is a new game of majority-control and worker-placement by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, published by TMG.
Playing Time: 1.5-3 hours
Summary of the Components
Belfort comes in a bookshelf box heavily weighed down by a huge set of components including: 5 heavy cardboard diamonds that make up the gameboard; 5 heavy cardboard gameboards and 2 other boards; wooden components for each player that are all decorated with stickers; a deck of building cards; cardboard money; and a few other cardboard bits and bobs.
Quality: Overall, the quality of the bits is very high. All of the cardboard bits stand out because they're printed on extremely thick and sturdy cardboard. There's a light linen texture on the medium-weight cards, which also has a gloss on it. 5 of out 5.
Beauty: The slightly cartoony artwork on all of the pieces is attractive though not exceptional. The stickers similarly add a level of attractiveness to the wooden bits that they adorn (though stickering everything can take quite a while). However, the one thing that truly stands out is the graphic design, which is absolutely top-rate. The rules and the various boards have all been put together in a highly attractive way. 5 out of 5.
Usability: The game is somewhat complex, but a lot of attention has been given to making that complex information readily accessible during the game. Player boards, for example, feature: a summary of the round, a listing of how majority-control scoring works, a listing of the costs for every building, and entries showing how much of each component you should start with. Some of those elements, like the building costs, really go that next step toward making the game not just easier to play, but also easier to plan and strategize within.
There is one slight misstep in all of this, which is on the trading post board, which shows how you can sell and buy things. It was too small for players across the table to read, and the buy and sell ratios were hard for players to figure out, because they're both stated the same way (e.g., sell a metal for a gold, buy a metal for 2 golds). However, I won't complain too much about that, because the mere inclusion of all this info on a board that the players consult is a step further than most games would go.
Overall, the usability of Belfort is outstanding. 5 out of 5.
Theming: The game is themed as a fantasy, with elves and dwarves helping in your construction of the town of Belfort, while gnomes help you to run buildings once they're built. Some of the theming is slightly light (e.g., why are elves cutting down their own forest?), but it's generally fun and adds to the game. 4 out of 5.
Overall, Belfort is a very well-produced game and I've given it a "5" out of "5" for Style as a result.
Summary of the Gameplay
The object of Belfort is to win majority control of sufficient districts and races to win the game.
Setup: At the start of the game, the 5-district map of Belfort is laid out and each player is given a starting supply of: dwarves and elves (who act as workers); houses (which are used to claim ownership of businesses); gold (which is used to buy various things and pay for some worker placement); and wood, stone, and metal (which are used to build buildings). Each player is also randomly dealt some starting business cards.
After that, each of seven rounds of play proceeds through three main phases: placement, collections, and actions.
Placement: This is where players put their dwarves and elves in various worker-placement spaces. Each player will place one worker at a time, allowing them some time to see what the other players are doing. Some of these spaces (recruitment, guilds, some buildings) cost money, which means it's often very important to have money at the start of each round.
Recruitment. This allows the player to add an additional worker--an elf or a dwarf--to his supply for future rounds.
King's Tent. This lets players move up in the turn order.
Guild. These are high-powered special buildings which are available in town. They let players get high quantities of resources, claim additional buildings, steal gold, fool with building markers, or do other powerful things. They vary from game to game.
Buildings. Some of the buildings which a player builds will give him additional worker placement spaces that only he can use.
Resource Spaces. Besides the individual worker placement spaces, there are also a number of resources fields which an infinite number of workers may be placed upon. When a player is done with all of his individual placements, he dumps the rest of his workers among these resource spaces, which allow the collection of wood, stone, metal, and gold. There are some limitations on these spaces: e.g., only dwarves can collect stone and only elves can collect wood.
Collection: After the initial placement, everyone collects their resources from the resource spaces (including a bonus for the player who placed the most workers in each space) and then their workers from the recruitment space. Afterward, the order markers may get swapped around due to the king's tent.
Income & Taxes. Starting in the second round, players may get gold income, depending on what buildings they've built. Then, starting in the fourth round (which follows the first scoring), players will probably have to pay taxes, based on their current points.
