In the board game Belfort (Amazon), you are trying to complete the building of a city before the snow season arrives, along with the accompanying yeti attacks. This gives you seven months (or rounds) to prove your mettle by completing more of the project than your rival architects.
Toward this end, you carry out the following activities:
- Recruit a team of elves and dwarves to gather wood, stone, and metal resources, as well as gold coins
- Buy and sell resources at the trading post
- Buy property cards, representing new properties you can build
- Earn income from your properties and pay taxes
- Use wood, stone, and metal resources to build new properties within the town, which provide various benefits
- Hire gnomes to work at your properties to gain the benefits from them
- Send your elves or dwarves to guilds (randomly determined each game) to gain benefits
To get a sense for the flow of the game, you may also check out this YouTube video. The graphics of the game are fun and engaging, giving it a lot of personality compared to other games of this type and even inspiring a charming comic book (read the digital version here) that brings the dwarf/elf rivalry to life.
The creators of Belfort are now releasing an expansion – currently funding on Kickstarter until May 9 – which will allow you to hire Assistants that provide special benefits. Or you can forego the Assistant benefit to get an expansion permit which augments an existing property, such as adding a Pool to the Inn or an Archives onto the Library. These property expansions provide scoring bonuses for those who have them, giving the potential edge you need to win the game.
The town is divided into five identical districts and at the end of Spring, Summer, and Autumn, scoring occurs. The person who controls the most properties within a district gains the most victory points (which are tracked along the outer edge of the pentagonal board, constructed of 5 identical wedges). In addition, players gain points for having the most elves, dwarves, and/or gnomes. With the upcoming expansion, this scoring will be augmented by the property expansions, as well.
Each round works in multiple phases, the main ones being:
- Calendar – Move a tracking token along the calendar to the next month. There are seven rounds/months in the game, with scoring rounds triggered at the end of rounds 3, 5, and 7.
- Placement – Each player places their elves and dwarves on Guilds, Properties, or on the King’s Camp board for collecting resources, recruiting new elves/dwarves, or getting a better turn order.
- Collection – Collecting resources, recruited elves/dwarves, and turn order sequence from the King’s Camp board, and then gather Income from Properties and pay Taxes (which are progressive, so those with more Victory Points have higher taxes … or lose Victory Points).
- Actions – The players, in turn order, go through and activate all of their remaining elves and dwarves, gaining the benefits from the Guilds and Properties upon which they placed them, and are also able to hire gnomes, buy/sell resources, purchase Properties, and buy new Property cards.
- Scoring – On rounds 3, 5, and 7, scoring is done. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of round 7 wins.
This is a fairly elaborate euro-style game, with multiple possible pathways to victory that result in a variety of potential strategies for a player to implement. Having played a number of these games at this point, I think this game is one of the more accessible of the genre. The game’s design makes it extremely clear how to possibly use the elves, dwarves, and gnomes at any time, and individual player cards lay out all of the possible actions on each turn. After a couple of game sessions, the set-up becomes pretty intuitive and can be done quickly, even with all of the components involved.
Belfort really comes into its own with more than two players. As a two-player game, it just doesn’t thrive. The designers have created some extra rules for the two-player version that let each player run a NP team, using up Guild slots and buying properties so the two players don’t earn points too quickly by controlling multiple districts right out of the gate. While these additional rules do allow it to function as a two-player game, the game is much better with three or more players.
Though the age range on the game is 13+, I’ve played it with my 7-year-old son. It pushes his patience a bit after three or four rounds, but isn’t too complex for him to follow, and the game is entertaining enough that he enjoys playing despite the impatience. The major problem came from him getting a bit confused over the Placement and Actions phase. After the Collection phase, he kept wanting to begin immediately placing his elves and dwarves again, and I had to keep reminding him that we didn’t do that until after the actions were over.
However, for gamers who have a bit more patience than a 7-year-old, and who can pay attention to the game sequence information on the player guide boards, the game flow is good. This is a great strategy game that’ll be different each time you play, especially engaging for groups of 3 to 5 players. And if you’re interested, you can get a great deal on the core game and the expansion on their Kickstarter project or just buy the core game from Amazon.
Disclaimer: A demo copy of Belfort (the core game) was provided by the manufacturer for review purposes.
Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Science Fiction/Fantasy Competition. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Guide and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+.