Posted by: gschloesser | August 9, 2011

Oregon

Design by:  Asi and Henrik Berg
Published by:  Hans im Gluck and Rio Grande Games
2- 4 players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

Oregon was released at the Spiel in Essen in 2007, and frankly, it really didn’t grab my attention.  Reaction to the game from the few folks with whom I spoke was mixed.  I knew the game was being released in the United States by Rio Grande Games, so I decided not to strain my already burgeoning luggage further and passed on purchasing a copy until I returned home.  

Much to my surprise, Oregon, designed by newcomers Asi and Henrik Berg, has become one of my favorites from the 2007 Essen crop.  It is easy enough for families and non-hardcore gamers to grasp and play competitively, yet offers enough challenge and decisions to keep hobbyists interested and engaged.  While one’s choices may seem limited at times, in reality there is ample room for clever moves by properly managing one’s cards and taking advantage of an ever-changing board.  

Set in the “rush to the west” era of the mid-1800s, Oregon challenges players to populate the vast land with settlers and communities, hoping to take advantage of the growing towns and abundant reserved of gold and coal waiting to be mined in the surrounding mountains. 

The game is played on a board depicting a 15 x 20 grid, separated into twenty-five sections containing six squares each whereupon tiles and farmers can be placed.  Players will play farmers and building onto these spaces, scoring points by placing buildings next to their farmers and vice-versa.  The placing of buildings and farmers is dependent upon the playing of the proper two cards, which allow the players to place a tile or farmer onto the corresponding section of the board.  The five landscape types are listed along both the top and side of the board, and when playing two cards, the player will find the section where the row and column matching those cards meets and place a piece somewhere within that section. 

There are two decks of cards:  building cards and landscape cards.  The building cards depict the various buildings – post office, harbor, church, mines, etc. – while the landscape cards depict one of five different symbols – wagon, eagle, campfire, settlers or buffalo.  Players will have a hand of four cards, and on each turn may play any two, and then refill their hand.  When playing two landscape cards, they place a farmer onto one of the six unoccupied spaces in the section that is at the crossroads of the two landscapes depicted on the cards.  If a player plays a building card, he must also play a landscape card, and is free to place a matching building tile onto any section in the row or column matching that landscape symbol. 

When placing a farmer, a player will immediately score points based on the adjacent building or buildings.  Points generally range from 1 – 4, depending upon the type of building, and in the case of the church, up to 8 depending upon how many other farmers are adjacent to it.  Coal and gold mines work a bit differently, allowing the player to take a face-down token of the appropriate type.  The value of these tokens range from1 -3 for coal, and 3 – 5 for gold.  Placing a building works similarly, but every player who has farmers adjacent to the building earns points.  Thus, care must be exercised to make sure opponents don’t score more points than you! 

Each player possesses a joker and extra turn token.  The joker can be used as any landscape card, while the extra turn token allows the player to immediately take another turn before drawing replacement cards.  Once used, these tokens are inverted and cannot be used again until they are restored.  To restore these tokens, a player must place a farmer next to appropriate building (or vice versa):  warehouse for the joker, or train station for the extra turn token.  These buildings only yield one point, but their power granting the restoration of the special tokens is invaluable.  This is one of the keys to the game, as having these joker and extra turn tokens at one’s disposal increases your placement flexibility and allows one to take two turns in succession, thereby increasing the scoring opportunities. 

Another scoring opportunity is to arrange a group of three adjacent farmers, which earns the player five points.  This is an easily overlooked rule, but is worth remembering as the points can be significant.  

The game ends at the conclusion of the round when a player places his final farmer, or a pre-determined number of building types is depleted.  Players then reveal and add the value of their coal and gold tiles to their victory points, and the player with the greatest total is victorious.  The game generally takes less than an hour to play to completion.

When learning the game, my first thought was that the placement opportunities would be quite limited.  In truth, however, there is quite a bit of flexibility here.  Possessing four cards allows for considerable latitude, and the presence of the joker expands one’s options further.  It is critical to keep the joker and extra turn tokens activated, so placing next to the appropriate buildings to reactivate them is an important move.  The game also allows for some advance planning, placing farmers or buildings on one turn in order to take advantage of these placements on a subsequent turn.  Of course, wily opponents will likely spot these moves and, if possible, take advantage of them. 

It is also wise to place farmers in a fashion that will earn you points on your opponents’ turns.  Remember, when a building is placed, it scores points for ALL players who have farmers adjacent to it.  Thus, it can be wise to place farmers near your opponents’ farmers in order to take advantage of subsequent building placements. 

Oregon is a fine light-to-middle weight game.  It offers players with an abundance of significant choices and strategies.  While the card draw does play a role, players can usually find enough options to overcome any “luck of the draw” problems.  I am happy to make the journey to the vast wilderness of 19th century Oregon any time!

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Responses

  1. At first, Oregon felt like Battleship gone terribly awry: the only rows & columns I could use came from the cards I drew. A tiny four-card hand, to be exact. However, the secret to Oregon is unexpected. One has to leverage their opponent’s populations to guarantee points for their own, and that made this much more satisfying. (6/10)

  2. Good game but I did not feel I had enough control with only 4 cards. It was almost impossible to plan a turn ahead. I guess that is the goal of the game. 6/10


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