Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Quick Review - Fields of Agincourt - Kickstarter Preview

Fields of Agincourt
Desingers: Adam Higginbotham
Rylie Hilscher
Publisher: Logos Games
2-5p | 30-45m | 8+
Quick Review - Fields of Agincourt - Kickstarter Preview
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Fields of Agincourt came to me to review via the Everything Board Games Network!  Check the page out for more awesome reviews!

I've come to discover that I really like tile-laying games.  There's just a simple elegance to the mechanic of drawing a tile, or choosing a tile from a hand, and adding it to a common tableau.  Carcassonne currently ranks at the top of my reviewed games list, and some of my other favorites include QwirklePirates Ninjas Robots & Zombies, Ghosts Graveyards & Haunted Houses, and even Tsuro, in addition to the many Carcassonne spin offs.  So when I was contacted to review Fields of Agincourt, I was definitely intrigued.

Fields of Agincourt is a tile laying area control game for 2-5 players that plays in about 30-60 minutes.  It is described as a combative tile-laying game where players position troops in preparation for a final battle.  So let's see if Fields of Agincourt holds its own against other tile-laying games that I love, and if it really capture the essence of a grand battle.

Fields of Agincourt will be available on Kickstarter for $45, including US shipping, starting on February 6, 2018.  Be sure to check it out!

Fields of Agincourt plays in two phases, the Recruitment phase and the Final Battle phase.  The Recruitment phase lasts for several rounds as players lay tiles to build the play area and place units on the tiles to secure control of various areas.  In the Final Battle phase control of each area is determined and scores are calculated.  The game plays pretty quickly, about 30 minutes for two players and about an hour for five players.  Most of that play time is spent in the Recruitment phase, and the Final Battle phase takes just a few minutes.
The Recruitment phase is where the playing field is created and troops are positioned in preparation for the Final Battle. 
The Recruitment phase is the core of the game.  This phase is broken down into rounds that have three parts: Drafting Tiles, Player Turns, and Survey.  Player Turns are further broken down into three steps: Tile Placement, Action, and Battle Modifiers.  Once each player has completed their turn and the Survey step is complete the first player token is passed and a new round starts.  Let's take a look at each part of the Recruitment phase.

The game starts with each player being dealt three terrain tiles.  After drafting in each round you'll have four tiles in your hand that you'll choose from to play.  So you're never really limited in choices until late in the game - play goes until everyone's hands are empty.  Each player also gets eight units in their chosen color: two Scouts, two Archers, two Footmen, one Calvary, and one Mercenary.
Eight units doesn't sound like much, but often you'll have units left since there's a
lot more going on in the game than just placing units.
Each round starts with a drafting phase.  A number of tiles equal to the number of players, plus one, are drawn and laid out for players to draft.  Each player will draft one tile, with the remaining tile getting placed to the side for the Survey step at the end of the round.  The tiles each have a terrain type as well as a few other characteristics.  There are five main types of terrain: Hills, Towns, Forests, Plains, and Graveyards.  Most tiles will also have a value indicated in a shield.  This value is used for several things: earning Recruitment Points, determining Battle Strength, and points for Final Scoring.  Graveyards don't have any point value, but will cause plague cubes to come into play (more on that later).  A few tiles (one of each terrain type except for Graveyards) will have a cross in the shield that indicates they activate a plague that's in a Graveyard.  Some tiles also have a Tower on them.  Towers are placed on top of other tiles and either increase or decrease the value of the area (more on these later, too).
Draft from a set of tiles that is one greater than the number of players (four tiles in a two player game).
After each player has drafted a tile the round moves into the Player Turns stage.  Starting with the first player for the round, each player will go through the three steps in a turn.  First is placing a tile.  Choose one of the four tiles in your hand and add it to the tableau that is growing in the middle of the table.  There are a few placement rules, but they're super simple.

