Sodbusters sat on my shelf for a little while. It was intimidating, and for good reason. Each time I said “Let’s figure out how to play Sodbusters!”, my husband would groan and suggest we just play Agricola again. Well, we finally settled down to learn how to play it, and I can’t say I blame him for putting it off any more.
Let me say up front, the game is good. It is a very meaty game that left me satisfied with my evening of gaming. However, what it took to get to that point was somewhat of a different story. The game had four major trouble points: the rules, the pieces, expected time keeping, and event distribution.
The rules were a nightmare. I’m usually the designated rule reader. It’s my task to figure out how we play the game and explain it to the others. It’s a task that usually I don’t mind. But this game… it had all the troubles of Arkham Horror rules (… then you move token B (see figure 1.3 on page 76) and if it intersects with another figure you perform battle (see ‘battling’ on page 22), unless you have a runic counter (see ‘counters’ on page 18)…) with all the problems of the old 3M bookshelf game rules (e.g. some rules on the box, some on the rules sheet, some indicated on the back of the board, etc). It took over an hour to get through the massive rulebook, and then there were the player hand out supplements to read through as well. When all that was over, and what was read was explained, we all still sat there for several minutes scratching our heads and asking “So how do we get this thing started?”.
The next major problem was with the pieces. Usually I have very few complaints in this compartment. One widget is just as good as the next, as long as it gets the job done. Here however, there were just a few too many widgets. There are multiple kinds of crops, multiple kinds of animals, multiple kinds of farm improvements, and each of them had a small cardboard chit to represent them. Each chit was the same size and shape, just a slightly different color and pattern. This resulted in many baggies of pieces sitting around with someone constantly not being able to find the one they were looking for. The same game play could have been accomplished with either different chits or just a few less options, thus reducing the number of chits you have to deal with.
That brings me to the gripe about time keeping. For a game with 500 little cardboard counters, I would think they could give me a mechanism for keeping track of time! Each player has the opportunity to buy livestock, which matures over a number of rounds and can then be sold. Nowhere do they give you a mechanism for keeping track of this. We began devising our own methods, and we made due, but it was still annoying.
Lastly, I have to complain about event distribution. During each turn, players each get a card with an event that happens to only them. Then a group event card is played, which has the potential to effect all, some, or none of us. However, some cards only effect you during certain phases of the game. This resulted in roughly a third of the cards immediately fizzling, which seems like poor planning on the behalf of the game designers.
But as I said early, the game on a whole was pretty good. A lot of interesting money management options came into play, and often it was the person who could best utilize the land that they already owned that seemed to come out ahead during each round. Finding the perfect combos of crops and animals for the season you were in was priceless. But it also paid to be able to look ahead for several turns to what would mature on certain rounds. If you weren’t careful you found yourself with either a plethora of cash in hand, but nothing coming in for the next several rounds, or absolutely strapped for cash because all your money was ‘working’ for you out in the fields.
In the end, I would play Sodbusters again, but I certainly understand why my husband found the game so intimidating to learn. By the end of the game we had the hang of it, but it took almost that long to really get it down. I’m sure the second and even third games would go much better. But that first game, it’s really not for the faint of heart.
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