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Subject: One Girl's Opinion: Hacienda rss

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Susan F.
Canada
Lethbridge
Alberta
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Overview
In Hacienda, the players are ostensibly playing Argentinian ranchers buying the rights to own certain amounts of land, claiming those territories, buying young livestock, raising the livestock and taking those animals to market so that they can make money and start the whole process over again. Some of that money can be diverted to dig ponds since land next to water is more fertile and animals raised next to water are healthier - and some of the money can be diverted to build haciendas which make for happier ranchhands and therefore more productive land/healthier animals.

I said "ostensibly". I have never once felt like a rancher - Argentinian or otherwise - while playing Hacienda. I've never felt that my cattle would do better next to two small ponds than one big lake or "gee, the pigs are nicely fattened up; let's take them to market". To me, Hacienda is a colourful abstract that has a tacked-on theme so that we know what to call the pieces. This isn't a bad thing. In fact, I've logged 140+ games of Hacienda over at www.spielbyweb.com, and it's still one of my two favourite games at that site as well as one of my personal Top 10 favourite games.

So, what makes me go back to play again and again? First, Hacienda is effectively three games in one. The rules include two official variants and each plays quite differently:

1. Beginners will probably want to play the gentle Variant 2 whose score-as-you-go approach allows you to see the immediate effects of your actions.

2. After a few games, you'll be comfortable enough to test out the "normal" rules - where scoring is done only once midgame and once at the end. Since this means that early points are scored twice, you'll want to consider how to rack up the early points (and/or prevent your opponents from doing so).

3. Finally, there's Variant 1. As I understand it, the game was originally designed to be played this way, but its harshness got it demoted to a variant. Without careful planning, money is much harder to come by in Variant 1; however, this is the best balanced variant and the only one in which long chains of animals are particularly worthwhile.

4. Just for the heck of it, Variants 1 and 2 can be combined.

While this is the general progression from most-family-friendly version to toughest, I still play all four versions because they all require somewhat different strategies. Players used to certain strategies that maximize early points sometimes find they "burn out" in the late stages of a Version 2 game, for example, running out of scoring opportunities while an opponent who planned ahead overtakes them.


Bits and Pieces
Hacienda has one other advantage when it comes to replayability - it comes with a double sided gameboard with a map on each side (like Power Grid does). The two maps have different feels and both handle 4 or 5 players very well and 3 players moderately well. They're both really too big for two players unless both players are interaction-averse (in which case, they'll probably love them). The two maps are referred to as "The Dogbone" and "The Chewed Dogbone" - for obvious reasons:


(The image on the left shows the physical gameboard; the one on the right shows the interface at spielbyweb.)

The frequent lack of interaction in 2- and 3-player games on these maps is readily addressed by a number of very good custom maps that are available here and at spielbyweb. I'm hoping Rio Grande will publish some as an expansion in the not-so-distant future.

While the board is quite neutral in its colour scheme, the land and animal tiles are brightly coloured - brightening up the board nicely as play progresses.



The tiles are all made of thick card and double sided - with two different species per animal tile (e.g. sheep on one side and horse on the other)and two different colours per land tile (e.g. red on one side and black on the other). This can get a bit annoying as, if you run out of tiles of a given animal (or colour of land), you have to hunt through the tiles on the board to see if any of them have what you want on the back and if it's possible to replace that tile with one still in the box. (e.g. I need a red sheep, but there's none left. There's still a red cow/horse tile in the box, so I find a red cow on the board with a sheep on the back. I replace the cow/sheep with the cow/horse, so now I can use the sheep side of the cow/sheep tile. You can see where this might get tedious! Fortunately, it only tends to be an issue in 2- or 3-player games where each player typically uses more tiles than in a 4- or 5-player game.)

There are also water tiles and harvest tokens of the same good quality card. They don't suffer from the "trying to fill two roles" issue that I assume was to keep printing costs down. And, thankfully, the game comes with a detailed double-sided player aid that provides both a turn summary and a scoring summary.



