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Brinkmanship At Two Moves A Turn: A Milestones Review

Jesse Dean
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Milestones is a two to four player medium weight euro game by Stefan Dorra and Ralf Zur Linde and published, in the US, by Stronghold Games. This is the first eurogames that Stronghold Games has published, and also one of their first games that is not a remake of an older game. This trend looks to continue though, as they are scheduled to release another, heavier, eurogame, CO2, at Essen this year.

Disclosure
I received an unsolicited copy of Milestones directly from the publisher for review.

Components and Theme
Milestones is thematically focused on the idea of the players being builders, responsible for managing workers who are collecting resources from the countryside and translating those resources into constructions on the countryside, specifically roads, houses, and marketplaces or use them to supply marketplaces with food. This is a pretty drab and standard theme, but it is also largely irrelevant. Very few people play middle weight euros for their strong thematic underpinnings.



The components are simple and utilitarian. The worker tiles, bonus tokens, and flour tiles are all illustrated. This is particularly helpful for the bonus tiles, as otherwise it would be very difficult to tell them apart; as it is clarifications had to be made at least a few times per game for those who had color issues.

The board is interesting only because of how different from that of “typical board games”. Rather than being a standard square, it is a bit more rectangular and a bit smaller then is the norm. So if you have a deep, transcendent love affair with more standard boards, then I would recommend you stay far away from this one. Beyond that the art is cartoonish and fairly simple with nothing about it that particular draws your eye and makes you say “Wow!” but it also does not actively detract from the game which, when you get down to it, is the main thing I ask for from a game’s components.
Players also have somewhat flimsy player boards, but this flimsiness has not been an issue so far. I imagine if we start to invent new games that require more resilience from them, such as “Milestones Player Board Frisbee” this might become more problematic.

Mechanical Underpinnings
Milestones is a rondel game. For those who do not know, a rondel is a circular structure where a pawn is moved around the various available spots, activating individual spots by landing on them. It is organized such that you have to wait a certain amount of time, taking intermediary actions along the way, before you can take the same action again.

What makes the rondel in Milestones most distinct is its customizability. Half of the board is made up of the four spots that every player must have: a location to exchange resources and money, a location to construct buildings on the main board, a location to convert grain into flour and place it onto a marketplace, and a location that serves to blunt a player’s momentum and force action. Across the top of the player’s board are a number of empty spots that are used for customization. Players may purchase worker tiles that can be placed to cover any two of these spots. These tiles are used to generate resources and, sometimes, victory points.



While the types of resources you can get from of the tiles is very important, so much so that I suspect that players with certain resource combinations will have a much more difficult time winning then those with others, the order of tile placement is even more important. During a player’s turn they may skip as many spaces as they like on the rondel, with the only limitation being that they are forced to stop on the location that forces player’s to blunt their forward momentum. If they land on a resource spot they get all the resources of the same type they passed in that move. This reinforces some level of specialization, as it enables the player to get a lot of resource very rapidly if they select lots of the same time of worker. Similarly, by placing these workers in an order that allows the player to avoid having wasted “skipped” spaces and thus generating large amounts of resources for scoring opportunities. Bonus tiles, which are gained through certain building activities, reinforce this further as they give you bonus points every time you collect resources from the associated worker.

This desire to group the same resource types together is complicated by the fact that workers also have a number value, and if you are able to keep the number order of your workers sequential you get a coin every time you stop on the resource conversion spot. This money can be significant, particularly if you have no coin generation of your own or you are already planning on stopping at the resource conversion space on your way around the rondel. This money, and the resource conversion space in general, is particularly important because the required momentum sapping space forces you to discard down to three resources (including money) and cover up one of your workers. So unless you have a way to generate money on your own, a gigantic amount of resources to sell for money, or sequential workers, then you will rapidly find your workers depleting to the point where you have so few that you are effectively out of the game.

