Where Everything’s Greener: Downtown Farmers Market review

Saturday mornings have long had a routine for me and my wife, stretching back dozens of years. We generally get up early, get a good work out in, and then when the kiddoes were around, we were shuffling them off to the ball fields or to some gym competition. We were lucky if we had a chance to fire up the smoker and maybe put some viande boucanee on the grill.

Even today, we still honor that schedule a bit. It’s early to rise, hit the gym, and then instead of shuttling kids around in a 4Runner, we’re hauling bags of mulch from Stine’s.

You know what we never seem to have time to do? Hit the local farmer’s market at our city park. Every Saturday, Moncus Park explodes with plastic tents, like some alternate history of a medieval fair. Instead of giant turkey legs and butterbeer, our local farmer’s market serves up a heaping helping of locally grown vegetables, locally made hot sauces, with a Cajun band playing Between Eunice and Opelousas or the Evangeline Waltz close by.

I guess I’m not hipster enough to make it a priority, even though the few times I’ve been, I’ve enjoyed strolling amidst the booths and sampling the goodies, trying to answer the age old question: what to bring home this week?

Can you believe someone made a game that brings out that feeling? Yep, Blue Orange Games — spoiler, one of our favorite publishers because of their top notch productions, family gameplay, and interesting themes — sent us a copy of Downtown Farmers Market, a puzzly little tableau game.

Just like movies seem to come out in bunches with the same theme, games of late have featured the same mechanic but with little twists and turns that make each offering unique. I’m talking about tile drafting, there seems to be a lot of that going around. You’ve probably played or seen Calico and Cascadia, and Isle of Cats is one that I haven’t played but looks similar in nature. We even featured a play of Way Too Many Cats on our stream, another in those entries.

Downtown Farmers Market is one of those, but in a small package that belies its big brain gameyness. Yes, friends, you’re going to need that quick calculator in your head that you like to put on sleep mode most of the time to be good at this game.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s explore what Downtown Farmers Market is, before we scare you off with talk of numbers and calculations. (And hopefully, we won’t scare you off at all.)

Downtown Farmers Market is a colorful little game for two to four players designed by Johan Benvenuto and Alexandre Droit. The art is uncredited on BGG, but that’s a pity, because it’s filled with symbols that must have been hand drawn by someone somewhere. The symbols represent all the things one would find at our farmer’s market, if one wasn’t knee deep in grass cutting chores every Saturday morning. Cheese and milk and carrots and eggs, you get the drift.

There a gazilion little tiles in this tiny little box with its cute magnetic closing strip that clinks very satisfactorily. They spill out like clowns popping out of a VW bug at the local circus everytime we open the box. Each of the tiles represents one of two things: either one or more items you’d find at the market, or a “shopping list” of sorts, basically the things you need to bring home from your visit.

Side note to any dads out there. How often have you forgotten that one important thing that was on the list of Very Important Items to pick up at the grocery or home improvement store? I do, EVERY SINGLE TIME that I don’t write those little suckers down on my Notes app on the phone. Honestly, you can’t send me to a big box store that has tons of shelves of the coolest foods or tools and expect me to remember everything on that giant list of five items from memory, can you? That’s impossible! Whoever designed that Notes app has my eternal gratitude.

Back to the game. The tiles will be shuffled into the two categories, and then the shopping lists will be laid out grid style at the top and sides of your playing area. I

You’ll get eight of those requirements, and each of them are double sided. I’m told that one side is supposedly harder than the other, but when I play against my wife, I seem to get the ones that are both impossible.

When they are laid out, they make rows and columns with requirements that have to be met to be scored. It might be as simple as “have five eggs in this column” or “don’t put any corn in this row.” (Ha, simple indeed.) It might require you to have exactly six items, or a little bit of cheese and a little more of milk. With so many double sided tiles, there’s a lot of variety, although they seem to fall into a half-baker’s dozen of camps, and every one of them has their own point totals. Particularly difficult tiles could be worth significantly more points than the one that gives you one point for each corn in your row.

Then the drafting begins. Tiles will be laid out randomly between the players, and one by one, we’ll try to pick the ones that fit our tableau while hopefully leaving choices that are terrible for our opponents. Did I say that out loud? Yes, this game can be played as head down, play your own board type of game, but that is not the way we seem to experience it. In the four player game, it’s kind of hard to screw over the other players, because you are really just picking the one tile that best fits your area. But in the two and three player games, tiles are picked and tiles are excluded, which means some particularly astute players will scan your board to see what you need and merrily thrown them away.

That might be our one gripe for the game, in that it is geared towards families, but has a direct element of interactivity that some families might not enjoy. I don’t find it a problem — the game only lasts twenty minutes so the investment-to-screwage ratio is pretty low.

You’ve probably figured out from the pictures and descriptions above that there is some math involved. Don’t be lulled into sleep by the cheery illustrations of the cheese and eggs! Winning the game means calculating which of your rows and columns will be easy to fulfill (I always seem to miss one or two…or more) and score you the most points.

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