Review: Fields of gold... and green, and red, and blue

Campos was the surprise new abstract title brought to Essen 2010 by Huch & Friends. Not being a wooden game, it was affected by the production delays, so there were actually plenty of copies to play at the show, but I must admit I picked up copy based on the look and the rules!

The game components are simple enough, there’s a cardboard score track and markers for tracking points during the game, 32 tri-hex tiles and 24 scoring cards. Each of the pleasantly heavy tiles is has two or three different bright colours on it, and players will be playing these to create coloured regions during the game.  Each of the 24 scoring cards display condition on which they can be played. All the conditions are of the form RED bigger than BLUE, score YELLOW, but cycled through each of the four available colours. The colours refer to the size in hexes of the largest continuous block of that colour currently on the table for comparisons and for scoring. To start the game, each player is dealt a number of the scoring cards. This ranges from 3 in a 4-player game to 5 cards with 2. A random piece is put in the middle of the table to start, and each player is given a two tile hand.

Each turn, players can do one of two things:

In either case, the players draw replacement tiles from the bag.

Once one player has played all their score cards, or if the bag runs out of tiles, the second phase begins. A new set of scoring cards is dealt to each player (they keep any left over ones as well). All unplayed tiles are returned to the bag and instead of playing new tiles, players now remove them each turn, with the same choice of remove two, or remove one and score.

The conditions for removal are:

Play continues until all the tiles are gone or everyone has run out of scoring cards, then the handy scoreboard is check to see who won.

That’s it for the rules, like many nice abstract games, the game is super simple to explain to new players. As to how it plays, that’s where the game  gets interesting.

Each player will have a mixture of scoring cards that require them to achieve different relationships between coloured regions in order to score. There’s a timing issue, since a scoring in the first round will likely only net a handful of points, but 15 or more is possible on either side of the switchover to removing tiles.  On the other hand, waiting too long will leave you with useless scoring cards late in the game.

As the players jockey for position, there are often cries of anguish as various regions become unstoppably big. One of the interesting parts of the game is that any player can burn through their scoring cards quickly leaving the others simply holding their card uselessly. In this, there’s a delicate game of timing. Of course, if there is a reasonable number of tiles, the players with more options can do far better with all the cards they will hold in the second phase.

One seeming weakness is the difficulty of using scoring cards which require the very largest region to be smaller than another. This is neatly solved in the removal phase because players can start to cut regions in half by removing tiles, to meet their scoring criteria or, more importantly, sabotage the scoring opportunities for other players. There is usually a scramble to get to these large regions, since only tiles that are free and on the edge can be removed.

I’ve seen several folks comparing Campos with Ingenious, possibly on the strength of matching  coloured hexes when placing tiles. I found the two games to have a completely different feel, with the requirement to see-saw different regions (which are directly shared by all players) producing quite different choices and motivations.

With two players, the game becomes less about cries of anguish as the board changes and more about calculated tactical moves. We saw play slow down quite a bit as people tried to balance options rather than just ride the chaos of the other player’s actions. The control of pacing is much more important (and more directly in the hands of the players), and some 2-player games can use barely half the tiles, forcing the other player to play a desperate game of  catch-up.

Overall, I’d rate Campos as interesting with 2, but lots of fun with 4 as the players step on each other’s plans and the regions bounce around, blocking and unblocking and permitting sneaking and opportunistic play. Campos also has great production values and is extremely attracting, making it easy to lure people in. I’m delighted with this new abstract from Huch! and hope they continue publishing interesting abstracts.