First a hearty welcome to Sheryl who joined Dave and I for games tonight. Sheryl had found the group via a web search for local gaming groups - so nice to know we aren't "invisible".
Our first game of the evening was the recently released Freya's Folly by Sagacity Games (Australia). Having liked Sagacity's first game - Sunda to Sahul, I was interested in this their second game. Realizing that the cost of getting Sagacity games in the US can be a bit expensive, this was a natural game to add to my Essen purchase list. As the rules were available online pre-Essen, a quick scan of the rules confirmed that I had made a good choice adding this to the list. Tonight, we would get to play it to see if the actual game play lived up to my expectation.
Each player has a team of dwarves that go into the mines to bring back jewels that can be used to create jewelry or to create a part of the Brisingamen - a necklace for the Goddess Freya herself. While the "normal" jewelry uses various mixtures of sapphires, rubies, amethyst, and emeralds (wooden cubes in blue, red, purple, and green); the Brisingamen uses amber (yellow cubes). In addition to gem type (colour) the gems also come in small and large sizes.
During set-up, the game board - a depiction of a branching mine network illuminated by lanterns with each branch eventually ending in a cavern - is seeded by placing gems into the caverns. The amber (yellow) gems are specified while the rest of the gems in a cavern are randomly drawn and placed in the caverns so that each cavern has the correct number (and size) of gems in it. The extra gems are set to one side to form a "black market" where players may trade gems if desired.
In addition to the gem seeding, another source of variability in the game is the "settings" deck. This is a deck depicting various pieces of jewelry and the required jewels that are needed to complete the item. From this deck, 8 possible settings are placed face up so players know what types of gems are required for the initial pieces. Depending on the gem mix - each piece has a number of victory points to be awarded to the player that completes that setting.
The settings that use the amber gems are special cards forming the Brisingamen. From the Brisingamen cards, one is turned face-up next to the board. The final cards are "ability" cards, which can be used to give a dwarf a special ability either while in the mines or in the players "home area". The abilities include such things as the ability to move more quickly, to block a mine passage, to steal gems from another player, or to transport (via bat) gems from the mine while the dwarf continues to spelunk. Three ability cards are turned face-up and 6 are placed face-down to form the initial "ability" draw deck. Finally, the left over Brisingamen cards and ability cards are shuffled into the top half of the settings deck. So future Brisingamen settings and ability cards can only be revealed as players draw jewelry settings from the possible choices.
The key tension in the game is in timing....from a list of possible options, a player can only do 2 each turn. Moving a dwarf, getting a jewelry setting card, making a piece of jewelry, getting an ability card, trading in the black market are all single actions. So at a minimum moving into the mines to get gems, then out of the mines, selecting a jewelry card, and then setting that piece of jewelry would take 4 actions (2 turns). But not all the gems are a single move from the entrance of the mine - so multiple moves in and out of the are necessary. If the right mix of jewels aren't in hand, a trip to the black market might be needed, again adding time to complete the jewels.
Movement in the mines is a simple point-to-point movement where a dwarf simply moves until he reaches the next lantern. In the process of moving, a dwarf can jump over 2 occupied lanterns, but would need an ability card to jump over more. Therefore, a chain of 3 dwarves in a mine effectively blocks the shaft for other players, while the trailing dwarf can jump over the other two to move the 3-dwarf chain through the mines.
In order to set acquired jewels into the desired setting, a player needs to have a dwarf "out" of the mines. That dwarf is sent to the jeweler's "never to return" as for each piece of jewelry set, the player has to set aside one of his dwarves. This has the nice feature of making it a bit harder for the "leader" to keep piling on the points as the leader will have less dwarves with which to complete the possible actions.
While mechanically, the players are dwarves rushing to complete jewelry, the winner of the game is the player with the most victory points. Jewelry settings completed are worth positive points if complete, but negative points if the player has selected the card, but not completed it.