Actions: After all of the collections are complete, each player takes his remaining "actions", all at once. This mostly consists of building various things:
Build Buildings. By paying appropriate amounts of wood, stone, and metal, players may build building cards from their hand. Each building costs a specific number of resources. Afterward, a player must claim a corresponding building on the map--there's one of each type of building in each district--though of course some of these will become unavailable as the game goes on.
The building markers on the board count toward majority control of individual districts, which is the ultimate purpose of the game. However, most buildings also provide powers that will help you over the course of the game. Some will require worker-placement to use each turn, while others require the one-time placement of a gnome to unlock the building's powers.
Build Walls. Players can always build walls without the use of a card. This can help in the majority control of the adjoining district.
Build Guilds. Players can also expend resources to gain control of the guilds on the board. Again, this helps with majority control. It also earns the owner an income whenever someone places a worker on the guild.
One-Time Action. Finally, there are a number of actions that a player can do one time per action phase: buy a resource; sell a resource; buy a gnome; or buy a building card. Each of these costs a varying number of gold coins.
Scoring: At the end of the third, fifth, and seventh rounds, a scoring round occurs. This is a simple majority-control scoring of the buildings in each of the districts followed by a majority-control scoring of each of the three races (elves, dwarves, and gnomes). Points are allocated to first, second, and (sometimes) third place finishers.
As already noted, earning points has the downside of increasing your taxes in future rounds.
Ending the Game: The game ends after the third scoring phase, which occurs in round seven. At that point, the player who has earned the most points wins.
Relationships to Other Games
Belfort is a game of worker placement, resource management, and
Majority control is, of course, an old genre, dating back to El Grande and encompassing many other games. Belfort differs notably from its predecessors in that its placement of majority-control markers advances comparatively slowly, as an output of the other game systems.
The resource-management worker-placement genre is younger, and as such Belfort's predecessors there are more obvious. It strikes me as the most similar to new classic Agricola, with its production of varied resources leading you to victory. You can also see a little bit of Caylus in the ability to use guilds owned by other players and a little bit of Stone Age as multiple workers are placed together to generate standard resources.
Belfort is also part of Tasty Minstrel Games' (or TMG's) second wave of releases. The vast majority of these games have been well-themed and heavy gamers' games, and Belfort is no exception. Among TMG releases, it reminds me the most of Homesteaders--also a resource-management game with limited buying and selling, and also a game that was developed by Seth Jaffee.
The Game Design
Belfort is generally a well-designed strategic game that offers up lots of options while simultaneously maintaining a scarcity of resource. The result is that you have to make hard decisions between cards, gnomes, and building ... and it never seems like you have enough to do everything that you want. Which is all around a plus in my book.
There's also a considerable scale-up over the course of the game, which means that you get to choose from among many paths (earning money, increasing workers, gaining cards) when trying to find your way to victory. You can have a pretty high complexity of choices at the end (which can be good if you want options or bad if you forget some of your options, as players tended to in both games I played).
The majority-control elements, as noted, are fairly unique because they represent a slow burn, with players only gradually increasing their holdings in different areas. The inherent placement limitations (only once per building per district) adds another layer of complexity to the majority control, which can make decisions that much harder.
Beyond these element of majority-control, I did feel like I'd seen most aspects of this game in previous releases; nonetheless they're put together in interesting ways here.
I did have two relatively minor complaints about Belfort.
First, I felt it was a little long for its category. A 3-player game ran 90 minutes and a 5-player game ran over 180. Those were both doubtless lengthened because the players hadn't played the game before, but nonetheless they're long for euro play.
Second, I was less thrilled by 5-player play than by play with other numbers of players. Part of this was the length, already noted. However, it also tended to lock each player into one district initially, which made the play less dynamic. I think Belfort would have presented more strongly if it were marketed for 2-4 players, rather than 2-5.
Overall, there was quite a bit to like in this game, and I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Substance.
Belfort is a heavy euro-strategy game with nice fantasy themes. I wouldn't necessarily suggest it for first-time players, but for those looking for a new release in the style of Caylus or Stone Age, this release has an enjoyable level of depth and complexity.