Each tile (except the first played in the game) must be adjacent to another tile.  Three of the terrain types - Hills, Towns, and Forests - are used to create "Bastions".  A Bastion is a set of up to three adjacent tiles of the same type.  Bastion's can't be larger than three tiles, so if a Bastion already has three tiles in it a tile of the same terrain type can't be placed adjacent to any of the tiles currently in the Bastion.  They must be placed adjacent to other tiles.  Plains do not create Bastions, so you can have as many Plains tiles adjacent as you like.
As the play area grows, competition for Bastions gets tense.
Tiles with a Tower on them are placed on top of a tile with the same terrain type (except Plains Towers, which can be placed on top of any tile except Graveyards).  Towers will either be standing, and increase the value of the Bastion they are added to, or crumbling, and decrease the value of the Bastion they add to.  Plains towers can be placed on top of any other terrain type, and can be used to break up an existing Bastion.
A 1-point Plains Tower, my secret weapon!
Graveyards can be placed adjacent to any other tile, except another Graveyard.  When a Graveyard tile is placed, add four Plague cubes to it.  Plague Activator tiles (with a cross in the shield instead of points) can't be placed if there is not an active Graveyard (with Plague cubes on it).  Once a Plague Activator is placed the Plague will spread from a Graveyard with Plague cubes on it.  Starting with the player that activated the Plague, and continuing until the Plague has completely spread, all of the cubes on a tile, except for one, are picked up and moved to an adjacent tile.  Except for the starting Graveyard - all the cubes are removed from the source Graveyard.  If the Plague moves onto a tile with an existing Plague cube on it the next player will still pick up all of the cubes except for one, so the Plague spreads through already infected tiles.  The Plague cannot backtrack, so if it reaches a dead end and there are still more cubes to spread, those are removed from the game.  Plague cubes reduce the value of terrain tiles they are on to zero.
The plague spreads and areas you think will get hit are avoided completely.

When you add a tile to the field, you'll earn Recruitment Points equal to the value of the tile you played.  Most tiles range from one to three, but some towers have a value of four, and Graveyards and Plague Activators have a value of zero.  Each player will have a player board that can be used to track Recruitment points earned.
The Recruitment side of the player board tracks Recruitment points.

Play a value 3 Forest tile and you'll gain 3 Recruitment points.
After placing a tile you'll then have a chance to take one of several Actions.  If you placed your first Plains tile you get to Recruit your Calvary unit to the Plains tile for free.  Otherwise, you can pay two Recruitment Points to recruit any other unit to the Terrain tile you just placed.  However, you can only place a unit on the appropriate type of terrain for that unit.  Scouts can only go in the Hills, Footmen in the Towns, and Archers in the Forest.  The Mercenary can act as any type of unit except Calvary and be placed anywhere except the Plains.  Alternately, instead of recruiting a unit, you can have your Calvary take an action.  The Calvary may first, optionally, move to any vacant Plains tile.  It doesn't have to be adjacent, or even connected to the Plains tile your Calvary currently occupies.  Then the Calvary can either Cure Plague, Deploy a Unit, or Transport a Unit.  If you Cure Plague, remove a Plague cube from any adjacent tile, or from the tile the Calvary occupies.  Keep the Plague cube in your possession since each removed Plague cube is worth two points at the end of the game.  If you Deploy a Unit, you may place any unplaced unit onto a vacant adjacent tile (the unit type must match the terrain type).  If you Transport a Unit you may pick up any adjacent unit, move your Calvary again, and then place the picked up unit onto a vacant adjacent tile (again, only onto appropriate terrain types).  Each of these Calvary actions also costs two Recruitment Points.

You can then spend two of those Recruitment points to place an Archer in the forest you just placed. 
Since you completed a Bastion you'll also get a free Battle Modifier to place.
Finally, in the Battle Modifiers step, you have the option of purchasing and placing a Battle Modifier token.  If you completed a Bastion (placed the third tile in the Bastion) you'll get a Battle Modifier for free, otherwise it costs two Recruitment Points.  Battle Modifiers range in value from one to three and are randomly drawn (you can look at it after drawing it), and then placed, face down, onto any tile occupied by one of your non-Calvary units.  During the Final Battle these Battle Modifier tokens will be used to determine unit strengths and who has control of a Bastion.
Battle Modifiers are used to determine who has control of a Bastion.
Play then passes on to the next player.  Once all players have taken a turn we have the Survey stage.  In the Survey stage the player last in turn order for the round (so the player that just finished taking a turn) takes the tile that was set aside after the Drafting stage and adds it to the field.  No Recruitment Points are earned and the player doesn't get to take any Actions or place any Battle Modifiers, but the Survey phase can still be very strategic.  Players can use that Survey tile to change the board to their advantage, or block opponents from certain actions.  For example, the Survey tile can be used to complete a Bastion so that another player doesn't get the free Battle Modifier token.  Or to complete a Bastion that you occupy to prevent another player from encroaching on your controlled territory.  The Survey stage also serves to grow the playing field faster, helping the game progress quickly.  After the Survey tile has been placed, pass the First Player token to the left and start a new round with a new Draft.

