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Growing on me

Hallertau is my first Uwe Rosenberg game. Shocking, I know, considering how popular the designer is, but I've never been a fan of the farming theme or polyominos. What made me take an interest in him now? I guess the urge to expand my gaming horizons and see what I may have been missing.

For a solo gamer, Hallertau is not, strictly speaking, value for money. Three quarters of the components are useless which makes the 80 euro price tag really sting. Still, if the game is enjoyable and hits the table often, it's worth the cost. So far I've played it 10 times, and my feelings are mixed.

Rules are generally straightforward. You start with one barley, one flax, and one rye resource, and a hand of 5 cards. These cards give you options and temptations: for example, if, at any point in the game, you have 5 sheep in your stables, and have a card with this requirement, you can play it to earn an extra resource and a bonus card. If you have jewelry in your stash, you can exchange it for animal produce. If you only sow in one plot of land this round, you get a bonus. If, if, if. The cards aren't always enticing, or can be difficult to fulfill. The game doesn't only revolve around them, however, and you can always acquire new ones, so you never feel out of options.

On each round, you receive a number of workers which you place on action spots on the main board. These allow you to sow your fields, buy sheep, bricks, and more fields, or sell your goods to gain other goods. When you finish your actions and harvest your crops, it's time to expand the Community Center:a house on wheels-like structure that moves to the right whenever you pay resources to build facilities (carpentry, brewhouse, bakehouse etc.).

The strangest part of this system is the rolling of boulders. Big stones that have to be removed with the use of tools, only to reappear one step further down the line. I'm not particularly fond of this sisyphean task, and I believe the Community Center could have been done differently. I'd much prefer to add cardboard buildings instead of dragging the Center along.

Once you know what you're doing, the game goes by pretty fast. It lasts 6 rounds and most phases can be completed in a few minutes. Overall, I find it to be a relaxing game of agricultural accounting. There is no tension, no real surprises besides the occasional good card combo. It is a peaceful mathematical exercise. Even though there are fields and storage on the player board, it feels less like farming and more like an abacus on which you move the beads up and down, left and right. And even though there are multiple stacks of cards that you can play with to add variety, these cards are very similar. No session will be the same as your previous one, and yet they will all feel samey.

I can't say I dislike it. It is a well-designed game but, for me, somewhat bland. Like having a partner who is intelligent but not witty. Pleasant but not funny. Good, reliable, just not very exciting. Do you stay with them? Perhaps. They may grow on you. I'm keeping it for now.

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