Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do You Know Beans?

So, when you think of card games what do you think of? Poker? Hearts? Blackjack?

How about bean farming?

Bohnanza is a card game from Rio Grande games (makers of Carcassonne and Dominion, which if you didn’t already know who Rio Grande Games was you likely wouldn’t know either of those games either). It’s a rummy-game, which contrary to what I thought when the shop owner told me it was a rummy game, does not involve getting drunk even a little. Although it’s not prohibited, so scotch-monsters take note.

The game revolves around the planting and selling of different varieties of beans. Coffee Beans, soy beans, wax beans, chili beans, and assorted other kinds all come into play with varying levels of frequency (Cocoa beans have only four cards in the deck, while coffee beans have over 20) and all with their own amusing visual pun illustrations.

The instruction manual was initially daunting; over seven pages for one deck of cards. But once you get into the flow of the game, it’s pretty simple. Basically, you start with a hand of five cards, and you have two “bean fields” on the table. You can plant as many of one kind of bean in each field as you want, but you can only plant one kind of bean in a field at a time. Each turn has four phases.

1) Planting. The player must take the first card in his hand and plant it in one of the two bean fields. The player may plant the second card if desired, but is not required to do so. Cards must be played in the order they are received, so no shuffling your hand around to put beans of the same variety next to each other. If you drew a red bean, followed by a green bean, followed by a wax bean, followed by a coffee bean, followed by a cocoa bean at the beginning of the game you must plant the cocoa bean and you may plant the coffee bean.

2) Trading. The player draws to cards from the deck face up. These two cards must be planted somewhere, and it’s up to the player to decide if he or she wants to plant them, or to trade them to an opposing player for something s/he does want to plant. The active player may also opt to donate unwanted cards to a player, or to offer cards in his or her own hand to get an opposing player to accept the unwanted card. All cards received in this phase of the game must be planted immediately regardless of whether they are received by the active player or not.

For example: On Herman’s first turn, he plants a coffee bean in one field and a red bean in another field. He draws two cards, a red bean and a cocoa bean. He takes the red bean and plants it with his other red bean, but he has a coffee bean in his hand lined up for his next turn, so he has to find a way to get rid of the cocoa bean. Bobby, on the other side of the table, happens to have a cocoa bean two cards in from the front of his deck, and no beans planted yet. One of those leading cards is a coffee bean. So Bobby and Herman agree to trade Bobby’s coffee bean for Herman’s cocoa bean. Bobby plants the cocoa bean in an open field, and Herman plants the coffee bean with his other coffee bean.

Who made out best in that trade is up to the luck of the draw, and whatever strategy Bobby and Herman were respectively playing.

3) Harvesting. This is optional, and may be done at any time during the turn, but now is the time to do it if you want to, rather than when you have to. To harvest a bean field you count the number of beans in it and read the card to see how many coins you get in exchange for the number of beans you have. Some varieties of bean, for example, net you one coin for two cards, two coins for four cards, three coins for seven cards and four coins for 10 cards. Turn over the number of cards that correspond to the number of coins you get for harvesting the field (all cards have beans on one side and a coin icon on the other) and place the remaining cards face up into the discard pile.

4) Drawing. Finally, the player draws three cards and places them into the back of his or her hand in the order they were drawn.

Trading may be done at any time during the game, provided the active player is one of the trading parties. Harvesting may be done at any time.

The game continues until the entire deck of cards has been exhausted three times (when you run out of cards, shuffle and draw from the discard pile). Score is tabulated by counting up the number of cards in your coin pile.

The game is heavily luck based, but you can bypass a lot if you’re good at wheeling and dealing. But even then a bad draw can totally derail whatever plans you had made

There’s also an element of “press your luck” games, in that you get more coins for larger harvests of beans, but holding out to fill a field with soy beans, though attractive statistically given the number of soy bean cards in the deck, means losing out on planting other beans that aren’t as prolific but have higher profit margins. The ability to trade in coins for an extra bean field lessens the risk here, but if you don’t do it early in the game you won’t recoup the cost of the extra field.

The Missus and I played a modified version of the rules for two players (basically, you only go through the deck once) and it was good fun. I imagine that playing with four players could get very interesting, but the two player experience is by no means gimped as it may be in other European-style board and card games that tend to be designed for three players or more.

I can also envision this as being a good game to play cutthroat, though in the interest of keeping the peace at home I will be suppressing that particular tendency in myself.

If you happen by a small, independent board and card game shop and have any interest in dipping your toe in the waters of games that tend to rely more heavily on strategy than luck, Bohnanza is a good place to start. A lot of people will recommend Carcassonne for just that purpose, and I don’t disagree in the slightest. But Bohnanza prices out at around twenty bucks, while most of Rio Grande’s other releases go for fifty or more. Bohnanza is a good, low cost way to get started.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No Post This week either

Sorry folks. I've had no time to write anything. I have a few posts sitting in my thumb drive, but haven't even had time to polish them up for you.

We'll be back on track eventually.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No post this week

I've been crazy busy, and haven't had time to write anything.