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Subject: Helvetia - first play preview and opinion rss

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Jonathan Degann
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It’s a production chain game, a little like "Neuland" but without the map and so not quite the brain-burner.

You get, for example, a building that produces water, which you can sell for a point. Later you might get a building that turns water into goats – if you have both the water and the goat shed available, you can produce a goat to sell for a point. Then you can get a building which converts your goat to cheese, but as before you must have all links on the chain.

To build these production buildings in the first place, you also need buildings that produce appropriate combinations of the basic building materials: bricks, stone, and wood.

You may sell an item only once, and there are bonuses for being the first to sell given items, for selling specified groups of items, and for building special point-scoring buildings.

To actually operate a building, you need to put a person on it. Once assigned, he cannot move. So in addition to working your production chain of buildings, there is the need to produce more people. You increase your population by having a married pair in one of your buildings and choosing the "midwife" action. This creates a bambino (I assumed that I was in the Italian speaking portion of Switzerland. You can call ‘em whatever you want. ) who takes a turn to go to school and then becomes available to man one of your new buildings. It roughly parallels the need to have colonists in Puerto Rico, with the exception that they may not move around and also the fact that you may normally use any building only once per round (signified by lying your person down flat after use).

Rather than go through the hard work of creating a building and manning it, you can glom onto someone else’s building. You wait until THEY have manned it, then you take an uncommitted worker (or school child!) of the opposite sex and move it there. Your benefit is to be able to use the building, just as if you had built it. Their benefit is that they may use the happy couple to make more bambini.

So the course of the game is:
Start with basic production buildings
Use those to create fancier buildings
Grow your population to man those buildings
Use chains of fancier buildings to sell ever fancier goods for points.
Race to achieve bonuses: first to sell a given good, first to sell specified groupings of goods, first to build ten buildings, building special VP buildings that otherwise do not produce.

The game is action driven. Apart from bonus moves (that I won’t go into), on your turn you may choose a single action type and perform it. You’ll have 4-6 action disks at the beginning of each round. In your turn, you may perform a single type of action multiple times by spending multiple disks. But you must wait until next turn to choose a different action and once you’re out of disks, your round is over.

Oh... nasty little rule. The round ends immediately when there’s only one person with disks remaining. Someone always has unspent actions (remember you can spend more than one on your turn, performing an action multiple times.) In consolation, that player gets to go first next round.

Here is the menu of actions to choose from:

Produce building (you may also make up for missing basic building blocks by spending action disks)
Sell a good
Marry off a pawn to someone’s building
Make babies
Revive people on some of yourtiles for subsequent reuse

The good part of the game is that, like Lancaster (which it bears no resemblance to besides designer), whatever you may think of the specifics of the mechanisms, the game works very well as a game. A production game like this could be very processional and about squeezing efficiency. Helvetia isn’t because of the way Cramer sets it up. There are key races for the bonus VP’s which really drive the game and the competition.

The marriage rules create further pressure. On the one hand, it’s easy to just jump on someone’s tile and spare yourself the trouble of building it. However, each worker takes only one mate, and it must be of the right sex, so there is a race to marry off onto the choice tiles.

I would not say that this is a game where a lot of the stress comes from wanting to do more actions than you have available, but it is a game where you want to execute your current turn’s plan quickly, and there is pressure to choose the action that keeps you from being shut out of your plan. I’d like to marry onto John’s "goat" tile, but I also need to buy the "cheese" building. If I do one, will I get shut out of the other?

If I take a straight forward, slow course of action that will get me what I want, step by step, will other players use many of their disks rapidly, cutting me off before I finish?

The choices are tough, agonizing, and make for a game with the right amount of stress.

The down side is that the game can be abstract. Not in the sense of "pasted on theme" - not at all. It’s that the mechanics aren’t easy to visualize.
“Let’s see, I want to make cheese, I’ve got a building that makes water - who makes goats? What’s the sex of the person on that tile? Do I have a man to go with their woman? Ok, so first I have to get the cheese building - no first I have to marry onto Jim’s goat tile because - oh wait, do I have what I need for the cheese building? I’ve got my own stone. Let me look around and see where is that guy who makes wood - yeah, she’s on Bart’s wood building!

One player was very frustrated with this all. I think that it’s no worse than Puerto Rico, but gone are the days where we played a game to death and these patterns of thinking became automatic.

If you’re prepared for the conceptual learning curve (the rules themselves aren’t bad), you just may find this to be a rewarding challenge.
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Joe Pastuzyn
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Thanks for the review. I've played this game a few times and agree with your thoughts. I think the design is very clean which drove our games to be very close. It is not clear what the path is to the required number of VPs and depends on what the other players choose to do as you point out. It can be clever to grab the character tiles by having the highest pile of action chips on them. This gives you a free action and a VP for that round. A couple of these or the first player token may be enough to push you over the top at the end of the game. The linkages to make various products can be a bit comical (water into goats?), but we enjoyed the game greatly. I think Matthias Cramer is a very innovative designer of middle weight euros as evidenced by Lancaster and Glen More.
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Jonathan Degann
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I think Helvetia is a notch heavier than Lancaster. I might bring a relative newbie into Lancaster, but not Helvetia because so much has to be managed "in your brain" rather than "on the board".