The Recruitment phase continues until all players have placed all their tiles.  The last few rounds will not have a Draft stage, and in a five player game the last Draft will not have a Survey tile.  (I found this odd, but it's because of tile counts and manufacturing costs - one extra tile would mean a whole extra punchboard to print.)
By the end of the game the Fields of Agincourt are hotly contested!
After the Recruitment phase is the Final Battle.  This is a lot less grandiose than it sounds.  The Final Battle is really just the scoring phase of the game.  Control of each Bastion is determined and then points are awarded to whoever controls the Bastion.  Recruitment points aren't used any more, so the player boards are flipped over to track final scores.
Each player board is double sided.  One for the Recruitment phase, and one for the Final Battle and scoring.
For each Bastion, each player's units will have a battle strength equal to the value of the tiles their units occupy, plus any Battle Modifiers.  Any tiles with a Plague cube on them are worth zero points (Battle Modifiers still count though).  Whoever has the most strength in each Bastion kicks out all other units and then earns points equal to the sum value of the one to three terrain tiles in the Bastion.  Battle Modifiers don't count toward points earned, but all tiles in a Bastion do, even if they're not occupied by the controlling player.  Plagued tiles are still worth zero points, though.  Ties share the points.  Then each Calvary unit scores points equal to the Plains tile it occupies.  Finally, each player earns two points for each Plague they cured.  The winner is the player with the most points.
Blue has a strength of 9, even though there were only two Battle Modifiers.
Red has a strength of 8, even with three Battle Modifiers.
Blue has control of this Town Bastion, and earns nine points (4 + 3 + 2).
Final Thoughts:
Fields of Agincourt was a pleasant surprise!  As I mentioned previously, Carcassonne is one of my favorite games.  I love the strategy and simplicity in the tile laying, area control mechanics in CarcassonneFields of Agincourt sounded similar, but with more combat, so I wasn't sure how well it would be received.  Would it be too similar to Carcassonne?  Would the combat be too aggressive?  Well, I'm happy to say that everyone I played the game with absolutely loved it.  Yes, there are similarities to Carcassonne, but the game is different enough that it doesn't feel like a Carcassonne variant.  However the familiarity makes it pretty easy to explain the game to people already familiar with Carcassonne.  This isn't a war game, and really doesn't have anything to do with the Battle of Agincourt aside from the name, but it is a super interesting blend of area control and tile laying that is just a touch more complex than Carcassonne.
A step up in complexity from Carcassonne, although it's a snall step.
Despite the added complexity, the game is still pretty easy to teach.  There are a lot of layers to the game's rules with each part of the game having multiple sub-parts, and at first it sounds like it can be confusing.  Once you start playing though, it really becomes very simple.  I played with kids as young as 8 as well as adults and everyone had the gameplay pretty much figured out after the first player's turn, and definitely after the first round.  During my review I did find a few areas in the rules that were unclear, but after communication with the designer I feel confident these rough spots will be clarified.  Most of the confusing spots came with exactly how the plague spreads, with a few other areas where just minor clarifications need to be made.  They were draft rules though, and were already pretty comprehensive, so by the time the game is manufactured I'm sure they'll be great.
My family loved the game!
The rules and description of Fields of Agincourt give a strong impression that it's about a battle, implying that there will be a lot of combat in the Final Battle.  If you're expecting a big battle to finish off the game, you might be a bit disappointed in the Final Battle phase.  It does feel a bit anticlimactic since the rules kind of build you up for a big fight.  However, I really didn't mind the end of the game.  By the time the Recruitment phase is over the game feels like it's reached its conclusion.  I didn't mind at all just scoring points without a big huge battle.  The area control aspect of the game takes place during the Recruitment phase and the Final Battle is just the big reveal of the Battle Modifier tokens.  This can get tense, especially if the winner cones down to who controls the last Bastion, but it doesn't feel like combat at this point.  (I like to tally the Calvary and Plague scores first and leave the Bastions for last so you do get this tension during the scoring.)  Personally, I like that the combat is more passive.  I feel like it makes for more interesting decisions during the Recruitment phase and keeps the game friendly, perfect for a gateway area control game.
All around, a great, fun game!
Combat is deterministic, but with plenty of hiddin information to keep it tense.  There's a bit of randomness, particularly in what tiles come out in the draft and in what battle mofifiers are drawn, but there are plenty of ways to mitigate a bad draw.  With four tiles in your hand to play each turn you always have choices and rarely feel locked in to a bad choice that's not of your own making.  The battle modifiers are a bit more swingy, but not to the point where they feel like they can be harmful.  The three point battle modifiers give you confidence in your strength, but the one pointers are great for bluffing.  It's super satisfying to lure an opponent into playing a bunch of high valued modifiers when you've only placed a few ones.   Yes, it's possible to get bad luck and only draw ones when your opponents are drawing twos and threes, and that can be frustrating, but that's true for any game with luck.  It might be nice to see some kind of mechanic that would allow you to peek at an opponent's battle modifiers (maybe the Mercenary could do that on adjacent tiles for 2 Recruitment points?), but it's not a deal breaker.
Sometimes a Bastion can be very hotly contested!
There's plenty of player interaction, too.  The game can get pretty cutthroat in the drafting stage, with battle modifiers, towers, and the plague.  However, the game does a great job of balancing each player's opportunities to be aggressive.  Activating the plague can be devastating, however each player will have the opportunity to choose how it spreads.  And with a well placed Calvary unit, spreading the plague can give you a chance to cure it and earn a few more points.  I love that the towers can increase or decrease the value of locations, and allowing the Plains towers to be placed anywhere, while not super thematic, is super strategic.  You can use that to break up a Bastion, and even strand an opponent's unit since they'll only be able to move out of there if the opponent can get a Calvary unit adjacent.
Brown is winning this Bastion right now.  It could be worth a lot of points if the Plagues get cleared off.