The Brisingamen settings yield victory points, but indirectly. For the completion of a Brisingamen setting, a player receives a number of "extra action" tokens. Up to 3 such tokens can be used in addition to a player's normal 2 actions to get a series of actions in a single turn. But unused "extra action" tokens are worth victory points at game's end...so one needs to justify the cost of the VP's spent for the VP's gained (hopefully) by spending those extra actions.
Finally, the game ends either when a player has used all their available dwarves to set gems into jewelry or when the 4th Brisingamen setting is complete.
Rich was the first into the caverns, quickly sending in 2 dwarves to gather the closest gems in the right hand shafts. Sheryl and Dave starting in on the left hand shafts. The initial turns were spent getting dwarves into the mines and positioned. Early on, Dave and Sheryl had 4 dwarves in the mines while Rich had 3...with most loaded with gems. No settings had been selected and the ability cards were yet to be utilized.
Dave was the first to select two setting cards followed by Rich who selected one. But while Dave seemed to be banking his settings for a future turn, Rich actually set his jewels for a nice 16 point piece of jewelry (and one less dwarf).
When a thief card was revealed, Rich used that ability to thieve away Dave's large amber gem so that Rich would be the first person to set a piece of the Brisingamen. Sheryl and Dave soon followed by setting pieces of their own also.
As the game progressed, Dave and Sheryl continued to explore the "left" side of the mines having to go deeper and deeper to get gems. Rich continued to work the "right" side solo, but the gems weren't as deep. As a result, Rich could get more gems set into jewelry.
Late in the game, Rich grabbed a setting requiring 4 green gems to set....but when he checked his gems, he had 4 red gems to set with the required green gems deep in the mines. Sheryl, David, and the Black Market had 1 such gem each, so it would be difficult for Rich to complete that piece. Rich did grab the 4 red gem setting that he had meant to grab before his mistake.
At this point in the game, Rich had 4 complete settings, Dave had 3, while Sheryl had a nice stock-pile of gems, but only 1 complete setting. Each player had set part of the Brisingamen, so each had extra actions to spend if desired. Furthermore, a final setting for the Brisingamen would end the game - but none was available by the board. But with the end so close, the pace towards the end game accelerated just a bit as players looked to use a few extra actions to increase their gains. Rich started to use extra action item tokens to get settings and trades ready. The others tried to get their jewels in position, but Rich quickly set two final pieces to end the game.
So tallying the scores:
Rich Dave Sheryl
Game End 6
Small Gems 2 1 8
Large Gems - - 6
Settings 94 41 20
Un-settings -10 - -
Extra Action 3 12 9
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TOTAL 93 54 43
One aspect I noticed (and I believe this was a mistake in our playing style) is that we each had the freedom to explore our own sections of the mines. While Dave and Sheryl were going deeper and deeper into their side of the board, I was working the shallower caverns on my side of the board. I did set up a 3 dwarf convoy which did pick up a nice lot of gems to allow me to finish off the settings. We didn't really use the ability cards much - but could have probably tried to interfere with each others dwarves a bit more.
I suspect, but need further plays to bear this out, that one aspect of the game is around seeing the gems others have accumulated and playing a bit more defensively around the black market (not leaving desired gems in the market) and/or taking settings to avoid others from completing them. While one might worry that having unfinished settings is negative points - one does get 6 VP's for ending the game which can offset some of that loss.
On aspect I did like was the black market. With its inclusion, all the gems in the game are available. They are either in the mines or in the black market. The random set-up give play variability as each set-up (and setting deal) would require a different optimisation path to complete efficiently.
Having played the game, I am glad I purchased it. (Yes, some of the cards are misprinted - bat ability labeled via text as thief, but that didn't hinder play at all.) I also enjoyed that the game played relatively quickly. It does have a nice decision space around requiring thought and optimisation. It might be prone to over-analysis but with only a couple of actions each turn - I would hope that would not be the case. So the first of my Essen purchases gets a nice thumbs-up and I hope that I can play it again, but I do have a bunch of other Essen games to play though.