Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Altiplano (Renegade Games)

A lot of people go to a lot of trouble to make their Top 10 favorite games. Some gamers do it once and will occasionally tweak it to replace a title. Other gamers release Top 10 lists for everything from theme, to game mechanic, to current year. I have never went to this much trouble, and probably never will, but if I was pressed into picking my favorite game of all time it would (currently) be Orléans. Orléans is a bag-building game designed by Reiner Stockhausen that takes place in medieval Europe. Recently, Mr. Stockhausen and Renegade Games released a "spiritual successor" to this game called Altiplano, which takes place in the Andes Mountains of South America. Altiplano is a game for 2-5 players, ages 12+. It takes between one and two hours to play and retails for $65. Today, I am going to tell you the basics of game play, what I think of the game, and how I think it compares to Orléans.
Setup
1. Take the seven Location Tiles (Village, Market, Road, Harbor, Farm, Mine, and Forest) and form a circle in the middle of the table.
2. Remove excess Goods, Carts, and Order Cards from the game depending on player count.
3. Place their respective Goods and/or Order Cards on their respective Location Tiles. This is the forms the main "game board." Place the Food and Coins in the middle of these seven Location Tiles so everyone can reach them.
4. Form the Extensions pile by removing Extensions that don't relate to the player count. Then, shuffle each pile by their back (A, B, C, and D)to form the pile. Reveal the top five Extensions from the pile, placing them next to the Extension Strip.
5. Each player receives 1 action board, 1 warehouse, 1 game figure, 1 marker, 1 container, 1 cart, and 1 cloth bag.
6. Lastly, each player is given one Role Tile (Woodcutter, Fisherman, Shepherd, Miner, Farmer, Trader, or Stonemason) and their starting Goods and Coins listed at the bottom of their Role Tile.
7. The youngest player is given the alpaca token to indicate they are the starting player.
Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds and is divided into four phases:
1. Draw tiles - All player simultaneously draw from their bag, and place them on the planning spaces of their action board. (Note: You have eight planning spaces, but can only place tiles on spaces for which you have performed road construction.
2. Planning - All players simultaneously take the tiles from their planning spaces and/or coins, and put them on different action spaces on their action board, role tile, or extensions.
3. Actions - In turn order, players perform one action and then play moves clockwise. Players continue performing one action each until all players have passed and can perform no more actions. (Note: When performing actions, your marker must be on the correct Location Tile. For example, you may only produce food on the Farm.)
4. New Round - Pass the first player marker. Fill in gaps on the Extension Strip or drop the lowest valued one if no Extensions were purchased.

The end game will trigger when all Goods Tiles and Order Cards are used up at a location, i.e., no more Wood and Cacao in the Forest. Complete the current round and perform one more round. Score any Extensions, Good Tiles, Boats, Houses, and Storage points for each completed row in their Warehouse. Highest score is the winner!
Review
When I first received this game, I thought I was basically getting a South American version of Orléans. If that had been the case, that would have been enough for me, because it would have given me a unique theme of a game mechanic (bag building) that I love. However, the bag building mechanic is really all these two games have in common. Let's look at the three major differences Altiplano has that Orléans does not.

1. Asymmetric starting powers - Each player begins the game with a different role. From that role, you are given a specialization that only you have access to and which dictates your strategy from early on. Sure, you can go against your specialization, but you will be fighting an uphill battle if you do.
2. Movement - Unlike Orléans where you place your tiles and activate their powers every time, location is key to Altiplanto. If you want to perform an action, you have to be able to be in the specific location for it, so you better plan your movement carefully.
3. Bag Contents - In Orléans, you place your tiles back in the bag at the end of every round. In Altiplano, you place your tiles in your container until you run out of tiles in your bag, then you refill your bag. This is nice, because it guarantees you will make use of your tiles and not just fill up the bag and hope they come out.

So has Altiplano replaced Orléans as my number one game of all time, and which game should you get if you have neither? Let's start with the easy question. Orléans is still my number one game of all time with the caveat that you need the Trade and Intrigue expansion to go with it. Now for the harder question...If you have neither game and are pretty experienced with games, I recommend buying Altiplano over Orléans for the following reasons:

1. It is a thinkier game, and one with a lot of strategy that you can really sink your teeth into.
2. It plays up to five players right out of the box, no expansions or upgrade kits required.
3. The theme and locale is more unique than another game based in Europe.
4. The art and color choices are more vibrant.

If I have these strong feelings for Altiplano and recommend it over Orléans, why won't I be getting rid of Orléans then?

1. I have the deluxe version with lots of wooden bits, and wood is better than cardboard. If Renegade had made a deluxe version of this game, this would be a different story.
2. Altiplano is a better game than the base game of Orléans, but when you add in the expansions and all the promo buildings, I would say Orléans is a better game. This might change if we see some mini-expansions or a big box expansion for Altiplano.
3. There is a lot of planning and thinking that goes into Altiplano, and Orléans plays a bit smoother and requires less deep thought. Maybe, I'm lazy, but sometimes I just want to play a game without burning my brain for 2 hours.

In conclusion, this was a fabulous game that I would highly recommend. It is a gamer's game, but it hits all the right buttons and will be a strong candidate for game of the year. If you can only pick one game between the two mentioned in this review, go for Altiplano. If you already own Orléans and all the expansions, you can buy a copy of Altiplano guilt-free, because it's not just a re-skin. It is its own unique game and having both games in your collection is perfectly acceptable!

This game was provided to me for free by Renegade Games in exchange for an honest review.