THE SCENE: Cargo Noir on the table to the left of me, Settlers of Catan on the right (Miah: "We're coming to play with you", New Player: "Why?" Miah: "Because you're doing it wrong."). In the back, my son is hiding in the trees as the Germans advance...
The third (and last) game that got playtested last game night was The Abbey. The Abbey has been in development for a long time, but I'm still not quite ready to let it into the world. Without either game about to end, we decided we'd try out another playtest game, rather than break anything else out.
In The Abbey, 3-6 players spend about an hour sending out workers into fields (which produce Grain), pastures (which produce Wool), quarries (which produce Stone) and the mine (which produces Silver). They'll also move monks out of the abbey to either negotiate up the value of certain resources or to supervise areas (preventing new workers from dislodging old ones). When you place workers out into areas, the Scribe moves forward on the Wheel of the Year. Eventually he'll get to the Winter Market and it'll be time to "sell" your resources for points. Do this three times, do some end-of-game scoring and you've got a winner.
One of my latest crazes is that setup stinks. I forgot to mention it in Part Two, but one of the design goals for Sint Maarten was no setup time. Just stack the buildings next to the board, make sure all the cubes are in the draw bag and you're good to go. So with that in mind, I had taken out my overly elaborate setup steps out of The Abbey and had a new solution (which worked but then created a problem of its own).
On your turn, you can do one of four things: Play a card, Move a monk, Add worker(s) or Pass.
Playing a Card:
When you play a card, it will either be a Resource card (which does two things) or an Event card (which does one bad thing). The Resource cards allow you to add a worker to the appropriate area (e.g. add a worker to a Field for playing Grain) and then trigger some special thing (Grain allows you to add another worker where you have a worker, Wool allows you to move a worker, Silver and Stone manipulate the monks). The kicker is that when you do the most common resource cards (Grain and Wool) the triggered effect is not just for you, but for all other players in the area. Resource cards are played to the contract area, where they also count as a "vote" for that resource being worth points.
Move a Monk:
Move a monk from the abbey to the contract area, from the abbey to supervise a field or back from supervising a field to the abbey. Note that this is where the game broke, I'll talk about that a little later.
On the wheel of the year, there's a number in each space. Move the scribe to the next space and that number shows you how many workers you can place out this turn. The exception being that if you're placing workers in the mine, you can only place one worker out, no matter what the number says. The reason for this, is that the mine is potentially a huge amount of points due to the scoring rules.
Passing just means that the Scribe moves on the Wheel of the Year. This was added into the game early on, and proved crucial for the third round this game, otherwise the game would enter an infinite loop.
When the monk gets to the Winter Market the round ends, and everyone is scored. At this point, there will be cards and monks on the various resources, each monk and card is worth one "vote" for which is the most valuable resource. If there is a tie, then the resource who's contract location is closer to the abbey wins the tie. For each line (box in the mine) where you have the majority of workers, you get points.
At the end of the game, you get points for every line (box in the mine) where you have only your workers. You also get points for every area where you have a majority of the workers).
The Game Itself and The Problem:
First off, my correction for the setup issue worked beautifully. Playing cards meant workers came out in logical places, but then you could move the Scribe and add to your areas. There was still more things you wanted to do each turn, but you could only do one of them.
The last few versions of the game had a problem with nobody ever getting all of their workers onto the board. Now, entering the third round, we had everyone with all workers on the table. Here's where the game broke: I'd take a monk off an area, Gerald would move him back on, Mark would take him off, I'd put him back on, etc. The game could be stuck in an infinite loop. We all agreed that the fix was pretty easy, make it so only cards could move a monk back to the abbey and then the manipulations used a limited resource.
So here's some changes/corrections for the future:
1> I remade all of the cards and spelled out the powers of each card. Now each card clearly says that you add a worker and then trigger the special effect.
2> I'm going to try a variant where by placing a monk on a contract space, you have the choice of taking up one card from the space into your hand. I'm okay with that making workers come out faster, see #3 for why. I think it will add a choice to something that has been a lackluster last-option move so far... when you place a monk, you can keep that resource by taking the card, and not playing it, strengthen it by leaving the card there, or take the card for the effect and then strengthen the resource by playing the card (assuming you get the chance, fairly safe at the beginning of the year, a dangerous gambit at the end of the year).
3> I reduced the number of worklines on the board. Originally I had always made sure that there were enough spaces for everyone to have all of their workers out... I now think that having not enough spaces will make the game more interesting. It also means that there should be more jostling of workers, and you'll want monks for both their powerful option in #2 and for protecting your workers out in the various areas.
4> I'm going to tweak the final end-of-game scoring a little bit, it was too much of a run-away leader problem, with Mark having about twice as many points as Gerald and myself.
VERDICT: Still a keeper as a lightweight Euro that has decent player interaction and a touch of strategy. It's amazing to me how much tweaking it sometimes takes to get a game just right... this is easily the thirtieth or so version of the game and I haven't yet got to do much blind playtesting. I do think it's close though.