The cards used for money are equally brightly coloured, and the cards for the land and animals are nicely illustrated (even if the animals do seem to be smirking at you...) Finally, there are small brown wooden haciendas as playing pieces as well as a wooden hacienda of each colour to use as a scoring marker.



All in all, quite a visually appealing game and the components have been built to last.


How to Play
While I play Hacienda essentially as an abstract, the theme terminology is handy, so I'll use it here. As a player, you have two main goals:

1. Score points.
2. Make money that will let you buy stuff to score points. (You do score points for money as well but, in most cases, those points will be negligible compared to your other points. If you want to debate this point, you're already an expert and you don't need me to tell you how to play Hacienda! )

So, how're you going to score those points?

Set-Up
At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt eight land cards and four animal cards. Consider these cards your "licenses" to claim land or breed animals. The pictures on the land tiles match the pictures on some of the hexes on the board. You cannot place a land tile without turning in a matching* land card, and you cannot place an animal tile without turning in a matching animal card. (*An exception is made if there's no more land on the board matching your card.)

Each player is also given a bankroll of 20 pesos.

Next to the board, four land cards are placed face-up with the draw pile face-down (Ticket to Ride style). The same is done with the animal cards.

Actions
On their turn, each player may take up to three actions. The actions allowed are:

1. Buy a face-up card for 3 pesos.

2. Buy the top card from a draw deck for 2 pesos.

3. Turn in a land card and place a land tile of your colour on a matching hex. "Pampas" land cards (the yellow ones) can be traded in to put a land tile on any beige spot on the board as long as it is touching a land tile of yours that is already on the board. This makes pampas cards very valuable; if you see a face-up pampas card, buy it unless you have something else really important to do that turn!

4. Turn in an animal card and place an animal of that type of your colour onto any beige spot on the board as long as it is touching a land tile of yours that is already on the board. If your animal touches a market, take the appropriate amount of money from the bank (see below).

5. Buy a water tile for 12 pesos* and place it anywhere on the board. This may not be done more than once per turn.

6. Buy a hacienda for 12 pesos* and place it on one of your land chains or animal chains. This may not be done more than once per turn.

7. Place a harvest token on one of your land chains and take 3 pesos per land tile from the bank. This may not be done more than once per turn. You may not place a harvest token on a land chain that already has one.

*In Variant 1, water tiles and haciendas cost 20 pesos each.

How many pesos you get when you place an animal tile touching a market spot on the board depends on what variant you're playing. In Variant 1, you count the number of land tiles touching the animal chain and multiply that by the length of the animal chain. In the regular rules and in Variant 2, you simply add the number of tiles in the animal chain to the number of tiles in any land chain (of yours!) it's touching. This has led some players to the incorrect conclusion that long land chains are the only way to win at Hacienda - and leads other players to say "if you think that, try Variant 1". The difference between the two methods is illustrated in the image below:



The game continues until the animal draw deck has been exhausted (face-up animals may still remain). As soon as that happens, you've entered the last round of play. Any players who haven't had their turn that round still get their turn, but there are no extra turns for those earlier in the turn order. In the "regular rules" and in Variant 1, the midgame scoring occurs at the end of the round in which the animal deck has been half-exhausted (indicated by setting aside half of the draw deck at the beginning of the game).

Note that, if the land deck is exhausted, it isn't reshuffled. Players just need to find something else to do other than buy land.

Scoring
Scoring in Hacienda depends on the variant. Variant 2 is a score-as-you-go version of the "regular rules" except that money isn't scored until the end. Both variants follow the same outline:

1. 2 points per land tile in chains of 3+ land tiles
2. 1 point per tile for a chain with a hacienda on it
3. 1 point per tile touching a water tile (if a tile is touching two water tiles, it scores two points - one per water tile)
4. 1 point per 10 pesos that the player has in their hand (rounded down - 19 pesos gets you 1 point)
5. points for the number of markets to which the player has connected with one or more animals (triangular scoring - 1 point for the first market, 2 for the second, 3 for the third, etc.) This has led some players to the incorrect conclusion that the only way to win at Hacienda is to connect to all the markets.

