Saturday, August 13, 2016

Walnut Grove: The Fall Guys

Look at this haunted, empty city.

Upon a barren tor sits Walnut Grove. Workers stand frozen in their hibernation chambers. Decrepit machinery stands waiting to whirl into life once the proper amount of energizing milk has been poured into the system.

There are many forgotten artifacts strewn about this artificial realm. It may take some time to explore them all.

Where DO player's start?

I pride myself on having a better-than-average understanding of the English language. But even the most advanced Englishologist occasionally gets hung up in the odd mental corridors of the typical board game rulebook.

On the placement of the player pawns:
"In clockwise direction, each player chooses either the Church or the Town Hall and then places his player figure onto an empty starting space in front the chosen building. Spaces must be filled in order, starting with the space closest to the street running around town."
On taking turn order for the Fall season:
"The player whose figure is the furthest away from the town hall (in clockwise direction) goes first, followed by the other players according to the positions of their figures. In the first year, the player whose figure is on the first starting space in front of the church goes first."
Now, I'm not some sort of uneducated rube. I know which direction is "clockwise". I'm falling under the assumption (a mostly safe one) that they are using terrestrial clocks and not some sort of alien clock that runs backwards.

But direction is an odd thing when you're talking about a circular path. A pawn might travel away from a position, but because its a circle, it is simultaneously moving farther away and closer to the position it starts in. It took me 15 minutes of metaphysical exploration before I was 99% sure which pawn goes first.

In addition, the starting spaces for this game are lined up in a row in front of each of the 2 buildings. Technically there are multiple players who are going to be in front of the Church. A starting space could probably be either the space closest to the Church, or the space farthest away depending on where you start counting from.

There's even an arrow, which should have helped me.
I feel like there had to have been a way for all players to just start on the same space, in the same location, and just have the turn order be static the first time around. Maybe in order the players are positioned around the table.

But a rules reader should also probably be able to get past such rudimentary hurdles as figuring out which pawn is closer to a location moving clockwise on a circle. I feel like this is the first time in 30 years of gaming I've been stuck on something like that.

Finally, to top off all these turn order shenanigans, it's also easy to forget what color you are. Much like in my review of Rattlebones, I've noticed people have a tendency to accidentally grab the wrong piece. A reference point on your own player board would have helped this a lot.

The Dream Factories
There is a post office and a church, both of which vend you whatever resources you are most in need of at the moment. Imagine a post office that gives you a package filled with exactly what you want, and all you have to do is think of it. Is it the Twilight Zone? No, this is Walnut Grove.

Buying Extra Farm Hands
3 locations on the board, the Lodge, Hotel and Saloon, vend extra workers for you to use in generating more resources. Costs for unlocking a worker might be 2 fish, 1 milk, or 2 wheat.

The extra workers in Walnut Grove are very unusual for a typical "worker placement" game because there's only one section of the game they can be used: resource generation. Otherwise, all the other actions during the game are on this city board using your one "big hat" differently colored pawn.

And your farmhands eat a tremendous portion of the resources they generate, especially in the early turns.

Be careful buying extra workers!

Building Tiles and Improvement tiles
The 2 main upgrades you can add to your player board are building tiles and improvement tiles. There are 2 building tile types: huts and barns. The huts keep your farmhands warm and reduce wood payments during winter. The barns give you more room to store extra resources and coins.

Improvements are VP modifiers for the end game. They all have a serious case of BANG!-itis where each tile is just a picture and you have to look the picture up in the rule book to understand how many extra points you get.

General Stores
You can sell your extra resources for coins. Having a vareity of resources is helpful, since a general store can only accept 1 of each type. If you can swing 3 different resouces to one of these places it could potentially be a pretty big payout. Some of the coins are worth 2 points, others 1 point, and others 0 points. So you could earn between 0 and 6 victory points.

And you can always use the 0 coins to pay taxes.

Coins and Taxes
Coins have a variable value for victory points, but each is still worth 1 coin for the 2 purposes coins are used for in the game. First you need to pay taxes every time you cross over the 2 tax spots on the game board. Second coins can be "wild cards" to replace any other resource in any situation.

So it usually makes sense to sell as many of your goods as you can at one of the general stores, even if you need those resources later in the round.

The Ever-Presence of Milk
After a couple of plays of Walnut Grove, you realize milk has a special place in this game. Of the 9 spaces you can pay resources into, 6 of them use milk. In most cases, milk seems to have a value twice that of fish or wheat. Yet the milk-colored farm hand still demands the same amount of milk, and devours a double share if the milk worker comes up on the Wheel of Farm Management.

Always keep an eye on your milk production!

Stone is a tough resource to gather. No one eats it, but you need stone to build the improvements that actually give you a shot at winning the game. Luckily you can also use coins for this role, and keep generating other consumable resources in the meantime.

What Else Can I Say?
There's one more post coming to close out Walnut Grove Week (which ends on Monday/Tuesday of next week). At the urging of this guy, I've started playing some solo games of Walnut Grove to re-familiarize myself with the game.

So what could be better than a Walnut Grove Battle Report!

Plus I plan to include some next-level strategy to consider for your future games of Walnut Grove.

See you then!

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