Before I jump into this post, I just want to say how happy I am to finally be stretching my blogging legs again. This past few months has been stressful and wonderful and confusing and many other things all at once. During my time away, I discovered a new passion within a current passion – solo board gaming. This means, essentially, playing board games in a single player capacity. Much like sitting down to do a puzzle or organize a zen garden, I found that in this overly stressful time of my life, this new found hobby allowed me to focus, relax and stop worrying and stressing all the time. With all that being said, I am looking forward to sharing and reviewing my solo gaming experiences here on the blog in a new segment I am calling “First Player Only.” Let’s jump in.
Fields of Arle
Designed by Uwe Rosenberg
Published by Z-Man Games
Hello and welcome to my first foray into reviewing solo board games! While I’ve reviewed games in the past, I’ve never done so with this particular lens. What excites me about solo board gaming is the capacity to explore a game in a whole new way, puzzling it out on your own as you try to learn the game, then beat it, or in some cases, outdo your highest score. That being said, these reviews will consist of an overview of the game, followed by the solo aspect and why I love the game. I may touch on the multiplayer side of these games, but it will never be the main focus. For my inaugural First Player Only Review, I’d like to talk about a new game to my collection: Fields of Arle.
What’s it About?
Fields of Arle is about cows … okay it’s about more than cows, but honestly their so cute! Actually Fields of Arle is about the town of Arle in East Frisia at its height when the land was producing and the town was flourishing. In Fields of Arle, you’ll have some farmland which you’ll be working to cultivate by draining moors, cutting peat, raising cattle, sheep and horses, as well as trading with nearby towns. There is a lot to do in this game and chances are very good that you won’t see it all in a single game, let alone a few games.
How Does it Play?
Fields of Arle takes place over nine half seasons. This means that you’ll be going back and forth between Summer and Winter, doing different actions depending on the season in order to fill your board as much as possible, squeezing out every last possible point you can muster. Fields of Arle is a worker placement game. Essentially, you’ll have four workers which you’ll place each season to do your bidding and cultivate your farm. At the end of the round, you’ll bring the workers home, the next season will hit and you’ll do it all over again. Here’s the thing though: four workers is not a lot and the nine half seasons fly by faster than you can imagine. Time and workers are super limited meaning that every move you make, every action you assign a worker to, matters.
What’s Great About Fields of Arle?
There is a lot to love about this game. The sheer amount of options available can be overwhelming at first, but that’s a good thing. You’ll soon find yourself discovering ways to synergize your actions in order to get the most out of every turn. This aspect of the game is thrilling. A big part of the early game centers around clearing your board in order to get more space. To do this, you’ll either have to dehydrate the moors at the bottom of your board, followed by harvesting the peat that the dehydrated moors produce OR you’ll have to shore up your dikes at the top of the board in order to expand your land by literally pushing back the tidal shore. Doing both of these things is fairly essential, and while you’ll grow excited by the prospect of more land, the question then becomes what to do with it and how to do those things in limited turns.
Perhaps you want to continue breeding animals, which means building stalls and stables, or maybe you want to grow flax and wheat in order to be able to make more goods that you can send off in a vehicle to market in other towns to gain more points just for making the visit. Maybe you want to actually build buildings on your land, and this opens up a plethora of even more options, because buildings have their own bonuses AND many of the buildings are randomized at the start of the game, meaning that they can change your strategy from game to game. The list of options goes on and on and I can almost guarantee that no two boards will ever look the same at the end of a game.
Why Play it Solo?
Fields of Arle is made, out of the box, for 1 – 2 players, with an optional expansion you can purchase which takes the player count to 3. Playing the solo game means you won’t be trying to best an opponent, but rather to top your own score each time. Something I’ve come to love about playing Euro games like this solo is that all the options are available to you and its really more about how you want to puzzle out every point you can imagine. You can try new strategies without the fear of ‘losing’ to an opponent, and no opponent will ever block that next thing you wanted to do so you’re free to explore at your leisure.
And while this means a more relaxed game, it also means you’re free to over analyze and think about every aspect. Some of my later turns took around 5 minutes or more to make and that’s totally okay because no one was waiting on me or growing bored as I weighed my options. There’s also a sense of discovery. Every new synergy or new idea on how to do something was mine and mine alone and that’s thrilling as a board game player to know that there is still so much to explore in this game. More importantly, there’s a real sense of pride in beating your last score as you slowly begin to see the invisible cogs that drive your farm land forward in the best of ways.
Clearly I loved Fields of Arle. I find myself day dreaming about its plethora of options, vast array of victory point paths and what my next game will hold. The pieces are fantastic, the miniature animals are adorable and everything about the game is welcoming in a warm ‘sit by the fire and put your feet up’ kind of way. If I have any criticism, it’s that I wish a little more was done to differentiate the single player version of the game. Perhaps putting some blocks on certain buildings each round might up the difficulty level. But then again, I love having free reign to my options and building to my heart’s content. If you love Euro games, or just relaxing games that feel like a sandbox of opportunity, I cannot recommend Fields of Arle highly enough.
Thank you for joining me for my first solo game review! Have a game you think I should check out? Let me know in the comments!