Game Review: Fields of Green

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Fields of Green is a new card-drafting game from Artipia Games.  After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, which I was a part of, the game shipped to backers late last year.  I’ve had the chance to put this game on the table with a few fellow gamers whose opinions I respect and we all came to the same conclusion.

This is a fantastic game.

Fields of Green is the logical successor to Artipia’s Among the Stars (AtS), itself an evolution of the very popular, but in my mind over-rated, 7 Wonders.  I loved AtS the moment I began playing it.  By the end of the first round of my first game I knew I had to own it.

Those moments are rare with board games.  Many take a couple of play-throughs to get a feel for them.  For me, it happened recently with both Among the Stars as well as Red Raven Games’ Islebound.  Both are games that I prefer to play over nearly any others in my collection currently.

The reason for its greatness was the combination of the simplicity of the card drafting engine – pick a card, play a card – mixed with geography.  Where you place things in AtS is important to scoring the most points.  That simple twist on 7 Wonders elevated the game, in my opinion.

Greener Pastures

When I backed Fields of Green I was hoping for a similar experience.  The evolution of Among the Stars into a euro-style engine building game sounded fantastic.  And it absolutely is.  Though, it took a few games for me to truly grok Fields of Green.

So, in that respect, it wasn’t immediately apparent how good the game was.  Fields requires a lot more brain-power than the basic game of Among the Stars.  The art design of the older game lent itself to good visual cues to what you should be drafting as a help to beginning players.

Fields of Green lacks that same visual punch and I think my initial experience with the game suffered for it.  It felt confusing and even overly-complicated for what I thought it was supposed to be.  That rectified itself over the next couple of games.

And by the third game I had enough familiarity with both the cards and the flow of resources that I could quickly decide between my choices and make good ones, even if a good choice was a sub-optimal one (more on that later).

Fields has the same geographical synergies as AtS but it also adds another layer of complexity with types of fields – fruit, veggies, cereals – and types of livestock – meat, work, poultry — and that makes late game planning difficult.

Water, Water, Not Everywhere

Water is the key resource that has to be managed in Fields of Green.  Like power in AtS, water can only travel so far, two spaces.  But in Fields of Green your water towers refill slowly over the course of the game. So, while you’re still trying to empty them by game end, you have to do careful planning to get you those precious one or two extra victory points you’ll need to win.

The general flow of the game is as follows:

  1. Fields convert water into food.
  2. Livestock convert food into money.
  3. Constructions improve your farm’s efficiency
  4. Buildings convert money into Victory Points at a better rate than food or money.

But, in order to ensure smooth operation of your farm you have to manage your water usage and your food storage well or fields will go fallow, livestock unfed and you’ll have to spend actions the next year to revive them as opposed to drafting something new and productive.

In each year our of four you will choose six cards to draft from three of the four types I listed above; tailoring your draw to your needs as the game progresses.  Fields and livestock are important early and buildings late and constructions are a bit of a wild card.

The choices you make early on really affect how you build out your farm.  And that makes this game both challenging and a bit daunting the first couple of times out, even for veteran game players.  But, don’t let that scare you, the game rewards you for repeated play while offering up different strategies for victory.

The Farm Engine that Could

Like AtS, in Fields of Green the card you choose can be used in a variety of ways.  It can be played into your farm or converted into a silo to hold more food, a water tower to supply more water or you can forego building anything and take some food to market to get a mid-year cash infusion.

Your goal is to create a more efficient economic engine than your rivals by utilizing space better.  He who does that will eke out a couple of extra points per game round and wind up the winner.

That said, scores in Fields of Green are generally very tight, sometimes coming down to crucial final decisions about how to play your last couple of cards.  We played a four-player game the other night and the point spread from low to high was just six points.

And that comes from having to make a lot of sub-optimal choices based on the cards available.

All card drafting games have this element to them but Fields of Green has it in spades because, on average only half to two-thirds of each card type will come up for drafting.

In AtS, you design a deck of exactly the number of cards needed for the game and all of them will be used.  So, for example, you know that if you’ve only seen one Transport Platform in the first three years, two more will come up in year Four.

Not so in Fields of Green, so you will be faced with seemingly unhelpful choices in the late game, especially from the Building cards.  So, those final choices can be the difference between winning and losing.

And that mitigates, to some extent, the alpha player effect because there is no optimized plan for your economic future.  As an economist, I’m a big fan of that lesson.

As a hobby farm owner, I’m even a bigger fan.  I can tell you that uncertainty is a big part of how you operate.  Will my goats give me enough girls to expand or will I get all boys?  Should I plan on a late frost before planting sweet potatoes?  Thematically, this lack of control over your strategy fits perfectly. It may not be to some gamers’ taste, but it works very well.

Taking it to Market

In the end, games like Fields of Green are rare. They look derivative on the surface but reveal a depth and complexity that belie that first impression.  I love this game and will happily put it on the table whenever I can get someone to play it with me. Thankfully my wife really likes it, even though she thinks she’s terrible at it.

This is true of all of designer Vangelis Bagiartakis’ games that I’ve played, the previously mentioned Among the Stars as well as Dice City.

If I have a complaint it is in the card design.  Like I said before there are no visual clues to the card sub-types and this makes it harder to easily ‘hate draft’ something another player wants.

In your first couple of games don’t expect much player interaction in that way.  You’ll be too busy getting acquainted with the cards and the flow of the game to worry what your opponents are doing.

Managing your own farm is really hard and more than enough of a task for the first game.  Veteran gamers will pick this up quickly and see how well balanced the cards are.  The economics of the game are very well thought out.  And going for high reward cards that require a lot of things going right also means taking on a lot of risk that things won’t pan out.

And that’s all I can ask for in a game.  Give me meaningful choices and keep me involved in it at all stages of the game. Have those choices be of similar consequence for all players and may the person who best navigates them win.  Fields of Green does that.  A lot of highly regarded games don’t.

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