Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Building Belfort

(c) Tasty Minstrel Games
Used by permission
This evening after work, Frank H., Brian G., Mike R., Keith F., and I got together and cracked open Belfort  (designers Bamboozle Brothers Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, artist Joshua Cappel, publisher Tasty Minstrel).  I had played a couple of times in its two-player form but never finished a game all the way through because my wife Kathy and I just didn't find it altogether engaging.  I hoped that perhaps the game would be more fun with more players.

Most of us are fairly familiar with the usual Euro game mechanics, and we found that Belfort is replete with those worker-placing, resource-gathering, building-constructing, area-occupying, hand-managing functions that characterize the genre.  Oh, and there's elves and dwarves and gnomes.  (Sure, why not?)  I'd set up the game by the time the fifth of us arrived, so we launched right into rules explanation and got started.  We had the occasional, "oh, I didn't know that" moments where yours truly hadn't quite explained the rules clearly (although I swear I said everything I said I said), but generally the gameplay went well.

We were all frequently faced with those agonizing moments of wanting to do too many things at the same time.  We are a fairly competitive group, so we were all pretty aggressive about competing for points and knocking down the leaders.  As a consequence, I think at times we suffered from analysis paralysis, because by the time we were done and had everything back in the box, four hours had passed from the time we'd started.  (I'd figured we'd run two or two-and-a-half hours, tops.  The box says "90-120 minutes.")  Next time will probably go somewhat faster, now that we're familiar with the rules (and understand them correctly) and know what to look for.

As for rules clarifications, here are some of our lessons learned:

  • When the property deck draw pile runs out, the discard pile is inverted and shuffled to make a new draw pile.  We assumed (correctly, I believe) that the three face-up property cards do not get shuffled back into the draw pile.
  • When multiple players take the King's Camp action, the person taking the action inverts the play order token that he receives to indicate that it is ineligible from being taken by another person in the same phase.  The token that he traded away, however, is still face up and fair game, which means that the person that he traded with is subject to having to trade again.  
  • A player who takes a gnome by activating an elf or dwarf on the Tower may still also hire one gnome for three coins.  That makes it possible to acquire more than one gnome in the same turn (as long as a player has buildings with locks on which to play the gnomes).
  • We understood that in a tie for a scoring tier, both players score the next level down in points.  What we didn't realize until the second scoring round was that in a three-way (or more) tie for a scoring tier, all tied players still score the next tier down (not two tiers down, as we'd thought).  So, for example, if three of us are tied for majority in a district, we each get three (second-place) points.  A fourth player would then get the third-place point (even though three players had outscored him).  I'm not sure we got that right even in the final scoring round.  ("Asterisk.")
Interestingly, when Seth Jaffee of Tasty Minstrel provided a ruling on the re-shuffling of the discard deck (when the draw pile is exhausted), he said, "In most games I have not seen this happen, but of course it is possible - I think you'll find it rare. "  In our case tonight, we went through the draw pile twice.  (Admittedly, it was a much shorter stack the second time.)  I think in a five-player game with the Librarian's Guild and/or people building a Library early, it might be more likely to happen than not.

So the bottom line is that I won and Keith came in a fairly close second.  If Mike had realized he could have hired another gnome (in addition to the one he took with the Tower), the end-game gnome scoring might have changed the outcome somewhat.  Keith had used King's Camp to choose to go fifth in turn order on the last turn, so that he could best choose where to score his last few buildings.  Unfortunately for him, I took the last of the gnomes to end up in first place outright for gnome scoring; none were left for him when his action phase came up.  That might not have worked out in my favor if Mike had taken another gnome.

We all had a good time, although we were fairly exhausted from almost four hours of competitive brain-burning Euro play.  It might be a while before we bring this one to the table again, but we all really had a good time with it.

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