In addition to money, the major resources are wood, stone, sand, and grain. Grain is special, but the other three are each used to construct one half of the game’s major buildings. Wood is used for marketplaces and houses, stone is used for roads and houses, and sand is used for roads and marketplaces. Roads are probably the most important of these buildings as they define how effective the other structures are. Marketplaces are the worst, simply because they do not score any more points than roads, are dependent on roads in order to score, and can be used to set up big scoring opportunities for players with grain. As a result of this, it strongly appears that specializing in wood production is a trap. You become very reliant on other players to build roads and establish scoring opportunities for you and you can only generate roads through inefficient resource cash conversions. Grains is similarly situational, as in order to effectively use it you need to have another player not only construct marketplaces but also construct them in locations where you can get the maximum amount of victory points. It can be argued that you could specialize in markets and grain, but you are still reliant on other players to create scoring opportunities, and will ultimately be collecting fewer resources because of the increased number of required stops around the rondel.



These interdependencies are both one of the more interesting part of the game but also the most worrisome. The method that gives you the most control over your victory point accumulation, road building, also opens up victory point possibilities for the other players. However, with the board layout it is possible for players to build roads in such a way that they are able to avoid opening up too many opportunities until they have acquired secondary resources that will allow for big points from a house placement or a smaller, but still significant market placement. What counterbalances this is a combination of greed from those who are focused mostly on road building resources to seize the better road scoring locations, and willingness for those players to let other players gain a marginal pay off in exchange for their own personal advancement.

This struggle between deciding when it is appropriate to allow others to score points off of a situation you create is essentially what the game is about. Rondel management is also very important, but deciding what resources you have and when you have them is merely a means to create context for these decisions. This focus on allowing scoring opportunities puts additional weight on both how players establish initial scoring stances and develop them over time, and brings some level of clarity into why the momentum reduction spot is so key to making Milestones work as well as it does.

At the beginning of the game a selection of worker tiles (two per player, plus one additional) are presented for selection, with whomever is the last player getting the first choice of two tiles, with each player closer to the first player also getting a choice between two from an increasingly smaller available pool. This selection process means that, at least for the early part of the game, it can be difficult to control what your scoring options are relative to the other players. If a particular player, probably later in the turn order and thus with earlier tile choices, ends up with a pair of deeply synergistic tiles producing resources that allow them to have some control over board development, such as stone, sand or both, and potentially push them into an early lead.

The ability to maintain this lead is restricted by the momentum reduction space. Each player is required to stop on this space when going around their rondel, and in doing so are forced to cover up one of their workers, making it unavailable, and discard resources down until they have three. This serves two purposes. The first is that, at the very least, a player with a too perfect initial board set-up will be forced to degrade it. The second is that it prevents players from hoarding materials for a super optimized scoring round, thus creating action on the board and driving forward the central dynamic of the game. Because of this mechanic, attentive players can purchase tiles that could allow a dominant player to retain their current position of strength. As the player’s available workers shift, the particular scoring stances of the players will also shifting, making it so that what was scoring points for a player early in the game will not necessarily prove to be successful later in the game. Of course, all of this requires players who understand the implications of both their actions and those of others; otherwise it is very easy for those who do not understand to throw the game to someone else.

After you understand and master this aspect, of the game, there is really not that much less to explore. Milestones becomes a game of tactical brinkmanship, as players seek to create and destroy scoring opportunities for other players, while attempting to reshape their scoring opportunities until they are in a stronger position to push for the end of the game then their opponents. This works very well for a shorter game, but I personally prefer a game that has a few more layers to it. Still, this is probably the best middle weight euro I have played since Kingdom Builder, and is one of the few that I will remain willing, if not eager, to play again.

Conclusion
On the whole I have enjoyed my plays of Milestones, but I strongly suspect that I will not play it more than a few more times. Part of this is simply due to how streamlined Milestones is. I prefer my games to have a lot going on, and Milestones is pretty restrained. However, I am not the target audience for this game and I suspect that fans of more middle-weight euros will be very pleased with it.
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