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ALTIPLANO

Reviewed by Herb Levy

ALTIPLANO (dlp Games/Renegade Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 60-120 minutes; $65)

 

The highlands of the Andes between Bolivia and Peru and the goods to be grown, harvested and gathered there is the focus of the action in the latest design from Reiner Stockhausen in the game that takes its names from those lands: Altiplano

Rather than a board, the playing area of the game consists of 7 location tiles, randomly placed in a circle. These locations include Market, Farm, Mines, Village, Road, Harbor and Forest, each with their own specific abilities and available resources. There is also an “extension board” where “extension tiles” (the precise number of which based on the number of players) are stacked with five revealed at the start of play. The goal here is to amass the biggest yield in assorted goods. To that end, players get an Action board detailing basic actions available (with a starting “cart” for travel) and a warehouse, a “container” and cloth bag, a “role” card (which gives an additional action specific to that player and details a starting supply of resources to be placed into the cloth bag), a meeple (in a chosen color) and a matching cube which begins at the “Road” location.

Each turn follows the same pattern: Drawing, Planning, Actions and Clean up. In Drawing, players blindly pull resource tiles from their cloth bag. The resources of the game are food, corn, wood, stone, ore, cloth, wool, silver, fish, glass, alpaca, cacao and, of course, money. (Money and corn never go into the bag. More on them later.) The number of tiles drawn by players is equal to their position on the “Road”. (All players start with a permissible draw of 4 and may get to as high as 8.) When drawn, tiles occupy specified slots at the bottom of that player’s Action board. The Planning phase is when you assign those tiles to various locations. 

The Action Board has sections specific to each of the seven game locales (identified by matching icons). Every location generally requires the playing of a specific tile (or two) to convert them into different resources.  Farm actions include production of food, wool and cloth, the Forest is where you generate wood and trade cacao for other resources, the Mine will produce stone and silver. The Harbor is your main source for fish and trading of fish for stone and building a boat. The Village is where you can build a house, store goods and buy additional carts while the Market is the place to sell goods, buy an extension, acquire an order and deliver goods. The Road requires a stone and a wood to advance a player marker to reap the dividend of being able to draw more tiles or claim a corn. Most of the resource exchanges make sense but some are a little puzzling. Use 2 fish to gain 1 STONE at the Harbor??? Trade Cacao for GLASS??? But, as long as you’re willing to accept these exchanges (and, after all, this is a way to get some of those needed and necessary resources into the game), it really isn’t a problem.  Significantly (and counter intuitively), new goods generated along with the goods used to generate them AND goods sold are not lost. Instead, they go into a player’s container and recycled, with the contents of the container being dumped into a player’s bag once the bag is empty. All of these basic actions are available to all players  

When all players have assigned their tiles to desired positions, the Action phase commences as each player takes 1 action per turn. Not only must a player have the required tiles in the specified location, his/her meeple must be there as well. At the start of the game, a player’s meeple may be “airlifted” onto any of the 7 locations. From that point on, however, travel is done by cart or by foot. 

All players begin with 1 cart which allows a meeple to move from 1 to 3 locations for free. A food tile placed in that part of the Action board allows for travel “on foot” which equates to moving to one adjacent location. (Additional carts may be purchased later on – one of the Actions available at the Village – but unlike that first cart, extra carts require one food to activate.) 

When everyone has done all the actions they wish to (or can) do, that turn is over. Tiles remaining on the Action board stay in their positions until it is either “cashed in” on a subsequent turn or “reclaimed” before you draw more from the bag and shifted to your board’s planning spaces. (Of course, the latter results in less new tiles being drawn from your bag.) Any carts moved are reset, the bottom extension tile (if there is one) is removed from play with remaining tiles shifted down and the first player marker (a 3D version of Klemen Franz’ delightful llama as pictured on the box cover) shifted clockwise to mark the next start player. 

Play continues until either the extension tile display cannot be filed OR one of the locations is empty of items. That round is finished and, at the conclusion of one final round, Victory Points are totaled. 

Points come from many directions. Except for money, food and corn, all resources are worth from 1 to 4 Victory Points. (VP values of all resources can be found in a small “cheat sheet” for each player.) But although not worth VPs, money, food and corn are extremely valuable in other ways. 

Money is necessary to purchase extensions which expand the possibilities of your basic Action board. These extensions allow players to gain resources they would not easily get or convert a resource into another at a “discount” etc. helping to rev up the engine you are trying to create. Food is a sometimes necessary ingredient to generate additional resources but also powers additional movement. As mentioned, your meeple MUST be in the proper location to do that location’s actions. Lack of movement can stymie the best of plans. Corn acts as a “wild card” in completing warehouse rows. Since resources are limited, having a wild card up your sleeve can mean a bunch of Victory Points in final scoring. But lots of VPs come from several additional sources: Contracts, Houses and the Warehouse. 

When going to Market, a player may spend 1 money to acquire a contract. A player may look through the stack of contract cards and choose one. Each contract shows 2 or 3 goods that must be placed on the card to fulfill the contract, an action that must be taken at the Market as well. Fulfilled contracts will score double digit VPs AND award the player an immediate corn. 

The Warehouse consists of vacant rows waiting for goods to be housed. When going to the Village, resources placed there may be transferred to the Warehouse. Rows on the left, consisting of three vacant spaces, must be filled, from bottom to top, before the right hand side of four spaces each can be filled. Only one type of good may fill a row although corn can act as a “wild” and fill in empty spaces for other resources. (But you need to be careful here. When corn is earned, it MUST be placed in the Warehouse IMMEDIATELY! So, if the row is an empty one, that row will only be able to be filled by corn and nothing else! Timing is important!) At final scoring, completed rows score more and more VPs as they fill. It is easy to think that you need ALL of the resources to do well but that is not true. Rows in the Warehouse may duplicate the same goods.

An additional boost to Warehouse scoring is the buying of houses (also at the Village). It costs two stone to buy a house. Houses are worth 4 VPs by themselves but, depending on the house chosen, also add 1 VP for EACH of a specified good at final scoring, a potentially significant windfall! With all of these streams of VPs added, the player with the highest total wins!

Altiplano is a “bag building” game where resource tiles get collected into a bag and tiles drawn on subsequent turns used to trigger actions. This mechanism has been used to good effect in games like Hyperborea (Winter 2015 Gamers Alliance Report) and, of course, in Stockhausen’s earlier designs: Siberia (featured in the Spring 2012 issue of Gamers Alliance Report) and Orleans (Winter 2016 GAR). The goal here is to create an engine, an engine which will fill your warehouse, generate money for the purchase of extensions (critical in building that engine and contracts and houses and carts) and supply just the right balance of food to “lubricate” that engine so it hums. Mastering this maneuvering challenge is the difference between victory and defeat. 

Altiplano is yet another strong link in the chain of bag building games designed by Reiner Stockhausen. The game scales well with any number from 2 to 5. Although taking a good two hours, the game is completely involving; time flies by! You would think that the glut of games about farming and mining that populate the current gaming landscape is more than enough, that you can not bring something fresh to the table. Altiplano proves this NOT true! This is a challenging gamers’ game designed for those of us who enjoy engineering an economic juggernaut! With its an excellent combination of graphic quality and exceptional game play, it does so brilliantly. – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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