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Subject: Milestones: A first game rss

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Last week I was in Mainz (Germany) for a Loreena McKennitt concert, and having searched the Germany forum here on BGG before, I knew to make a beeline for the boardgame store Merlin. Alas, they didn't have any of the hard-to-find games I've been looking for, but I did spot a game I hadn't even known existed: Milestones. Usually I carefully research games before talking myself into buying them, but Milestones had a thing going for it which most games don't, namely a boxcover proudly bearing the names of the designers Stefan Dorra & Ralf zur Linde. Stefan created one of the two games I rate a 10, Medina, as well as another favorite, Turn the Tide (criminally underappreciated). Pergamon, a more recent effort (together with the same Ralf Zur Linde) didn't quite click with me (I rate it highly, but consider it too light for what it is to really hold my interest), but despite that still showed the promise this designer team holds. And so for the first time since buying Medina way at the start of my gaming career, I walked out of a store with a game I knew nothing about (and which I later found out had only been out in stores for a single day at that point).

That evening we read the rules (me in English, my gf in German; it's good when both the players and the game are multilingual), and were pleasantly surprised by them. In a mere six pages of very clear rules, we saw quite elegant mechanics, but had trouble envisioning what an actual game would be like. We both agreed that one of our friends (we'll call her Red) would undoubtedly try to race ahead to the score which'd signal the endgame, but other than that we just couldn't imagine what the game would feel like. We decided against playing immediately, as the zero sum effect colours first impressions too strongly for us wanting to have that as our first experience.

Fast-forward a week to today, our biweekly games day; a quiet day due to the vacation period, alas; not even my gf was there, but Red and another regular, Blue, were.

I had trouble swiftly explaining the rules which had seemed so logical and clear in the rulebook. I guess that's the problem with a well-written rulebook: It's hard to summarize further. So I stumbled through the individual elements of the game, leaving Red and Blue not too clear on the everything, but willing to give it a try. We picked initial workers, paying too much attention to our ability to easily create ascending sequences of numbers (rather than placing workers producing the same good next to each other), and started producing. Where the game had been hard to explain, playing it was extremely easy, with all actions feeling as logical as they ought to be. After everyone's first turn, all confusion had been cleared up, and the game got going in earnest. We all focused on getting more workers out on our first turn (converting resources into money into workers), but continued to look more at sequential numbers rather than at useful sequences of resources. Me and Blue shifted to building an early road and house (one of which was illegally placed, I see now; and I don't quite see how we could've gotten the number of points the board shows either; oh well, that's such are first games...) but Red opted for getting more workers still, and by chance (?; or if it was intended, she hid it very well), this sequence placed several workers of the same type next to each other, and so she managed to produce more resources with fewer actions. I was feeling rather good of having gained two more points than Blue with my first build actions (7 to 5), when suddenly Red burned six resources to build a road in between two "4" milestones, and placed houses on either side, for a whopping 16 points in one turn. Our perception of what this game could be, and what a good turn looked like, changed quite drastically there.

Of course, at this point our sequence of workers, and the five available worker tiles, didn't quite lend themselves to swiftly turning everything around and being capable of similar feats of production. And we also weren't quite certain yet what the key was to Red's sudden leap forward. We knew we had to produce more goods, but how to get there? Over the next few turns, Blue started exploring the possibilities in grain, while I snapped up several bonus tiles. I also started paying close attention to where in the production cycle my two opponents were, and what their likely next builds would be. This allowed me to deduce that Blue was going to place grain on the marketplace in between those two (still open) "4" milestones which Red had used to such good effect earlier, and instead build a branching road there, reducing his best grain option from 8 points to 5 points at a different marketplace. Yay, block players and being mean; this was turning out to be my kind of game!

Of course, while I was being mean to Blue, Red solidified her lead (not that there was anything I could've done to stop her), and far too soon she came within spitting distance of the 59 points needed to end a three player game. As we'd predicted, she rushed straight for it, invalidating the decent production engine which I'd finally started up. By building opportunistically, I had kept Red in my sights throughout the game, and thought I had a good shot of overtaking her with the majority in workers due to many bonus tiles, but while I managed to win sand, wood and gold, I was only tied for stone with Blue (while Red got grain), and with one turn left now, the only good location for the one remaining stone worker would cover one of my wood workers, allowing Blue to win wood instead. So I used my last turn to gather some more wood and build two marketplaces, while Blue indeed got the stone worker (as well as a house). Final score: 66 for Red, 62 for me (so close!) and 46 for Blue.

The total game, including too long-winded explanation from me, had clocked in at around 1:45; probably 90 minutes pure playing time. Most turns were very swift, over in a few seconds ("I produce two wood and a stone", not even bothering to land on the first location), but every so often, the previous player building a new road caused the next player (if they were at a suitable point on their rondel) to have to spend a few moments re-evaluating the landscape and what their optimal moves were, making everything stall. Mostly players were able to think ahead, though, causing the game to flow smoothly. I suspect future games will be a lot more competitive and optimized. Groupthink in this game seemed to be that grain wasn't very useful, but I can't quite imagine that actually being the case, so will want to investigate that in a future game. Not quite certain about replayability yet; I worry games might feel too same, too early. On the other hand, there's also glimmers here of the agonizing meanness which makes me love Medina so much (which on the surface of things would appear to have the same problem with limited replayability), so for the moment I'm hopeful.

Anyway, I hope that despite my rambling style of session reporting, this gave a bit of an impression of what a (first) game feels like.

A final note on component quality, to drag this ever closer to being an almost-review: Everything is excellent, except for the far too thin (playing card thin) player boards, which were strongly warped when I bought the game. I'll be forever puzzled why they didn't make those out of good thick cardboard like everything else.
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Olav Fakkeldij
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Nice review.

a_traveler wrote:
A final note on component quality, to drag this ever closer to being an almost-review: Everything is excellent, except for the far too thin (playing card thin) player boards, which were strongly warped when I bought the game. I'll be forever puzzled why they didn't make those out of good thick cardboard like everything else.


This was also my first impression. After playing the game a few times I think it's an very good choice: you will pile worker tiles on it and it will lay flat during the game. That's better then thick cardboard which can spin.
 
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