Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Walnut Grove: Extremely High-Level Strategy (Not Really)

My 3rd Walnut Grove solo battle went about as well as the first one, with me earning enough points to just barely squeak ahead for a beginner solo victory. I was sabotaged by my daughter, who arrived about halfway in and started up a vigorous battle between my farmer and his farm hands. Seems they all wanted to live in the house together, and of course room was lacking.

The big improvement I cashed in on was the Ladder, which saved me from defeat. I also bought a barn and loaded both buildings with coins, ending up with 9 points that way.

I normally feel pretty competent in this game, but I'm usually teaching it to new people. Thanks to its relative obscurity, I have yet to run up against any seasoned Walnut Grove players.

In the face of practiced opponents, or perhaps the release of an on-line version, I would certainly fail, fail, fail. I am reminded most of my attempts to master Agricola. With the right brain on your shoulders, you should be able to plan your play out pretty far ahead, compensating for unexpected developments in the tiles you grab.

I'm actually looking forward to more solo games, and of course multiplayer games if anyone asks.

It's true you want to make as many resources as you can using the fewest workers. But past a certain point, resources lose their usefulness. Because the General Store only accepts 1 of each type of resource, ideally you want lots of different types of resources available. So after you build a 3 or 4 tile field, you should probably start on another one.

Being able to store lots of resources is also very important: a 3-tile field that can only store 3 of its resource is going to be dragging you down the entire game.

Placing Tiles
Finding a way to get more use out of every tile is a very important part of Walnut Grove. If you can find a way to make 2 tiles meet together to create an even bigger field, its about the best feeling in the game.

Fall Actions
As I've previously stated, Fall is the only time you can do most of the building actions. The one thing you should try to avoid at all costs is picking up MORE resources (from Post Office, Church) during the Fall. You have exactly 8 Fall Actions, never more, never less. And ideally every single one of these actions is going to be directly earning you victory points.

If you can nail down a really important improvement tile by waiting a turn to get more stone, go for it. But realize you are effectively making that improvement worth 2 turns of actions. Is it still worth it?

Buying Workers
Unlike Agricola, the extra workers in Walnut Grove carry a very steep price. With 3 different flavors of food to collect, and assured double-dipping at regular intervals, you need to be sure you can support a new worker and make some solid profit on the side.  But each worker also has the benefit of being worth an extra 2 points at the end of the game, the same as a gold coin.

At the end of each game, I had always wished I had worked on getting more workers.

Also, the milk workers seem particularly costly, as they eat the exact same amount of milk as other workers eat fish or grain, and milk is easily more valuable.

The Biggest Takeaway
Study the improvement tiles before you start moving in different directions. It is highly likely you will have to acquire one of these tiles, and they can steer your growth in dramatically different directions.

Also, have a plan and stick to it. Which I personally have a difficult time with.

Final Thoughts
I'm glad to be bringing Walnut Grove Week to a close. I feel like the content I've provided is a little uneven, but hopefully will offer insight into my own unique psyche. I can't provide the same level of evaluation as some other sites, but I can honestly say at least my madness is my own.

If you have a weird, under-appreciated game in your own collection, consider giving it some time in the spotlight to get reacquainted. Today I see Walnut Grove in a whole new light.

If I still have time I plan to do a short write up on Race for the Galaxy play and strategy. Might be tomorrow, might be the next day. See you then!

-- Zeke

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