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The Uwe Rosenberg progress report

As readers of my recent Top 50 games (as of 2017) blogs will have noticed, one designer's games occupied the positions of No.1 and No.2: Uwe Rosenberg. Anyone who has been involved in the hobby for even a short amount of time will likely have come across his games and/or know his name. He's managed to publish hit after hit in recent years and the announcement of an upcoming Rosenberg release generates a lot of interest; this is not just due to the hype bug but a result of his great popularity amongst gamers who enjoy challenging Eurogames. He has 7 games in the Boardgamegeek Top 100, and 4 within the Top 50, a record that no other designer can rival. Vlaa Chvatil: 3 in the Top 100 (3/0 1-50/51-100) because I do not count two versions of the same game. Matt Leacock: 2/2. Stefan Feld: 1/1. Eric Lang: 1/2. Martin Wallace: 1/1. You get the idea. While the BGG rankings cannot be anything but a collection of subjective opinions, they do at least give us a useful indication of the relative merits of thousands upon thousands of games.

Uwe's Top 100 representatives

So...I thought I'd give a brief account of all the Rosenberg games I've tried so far. 11! Wow. Maybe a better blogger would've checked that first before deciding to write an article about them. I knew I'd played a few...! Read on, if you're brave enough.

Agricola

Plays: 1

Up first is Agricola because I've only played it the once and don't have much of anything useful to say about it. (For clarity, the above link is to the newer revised edition, not the original that I played). Once upon a time, Agricola sat atop the BGG pile at No.1. It's clearly a well loved game but my solitary experience was only average. It's definitely a game with a high learning curve so your first play will probably be tough, at least it was with me, and I just wasn't particularly engaged by it. Close to zero interaction and a little too much German efficiency for my liking. I won't rule out playing this again but also am not yearning for a second game.

Rating: 7/10

Bohnanza

Plays: 1

The less said about this game the better in my opinion. Again, only one play but I have no intention of replaying it. I understand that negotiation can be a very interesting mechanic in board games but I don't like it being as integral to the overall experience as it is in Bohnanza. This game seems rather like marmite amongst gamers i.e. not many think it's ok: they either love it or loathe it. I'm more towards the latter opinion.

Rating: 5/10

At the Gates of Loyang

Plays: 4

A lot of Rosenberg games feel like iterations of his previous titles; mechanics are merged, altered, improved, repurposed. At the Gates of Loyang again features his favourite theme of farming but does it in rather a different way. Indeed the design feels pretty unlike anything else I've ever played. The card drafting is bizarre at first but incredibly clever; the scoring track is challenging and involving and players need to manipulate their positions on it. It also features lots of risk/reward decisions that challenge you every round. Do you play it safe or take bigger risks in the hope of greater rewards? I have no idea how to play it well- and the friend whose copy I played has since sold it- but one day I shall pick up a copy. Maybe we'll finally see a reprint of this little gem in the next couple of years.

Rating: 8/10

Agricola: All creatures big and small

Plays: 3

All creatures big and small

This is the smaller more entry level version of Agricola designed for precisely two players. Unfortunately, it fits into the well-populated category of perfectly fine but (to me) uninspiring short(ish) Euro games that don't excite me in the slightest. Play time is around half an hour and you'll breed some animals, grow some crops, build some fences and buildings...if that summary sounds boring, that's because it is a bit. I think that's my main criticism and the reason I shan't be playing it again. You may think it sounds great- indeed it has an average of 7.5/10 on BGG and that's pretty darn high- it's just not for me.

Rating: 7/10

Nusfjord

Plays: 2

Nusfjord

Nusfjord came out last year to great excitement amongst Euro fans and a friend of mine recently got a copy. Based on fishing- oh so different to farming- it has plenty of popular Uwe mechanics: your own area ripe for deforestation and development, a communal pool of buildings, ships and special workers (called elders), standard worker placement to select actions. It also features one of my less favourite mechanics, namely the 'Fill this space with something or score minus points' idea. Whilst this in itself can be perfectly fine in more spatial games, such as Patchwork (see below), it feels a little incongruous here. However, I'm happy to overlook this for the moment as it's a small part of a game I've really enjoyed so far. With a set number of actions from start to finish you really have to work hard to scrape a good score together. It also seems to have plenty of different areas players can choose to specialise in and exploit for points. More plays will be forthcoming soon I imagine.

