Designer: Amabel Holland
Artist: Amabel Holland
This game wins the most quirky theme of all time. I love it.
According to the designer, the theme is meant to celebrate the 500th anniversary of an extravagant and decadent party hosted by the King of England and France. Essentially, it is a showcase of wealth, vanity and one-upmanship that is unparalleled in the modern day history. One needs to read about the actual event to even believe it. The stat I find most unbelievable is that the English crown spent almost a third of the nation’s wealth on that single event. Is that even possible? Anyways, I bring out the theme first because I actually think the game, however abstract as it sounds, actually fits the theme really well.
The Field of the Cloth of Gold in reality is a pretty abstracted game design but the theme works. Sure, the theme might be thin, but the mechanism that weaves the game together meshes really well with the idea of lavish and pretentious gift-giving on a grand scale. That’s because in CoG, players take actions that benefit themselves but also must choose between what to give their opponents. All the things gifted to your opponents can potentially score points, so how to best blunt those opportunities while moving ahead is what the game hinges upon. It is also where most of the tension of the game lie. Each turn, you must choose your poison. Which action do you desire most and what gift must you bestow your opponent for that selection?
There are four types of scoring tiles that are randomly allocated to each action and hence, four different gifts to bestow on your opponent. Likewise, when your opponent chooses an action, you will also receive these tiles in your court. All tiles gifted are replenished at the end of each action such that you see a rotation of different tiles for the actions. Selecting an action means revealing your tiles from your hand to the table and then scoring points. All the actions on the board score points in different ways: One action scores one point per tile, another action gives you points for majority scoring, yet another forces you to perform set collection by giving you points for each set of four tiles. To round things up, you also have non-linear triangular scoring. In retrospect, I realize that the scoring pretty much pays homage to all the modern day Euro game scoring categories.
Yes, while the game does have different scoring criteria, it is not really the scoring itself that takes center stage. In fact, because of how the rules are structured, in-game scoring itself may not always be beneficial to the final outcome. There is a balancing mechanism for in-game scoring – the more you score during the game, the fewer end game points you will get. This is mainly due to the collection of gold-colored tiles where the further along on the scoring track you are, the fewer points each gold tile will yield during final scoring. The gold tiles contribute quite a huge chunk of the total score, so, if want to score in-game points, you better make sure you have a head start on the in-game scoring especially if your opponent is hoarding gold tiles. This whole endeavor makes scoring slightly more opaque, less straightforward and certainly more fun….. only if you don’t over-analyze each action.
There are many games where making an optimal choice means getting the cake and eating it too. Not only do you get the points, hurt your opponents and set yourself up for the next move, but everything falls in place and you get to feel smug about your own cleverness. There rarely is such a feeling during The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Most selections come with a small level of discomfort and you are forced to pick between sub-optimal choices. As described above, even what seems like the most optimal sub-optimal move might have scoring repercussions that are not immediately apparent. So, this discomfort sits with you throughout the game and is a key feature of what makes the game tick. This tension isn’t always pleasant, but you do get bursts of satisfaction when you pull off scoring from your revealed hand, particularly for set scoring which is not easily accomplished. However, you then turn around and wonder if scoring those points and devaluing your gold tiles is a good idea to begin with. In essence, you are always hoping for the best and when you do get the best, you hope it doesn’t turn out to be fool’s gold.
The game is short though. 15-20 minutes per game once you are familiar with the concepts. There is really no down time between turns and actions take a few seconds to carry out. There is no arguing that a game of this length and type with blind draw of tiles will hinge on luck. But then again, it should. Luck of the draw is what gives the game its unpredictable, delightful moments like revealing the fourth tile to form a set or drawing more gold tiles to your hand. I am almost always more forgiving of lady luck for a short game.
I played The Fields of the Cloth of Gold alongside Phil Walker-Harding’s Imhotep: The Duel. Both games are fantastic games for two and I couldn’t help but see some similarities. Choices you make in Imhotep also come with consequences and what you want is counterbalanced by what you potentially give away. The scoring options for Imhotep also mirrors that of Cloth of Gold since they involve several ways of Euro-style scoring described above. Both games are excellent and deserving of more attention.
This is my first foray into Hollandspiele-designed games, and it looks like might not be my last.