If you love the smell of silage in the morning and have posters of Massey Ferguson’s finest on the wall above your board game collection, then we may well have just the game for you.
Fields Of Green by Vangelis Bagiartakis places its players in the tractor seats of late twentieth century farmers and, let’s face it, who hasn’t wanted to be a twentieth century farmer at some point? The crippling financial insecurity! The early starts! That pervasive smell! At least in game world you don’t have to worry about when your latest subsidy may or may not arrive or about foot and mouth sweeping across your profit margin. Idealistic farming without the early starts and woeful milk prices from multinational supermarkets who should know better? Step right up!
The ideal vision of farming!
Farming for real? Or just for fun?
It is probably on the harder side of thematic sells, but the artwork on the box is suitably rose-tinted, luring in prospective players with some utopian vision of farming without all that nasty stuff that tends to get spoken about on Panorama from time to time. So is Fields Of Green some knife-edged economic Euro that pushes its victims to the edge of financial disaster with gnarly realism, or is it instead a wafty advertiser’s dream of all the nice bits of farming (trusty dogs, ploughman’s lunches, cider) with all the rusty barbed wire taken out?
Leave the big city? Funds? Count me in!
The box for Fields Of Green is full sized, like Ticket To Ride, but disappointingly this is yet another game that is clearly going around in a larger combine harvester than necessary just to impress people. The components themselves are actually pretty compact – various square cards, like the ones in Rivals For Catan, and wooden tokens to represent food and water, shaped like wheat and droplets respectively (and which, amusingly, are identical to the tokens included in Haspelknecht, which I’ll be reviewing shortly!). Cardboard tokens represent money and those all important victory points, as well as equipment and locations, but, essentially, this is a game about cards and card placement, and many of the other elements are incidental to that central idea.
We’ll need a pile of expansions to use all this space…
Rules are clear! Helpful cards, too!
When it comes to learning the ins and outs of the game, Fields Of Green is one of those games that is commendably easy to pick up, and the rule book is awash with illustrations that help to clarify all the necessary points. As if that were not enough, the game also comes with four sets of cards that tell players about the three phases of each round and what their options are, and there is a scoring card as well as a card that details how to play the introductory variant. It is this kind of attention to detail that I love to see in a game and makes me wonder why other publishers do not take this kind of care. After all, why place barriers in the way of getting something like this to the table?
Fields Of Green plays out over four rounds, each of which has three phases. In the Upkeep Phase players receive coinage, wheat and water, while in the Action Phase players select six cards each from at least three of the four face-down draw piles, which represent Livestock, Fields, Constructions and Buildings. Players then take turns either to place these cards in their farms, paying their associated costs, or discard them to make a choice from various other options, which include going to the market to earn money, building a silo or water tower, or possibly restoring a tile that has become an open area, which happens if it has not been harvested. Finally, the Harvest phase sees players pay to activate tiles or leave them unactivated, in which case they are flipped and become open areas.
Buildings are represented by cards.
Starts off simply! Gets much more complicated!
In terms of how the game plays, that really is pretty much it until the final scoring, meaning that Fields Of Green encapsulates pretty much everything that I enjoy in a game – simple, clean and elegant choices that lead to complicated decisions and agonising trade-offs. As explained, Fields Of Green is admirably simple to learn and because players start with only two cards in their tableau, a silo and a water tower, it subjects its players to only the gentlest of learning curves even in the first game, but each subsequent placement has repercussions for later. By the end of round four a player’s farm will consist of a complicated network of scoring possibilities and supply chains that have the potential to send even the most relaxed farmer into a blind panic, but with luck any aspirational agrarian will hopefully have been learning and planning with each new move.
Your farm starts off with just these two cards.
While the early phases can be breezy and fun, in common with other games where players build up networks of cards that feed off each other Fields Of Green also has a tendency to start quickly and then slow down as it progresses, especially as each farmer attempts to activate their farm in exactly the right order to maximise their potential.
Tableau of buildings? House of cards, more like!
In terms of these networks, placement guidelines dictate that water towers need to be within two spaces of the cards they supply, while other buildings have the potential to reward you for having certain types of fields or livestock nearby. In many ways Fields Of Green feels like a house of cards, the lowest level easily constructed but each new layer perched more and more precariously on top. By the end of the game the challenge becomes significant as players try to eke out an extra point here or there, and the potential for a little analysis paralysis becomes more apparent especially in the Harvest phase, when the sequence of card activation can be critically important.
