Should we play nicely? Well, we could…
If someone was to ask me “Would you like to play this game I have, its called Spirits of the Rice Paddy?” I’d strongly consider laughing them out of my living room, I mean, who’s that in to rice? Really? I’ve never really thought about becoming a rice farmer! Luckily I am an open minded guy and I liked the sound of Spirits of the Rice Paddy despite its gentle title.
The premise of Spirits of the Rice paddy is that you’re a lowly Balinese rice farmer trying to make it big in the business and have dreams of eventually becoming a rice baron. Since farming is a tough business you can actually enlist the help of the titular Spirits of The Rice Paddy to tip the odds in your favour come harvest time, or you can use those same spirits to decimate your opponents and make loads of money.
Fertilising your imagination…
You start Spirits of the rice paddy with one completely functional paddy and then have to blind draw a starting scenario card which will give you a one off starting bonus, which can be some extra walls, labourers or livestock. It will also show the placement of the rocks which will make your life difficult if not dealt with in a timely manner. You then need to shuffle and select some achievement tiles which gives you a nice rice/money bonus if you complete an achievement tile during a round. 24 achievement tiles come with the Spirits of the rice paddy, and you need 6 more than the number of players per game (8 for a 2 player game for example).
In a nutshell (or rice husk) it means that it would take some pretty fantastic odds to get the same set of achievements 2 games in a row which adds a nice touch of variety to the game. The achievements vary from nice and easy ones like clearing 2 pests in one round to filling a 5 hex paddy (the biggest paddy you can put together) with water, which can take some time to complete and also adds a nice little challenge. It means that even if you find the first play through a bit easy, the challenge might GROW on you.
Next there is a card draft for the Spirits of the Rice Paddy themselves who will be helping you on your journey. You and all of the other players draw 4 spirits each, choose the one you would like to keep and then pass the rest on and repeat until you all have 3 each. The final cards are relegated to the box. Considering how simple the selection is, the implications of your decisions are not.
The first spirit draft contains cards numbered from 1-20. The closer the number is to 20, the more powerful the bonus that the spirit grants you, however the player with the lowest numbered card gets to go first and has control of the water. Water is an exceptionally valuable commodity in Spirits of the Rice Paddy since if you can’t flood your paddies, you can’t grow any rice. There’s no amount of spirit help that you can receive which will turn the TIDE (alright, alright, I’ll stop) if you’re not able to get water.
There is also another deck of spirit cards numbered from 21-40 which are drafted between the 3rd and 4th round which are even more powerful than the first deck. So, do you pummel your opponent with a huge bonus like 5 rice (this game’s currency, but also victory points) per round, or choose something less powerful and keep control of the water? If you have the first turn you also get first dibs on the achievements. Every time I have played so far this one decision has given me brain ache.
Minions, ducks and walls- Are the components solid?
I am now going to have a little GUSH (couldn’t resist it) about the components.
Spirits of the rice paddy comes with a wealth of components as all players start the game with 10 labourers and have the ability to purchase another 10 from the market so it comes with 80 labourers, 80 walls, and enough gates, weeds, and rocks to cover all eventualities. Also more tokens than you can shake a rice bag at. All of the components are made exceptionally well, but I cannot say they are perfect. A few of the labourers which I received had a few personal issues and got a little bit mangled in the production process, but I find it endearing since it means my copy is unique. The labourers also look like you would expect Balinese rice farmers to look, which is a great touch to making Spirits of the Rice Paddy feel that little bit more thematic.
I think that the choice in the design for the pest tokens was a little bit strange though, since it’s not initially clear what they are, but they look good when they’re sat in the paddy even if they are causing you problems! The Spirits of the Rice Paddy game boards themselves have been really cleverly designed to incorporate the market which is a great space saver for me and is another plus point since a lot of the time I find myself with very little gaming space.
Rice, Rice baby- How does it play?
