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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Thursday 29 November 2018

Thoughts from The Yellow Meeple:- The Estates

Game: The Estates

Publisher: Simply Complex (Capstone Games)

Designer: Klaus Zoch

Year: 2018

Capstone Games describe their 'Simply Complex' line as 'board games with a beautiful 3D table presence, relatively low rules overhead, and deep gameplay, accomplished in under one hour of play.' On first appearances, The Estates seems to tick both of these boxes, with great chunky pieces that definitely create a table presence as you stack them to create a skyline. The rulebook is also very light on information (almost too light at times), but it does get you playing quickly.

The Estates is a bidding game for 2-5 players. The players take on the role of investors seeking to make the most money by developing buildings in The Estates. By being the first to invest in the 6 competing building companies and being clever with your money to ensure their success, you have the chance to become the most affluent investor.

On your turn in The Estates, you will select one of the wooden pieces and hold an auction for that piece. Each player has a limited pot of money at the start of the game and no further money enters the game at any stage. As the auctioneer, you can choose to accept the highest bid for the particular piece, or pay the highest bidder that same value to take it for yourself. The first player to place a building block in each colour will take control of the company and you want to create scoring buildings for the companies you control by having a top level in your colour, followed by a roof. Each cube and roof has a printed value and that will represent either the positive or negative value of the completed tower at the end of the game, depending on whether it resides in one of the two completed rows of the estate.

The Estates has a delightfully simple rule set, and it is very easy to teach and get started with the game. This is contrasted with the decisions in the game which can be really agonising. In a two-player game, in particular, every choice feels critical. You're really trying to predict how much your opponent may or may not be willing to spend on a piece and its value to them vs. you may be different. With two players this is extremely intense. With more players I can envisage slightly less pressure but also the opportunity for each individual choice of how much to bid, to start to take quite a lot of time! 

With two players, money can change hands very rapidly and you can make decisions for the sole reason of wiping out your opponent and leaving them penniless which gives one player a huge amount of power for the next couple of turns. The tide of the game can swing very fast and you can be very manipulative with your actions, which certainly doesn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling when I'm on the receiving end of those tactics. Similarly, a single mistake can be hugely punishing - simply not spotting a building limited to just one storey, or not noticing the opportunity that has arisen for someone to end the game can feel like you're automatically forfeiting the whole game!

For me, the experience of playing The Estates with two players is extremely demoralising. This is in part driven by the fact that I simply don't enjoy such aggressive games, where perfection is demanded - for me it feels like the fun is lost. I can, however, recognise that The Estates may be a good game for other people. I certainly enjoy some of the decision making processes. I particularly enjoy selecting the cubes from the market in an order that manipulates the choices of the other player whilst also ensuring you're getting good opportunities, for example leaving a good number of low value dice in colours you own to ensure that you can successfully top out tower blocks.

If the idea of zero sum games where being cut-throat to your friends is rewarding, then The Estates might be a really fun game for you. It's a very simple concept, executed with great production and for the right crowd of like-minded gamers, I can see it being a good package. I think the target audience is gamers who are overwhelmed by the idea of sitting down for 3 hours playing an economic, bidding game like container, but want a similar bite-size experience. However, that audience is not me, and I really found the Estates a pretty punishing and miserable experience. And so, on a personal level, and with two players, The Estates is a 4.5/10.

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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