Plenty of others have already done a fine job of detailing the gameplay of this latest offering from Wolfgang Kramer. So I can jump right into talking about our game.
Kevin had played previously, and did a great job of teaching Jim, Terry and I how to play. The gameplay in this one seems fairly straightforward (although there were obviously several things that Terry and Jim figured out that eluded me!). Kevin even ended his discussion of the game by saying that while there's no single obvious strategy, people have generally done well when they've had one large land mass, advice that Jim and Terry took to heart but which I obstinately ignored.
Well, to say I ignored that advice wouldn't be entirely accurate, because my ability to follow that advice was hampered by my opening hand. Of 8 cards, I had 7 mountain cards at the start of the game (this was Greg's game that we punched before playing - thanks, Greg! - and I had the responsibility for shuffling the land cards, so I'm probably to blame for that ), and the spacing of the mountains on the standard (dog-bone-shaped) map meant that I was not going to make any large land-masses without spending a lot of money (which is hard-won, especially early) and several turns (which are also dear) acquiring more cards. So to my detriment, I tried the "scatter your holdings all over the map and try to connect to a lot of markets" strategy, and failed gloriously.
On to a discussion of the contending players and their approaches...Jim was the starting player and started the game by drawing additional cards rather than playing anything to the board. Terry immediately started an impressive land cluster near the center of the dog-bone on one side (from which I don't believe he strayed until near game-end), I started one of my several locations in one of the corners, then Kevin started his first land mass close to the center of the dog-bone opposite Terry's. Jim started a land cluster directly on the same side as Kevin's, and eventually was successful in expanding his cluster at the expense of Kevin's ability to grow his own.
The players generally continued in this manner, with Terry expanding his giant farm on the one side, Jim expanding his and pushing Kevin aside on the other side, and me launching new "micro-farms" at the four corners of the globe.
Mid-game came quickly (it seemed to me), but it was evident already who the contenders were:
The second half saw the rich get richer, which I suspect is not uncommon in this game. Terry and Jim both were very smart in their placements of haciendas and lakes, and both scored 69 points in the second half, to Kevin's 51 and my 58. Terry snagged the last lake of a certain shape, for which Jim had a designated spot and intended to place on his next turn. That may have made the difference in the game.
The game left me feeling a little dry. I'd like to play this game again, because I think there's more here than what we saw. This is one of those games that I think if we only played once and then moved on to the next thing, I'd probably never give another thought. But Herr Kramer's designs are generally highly thought of (and several of them are among my favorites), and by reputation Hacienda is another good one. And the general acclaim the game received from my fellow ETGers the first time it hit the table leads me to want to give it another try.
I think a table of experienced players would probably approach the game
differently, and would probably be more attentive to their opponents' plans, and more assertive in trying to disrupt them, although playing that way would also make each player's attempts to maximize their own score a lot more difficult. There's a tension there that I think we missed out on, because for the most part we were each playing in our own areas, so the only tension we really had was in whether to buy face down cards cheaper, or face up cards more expensively, or whether to try to load your hand for later or stake out that board position now. A fair game, but not one I'd likely pine for. I'm hopeful that future plays of this will reveal more of its charms to me.
The double-sided map is a great touch, and I'd like to try the alternate configuration. The availability of a PC program that will generate random maps is a welcome and intriguing possibility that could add a lot of replayability.
My only complaint with the components is the use of the half-sized cards. This is a complaint that I would make of many games whose components are otherwise great. I don't know how much game companies are saving by using these, but they are a real bear to shuffle! And the artwork on the land and animal cards in Hacienda is certainly good enough to warrant printing on full-size cards. I also think larger cards would have minimized some of our early-game difficulties in differentiating the various land types, the colors and patterns of which are fairly similar. I obviously don't speak for anyone but myself, but I would rather pay incrementally more for a game to have full-size cards included.