Michael Keller (II) and Andreas Odendahl
Artist: Harald Lieske
Publisher: Spielworxx and Stronghold Games
I first played La Granja 3 years back. I believe, we got a few rules wrong, I think with placement of goods on the village map, and the game soured on me. I felt the game was a very solitaire experience and to me at least, the game was mediocre and didn’t really do much to rise to the top. Like many other games, I hoped it would hit the table again so I could get a more accurate feel when played correctly…and like many other games, our pipeline of new games kept pushing La Granja to the back of the line. Finally, after a long wait, the game hit the table once more. Not surprisingly with the right rules, the game plays a lot better, smoother and honestly, a refreshing change from the recent slate of underwhelming heavy Euros I have recently played.
La Granja is a medium Euro. So I was surprised that the game was labeled with a relatively high complexity rating in Board Game Geek. The game is not hard to grasp even though there are a lot of moving pieces. The primary feature of the game, which is probably the most novel part of the game is deciding where to employ these multi-use cards. This is somewhat similar to Mottainai in the each card has 4 functions. One must choose where to tuck these cards either top, bottom, left or right of the individual player boards. Tucking a card on the left means you choose production of raw materials; tucking right gives income; on the bottom you will get special benefits which are permanent or one time use and finally tucking the card on the top will give you contracts to fulfill. Except for the first round where players tuck two cards, each other round, players will only tuck one card per round. There are additional actions which allowing drawing and tucking of card, but each round, the game is centered on choosing where the card goes. It’s intersting that the choice of how to use each card is angst-filled but only takes a fraction of the the total game time.
After cards are tucked, the game then goes through a few fiddly steps of income collection, production and purchases of special powers. After that you roll 9 dice and players choose actions based on the die rolls. These actions include picking up raw materials (your standard wheat, grapes, olives, pig etc), processing them (or upgrading them from wheat and olives to food, grapes to wine, pigs to pork, etc), earning income, drawing and playing more cards or delivery. Action selection via die rolling is not new, but one small novel tweak deserves mention: since there is always one final die that is never selected, the remaining die is not discarded, but the benefits goes to all players. Really cool twist to your standard die-based action selection. I love it.
Arguably, the game’s novelty lies in the multi-faceted cards but it is the delivery of goods that wins you the game. Raw materials or processed goods that are produced will need to be delivered either to your own market barrow cards tucked on the top of your own board or to designated craft markets on the common board to score victory points and other goodies. Like many other Euros, the central board is where player interactions occur and I often find these elements to be relatively tacked on. Commonly, novel bits are introduced on personal player boards and then to facilitate interaction, a shared board is developed to integrate some of the player actions. Most often, players select actions to move around a map visiting cities to deliver goods, build structures to earn points or special powers. Lots and lots of Euros do that: Orleans, Coimbra, Village……
In La Granja, players must use the mule to deliver goods. Each mule icon allows delivery of a single item. So, more mules are good. The main delivery mechanism for mules comes from the penultimate phase of the game where you select delivery of goods from one of four individual delivery tiles. Each tile has 4 icons split between mules and siesta sombreros in different ratios. Selecting a tile locks it in place and cannot be chosen again until 3/4 tiles are used and all tiles are refreshed. That means through out the whole game of 6 rounds, you only one get refresh and choosing the appropriate tile to time your delivery is critical. Luckily, mules can be found in many other places or actions including during action selection, purchase of roof top tiles, playing cards, special benefits, extra delivery, etc. However, when choosing these delivery tiles, the Siesta icon also helps one to progress on the turn order track. The turn order track determines player order each round, which in turn determines action selection. In addition, the higher on the Siesta track, the more points you will earn each round, but the track does reset between rounds (Yes, very Feld-like). So, choosing delivery tiles, just like where to place cards, is the other tough decision point in the game.
With each delivery, one aims to send items to either individual market barrows or craft markets in the central board. Once all requirements on market barrows are fulfilled, players discard the card, gains VPs’ and bonuses along with placing a goods barrel on the village map represented by hexagonal grids. Depending on the difficulty of the market barrows, players get to put their barrels on specific spaces which allow them to eject adjacent barrels from other players that are lower in rank while earning them victory points. Competition for placement is keen because you earn VPs’ for fulfilling the barrows, then points for ejecting barrels and then more points each round for having barrels on the board. It is one of the main mechanisms for earning chunks of VPs’. The decision comes from deciding if you want to fulfill harder market barrows which earn more VPs’ and are harder to be displaced while potentially earning you more continuous VPs’ or going for the easier but less lucrative cards and making it up with speed and volume.
Alternatively, resources can also be delivered to 6 different craft markets on the main board. Each craft market requires a specific set of items ( each type of processed goods, 6 coins, one of each goods, etc). This is not a race as each player will have their own space on the craft markets. Fulfilling craft markets will get you special one time benefit tiles or earned income tiles each round while also earning you VPs’ commensurate with the round in which the market is completed (5 points in the 5th round, 4 points on the 4th….etc.). That means delaying the fulfillment will earn you more points, with the trade-off being you can’t take maximum advantage of the recurring benefits that are earned each round.
I certainly enjoyed La Granja the second time around. La Granja is not heavy, but it is somewhat fiddly in that each rounds has many substantial phases that can feel cobbled together from different mechanisms. I found myself having to go back to the summary card to figure out which phases we are in and what the next phase is, all the way into the final round. Usually, by the end of the game, I no longer need to refer to the summary sheet. Here, the phases are all distinct and equally substantial. I can also spot multiple borrowed elements such as dice-based action selection, multi-card use, turn order track, contract fulfillment for VPs’, resource harvesting and conversion of raw to processed goods, purchase of special action tiles, etc. The list is long and playing the game reminds me of all these different elements from other games, probably a little more than I normally do. In truth, many Euros borrow heavily or are inspired by their predecessors. So, this is less a critique than it is the novelty-seeking side of me wanting something fresh. To it’s credit La Granja plays quite fast, is challenging and the actions blends quite well despite the relatively involved phases. The game also has a relatively high replayability due to the multi-faceted cards that one will only see a fraction of, each game.
I think if you have a lot of games, then La Granja maybe one of those you want to try before you buy. There maybe enough here that warrants addition to a large collection. I can certainly make an argument for keeping it as much as I can omitting it from any collection. Still, at the end of the day though all that matters if the game was fun to play and whether you want to replay. At the moment, it’s a resounding yes on both fronts for me.
Initial impressions: Good