Oh, no!  A Plains Tower was played to break up the Bastion!  Brown is still winning the 3-point section at the top, but now the brown Scout unit is trapped!
Speaking of the units, I initially thought eight units wouldn't be enough.  It's an area control game, so you want lots of units to control the territories, right?  Well, not so much in this game.  Eight units seems just about right.  They're a limited resource that must be used carefully and strategically.  Because you can't be deploying units every turn it makes the Calvary's actions critical to your success.  You'll find that the Calvary can be the key to a successful strategy.  The Calvary can be used to move units into Bastions to swing control to your side, help units escape a Bastion they have no hope of controlling, and cure Plague at just the right time to protect your locations from the next outbreak.
Great at all player counts!
I really only had one major issue with the game, and it's not a mechanical issue, but an artistic issue.  Once there are a lot of tiles out in the playing field, with units, battle modifiers, and plague cubes spread all about, it's sometimes difficult to tell what tiles are what types of terrain.  This was especially true in the prototype I played, which had the same coloring and background on all the tiles.  Fortunately, on the Kickstarter page, you can see that they updated the artwork so that each type of terrain has more distinct coloring.  I still think the coloring is too close and could stand a bit more variation (particularly with the town tiles), but without seeing the actual tiles I'll trust that they pushed them enough that they will stand out enough to tell the various Bastions apart easily.
This is the new tile artwork.  I'm still not thrilled with it, but at least the terrain tiles will be a little bit
easier to distinguish when covered with units.  Personally, I liked the prototype artwork better,
just not with the same background colors on the tiles.
I've played Fields of Agincourt at all supported player counts, something that I rarely have the chance to do with review games, since it was a hit and people were happy to play it multiple times.  I'm happy to say that the game scales extremely well, all the way from two to five players.  With two players there are a few minor adjustments to the rules, namely the number of tiles that are available in the drafting stage, but the main gameplay is the same, and still has the same feel as with greater player counts.  Because a Bastion is at most three tiles, even in games with higher player counts a battle rarely includes more than two people, and never more than three.  Depending on the number of players there will be a different total number of tiles.  Tiles have a marking on the back that indicate the player count they are used for.  Five player games use the most tiles, and, as I mentioned before, the last draft will not have a Survey tile.  At five players there's a bit more downtime between turns, but it's not much, and games still only take about an hour, or less if players are familiar with the game.  I think Fields of Agincourt works great at all player counts, and isn't better or worse at any number; quite an accomplishment for any game!
Starting a five player game.
I've compared Fields of Agincourt a lot to Carcassonne, but it's important to note that this game stands on its own.  It's a very different game that presents an entirely new way of building a French countryside.  I feel that Carcassonne is more about solving puzzles with area control as a secondary mechanic, whereas Fields of Agincourt drives the focus of the game on the area control aspect.  I'm not sure that Fields of Agincourt will replace Carcassonne for me, but it's definitely up there at the same level.  My wife said she actually likes Fields of Agincourt better.  For me it's not necessarily better (or worse), just different.  The game is a bit deeper and more multi-layered than Carcassonne, but I still like Carcassonne for it's simplicity.  You can definitely have both in your collection, and if you do, I'd venture a guess that Fields of Agincourt may even get played more than Carcassonne, especially with more seasoned gamers.
Thinking through options in a four player game.
Fields of Agincourt is a huge winner.  It's a great mid-weight strategy game that would work great as a gateway, yet has enough going on to keep even seasoned gamers thinking.  It's easy to teach, plays quickly, has great player interaction, and has great strategic choices.  Fields of Agincourt made it onto my top Kickstarter previews of 2017, and I expect it to land on my top 10 games of 2018 at the end of the year (and probably be pushing a Full Review rating of 90/100, especially if the component quality is top notch).  Be sure to check out Fields of Agincourt on Kickstarter, starting on February 6, 2018!  $45 includes US shipping and you'll have an awesome game to add to your collection!

Preliminary Rating: 8.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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