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Belfort from Tasty Minstrel Games

By John Kaufeld
Published: October 19, 2011
Product:  Belfort is a serious — and seriously fun — game with a delicious sense of humor. A glance at the box's engaging cover art and wry contents description ("this game contains heaps of awesome components, plenty of challenging decisions, and no trolls") disguises a very solid Euro-style game with lots of strategy and only occasional sprinkles of luck. It's easily the best product yet from Tasty Minstrel Games.

Gameplay:  In Eurogame terms, Belfort focuses on a "worker placement" mechanic, but it goes beyond those basics by adding several of its own interesting twists.

At the game's heart, players try to set themselves up to earn the most victory points during the game's three scoring opportunities. Each round, players assign their workers (elves and dwarves) and spend their limited gold to gather resources and influence the city guilds. If all goes as planned, players can erect new buildings within Belfort's five city districts, strategically choosing the best spots and establishing majority control of the areas.

However, it's not enough to simply plunk the finished building down on the map. Most buildings also require at least one resident gnome to keep things running. This adds another layer of planning on top of everything else. The supply of gnomes is limited, plus gnomes are remarkably impatient (they won't stand around doing nothing, so you can't stockpile them). Because of that, players must carefully plan ahead to successfully engage gnomish workers once their jobs already await them.

The game's turn order mechanic is another interesting twist. Each round, players can assign a worker to a board space called the King's Camp. The first person who does that trades their turn order marker with the player who's currently first in the turn. Thus, someone could immediately jump from first in the turn to dead last. Even more interesting is that the change takes place in the middle of the turn sequence! Because much of the strategy in Belfort relies on when you build in the various districts, changing the turn order at precisely the right moment could make a huge impact on the game's outcome.

A game of Belfort plays a limited number of turns, just like Small World from Days of Wonder. In Belfort's case, the magic number of turns is seven. Three of those — turns 3, 5, and 7 — are the game's only scoring opportunities. Players earn points by controlling the most buildings in each of the city's five sectors, and for having the greatest number of elves, dwarves, and gnomes in their employ. Ties cause players to lose points rather brutally, which makes building location decisions very important.

And, in case things weren't interesting enough already, the more victory points you earn, the higher your every-turn tax rate gets. Get too many victory points and you'll watch all of your gold flow straight to the tax man rather than your intricately laid plans for game domination. Oops.

Although Belfort has a lot going on, the game doesn't feel overwhelming. Much of the game is split into small steps and easy decisions that build on each other toward the end. It's easy for players to figure out where they want to go and then plot a track to get there.

Marketing: Belfort is a fun, but serious game. Customers who enjoy thoughtful, decision-oriented strategy games will get the most out of Belfort. This includes fans of games such as Agricola from Z-Man, and Puerto Rico, Power Grid, and Caylus (all from Rio Grande Games).

Unlike Agricola, Belfort does not have a "family-friendly" rules option. This is definitely a game for families with teen or older players.

Belfort could make a good introduction to the "worker placement" genre for players who currently enjoy lighter Euros such as Settlers of Catan (Mayfair Games) or Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder). The vein of humor running through the game's instructions will keep those players smiling and engaged.

The game's estimated 90- to 120-minute length is accurate. Belfort is not a fast game, but rather a thoughtful one, particularly in the later stages.

Make sure your customers know that Belfort requires some out-of-the-box assembly time. It takes about 20 minutes to attach appropriate stickers to the elf, dwarf, and gnome playing pieces, and to punch out the gold. Thankfully, the game includes plenty of plastic storage bags to keep the bits organized.

Product: Belfort
Maker: Tasty Minstrel Games
Stock. No.: TTT1006
MSRP: $59.95
Availability: Check with your favorite game distributor

Great title in Tasty Minstrel's line
Strong strategy game; humorous
Transition to involved Eurogames