Gentes

Stefan Risthaus

Artist: Harald Lieske and Adam McIver

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games/Spielworxx

Ahh, now I finally know the connection between the tree on the cover and the title of the game (Photo credits: Game Brewer@BGG)

Gentes is only my second game from Spielworx and Risthaus. He previously designed Arkwright, a title I have heard good things about but never played. I have however, a home made copy of Risthaus’s Level X. Spielworx generally publishes games that are heavier and geared toward gamers but strangely enough, I have only played La Granja. Gentes is another “curious but not seeking” sort of game. After my initial play, Gentes far exceeded my expectations. It is nothing if not a streamlined Euro with its own novel take on action selection using a time track mechanism which in a way, is a type of worker placement, sort of.

On each individual player board is a time track with multiple time slots. Each action tile selected from the common board varies in cost and time. Cost is just money that you pay to the common supply while time is depicted as an hour glass symbol on the action tiles. Some actions may cost money, time or both. In many cases, the tiles that are cheap may cost more time and vice versa. The same action can also have multiple tiles with different costs. In most cases, tile costs escalates and if you are late to the party, and still want to perform the action, you must pay more. So if you pick the action first, you pay less for the tile. This is akin to having to use more workers for the same action in worker placement games.

Now, all action tiles and the hourglasses that accompany the action must be placed in the slots on the time track and once the track fills up, players must pass and the round comes to an end when everyone passes. Clearly, tiles with fewer hourglasses are ideal because that means you will end up with more time slots for other actions. What’s truly unique is that for tiles with more than 2 hourglasses, players can choose to put both hour glasses in a single slot instead of splitting them into individual slots. Of course, squeezing them in a single slot frees up the other slot for other actions. The trade off is that at the end of each round when all tiles are removed from the time track to reset for the next round, only one of the two hourglasses will be removed from each double hourglass slot. The remaining hourglass stays in place for the upcoming round, thus limiting your available actions in the upcoming round. Essentially, you are kicking the can down the road. By opting to squeeze the time track in the current round, you are basically borrowing time from future rounds and reducing the number of actions you can perform in the subsequent round in lieu of performing more this round. This is the main novelty for Gentes and I must say, it’s a darn good one.

There are 5 primary actions that you can select tiles from the main board to build your civilization. The most unique of the 5 actions is the training of your population for specific roles. By paying money and spending time, one can increase the population by adding more soldiers, traders, priests, scholars, craftsmen and nobles. Now, each of these professions are paired such that two of these professions advance on the same track but from opposing directions. Since there are 6 professions, there are paired into 3 tracks., For each pair, advancement of a profession by cube movement on the track is limited by the position of the opposing cube as they share the same track. Once the cubes are adjacent to each other, any advancement from either cube will mean pushing back the opposing cube on the track. This push-pull mechanism that results in a net-zero gain is interesting and also pretty unique even though thematically, it doesn’t really make much sense. The training of these people will be important when it comes to playing civilization cards.

The other 4 remaining actions are a little more mundane. One action allows players to build a generic structure in different cities. Each building can either be place in a city on the Mediterranean or in the hometown section of the board. Both location confer different advantages and benefits. Building on the map allows set collection of specific colored cities or one from each region. Both will trigger benefits at different stages of the game. Building in the hometown also triggers benefits, but are mainly actions that help modulate actions. For example, one home town benefit doubles taxation. Another provides a discount for training. Regardless, each player only has 6 buildings to construct. So, there is a limited supply and players that construct all 6 will get a bonus tile with the first to do so, scoring additional VPs.

The third action allows players to pay and pick up civilization into their hand. The cost of selecting cards is a tad convoluted for my taste but players can scoop up several cards in one action by paying a fixed cost for the action tiles. As in other games, cards slide from right to left to fill opened up slots after purchase with new cards costing more and the unpicked cards costing less. The key here isn’t getting cards but keeping them in your hand. Any additional card beyond three will be charged with an hour glass on the time track between rounds. This is quite costly and if you want to keep a card, it better be worth an action slot.

The final action is playing the civilization cards. These cards are the main source for VPs in Gentes. To play the cards, one must have the right combination of professions (i.e. 2 nobles, 4 soldiers, 1 priest, etc). Some cards also require that you previously built specific buildings. Once played, each card scores points for correctly matched symbols that appear on other cards in your tableau. So the more symbols you collect of the same type, the more points you score. Thats the set collection part. Furthermore, many cards in the first two eras have special benefits, additional actions, etc. In general playing cards to your tableau is good and the more the merrier. In the final era, most cards will score massive amounts of VPs. So being aware and preparing for the mad scramble is wise.

Gentes was unexpectedly good. Unexpected because the game wasn’t even on my radar and it wasn’t really hyped. I knew a deluxe edition was coming out from TMG and that was about it. Surprisingly, we found Gentes to be a solid mid weight Euro that feels heavier than your Kramer/Kiesling/Knizia outputs but lighter than your Pfister/Tascini/Lacerda designs. It’s heavy because the decision space is challenging and relatively open-ended not because the rules are complex. The five actions all create different outputs that are slightly intertwined but their relationships are very clear cut. For example, you increase your specific profession track in order to play your civilization cards. There aren’t as many ripple effects for each of your actions. There is some choice denial in the game, but I found that surprisingly light as well. There are always enough action tiles available, even though you might have to pay more. I was never able to “do nothing”.

For now Gentes is a keeper and deserves additional plays. I found the time track mechanism to be clever and unique enough that the novelty feels fresh. It may wear thin after a while, but it probably won’t be too bad once the game goes through our rotation. We look forward the getting it back to the table.

Initial impression: Good (almost great)

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