Design by Nikolaus R. Friedrich
Published by Nikamundus
2 – 4 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
NOTE: This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website.
“Beware the Weather” is sage advice, not only in real life, but also in Aurimentic, the new game from designer Nikolaus Friedrich and Nikamundus. Another appropriate old saying as it relates to this game is “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In other words, little is certain in this game.
Aurimentic is a farming, building and territorial control game set in a far off land where players seek dominance over the islands and are also seeking to locate mysterious crystals. The weather, as in most farming, plays a dominant role and is a fickle beast, determining not only the areas that can be cultivated, but also the types of crops that can be planted. Players must also beware the weather, as it can suddenly and unexpectedly turn stormy and destructive.
The playing area is comprised of five separate boards, each representing an island in the realm. There are seven different islands to choose from, each double-sided, so there will be some variety in the landscape in each game. Each island depicts up to four different types of terrain (mountain, swamp, sand or grassland) and many spaces upon which players will plant seeds and/or construct buildings. Some of these spaces have special symbols which will trigger certain benefits or actions when something is planted or constructed there. The islands are seeded with a variety of resources, and each player places one of his farmhouses onto any of the islands.
A main feature of the game is the Weather Panel, upon which the weather will be recorded, thereby affecting various aspects of the game. On each player’s turn the two resource dice will be rolled, which determine the resources that player will receive. The result may also affect the status of the weather if the corresponding symbol is rolled. The location of the weather token on the Weather Panel determines the type of landscape upon which resources can be planted. For example, if the token rests in one of the two locations underneath the grasslands symbol, then the player may only plant resources on grassland terrain. This is a severe restriction, as players are attempting to form “fields” of like resources on islands they control. Fields yield “Auri” (income), which is equivalent to victory points. It can be quite frustrating to be working on forming a field, but be unable to plan in the needed landscape due to the weather restrictions. While there are ways to manipulate the location of the weather token, these are not always available to a player when needed.
The location of the weather token also determines the type of resource a player may purchase or sell. Again, this proves to be extremely restrictive. Finally, if the resource roll results in a severe weather symbol, there can be horrific results on the board, based on the location of the weather token. Fifty percent of the time damage will occur, usually destroying all crops and buildings present on the specified landscape type. One type of crop or building is usually protected, again as specified on the Weather Panel. For example, if the weather token is below the second swamp space, all resources and buildings except forests present on swamp spaces on any of the islands are destroyed. This can be devastating.
A typical turn involves the player collecting income – usually two or three Auri per field – from resource fields on islands he controls. A field is comprised of at least four like resources gathered in a square pattern. Again, a player only receives income from a field if he controls the island upon which it is located. Control of an island goes to the player who has the most valuable buildings constructed, with farm houses having an influence of 1 and towers an influence of 3. There can be intense competition for control of the islands, but a player’s supply of buildings is limited to four farms and two towers. Buildings can never be moved, so careful planning is advised when constructing.
As mentioned, the rolling of the resource dice determines the resources a player receives on that turn, if any. If the player rolls a severe weather icon, he receives no resources, which can be quite hurtful. Rolling a “+1” or “-1” allows the player to move the weather token on the Weather Panel, which may prove helpful (or hurtful) in attempting to activate a specific landscape type for planning or construction. In our games, the weather token tended to remain near the center of the Weather Panel, making it difficult to activate the mountains and sand, which are located on the extreme ends of the Panel. This proved quite frustrating.
After rolling the dice and possibly moving the weather token, a player may plant resources and/or construct a building. As mentioned, planting may only occur on the landscape type allowed by the location of the weather token. To plant, a player simply places a resource onto an empty square of the appropriate landscape type. The goal here is to form fields on islands one controls, or perhaps block opponents from forming fields. One can transform resources that are already on the board by wedging it between two other like resources. This causes the “surrounded” resource to magically change into the other resource. This takes a bit to visualize, but can be an important maneuver in forming fields. A player can also trade resources as depicted on the board, usually at a 2-for-1 basis.
Another factor to consider when planting—and again based on the location of the weather token—is the bonus that can be received when planting. If the player plants the depicted resource in the correct terrain, he receives a bonus resource of that type from the supply. This can be quite handy, and players usually take advantage of this, provided, of course, they possess the correct type of resource to plant!
Finally, as mentioned earlier, numerous spaces are marked with symbols that trigger a bonus or ability when planted or constructed upon. Some reward the player with an extra resource or crystal, while others allow the player to move the weather token.
Constructing a building is a matter of paying the needed resources and placing the appropriate type of building onto a vacant space on any of the islands. The player must first hire a worker by paying two “food” resources (grain and/or beets). As mentioned, buildings are needed to control an island in order to secure income from fields. Note that it is wise to construct buildings on mountain landscapes, as this is the only landscape type that is immune from severe weather.
The game does allow for cleverly stringing together a sequence of activities to help optimize one’s turn. For example, a player can plant a resource on a space that gives him an extra resource. He can then plant that resource on another space that allows him to move the weather token so that a different landscape type is activated. The player may then go to the market and purchase the active resource, and plant it in the newly activated landscape type. Finally, he can construct a building, grabbing control of an island. Of course, careful planning—and a healthy dose of luck—is required in order to successfully execute such a maneuver.
A player can conclude his turn by sacrificing one wheat resource, which allows him to move the weather token one or two spaces in either direction. The problem here is that this occurs at the end of one’s turn, so by the time his turn arrives again, the weather token has most likely been moved to a different location.
This process continues turn-after-turn until one player has constructed his final building, acquired 50 or more Auri, or the last space of a particular landscape has been occupied. This can take a bit of time, with our games taking 1 ½ hours or so to complete. Players earn an additional 5 Auri for each island they control and for each crystal present on those islands. The player with the most Auri is victorious.
When I read the rules to Aurimentic I was excited. This sounded like an interesting game that allowed players great creativity and latitude during their turns, features I highly treasure. To be fair, the game does provide those opportunities, but way too much is dependent upon luck and the overbearing restrictions of the Weather Panel. I understand that the Panel is designed to place some constraints upon the players, but they are just too burdensome. Forming fields is essential, but often one cannot manipulate the weather token properly to activate the landscape types that are needed to complete fields. When the weather token does allow for planting in the needed landscape, one must hope that he possesses the needed resources types, which is truly a matter of chance. Add to this the vagaries of the dice—wherein rolling a severe weather symbol can shut one out of any resources—and you have a game that has far too many restrictions and luck.
The weather, too, can unexpectedly thwart plans. When severe weather occurs—which is many times during the game—there is a good chance the islands will be hard hit. Players can see fields destroyed very quickly, watching the income stream suddenly cease. It is difficult enough to form fields, and quite disheartening to see them destroyed by the unfortunate roll of the dice.
Aurimentic has some interesting ideas, and I applaud the effort at giving players the opportunity for creative maneuvers. However, there are just too many restrictions and too much luck, overshadowing the strategy and cleverness the game tries to evoke. Sadly, these islands are simply too chaotic to warrant another visit.
Good review! You raise valid points about the luck factor in Aurimentic. Personally I like the chaos factor of the game, but given how much it bothers you I can recommend to play this 2 player. This allows for better planning (the grain sacrifice becomes a more reliable option) and a quicker game (making the luck factor less troublesome).