Friday, August 5, 2022

Wheat & Ale is an Arcadia building game

What made me pull the trigger of Wheat & Ale was that it was by Robin Jarvis. Between the Legends of Dsyx and Paper Pinball, they have given me hours of Roll and Write fun.

Wheat & Ale is billed as a Tiny Civilization Game. It’s not. Civilization games, no matter what size, have to have a big scope of time and space. I also want a tech tree but I’ll listen to arguments. Wheat & Ale is about creating an agricultural village along a river. 

It’s a Tiny Arcadia Game. And that’s just fine.

It’s one of the draw things on a grid Roll and Writes. The grid is actually a hex grid, the kind where it’s squares in a brickwork pattern. They may not be hexes but it’s a hex grid. And a line serving as that river I mentioned run through it. There’s actually two different maps and the difference is the path of the river.

The game lasts ten turns. Each turn, you roll three dice. You can do two diffeeent types of actions: build buildings or use buildings. You build by using spending a combination of dice that is equal or greater to the bullring value of the building. (Yes, it could be one die if the building is cheap enough) You activate a building by spending a die that is LESS than its activation number.

(One rule question I have is if you just get one action per turn or use all three dice as a pool for multiple actions. I prefer to the latter because it gives you more options. And makes the just build strategy I mention later less optimal)

Anything built on the river gets plus two to its production ability, tripling it. So the river is going to be central to the development of your tiny Arcadia.

And, as the title suggests, you are growing wheat and turning it into ale. That is how you turn an empty river valley into a community.

Okay, I have to admit the game does have a potential degenerate strategy. Ignore wheat and production and just build big buildings since they are worth points. It does depend on you rolling highish numbers but beating the goal of twenty points isn’t unreasonable.

But playing that way isn’t fun or interesting. I know people who will latch onto that strategy to prove the game is ‘broken’ and, more importantly, they are smarter than the designer. But that’s not my idea of fun.

You could just ignore that strategy. (It’s a solitaire game, after all) You could house rule it that you need to build the buildings in order. Houses need farms and so on. (And I’ve kind of just added a tech tree with that suggestion) OR you keep a tally of how much you’d earn in just buildings and try to beat that (I like that one)

Wheat & Ale is a very short and simple game. It’s no Roll Through the Ages and it’s not like that game is any kind of heavy. The strategies are pretty obvious and the entire game is setting yourself up for one, maybe two, big moves. 

All the same, I do like Ale & Wheat. I like that you aren’t just jotting down symbols one a grid but they actually do something. However, what really makes the game click is that it honestly is a coffee break game. Very little time, very little thought and I feel refreshed.

I think that Wheat & Ale is a game that could be built on, room to be developed to be  deeper and more complicated game, possibly even multiplayer. But it works well for a quick coffee break.

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