experience here:

I have the Z-Man English edition, and I had to use razor blades on almost 50% of chips. I spent about 3 hours punching the first night.

My only ripped ones are the first few, that I punched carelessly before fetching my razor blade. It's not just the corners that inadequately punched. Many of my chips were solidly attached to the frame on 1 or more edges.

Martin, you have some great insights and perspectives here in your review. Thanks for the suggestion of not capping the wheel! I'll definitely use it
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Got it last night and my own experience with the counters was that on most of my sheets, they came out easily, but on the last counter sheet many of them stuck on an edge and tried to tear out with the strip of paper between counters. I'm assuming my bad counter sheet must have come from a different cutting run or something.
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Loren Cadelinia
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Well thought out and creative review. For those who want an additional comparison of the thickness of those components described above, I would say that the player boards are of postcard thickness, while the player aids are of wrapping paper thickness.
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tkzubaran wrote:
I agree with you my hysterical friend, but we are (roughly) 10-14 weeks to an improved version (in USA, in Germany may be even faster, but even if it was 28 weeks) that addresses my (and most of the other hysterical people) mains concerns. No point in keep arguing, people who are in a hurry and don;t care for components can have their version now, the hysterics wait a bit and get their wish as well, everyone is happy. I don;t think I will be singing praises to the components but the announced fixes are enough for me.


Aren't the only announced fixes slightly thicker player aids?
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S Marstiller
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sfox wrote:
My grades:

F for the counter sheets
F for the player boards, districts, and plots (too thin)
F for the dial/resource wheel connectors
D for the player aids
B for the cards
B for the resource wheels
B for the resource counters (those which punched cleanly)
B for the other various components


Really?

If these counter sheets are F's then what are the Space Empires: 4X counter sheets (and I'm sure there are even worse counter sheets out there)?

If these player boards are F's then what are the Die Burgen von Burgund player boards (and I'm sure there are worse player boards out there)?

And you honestly rate those as F's but the player aid a D?

We must just have much different grading scales and expectations.
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Justin Dee
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sfox wrote:
if you have to trek through the wilderness on a 10 mile hike,


My situation, albeit exaggerated.
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Shawn Fox
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marstiller wrote:
sfox wrote:
My grades:

F for the counter sheets
F for the player boards, districts, and plots (too thin)
F for the dial/resource wheel connectors
D for the player aids
B for the cards
B for the resource wheels
B for the resource counters (those which punched cleanly)
B for the other various components


Really?

If these counter sheets are F's then what are the Space Empires: 4X counter sheets (and I'm sure there are even worse counter sheets out there)?

If these player boards are F's then what are the Die Burgen von Burgund player boards (and I'm sure there are worse player boards out there)?

And you honestly rate those as F's but the player aid a D?

We must just have much different grading scales and expectations.


I don't own space empires 4x, but almost every game from GMT rates a C or lower for components, maybe I'd give Dominant Species a B-, but GMT in general just does a really poor job, both from an artistic sense (their games are ugly) and their components are cheap. If you buy a lot of GMT games I'd agree that O&L does not compare poorly with them.

I agree more or less on Castles of Burgundy, but it is much cheaper than O&L and does not require frequently picking up and moving the boards throughout the game as O&L does. Comparing O&L to Castles of Burgundy is apples and oranges as the way the player boards are used is much different. I guess I'd give the player boards in Burgundy a C as they are ok for what they are used for, but really should have been nicer.

As for the player aid, I've not seen anyone use it at all after I went through the trouble to laminate it. I just gave it a D since I wouldn't have cared if they didn't include it at all. The main issue with the player aid is it does not use icons to represent the goods, so it is really hard to scan through the building reference to find the buildings that use or produce goods of a certain type... maybe I should have given it an F after all since it is pretty useless.

Maybe I've just been lucky, but in the 100+ games I've bought and punched out I've never had anywhere near as much trouble with any of them as I did with the counter sheets for O&L, thus clearly that is an F.

Rating something an F does not mean there are not other games out that are worse, it just means that the publisher/manufacture failed to do their job as has happened with many of the components in O&L.

An A would be reserved for truly excellent components, like the cards in the current edition of Through the Ages (although there is the misprinted Oil card, the cards are so well made they do not need sleeves).
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