Kraut & Rüben
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Each player gets a card listing the goals of what to plant in his/her garden. All cards are equivalent but different. The vegetable on the top row is your 'key vegetable'. You want to have exactly 2 of your key vegetables in your garden to score the most points. The two vegetables under it are your scoring vegetables - get as many of these as possible. Each card also has a minus vegetable - you lose two points for each of these in your garden.
The game consists of picking a random tile and placing it in one of the gardens in the middle of the table. There is one garden for each player in the game plus one extra garden. When playing tiles, you generally try to make a garden that goes well with your card. Once in the game (and only once) you forego your normal turn and claim one of the gardens as your own. Once you pick it, you are stuck with it. Other players may continue to plant vegetables in your garden if they wish. As soon as your garden is filled, you tally your points and wait for the other gardens to get filled. The player with the most points wins.
There are also dandelions, clovers, slugs and moles to make the game even more interesting. This is a fast paced game that doesn't require too much brain power. You can go for the quick win or try to ruin your opponents garden (watch out - your opponent might retaliate). Lots of fun!
This game felt so familiar upon first play, that I racked my limited memory for references. I couldn't think of anything specific, but the "growing and developing" theme is well trusted, and the gridded board seemed a giveaway. Nonetheless, Kraut & Rüben works well on its own merits, and the following should explain why:
Each player receives a merit card, in which various vegetables are rated, with one earning more points than the others. The table is then littered with face down chits, depicting these vegetables, weeds and snails. In turn, players draw a chit and place it on one of the "garden" boards which are filled up during the game.
So, typically, Axel (with a preferred tomato plot) selects a lettuce (which is his bonus vegetable), and places it face up on a garden. As these vegetable plots begin to take shape, it will soon become obvious (even to me) that one will provide optimum points. You can, at any time during your turn (even in the first round), grab a garden and retain it as your personal property. Early commandeering is not recommended, however, because the other players can easily sabotage the plot with a surplus of the wrong type of vegetable, weeds or the snail, who covers a previously placed chit.
Although a selected garden becomes the player's exclusive property, it is still "common ground" until just one space is left, which can only be filled by the owner. However, snails and moles (dealt initially; same effect) can still wreak havoc or aid your own efforts (covering weeds or the wrong type of vegetable).
The game ends when all players have before them a completed garden. Cross-referencing each vegetable on the merit card with the vegetable chits in play gives plus or minus points, with further allowance for clover, dandelion, snails and moles. Axel, with three tomatoes as his prime vegetable, checks down the fourth column for his crop's worth.
The frustration of seeing a nicely developed garden snatched one turn before you intended to take it, and then subsequent frantic efforts to resurrect a fading plot are at the heart of the system. The bluff element has been thoroughly developed, so that an early "grab" should be punished, and too diffident an attitude will be exposed.
Kraut & Rüben looked ripe for early dismissal because of the uninspiring theme, but decent graphics and solid components place this allotment-fest solidly in Kosmos' appreciating tactical catalogue.