FINCA (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $34.95 )
So what's a finca anyway?
In this game, at least, it turns out that a finca is a large windmill. It also happens to be the driving force of Finca, a new game designed by Ralf zur Linde and Wolfgang Senter, as players find themselves competing to harvest and deliver fruits and nuts in order to score the most points when harvest time is over.
The setting for the action is the island of Mallorca and Finca comes with a mounted board dividing the island into 10 regions. The 42 fruit tiles depict the various types of fruit (and nuts) found in the game (figs, almonds, olives, oranges, grapes and lemons) in amounts ranging from 1 to 6. These tiles are mixed and into each region goes a stack of four fruit tiles and a randomly placed "finca" tile. (The two "left over" fruit tiles are removed, sight unseen, into the box and are out of the game.) The 12 windmill blades, featuring one of the fruits to be harvested, are randomly placed face down on the board's round circular space and then revealed thus creating the game's "windmill". Each participant places his farmers (from 3 to 5, depending on the number of players), one at a time, on the windmill blades. When doing so, they collect ONE fruit matching the space. Donkey cart counters are placed in the center of the windmill. All players also get four "special" tiles for possible use later.
On a turn, a player may move one of his farmers on the windmill. A farmer may move ahead in clockwise order precisely the number of spaces equal to the number of farmers (including himself) on his starting space. (So, for example, if two farmers are on that farmer's start space, that farmer advances exactly two spaces.) He then collects a number of resources as shown on his destination space equal to the number of farmers there. (If, when landing on a lemon space, there are now three farmers there, that player will collect three lemons.) If a farmer's movement takes him past the 3 o'clock or 9 o'clock positions of the windmill, he collects a donkey cart counter and you need a donkey cart to make deliveries.
Rather than moving on the windmill, a player may deliver up to six fruits that he has collected and claim one or more fruit tiles from the board. To deliver, a donkey cart counter must be surrendered (returned to the windmill's center) and the player may exchange up to 6 commodities to collect tiles that match in number and type of commodities. Delivered fruits are returned to the general supply. Along the way, a player may use any of his special tiles to help him.
The four special tiles all players have can do some pretty useful things. One tile allows a player to deliver 10 goods (instead of the standard six). Another gives him credit for delivering one more good than he actually does. (That way, you can collect a combination of fruit tiles valued at 7 while only delivering 6.) A third is, essentially, a double turn allowing a player to move twice on the windmill and the final tile will "teleport" a player to ANY space on the windmill. (A useful ability although with a cost. You can NOT collect a donkey cart tile when playing this.)
When a stack of tiles in a region is depleted, the finca tile there is awarded. Finca tiles depict a commodity or two (and sometimes, just a ?). The player who has collected tiles containing the most images of the specified fruit(s) on the finca tile gets the tile (and its 5 Victory Points). A wooden hut is placed in the region. When enough of these appear (from 4 to 6 depending on the number of players), the game ends and Victory Points tallied.
Each collected fruit tile is worth its face value (1 to 6) in Victory Points. Unused special tiles are worth 2 VPs each. Finca tiles (as mentioned) add 5 VPs each to a player's score. Along the way, players who have collected a set of tiles (a set being a run of tiles with values of 1 through 6) receive a bonus tile for each set, ranging from 7 VPs for the first set collected down to 4 VPs for the fourth set. (Bonus collection is not restricted. A player may earn more than one bonus if he manages to complete more than one set and a bonus tile still remains). Undelivered commodities left in the possession of players are worth nothing. The player with the highest combined total wins.
The windmill/rondel mechanism to determine movement dates back at least over 50 years. (The old 1955 Parker Brothers classic game of Bantu, featured in the Spring 1997 Gamers Alliance Report, used it. More recently, we've seen the rondel used to excellent effect by Mac Gerdts in Antike [Winter 2006 GA REPORT[, Imperial [Winter 2007 GA REPORT] and Hamburgum [Spring 2008 GA REPORT].) But Finca adds another factor as positioning on the windmill/rondel not only determines movement but resource collection as well. This makes farmer placement an important consideration both in maximizing movement (to whirl around the windmill and pick up those vital donkey carts) and resource gathering (to gain multiple units of resources rather than a single one) for yourself while always being aware that YOUR farmers can help your opponents get to the spaces and resources they want.
It is tempting to try to gather up the lion's share of fruits to prevent the opposition from getting and delivering needed resources. But hoarding is a perilous ploy. Should a player be entitled to pick up a commodity (or a donkey cart) and finds no more available, then EVERY player possessing that particular resource MUST return ALL of them to the game supply. Only then does that player receive his goods. A simple yet brilliant design decision. And speaking of resources, all of the wooden fruit components are easily distinguished as they are bright and colorful and come in different shapes, a very pleasant change from those ubiquitous cubes we've come to expect in Euro-style games.
Another strategic decision centers on finca tiles. Five VPs are considerable and a player fortunate enough to gather up two or three of these is hard to stop. You need to be aware of what the finca tiles are rewarding and who will reap the reward. Finca tiles are given to the player with the most of a certain commodity (or set of commodities) and this has nothing to do with the player who claims the last tile in the area. Sometimes, the smarter move is to take a different tile (even if worth fewer VPs) rather than finishing a stack in order to prevent (or, at least, delay) your opponent from claiming that valuable finca tile. It is also a good idea to keep track of which number tiles have been gathered by your opponents. Grabbing up a tile that someone needs to complete a set (and a big bonus) is a strong defensive play. Related to this is that only 40 of the 42 fruit tiles are used. (Two of them are removed WITHOUT players seeing what they are.) This creates a sense of uncertainty (and foils the card counters among us) as you can not be sure when or if a number tile you need will appear. One clarification, however. Some of the fruit tiles show question marks (?) rather than a specific fruit. This means that you need to deliver 4 or 5 or 6 of the SAME fruit to claim the tile. One of the finca tiles also does NOT specify particular commodities but rather depicts a ?. Although the English rules state that you should count all your tiles when determining who gets that finca tile, the German (and original) rules are different. Only commodity tiles with ? count towards determining the player to receive that finca tile. This is a better rule as it prevents a "rich get richer" problem in the game. Chalk this one up to a language glitch.
At first glance, Finca seems lightweight but that is deceptive. This is much more than your typical "pick up and deliver" game; a whole current of subtle strategy pulses beneath its mild exterior. Finca is very tactical, a game that strips down the rondel mechanic to its bare minimum for maximum results. Movement, delivery, when (and when not) to use special tiles all present engaging choices that keep game play entertaining throughout making Finca well deserving of its 2009 Spiel des Jahres nomination. - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy
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