At the start of Spirits of The Rice Paddy you draw a rain card which tells you how much water you have to play with in the round. It will also tell you whether you’re going to be stuck with pests or weeds in your paddy. It’s worth a mention here that when I have played the game we have played with a variant published by APE Games called the Rahdo rule. There are 6 spirit cards which are terribly aggressive and every round if they’re played you will send weeds or pests to the other players. I felt that this potentially could have made my life difficult if I was to keep sending weeds and pests to the other players, and I like my face in the shape it’s in. You can opt to remove the 6 spirit cards and remove the rain cards which do not have any pests or weeds on them. It means that your labourers and livestock are still busy and there’s still a need for ducks (more on that soon) but you’re not in danger of being punched or potentially divorced for stitching up your fellow barons.
After the rain card has been revealed and you know how much water you have to use in the round you can play one of the spirit cards that you previously drafted. As I have mentioned this can be one of the most nerve racking moments in the game. Whilst playing I decided to play the number 19 spirit fully expecting to be waterless for the round but the other player played spirit 20, so I got a lucky surprise and kept control of the water.
Once the spirit card has been played, the person with the lower number then claims the water from the rain card for the round and the spirit card gets resolved. All of the spirit cards you get access to during the draft are exceptionally powerful in one way or another and some particularly helpful ones will enable you to add a completely functioning one hex paddy as a one off bonus for example, or you could get some free walls on every turn, which saves lots of money. I feel this also adds another level of variety to Spirits of The Rice Paddy since it does give you the ability to have a small amount of control on how the game will shape for you, and allows you to form a game plan as soon as the draft is done. Implementing your game plan is still the challenge though!
Paddy’s In Progress!
Even Spirits of the Rice paddy need workers…
The following 2 stages are dedicated to assigning labourers or livestock to perform farming actions and then resolving their actions. You start Spirits of The Rice Paddy with 10 labourers and have the option to buy another 10 from the market during the game. You do not start with any livestock unless you are given any as a starting bonus. The livestock tokens are double sided with Oxen on one side and ducks on the other. The Oxen have 2 uses, they can be used to build a wall instead of 3 labourers and they can also be used to remove the rocks from your paddy. The ducks are used to remove pests from your paddy, and once done they also fertilise the paddy as well. Fertilised paddies count as an extra hex when scoring the amount of rice later on so if you have just one paddy to harvest from, you get the yield from a 2 hex paddy instead.
After you have assigned your labourers or livestock to each action they are resolved in a specific order which goes: Build walls, Remove Rocks, Remove Weeds, Remove pests/fertilize paddy, Harvest any rice waiting, grow rice (this is done automatically) and finally planting new rice in flooded paddies.
The rounds continue like this until you do the second spirit draft between round 3 and 4 and then there is a small change to round 6 and 7. Round 6, any planted rice grows instantly and you can’t hire anybody or buy livestock. For the final round all water is removed, nothing can be planted but the harvest yield is increased as a final bonus and to keep things tense at the end. The winner is the farmer who has the most rice at the end.
So, does it cleanse the spirit or is it poop in a paddy?
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Spirits of The Rice Paddy but it would be remiss of me not to mention one thing that I noticed while I played it. It’s very much a thinking person’s game. You do spend a lot of time forward thinking about how best to plan out your paddy and whether you can use the effect of your spirits to full advantage, but it seems that because of this, the social aspect of the game is almost left at the door.
I played it first with 2 players and noticed that we were both really quiet while playing because the thought process was so intense; so I figured I’d invite one of my most lively game group compatriots to come and try it too and the very same thing happened. Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is that we all agreed that we did enjoy playing Spirits of the Rice Paddy, and that it’s brilliantly unique, but that once you’ve finished the game it feels like you have just actually been through an entire real life planting season and that it was serious business. In addition the fact that the tension ramps up through the game from the beginning where you’re getting 5 rice out of a yield to the final round where you can score up to 120 can really make you feel like you have lived the dream and become a rice baron.
I think the age recommendations are probably spot on for this game and whether you play with 2 or 4 players doesn’t matter. This game is truly one of a kind though. The theme, the components, the seemingly hypnotic effect of actually playing Spirits of The Rice Paddy is an experience I have never had with another game. It’s certainly not something which you could bring to the table at a party but if you want a deep, thematic, thought inducing game then this is it.
If you think Spirits of The Rice Paddy could be for you, then check it out at your friendly local game shop: http://www.gamesquest.co.uk/new-releases/spirits-of-the-rice-paddy-strategy-board-game
The following two tabs change content below.
I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.