The cola colored waters of the Atchafalaya Basin, the forest primeval of Wadsworth fame, are the frequent backdrop to television reality programs depicting south Louisiana. The usual image is that of a swamp dweller deep in the swamp who lives off the land in a rustic houseboat. Yes, there certainly are people in south Louisiana who ply the cola colored waters of the Basin for their livelihood. But, south Louisiana is so much more than that….
Travel along I-10 between Lake Charles and New Orleans, and you will not only spy the majestic cypress trees of the iconic basin, but you will also see the hint of hundreds of thousands of acres of thriving farmland. For two hundred years, Louisiana residents have made their living through farming. While ancient plows and oxen have given way to tractors and combines and huge rice dryers, at their heart, communities like Mamou and Crowley and Jennings and New Iberia are farming communities, where farmers work hard alongside their families to produce rice or soybeans or sugar cane or crawfish.
Has your game group gotten a little bored with the numerous medieval farming games already in the board game universe? Have you ever dreamed of building out a truly modern farm? Well, spice up your game night with Fields of Green by Stronghold Games in partnership with Artipia Games.
Fields of Green is a 2017 release designed by Vangelis Bagiartakis. It is a card laying game played over four rounds in which players will compete to build the highest scoring farm operation. It plays from two to four players in about an hour. I have played it at all counts (two, three and four) numerous times, and scales well very easily.
Game play is simple with deep depth in the decision making. Players will draft six cards from four decks (field cards, livestock cards, construction cards, and building cards) to be placed next to their already built initial water tower and silo. Once the player chooses the card, the player pays the cost and takes the effect (if any), and then passes the remaining cards to the next player (a la 7 Wonders or Sushi Go). Each deck provides unique cards to the tableau: field cards are all about planting crops that can generate food; livestock cards produce animals that can eat the food but generate money for you; and construction cards and building cards give you bonuses or break the rules or allow you to score major victory points at the end of the game.
The game is the spiritual successor to Among The Stars, but designer Vangelis Bagiartakis said recently that he was able to upgrade the experience of the tableau building game here. Fans of Among The Stars will recognize the core game mechanics and appreciate the changes. For one, players are allowed to decide how to seed the decks each round. Have a card already played that works well with fields, but need more to come out? Draft only field cards for the third and fourth round. Have a good money engine going so you want as many purple building cards to come out? Add four or five or six purple cards to your hand in the last round to ensure plenty of purple cards will come out.
The production of the game is top notch. The cards are of good quality, with serviceable artwork. The artwork is fun and functional, if a bit bland, depicting all of the well known crops and animals like pumpkins, apple orchards, goat pens and massive oxen. The bits representing food and water are cute little wooden tokens that accurately reflect the product. And there are a few added touches that try to upgrade what is essentially a card game into something that almost looks like a board game — borders are included for each card type, cardboard tokens are used for equipment, and there are round markers and even a nice first player marker. All in all, this is a great presentation and perfect for this style and weight of game, although I wish the artwork had a bit more pop on the table.
So why should you play Fields of Green? To me, it goes back to the play experience. I was fortunate to be able to teach Fields of Green recently at Dice Tower Con, and was provided the review copy seen in the photos. For two straight days, I taught dozens of people how to play. I talked about the theme of the game and how the designer incorporated that theme into the play.
Think in terms of how a farm is organized — fields produce crops, which feed the animals, which can be sold for money to build building and better equipment on the farm. Be the most efficient farmer to win the game. In other words, the player who wins will likely place their farming cards in the most judicious manner to allow for multiple ways to generate water, food and coins and allow them to buy the best construction and building cards to maximize points at the end.
Thus, the designer has taken a very simple concept — tableau building, similar to any tile laying mechanic — but injected deep strategy decisions. Sure, there is a little bit of luck in the way that the individual types of cards come out, and another player can mess with your strategy a bit if they hate draft a card that would be particularly good for you. However, there are so many card choices at the start of each round that each player should have ample opportunities to plan out their turn and their long term strategy for the farm.
Will you focus on crops? Or animals? Will you maximize your water production? Or go for constructions and equipment that change the rules in your favor? Will you try to mix in one or two building cards at the end or go full out with a money heavy strategy to build as many victory point buildings at the end? There are so many ways to win in this game, and so many cards that can come out but don’t during each game that replayabiltiy should be high.
If there are any drawbacks, the game plays a little longer than stated on the box in my estimation. I’ve played the game close to ten times now, and most of those plays have been with first time players. Each round takes a little bit longer as some of the card choices, combos and long term planning all adds up to some serious AP for some players. Plus, the harvest phase, which is not present in Among The Stars, adds another level of complexity to round planning and another five minutes worth of decisions and token moving. The harvest phase is a little fiddly, as players have to be conscious of the water and food requirements (fields can only be watered by water towers within two card spaces away). But a short but fiddly harvest phase is really the only drawback that affected our game play, and by the third round, each player seems to get the hang of it. Finally, while I am a big fan of the wooden bits, and the size and feel of the excellent cards, the artwork on the face of the cards could perhaps have presented the various crops and livestock in more unique presentations. I think they were going with a realism, and with an aesthetic of seeing verdant greens and lively livestock on the table, but the representations in the images are so small that it gets lost in the field.
I believe that Fields of Green will reward multiple plays as players began to divine even more strategies on the combination of cards that exist in the decks. I’m looking forward to some repeated plays with the same players, especially with my wife. She enjoys tableau style games and the combination of cards that can be generated with careful planning, so I am anxious to see how we vary our strategy depending on the meta produced by our previous plays.
So, that’s Fields of Green, an excellent tableau building game with relatively short gameplay but lots of depth. Have you played it? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter @boardgamegumbo or at http://www.facebook.com/boardgamegumbo. I’d love to hear how you compare it to Among The Stars or other engine building games like Imperial Settlers.
Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!