Variant 1 scores according to the same scheme but with the one important addition:

6. 1 point per animal tile in chains of 3+ animal tiles

So, there's a number of different ways to accumulate points in Hacienda. Yes, a long land chain with a hacienda on it gets you lots of points - but so does connecting to all eleven markets on the board (66 points), especially if you can block a few from your opponents - and so does laying your land and animals carefully so that you can fill in the gaps with just the right water tiles (scoring up to 10 points per water tile!) - and so does making enough money to buy up all the water and haciendas so there's none left for your opponents. You can't do everything! Based on your the map, your initial draw, the face-up cards you start with and your knowledge of your opponents' favourite strategies, you'll have to the choose a strategy to follow. You'll have to be flexible, though. Neglect tactics and you may just get shut out of all the scoring opportunities you were counting on.


General Impressions
I really enjoy Hacienda. It's bright and colourful. Some classify it as an area control game - and it's definitely got an aspect of that. The economic aspect is just significant enough to require you to keep an eye on it, but not so important that you can win the game based on it alone - unless your opponents all go bankrupt (which the harvest tokens make it difficult to do) or unless you tie (it's the tiebreaker).

The biggest complaint I've read is that people think there's only one way to win. That's patently untrue. It's possible for a group to get stuck in a rut and effectively play the same game time and time again, but as soon as one person changes their strategy, the game will change. There are a handful of strategies that are all capable of beating each other and which are all vulnerable to clever tactics.

Players who enjoy relatively nonconfrontational Carcassonne are likely to enjoy Hacienda played with 2-5 players on the two maps that come in the box. Players who prefer aggressive Carcassonne will probably prefer Hacienda played with 4-5 players on the two maps that come in the box and may wish to consider downloading some of the smaller maps to play with 2 or 3. Overall, I give Hacienda-out-of-the-box a B (a B+ if you only play with 4-5 players), but I'll upgrade that to an A with all of the custom maps I've enjoyed over the past year. For what it's worth, this is also my sister's second favourite game after Ticket to Ride; her tastes tend to mesh well with the casual gamer's.


Edited to fix image links.
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Andrea Jørgensen
Denmark
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Very nice work!
Maybe I should try this game...
 
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Snowball
Belgium
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Gender: pot*ato. My opinion is an opinion.
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I am now convinced that I would find the game average, which combined with Little Dragon's comment, says a lot about the usefulness and objectivity of the review.
Some excellent pictures to boot.thumbsup
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David McLeod
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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Great review!

 
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:C.h.r.i.s. M.c.G.o.w.a.n:
United States
Elk Grove Village
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This was the first "Euro/German" game that I won during a game playing session at my FLGS a little over a year and a half ago. It's had a fond place in my heart ever since.

My parents (casual gamers) enjoyed playing this one too and I agree that with the variants you can adjust the difficulty level for the group you're playing with. It is indeed a little abstract and reminds me a bit of Through the Desert at times.

I really enjoy this one on spielbyweb (over 100 completed games) and would also purchase any expansion maps (2 sided of course!!!!).
 
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Renato Tavares
Brazil
Goiânia
Goiás
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Playing 'til death!
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Quote:
The biggest complaint I've read is that people think there's only one way to win. That's patently untrue


I totally agree with you! There are several ways to win, and you can change your strategy during the game, too.
Every game is different from the others, and the variants add a lot to the game, either.
Is it "Puerto Rico", or "Tigris and Euphrates"? No! But is it a really fun and enjoyable game? YES!
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Susan F.
Canada
Lethbridge
Alberta
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Thanks so much for the kind words!

Chris, we'll have to play sometime. (I thought I already knew everyone over there with that many games played. Apparently not! )
 
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