I didn't get into the character tiles in my overview, but I'll share a tactic that really helped me. I get the priest tile. Then first thing the next turn, just as someone populates a new tile, I use the priest to marry off one of my meeples onto his tile, and then choose the "Merchant" action - to produce that good and sell it before anyone else. I did that twice and pissed a lot of people off, especially the owner of the tile in question! devil
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Larry Levy
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It's one of my favorites as well, Jonathan. My only problem with it is that you really need to know a great deal about each opponent's display and there's no good way to track all of the information concisely. (I've thought about portable info sheets, but there's just too much to track.) Consequently, I'm frequently running to the other side of the table to check out what my fellow players have on their boards. Needless to say, this slows the game down a bit. It's still not long, but if somehow this could be tracked automatically (Helvetia would make a great computer game), it would reduce the downtime and make this an even better game. But I'm still enjoying this a great deal.
 
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Neil Christiansen
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I have played both games and I believe that Lancaster is a bit heavier. It is absolutely critical that you know what each player can and will do in front of you and plan your rounds carefully.

I suspect Lancaster is also less forgiving of early mistakes.

I do need to play Helvetia more and like it well enough, but I worried that both are scripted a bit with Helvetia perhaps more so.
 
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Joseph
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Nice review - hope to see more from you!

I must confess — after seeing the review title, I thought: "Someone made a game about fonts?"
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Joe Pastuzyn
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Jonathan Degann wrote:
I think Helvetia is a notch heavier than Lancaster. I might bring a relative newbie into Lancaster, but not Helvetia because so much has to be managed "in your brain" rather than "on the board".

I didn't get into the character tiles in my overview, but I'll share a tactic that really helped me. I get the bishop tile. Then first thing the next turn, just as someone populates a new tile, I use the bishop to marry off one of my meeples onto his tile, and then choose the "Merchant" action - to produce that good and sell it before anyone else. I did that twice and pissed a lot of people off, especially the owner of the tile in question! devil


I'm more aligned to Neil's opinion about heaviness with Lancaster being a touch heavier, maybe because it's a bit more confrontational. But, to each his own.

Question about your tactic above. The bishop gives you a free action to marry as do all the other characters. Do you use the bishop to marry (free action) and then use the merchant on the same turn to get a good? I thought you couldn't mix character actions on the same turn. In my interpretation, you'd have to wait until your next turn to Merchant the good. Then someone else would have a chance to nab the good tile once they saw what you were doing. Did I get this rule wrong?
 
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Jonathan Degann
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Yes, you may choose a character and also use one of your character tiles in the same turn. You may use the tile before or after your regular turn.

From the rules translation:

2. A player possessing a character tile may, in his turn, use it to make 1 additional action per round with the corresponding character. If a player controls a character tile, he has a regular action using coins with any character he chooses and may use the character tile for 1 additional action with the corresponding character. This may also be an additional action with the character the player chose for his regular action.
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Joe Pastuzyn
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Jonathan Degann wrote:
Yes, you may choose a character and also use one of your character tiles in the same turn. You may use the tile before or after your regular turn.

From the rules translation:

2. A player possessing a character tile may, in his turn, use it to make 1 additional action per round with the corresponding character. If a player controls a character tile, he has a regular action using coins with any character he chooses and may use the character tile for 1 additional action with the corresponding character. This may also be an additional action with the character the player chose for his regular action.


Ouch, still not entirely clear to me. So:

If a player controls a character tile, he has a regular action using coins with any character he chooses and may use the character tile for 1 additional action with the corresponding character.

If I want to make three babies and have the midwife, I put two coins on the midwife location and turn over my midwife character for three babies. That much is clear.

This may also be an additional action with the character the player chose for his regular action.

The modifier "may" is throwing me. Does that imply I can do two different character actions on the same turn? We play you can't, but now I'm not sure. Thanks for researching this.
 
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Joe Pastuzyn
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Jonathan Degann wrote:
Yes, you may choose a character and also use one of your character tiles in the same turn. You may use the tile before or after your regular turn.

From the rules translation:

2. A player possessing a character tile may, in his turn, use it to make 1 additional action per round with the corresponding character. If a player controls a character tile, he has a regular action using coins with any character he chooses and may use the character tile for 1 additional action with the corresponding character. This may also be an additional action with the character the player chose for his regular action.


Just reread the rules and found your quote and then read the example below it which says:

Quote:
Example: The player chooses the Trader and places 2 coins on the Trader to deliver 2 goods to the Market. Then he uses the character tile of the Priest under his control (received during the previous round) and marries a villager into another village.


Seems like you can use two characters on one turn as you state as long as one of them is a character tile. I'll have to use your tactic of sniping goods tiles. Thanks again.
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Sebastian Rapp
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Definitely yes! You can use any character as usual and make 1 additional action with any 1 character you control a token of. This may be the character you chose for your normal acton or another one. So, the described action is both legal and a great tactic move. All characters except for the Midwife can be used to make very versatile and surprising combined actions.

Sebastian Rapp / Kosmos
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