Belfort Game Review

Belfort CoverBelfort is a worker placement / area control strategy game from Tasty Minstrel Games.  It’s a Euro game that seems to try to do too much and none of it particularly well.  Belfort ends up dragging and never being as fun as it should be, especially for the amount of time we spent playing the game.

Appearance:  Belfort uses a cartoony theme with fantasy dwarves, elves and gnome’s and a robust colour palette.  Unfortunately, some of the colour palette options aren’t very good (example – the violet pieces fade right into the Keep); while the board itself doesn’t have a lot of contrast to make it easy to find items.  In addition, the game comes with all its pieces unstickered so you’ll find yourself spending a good 10 minutes before playing placing stickers on your pieces.  Also, the pieces used are all plastic instead of the normal wood which makes the pieces slippery and annoying to play with.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Belfort plays in two parts – the worker placement first portion and the second area control / actions portion.  In the worker placement stage, players may place their elf or dwarf workers in the resource areas, guilds, recruitment center or flags for position. After that, they collect their various resources; with players with a majority in the resource centers gaining an extra resource.  During the area control phase, players must acquire property cards to play them to gain control of these properties.  By gaining control of these properties, players can score points during the scoring phase of the game.

Overall, there aren’t a large number of rules to learn and none of the rules are particularly complex.   You could probably teach the game in about 10 minutes to a group of experienced gamers.

Gameplay: Outside of the actual appearance of the game, this is the other location Belfort falls short.  By being both a worker placement and area control game and by splitting each portion up significantly; the game has a tendency to drag.  The entire game is played sequentially instead of in parallel and players have to evaluate their decisions constantly based on the actions of the other players.  In addition, as the game progresses each turn takes longer and longer as the number of decisions / placements players can make grows exponentially.

In the start, players only have 6 workers and can only likely build one building a turn.  By the end game, it’s easy to have 10 – 12 workers to place (with only 1 figure placeable a turn) and be building 2 – 3 buildings.  Each building must be carefully reviewed for placement to gain the most points, while ensuring it gives you the necessary income for scoring.

In the end, the game just drags; since each turn takes a while and players are left waiting.  Perhaps the game would have been better with the worker placement / area control portions better integrated.

Conclusion: By now, you can guess I’m not a fan.  I find Belfort to be a below average Euro.  If I want a worker placement game, I’ll play Stone Age.  For an area control game, Revolution just does it better.  And if I want a heavy Euro; Ora & Labora is faster and much more fun.

Board Game Review : Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories coverGhost Stories  has players as Taoist Monks attempting to banish ghosts from the village.  To win, they’ll have to banish Wu Feng the Lord of the Nine Hells before they themselves are defeated or the village overrun.  Ghost Stories is a tough, complex co-operative game that requires a lot of co-operation and planning to win and isn’t meant for casual gamers or those easily frustrated.

Appearance: I have to say, I love the design and images used.  It’s a touch cartoony; but there are a ton of images on all the ghost cards and village tiles which are well done and add immensely to the theme.

Stock card and miniatures are well done; though the Haunting figures might be a touch too large.  Otherwise, the design is well done with easy to read information transmitted mostly via icons and the rulebook(s) are well laid out to teach the rules quickly.

  Rules / Ease of Learning: The rules of the game are quite well laid out in the rulebook and the game is relatively simple in execution.  Each turn is broken into 2 phases, the Yin and Yang phases which constitute the ghost and monk phase.

In the Yin phase, any ghost effects such as Haunting or the Cursed die take effect before a new ghost is pulled.  If the current player’s board is filled with ghosts already; he does not pull another ghost but instead loses a Qi (life) point.   Ghosts are allocated to each player’s board according to their respective colours, with the black ghost allocated to the current player’s board.  In addition; any effects the ghost has when it comes into play are immediately put into effect.  All this information is shown on the ghost card in simple, easy to read iconography.

In the Yang phase, the player can move 1 space if he wishes.  He may then either ask for help from the Villager on his tile or attempt an exorcism at an adjacent location.  Exorcisms are conducted by rolling the dice and matching the ghosts resistance with the die results.  Any Tao tokens of the appropriate colour may be substituted for a success; and if the player is at a corner location he may attempt to exorcise both ghosts at once with his successes.

In addition; each monk has a special ability that can be used on their turn.  The boards for the monk’s are double-sided; with each side having a variation on the monk’s special ability.  As such; players have to decide on which ability they will be using that game.

Additionally; players get a Yin-Yang token that gives them the ability to use a villager’s ability or flip a haunted tile over at the start of the game.  In 2 or 3 player games, players also get a neutral token that allows them access to the un-played Monks’ special ability(s).

As mentioned, the Village tiles each represent a villager who can aid the Monk’s.  Their aid can range from flipping over a haunted tile to providing Tao tokens, healing for the monks or a Buddha token.

To win Ghost Stories, players have to defeat Wu-Feng.  However, if players all die, run the deck out or have a number of tiles (ranging from 3 to 4) haunted; they lose the game.

Gameplay: Most of Ghost Stories revolves around planning the use of the monk’s and village tile abilities.  Making sure to use the Buddha(s), the Circle of Prayers and the other village tiles as well as the Monk’s special abilities to banish the ghost is extremely important.  Players will have to work closely together to plan out their actions, often 3 to 4 turns ahead to ensure that they win.

One of the major problems with most co-operative games is the ‘alpha’ gamer phenomena where a single player takes over the planning of character actions.  In my experience with Ghost Stories, the best course of action is either blindingly obvious to everyone involved (and already agreed upon) or is a toss-up such that there’s no single right decision.  This makes everyone’s input important; and can sometimes lead to even better moves.

On the other hand, due to the random nature of the ghost card draws as well as the die-rolls for exorcism; Ghost Stories can be more random than many people can enjoy.  It’s quite possible to go from a perfectly controlled situation with 3 ghost present to having 7 ghost on the board, with a die removed and no Tao tokens able to be used all in 2 turns.   The random nature of the game can sometimes put players in a completely un-winnable situation (or make the game seem too simple as everything falls their way) and it can happen very fast.

Conclusion: Overall, I like Ghost Stories.   It has a ton of theme unlike Pandemic and it’s much shorter than Arkham Horror.  There’s a lot of decisions to make and because it’s shorter; it never feels like you’ve wasted a lot of time playing a game that you were never going to win.