Rating: 8/10

Patchwork

Plays: Too many

I've actually only played this on the Android app, never 'in the flesh', but it seems to be a faithful representation of the board game. Another 2p only title, the dual currencies of buttons and time work incredibly well with the theme to me. I enjoy the spatial challenge, but the more interesting part for me is working out when to pass and when to select a tile for your board. There's something incredibly satisfying about piecing together a high scoring blanket; it's also not a solitary experience as you have to be aware of what pieces your opponent may be wanting and doing your best to get in their way. I fear I've played it to death really, it's not something I'd be that interested in sitting down with now, but it's a good game.

Rating: 8/10

Cottage Garden

Plays: 3

Cottage Garden

Cottage Garden has a lot of similarities to Patchwork but allows up to 4 players. Instead of knitting a blanket, you're filling your garden with lots of lovely plants, pots and cute little kittens. There's no currency this time, it's simply a race against time to complete as many garden boards as you can before the game finishes. It does, however, feature a rather neat dual-track scoring mechanism that adds to the experience. I don't think the game is better designed than Patchwork but I think I just prefer it; combined with the increased player count I would choose this every time. And just for the record, they're both loads better than Phil Walker-Harding's copycat BarenPark. *Legal disclaimer: I'm not suggesting that Phil deliberately copied ideas for commercial gain. There are some astounding similarities though and not a lot of new ideas.

Rating: 8/10

Caverna: The Cave Farmers

Plays: 7

Caverna

I actually owned this a while ago. Seduced by all the 'bits', it's certainly got a heck of a lot going on. Actually, I think it was Shut up and Sit Down's review that convinced me to purchase. After 7 plays, I decided it wasn't for me. Unlike Agricola, which feels like a long hard slog, this one feels too easy. There's just masses of everything so players aren't often getting in each other's way. The raiding is semi-interesting but not enough to carry the game on it's own.

Rating: 7/10

A Feast for Odin

Plays: 2

A Feast for Odin

I was initially wowed by this gigantic game but the shine has quickly worn off this over-produced bauble. It's very expensive because of the sheer quantity of stuff but that doesn't automatically equate to an epic gaming experience. It feels like Uwe has pandered to the crowd always clamouring for bigger and bigger boxes. It's an unfocussed mess of mechanics that don't belong together and the worst culprit is the arranging of Viking trinkets on the player boards for absolutely no thematic reason. Others may enjoy the extensive battery of action spots offering heaps of choices and things to do, but not me. This is one of those that absolutely didn't live up to the hype.

Rating: 6/10

Le Havre

Plays: 11

Le Havre

I don't have anything more to add to the opinions already recorded in my Top Ten:

"My journey through modern board gaming has done a loop. For a good long while I rated Le Havre as my favourite game; then, almost inevitably, I moved onto other shinier games. I still rated Le Havre highly but it was usurped in favour of titles such as Specter OPS and then Crisis. I suspect part of the reason for this was not being able to get hold of a copy for what I considered a reasonable price. With only a limited amount to spend on board games, and Le Havre long out of print, the prices being quoted for new or even second hand copies was too much for me. So, plays were few and far between. Fast forward to UK Games Expo 2017 and Le Havre had finally been reprinted, thus allowing me to finally get my own copy for £37.50: an absolute steal!

It's an incredibly deep, strategic game in which you're faced with difficult decisions every round. Long term goals sometimes have to be postponed in favour of short term solutions. Faced with having no food to feed your workers, do you take the pile of fish that will sort you for a round and a half but sacrifice the chance to build a ship which will give you food every turn? These are the kinds of questions you'll be asked throughout. There's also a nice level of interaction as all buildings, even those built by your opponents, are available for use, often at a cost. This means you're permanently interested in what your competitors are up to because you're going to want to take advantage of their businesses."

Rating: 10/10

Glass Road

Plays: 8

Glass Road

From the Top Ten article:

"Glass Road is unique. There are many games out there that people might suggest are unique or contain something unique; in my opinion, this often isn't the case. Most games are very derivative of others that have gone before them. Playing Glass Road, you will of course see some familiar design elements. It's a Eurogame and as such, it has things in common with other Eurogames including those by the same designer Uwe Rosenberg. But the action selection mechanic, combined with the rotating resource tracks, is an amazing piece of design. It's a bit confusing at first- new players are invariably going to struggle to understand exactly what's going on for a little while- but once you've got your head around the concept, you will love it. And that's not to say that experienced players will find things easy; this is a game that you probably couldn't feel confident of doing well at after your 100th game because every play is different and challenging. It is a 10/10 game for me as I cannot see any flaws, not including the solitaire version which I have not played. Not only that, it is a joy to play."

Rating: 10/10

- My next new Uwe experience will likely be borrowing a friend's copy of Ora et Labora. My next Uwe purchase would ideally be Merkator, another game that's long out of print but highly rated. Who knows if and when this will get a reprint.