These tiles represent equipment and provide bonus abilities.
Talking of cards, those in Fields Of Green are beautifully illustrated, colourful and vibrant, have clear iconography, and contain all the information a player needs, from the type and subtype of card to what it costs and when it activates. Many games would do well to benefit from Fields Of Green’s exemplary approach, especially as this minimises mid-game disruption to go and check something or other in the rule book. With information this clearly presented in colour, icon and text, the designers have gone out of their way to make the game quickly understandable for all players, and my gaming group was up and running within ten minutes of punching the tokens…and that included reading the rules.
Clear iconography and well presented information.
Two player variant? Ploughs its own furrow!
It is also worth mentioning that Fields Of Green comes with a genuinely interesting and enjoyable two-player variant. All too often a game that has been designed for more players will throw in a dummy player or remove some cards from the deck and pin its hopes on that to generate some kind of semi-interesting two-player experience, optimistically and opportunistically extending the player count downwards in the same way that the definition of “milk” extends as far as “skimmed milk”. Every now and again, though, designers go a step further, such as in the original 7 Wonders which alters the original game sufficiently enough for it to be termed the “Expert variant”. In the double-header version of Fields Of Green players select their six cards, as per usual, but they are then gradually revealed in a central tableau and are selected and used in turn. It is a really interesting and imaginative take on the game, emphasising the drafting element, and generates some intriguing choices, as a player will often know which kinds of cards they need most but may not be able to get hold of them before their opponent. For once it feels as if some genuine thought has gone into this and again the designer and publishers of Fields Of Green get a rustic thumbs up.
Fields Of Gold…
I like to play my review games semi-blind these days, in the sense that I try not to read up too much about them, the better to give a balanced and objective review, and through my first plays I had the real feeling that Fields Of Green had the potential to work superbly with a sci-fi theme…only later to find out that the designer was behind Among The Stars, which looks almost identical on the table apart from the lack of tractors and turkeys, of course. Not having played Among The Stars I am hardly in the best position to give advice on whether Fields Of Green would add value to a collection if the other game were already there, but I feel that it would be a strong case of either/or rather than both/and.
The connections become more tricky as the game progresses.
Some of this, a dab of that! A recipe for success?
Back on Planet Earth I enjoyed Fields Of Green very much indeed as far as it went. It had some of the feel of the superb Glen More, a little dab of The Rivals For Catan, but more than enough of its own style to be able to hold its head up high in that company, and it appealed very much to my preference for games that are driven by simple choices but complicated decisions. Having a predilection for tile-layers and tableau builders as well, Fields Of Green scratched several of my gaming itches at once, and, of course, the graphic design and execution of various elements is top notch.
Despite all those positive elements, however, it is difficult to get too excited about Fields Of Green’s theme, even though farming is a favourite refuge of various designers. Maybe the late twentieth century is just too recent, while the starvation rations of Agricola appeal more by their distance. As far as board gaming is concerned you can do pretty much whatever job you like as long as it was over a hundred years ago, but with some notable exceptions – such as Kolejka – games set in the modern era will nearly always have some kind of wish-fulfillment and glamour about them, enticing their players to be astronauts or wine makers or wannabe presidents. After all, if you want to be a modern farmer you can just become a farmer.
Resource management is critical for success.
Do the wheels go somewhere? Or just go round in circles?
As a result I am not convinced that Fields Of Green would ever find its way to the centre of my collection, and one of my fellow players found it decidedly bland both in theme and gameplay, but I would certainly place it in the same category as the likes of Quadropolis (reviewed here) and Via Nebula (reviewed here). Those are both interesting games that generate intriguing decisions…but they never send me away thinking about what I would do differently next time. Each puzzle is self-contained, each game over once it is packed away, and that is not what I look for in a game, and it also tends to bode ill for longevity.
In conclusion, if that kind of middle-weight, middle-length game sounds right to you then you should certainly give Fields Of Green a try, and it is definitely an interesting and colourful play. For me, though, and for many others this is one of those games that rates as a solid 7 out of 10, meaning that those of a kindly disposition should consider it but others (like me) who look to cull rather than keep will not be missing anything groundbreaking. It is more exciting than real farming, I imagine, but not by quite enough to make it an essential purchase.
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and i'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.