Monday, May 07, 2012

Under the Hood: Belfort

"Under the Hood" is a series of strategy articles about the inner workings of games developed for Tasty Minstrel Games. Watch for these posts a couple months after the release of the game so that players have a chance to explore the game for themselves first!

Under the Hood: Belfort

Belfort is a game with a jovial and lighthearted theme – as a Master Architect, you direct a workforce of fantasy characters who toil to erect buildings which make up the city of Belfort. But don’t be deceived by the cute elves, dwarves, and gnomes on the box! Belfort is a heavy game of resource management, area control, and strategy!

Large vs small workforce
Like many worker placement games, Belfort rewards players for increasing their workforce. While it’s possible to win without your full complement of Elves and Dwarves, it’s very difficult if you don’t at least hire 1 or 2 more workers. With no upkeep cost, the only real down-side to hiring is the upfront cost – a placement and 2 Gold to go to the HR Department. After a point, the return on that investment diminishes – if you hire a Dwarf in round 4 for example, he’ll only provide 3 placements before the game is over. A round 4 Dwarf will pay for itself, and may contribute to resource majorities and points, but it’s nowhere near as useful as a turn 1 Dwarf! And while a turn 1 Dwarf is awesome, it does cost a significant portion of your starting capital. So be sure to hire when the opportunity arises and you can afford it, but also make sure you’ll get your money’s worth out of your new employee!

Gardens and Pubs are good Properties when working with a small workforce. They are inexpensive, they increase your income, and by turning a worker into a Master, they allow you to increase your resource gathering ability.

Income generation vs Taxes
There are 3 types of buildings in Belfort – Properties, Guilds, and Walls. Properties have a wide range of cost and effects. Guilds are expensive, but do not require a card – meaning you can build them in whichever district you want. They provide income when used, and that income comes at an interesting time: during the Placement phase. Walls are moderately priced, but provide no income at all, making them very poor choices in the early game. The strength of a wall is in the late game, when you know which district you’d like to build in, but do not have the correct card to build there.

Deciding which Property to build is one of the interesting things you’ll do in a game of Belfort. You’ll want to consider the ability – would you like to use many building powers and fight for Gnome majority? Maybe the Tower is a good choice – but you should also consider the income of the Property. The Inn is a good building for expanding your workforce, but with no income it can really hurt when tax time comes around. The Keep is expensive and only good for scoring, but it does give 1 gold income as well.
If you can produce more income from buildings than you are paying in taxes, then you’ll have a lot more gold to spend on things like Gnomes and Guilds!

Majority scoring
It’s easy to forget while building properties and collecting resources that you only score for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd majorities in each district. Placing additional ownership markers in a district where you’re already way ahead may be a waste of resources! Also, keep in mind when hiring new workers that there are points to be had for controlling the most Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes.
One more note about area majority scoring – it’s better to score 2nd place in two districts than it is to score 1st place in one!

Belfort has another area majority mechanism in addition to scoring – bonus resources from the Forest, Quarry, and Mines. Being the last player to pass gives you the advantage of seeing where other players have sent their workers, but every placement spent stalling means 1 fewer worker to send for resources. Earn majority bonuses where you can, but make sure you’re getting the resources you need to build this turn, and don’t forget about your taxes!

King’s Camp
Turn order in Belfort is unusual – it doesn’t change unless you go to the King’s Camp and change it. And when you do that, you get to CHOOSE your turn order. It can be advantageous to go first for the best worker placement choices next round, but that can also make you a target for another player to take your turn order crest. You could choose to go 2nd, hoping that a future player will choose to take the turn order crest from player 1 rather than you, while still getting an early placement order. You could even choose to go last, which is especially strong in a scoring round so you can see where other payers have placed their ownership markers. However, going last runs the risk of the spots where you’d like to place drying up.
Some guilds, such as the Thieves’ Guild and the Bandits’ Guild, make the King’s camp a much more important consideration, so it’s important to look at what guilds are in play when you decide how you want to deal with turn order. Maybe a trip to the King’s Camp is the right play!

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