Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 27 November 2018

100% Wooden Construction:-The Estates

Game: The Estates

Publisher: Simply Complex (Capstone Games)

Designer: Klaus Zoch

Year: 2018

The Estates is a 2-5 player city building auction game in which you take control of a real-estate magnate seeking to make the most money out of a new property development. Being the unscrupulous lot that you are you don't much care for the actual building permits you were assigned and will happily bribe your way to larger plots and build on designated green space. Unfortunately the Cruel and ruthless town planners are having none of it, and of the 3 rows of buildings only 2 will remain, with the 3rd row being torn down in a way that is highly unprofitable for the owners of said buildings.

At the start of the game 3 rows of building blocks will be laid out, each with numbers from 1-6 and one of 6 colours (with individual markings for colourblind players). In addition a bag will be filled with roof tiles (also numbered from 1-6), 3 building permit markers will be placed out along with a mayors hat and a cancel token. On your turn you will choose any one of these pieces (buildings must be at the edge of the rows, roofs are taken randomly from the bag) to auction. Players will then take turns bidding for the item or passing. Once a price is decided upon the active player has a choice: sell the item to the high bidder for the named price, or pay that price themselves in order to build it.

Building blocks are simple, they have a number on them and that is the number of points they are worth at the end of the game. The first time a building of a colour is won that player gains ownership of all buildings of that colour and therefore the sweet end game points. However you aren't guaranteed your points, until you manage to build a roof on a building other players can build on top making a tower, the tower is owned by whoever has the top block, so all your lovely points could go to waste. However the block placed on top must have a lower number than the one below, juicy 6's are rarely safe, while 1s are easy to keep but fundamentally worthless. A nice balance.

The mayoral hat makes the center row worth double, but unless it completes then that's doubled negative points!

Roofs finish a building blocking future construction and add a number of points to the construction. Permit markers either increase or reduce the size of a plot, important as the game ends as soon as 2 of the 3 plots are complete with roofed buildings. The mayors hat doubles the value of a plot (for good or ill), while the cancel tile undoes a previously placed permit or hat. Once the game ends the players gain points for each building they own in the completed plots, and lose the number of points from the incomplete plot.

The component quality is sky high, with tons of chunky wooden pieces

So far, The Estates sounds enjoyable, the auction system works well. Even 2 player where you essentially name your price and your opponent chooses whether to pay or not. The quality of the game is very high with tons of chunky wooden pieces which create a very tactile, and potentially beautiful game. Where the game fell apart for me was, it simply wasn't fun. Now I accept that this is likely a heavily 2-player issue as you found even the slightest mistake could make your penniless with little to no chance of recovering. Also there is a completely different flow to the game when building a 6 only requires 1 turn of danger before you can roof it and secure those juicy points. This then encourages creating small buildings which prevents creating the sprawling skyline that the components so desperately want to recreate.

All this created a very aggressive game, which actually felt almost akin to a head to head abstract game. Perhaps I'm going crazy, but when played 2-player The Estates has more similarities to Chess than the bidding game it was designed to be. It's a tactical game where outplaying your opponent can lead to absolutely crushing them. Adding even a third person to the game will change this dynamic and create a very different experience. For some people The Estates will actually be fantastic, especially if the sheer brutality of the 2-player mode is what you are expecting going in. As it happens it isn't for me, and it certainly isn't what I was expecting.


The Estates was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £46.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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