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 17 October 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple: Era: Medieval Age

Game: Era: Medieval Age

Publisher: Eggertspiele

Designer: Matt Leacock

Year: 2019

Era: Medieval Age is a new game from designer Matt Leacock, most well known for his cooperative games - Pandemic and Forbidden Island (or Desert or Sky). Era: Medieval Age has more in common with one of his earlier releases - Roll Through the Ages - competitive game that has a lot in common with roll and write games which are now all the rage.

Whilst Era is not a roll and write, it's very possible to imagine playing the same game with a pen and paper. The reality is an ode to plastic pieces. Your player board is a plastic tray, all of the building are unique 3-dimensional plastic components and it does create a pretty luxurious and tactile experience in a very big box.

Eggertspiele and their parent company Plan B Games rarely put a foot wrong for us, with Blackout: Hong Kong and Heaven and Ale among recent favourites, so do we have another hit with Era: Medieval Age?

In Era: Medieval Age, you'll start with a few buildings on your player board and a set of corresponding dice - three yellow for your longhouses and one grey for your keep. You roll the dice, Yahtzee style, up to 3 times, setting aside any disaster faces, which are locked. After assessing the number of disaster faces and taking the punishment (directed either at yourself or your opponent) you can gather all of the resources from your dice faces. Then you'll spend food - 1 per dice, and then you can build new buildings - 1 building for each hammer icon you rolled. Buildings will cost resources. Different buildings either give you extra dice, have bonus abilities or contribute to end game scoring in a variety of ways. The supply of buildings is limited though and when a certain number of piles runs out (depending on player count) the game will immediately end. End game scoring accounts for the point value of all of your buildings, which is double if you've surrounded them with a wall, your culture track, less your disaster track, and then any end game scoring your larger buildings might have. Additionally, the player with the largest walled area and most culture will get bonus points.

The first thing that strikes you about Era is the production. There's a lot of good and a little bit of bad. The dice are great, custom printed dice, the 3d buildings are abundant, if not the highest quality, but enough to make Amy want to get her paintbrush out. The player shields, that double as player aids are a god-send and make the game suitable for introducing to new people without a huge amount to remember. The only downside is that there are some visibility issues with the player board, but frankly I haven't ever needed to read the iconography, and the publisher is offering sticker overlays for those who need them. Overall the quality of Era really justifies the slightly higher price point for me - there's certainly enough in this large box to justify the price tag. I'm just not sure all of the overproduction was needed to deliver this pretty small game experience.

I'm calling it a small game experience because we had one game end in 10 minutes. Our other games ranged from 20-30 minutes. For me the game feels most like an engine builder, and there's not much worse than when you're stopped short of really getting an engine running in a game. When I've got all the dice I need, I've got a good balance of food to feed them and I can really start to plan a point-scoring strategy with some of the high-scoring buildings and then the game ends because  2 lumber mills, the university and 2 markets have been bought, that really let's the air out of my balloon. In part, this could easily be a two-player problem with fewer overall buildings in the supply and only 3 tracking tokens, but that is the player count we want to play at most. It leaves me deflated, but also with no-one to blame but myself. After-all, I decided on a strategy that revolves around the University, so I triggered the end game, but I didn't expect it to be now!

Era is fun for me primarily because it is a big tactile experience - aligning with my love of Lego. I'm not sure it could've been a roll and write, there's just a little too much going on, with the ebb and flow of resources and the uniqueness of each building. It truly needs to be a roll and build. But, it is a massive box for a small experience. There's different strategies I want to explore; with the different buildings; playing it safe or taking risks; making a big or small walled area, but I'm just not getting the chance because the game keeps ending too soon. Watching someone build a cool engine in the game is really great - there's huge opportunity to identify synergies and make the most of the interactivity of rolling disasters if you really get a big engine going. I love the resource management and the tough decisions around which building to buy and which dice to roll to enable you to save up the right resources. I'm just sad, and jealous, that I've never really managed to grow an engine like this for myself.

Era is big and eye-catching and I think it has a place as a convention game or a board game cafe game. Something colourful and fun to sit around with new friends or with family an enjoy in a relaxed environment. We have a few cafe games - NMBR9, Point Salad and Wingspan to name three - and I am hopeful that we'll spot enough cafes and convention libraries out there with Era on the shelves so that it doesn't have to occupy an unjustified amount of space on ours. Era is a fun, family weight plus filler that does a lot of things right, but is too over-produced for me. For the Yellow Meeple, it's a 6.5/10.

Era: Medieval Age was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £49.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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