Posted by: gschloesser | August 10, 2011

Pueblo

Design by:  Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
Published by:  Ravensburger & Rio Grande
2-4 players, 30-45 minutes
Review by:  Greg Schloesser 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review first appeared in Counter magazine.

Ahh, – Kramer & Kiesling!  Just the thought of another game designed by this dynamic duo is enough to get me woozy!  Their track record with me has been darn near perfect, so I am pre-disposed to purchase any game they release that is aimed at the adult market.  Now, if they would ever throw Ulrich into the mix and release a Kramer, Kiesling & Ulrich design, then that would be bliss!

My first actual glimpse of this game came at the Gathering of Friends and, truth-be-told, the actual appearance sort of startled me.  The game is undeniably abstract.  That’s not exactly the kiss of death, but it also isn’t my favorite genre.  However, it was designed by Kramer & Kiesling, so there was no way I wasn’t going to give it a try.

I shouldn’t have had one iota of doubt as I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience so much I eagerly played it again several more times during the course of the week and taught other groups to play, too.  The game is very focused, with the rules being very simple and the objective extremely clear. Each play is critical and the choices to be made are tough. Vintage Kramer & Kiesling!


Players have been charged with the task of building a vast new pueblo in the Southwest desert.  However, the chieftain has been very specific in his demands and insists that the pueblo blend in with the countryside. His preference for the neutral sand-colored blocks means that he will penalize any player whose colored blocks are visible.  Thus, players must attempt to place their blocks in such a fashion so that their colored blocks are obscured from view, especially at the critical moment when the demanding chieftain makes his inspection rounds.

If you desire a more humorous explanation of the theme, drop a note to Ted Cheatham.  His inspector has been transformed into a roaming pervert who enjoys peeking in the windows of the pueblo!  We won’t go there, however!

The board depicts an 8 by 8 grid divided into four equal quadrants.  This area is the `building’ site where players will place their building blocks and construct the pueblo.  Surrounding the site is a path where the chieftain makes his way around the emerging pueblo, meticulously watching for offending blocks.  The board is rather plain, but is decorated along the edges with replicas of native American artwork.  There is also a serpentine scoring track that never fails to confuse (sort of like the one used in Fossil).
It works, but one must be careful when recording the points.

The components also include strangely shaped building blocks, 8 each in four different colors and 16 in the neutral beige color.  These blocks are made of a sturdy plastic and should last a lifetime.  Two of them join to form one square block.  The components are completed by 4 score markers, the chieftain token and base marker and a few assorted markers used for the variants.

Each player begins the game with five of his colored blocks and four neutral blocks.  Four sets of `blocks’ are made (one colored block and one neutral block), leaving one additional colored block.  The game rules are remarkably simple, yet the decisions are tough.  On a turn, a player does the following:

1) Place a block onto the board, inside the building site grid.  The only real rule here is that the block must lay `flush’ to either the board or another block.  No `overhangs’ are allowed.  The rules could have been a bit clearer in explaining this, but this is the intent.

2) Move the chieftain 1 to 4 spaces and conduct his inspection.

On each player’s very first turn, they must place their colored block that has not been paired with a neutral stone.  On subsequent turns, each player must select one of their paired block sets and either place the colored or the neutral piece.  On the following turn, they then must place the other piece before moving on to another paired set of blocks.  Deciding on whether to place the colored or neutral stone is always a tough and critical choice.

A block does not have to touch a previously played block, but it certainly can.  Further, blocks may be stacked so long as no overhangs are created. This means the pueblo will eventually rise in height as more and more blocks are placed.

As mentioned, a player concludes his turn by moving the chieftain 1 to 4 spaces and conducting his inspection.  The chieftain looks along the row where he is located and if any colored blocks are visible, those players are assessed a penalty.  The penalty is equivalent to the level the block is located on.  For instance, if the blue player has one visible block on the first level of the pueblo, he is assessed one penalty point.  If the red player has a block visible on the second level, he receives two penalty points.  Thus, the higher levels are clearly more dangerous if your blocks are visible.

If the chieftain is moved to one of the four corner squares on his path, he takes a puff on his peace pipe and magically floats above the pueblo, gazing down upon the structure.  He examines only the quadrant that adjoins the corner square he was located on.  Any colored blocks visible result in one penalty point per block being assessed to its owner.

The game ends once all players have placed their blocks onto the board. At that point, the chieftain conducts one final inspection from each point on the path.  The player who has best met his wishes and has the fewest penalty points is victorious.

The key to the game is attempting to place your blocks in such a fashion so that they are obscured from view as much as possible.  Often, you can place one of your colored blocks and then cover it with a neutral block on a subsequent turn.  Or, clever placements may force your opponents to cover your blocks with their placements.  The temptation is to avoid the outer edges of the building site since these blocks cannot be obscured from view and will always remain visible.  However, if you can place the blocks so that the only colors visible are on the first level, this is often a wise move.  Placing blocks at higher levels on the pueblo can result in severe penalties if they remain visible.  Trust me, players will maneuver that pesky chieftain in such a fashion as to smack you with the most penalty points possible!  That chieftain is an unforgiving fellow!

The rules also include two variants.  The first results in the demolition of the pueblo once it is constructed, with each player taking turns removing a block and moving the chieftain.  This one doesn’t entice me as it seems a bit repetitive and I don’t really see the point.  The `Pro’ version introduces up to four sacred cult sites that are marked on the board with tiles. These areas are taboo and no block may be placed onto these tiles. This seems to make placement decisions even tougher and offers the most promise. I look forward to trying this variant soon.

The game is one of choices, most of them being very tough:  which block to use, where to place it and how far to move the chieftain.  The factors to consider are not many, but the ultimate choice is critical.  A poor placement here or there can and will spell doom.  Such tough choices present throughout a game usually elevates my appreciation for that game considerably. Pueblo is one such game.  I get those wonderful `butterflies’ in my stomach while playing and constantly feel challenged in each and every game.  Kramer & Kiesling have done it again!

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Responses

  1. A famous game designer and commentator suggested that Pueblo was misthemed; it should have been a peeping Tom peeking into apartment buildings. He’s right, although sales would have been light. This is a straightforward spatial abstract that is easy to teach and fun to play. (7/10)

  2. Excellent abstract placement game. Most gamers that I know enjoy this one. 7/10


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