Sunday, January 19, 2014
Belfort is a fusion of a worker placement game with a majority territory control game, all dressed in a rather light-hearted story flavor. Players are working to build up the city of Belfort, using elves, dwarves, and gnomes. They gather the resources needed to construct buildings, and those buildings are then positioned in specific districts of town to reward you with victory points when the scoring intervals come around.
Many of the minor mechanics of Belfort have appeared in other board games, but there are a few interesting twists here and there that make the whole of it distinct. For one, workers in this game are not "one size fits all" entities; while some tasks are flexible in what types of workers can be assigned to them, certain kinds of resources can only be collected by specific worker types. It adds an interesting (but not unmanageable) dimension to figuring out how to allocate your people.
There's also an interesting sort of catch-up mechanic embedded into the scoring. During each round, players must pay a tax of one gold for every 5 victory points they've amassed. (If you can't pay, you lose points.) The more you vault into the lead, the more effort you'll have to devote to treading water just to stay there. I'm not sure that I have a strong sense of just how effective this system is (because, after all, the player wouldn't be leading in the first place if he didn't have quite a lot of resources and power), but the idea is nonetheless a clever one.
The tension in building construction is interesting as well. Each building provides a special game power to its owner. But the locations of buildings in the city is how scoring is determined, and each district has room for only one building of each type. That means that sometimes, the building with the effect you think will help you the most might not actually be buildable in a place where it will help you score points. Conversely, prime real estate sometimes comes with an ability you aren't particularly needing.
There's also a shifting turn order in the game. Though actually quite common in German board games, what's less common is that it can be better to go first or last depending on the turn. There's even a possible strategy in hiding in the middle of the pack, where no one else is likely to take your turn number away -- so you won't have to spend a worker each turn on getting to where you want to be.
I'd have to play Belfort some more to determine if it has real staying power, but I did enjoy it enough to want to give it that chance. I'd give it a B+.