Before the Wind
English language edition of Vor Dem Wind
List Price: $30.00
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(Worth 2,700 Funagain Points!)
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A fleet of commerce ships lies aside the quays, waiting to be loaded with valuable goods. An assortment of goods will fill the captain's bill, as his crew readies the ship for the sea.
You are a prominent merchant trying to fill your warehouse with the goods these captains need to fill their holds. A ship's captain will only accept goods from one merchant, so quickly collecting the right combination of goods is the key to victory. Fill your warehouse with care and spend your guilders with prudence!
Tarry not, and let not a moment pass before you load your goods, for the fleet will leave the harbor with the whim of the winds! If you wait too long, your precious goods may spoil before you fill a captain's hold!
Can you keep your merchant empire running Before the Wind? Or will the winds of Fortune blow ill upon you?
In the age of sail, the wind was paramount. Expert sailors became adept at “reading” the weather and learning when the winds would be favorable for sailing. Merchants servicing these ships also had to learn such skills, and it was always wise to load ships with the required goods and commodities before the wind would arrive, necessitating their sailing. Such is the theme of Phalanx’s new game, Before the Wind.
Designed by newcomer Thorsten Landsvogt, Before the Wind is a card game that challenges players to obtain commodities, load them into their warehouses, and fulfill the demands of the ships in harbor before they set sail. It is at once challenging and intriguing, offering players numerous important decisions and paths to pursue. Indeed, it is one of the best Phalanx games I’ve played to date.
The game is comprised of nearly three hundred cards, split into numerous decks. There are different decks for commodities (apples, cheese, spice and cloth), purchase, storage, shipment, ships and guilders. Each of these decks are separated, which can be a bit difficult as the artwork on the reverse of each card is very similar and bears the same, dark gray tones. While the artwork is brooding and atmospheric, it does make distinguishing between the various decks difficult. Fortunately, this problematic situation does diminish with repeated play.
Four large and three small ship cards are revealed, each listing the commodities required to fill that ship. Large ships require the depicted four goods, while small ships will require one or two specific goods. Of course, fulfilling the requirements of larger ships earn more victory points, which can range from 12 – 20 points. Smaller ships earn far less, but they are easier to fill. Each player receives two commodities of their choice, twenty-two guilders, and a warehouse plaque that has space for eight commodities.
Each turn, the active player – which rotates each turn – selects four cards to reveal from the purchase, storage and shipment decks. The player is free to choose which decks from which to reveal the cards, but may only select a maximum of two cards from any one deck. This presents the player with some extremely interesting choices, and offers him the opportunity to be quite wicked. I’ll explain this in a bit.
Purchase cards generally allow the player to take the depicted commodities. Storage cards allow the player to place the indicated number of cards into his warehouse for the price listed. This price can range from a low of four guilders for two commodities, to a high of eighteen guilders for four cards. Finally, shipping cards allow the player to either fulfill the requirements of a ship by discarding the corresponding commodities from his warehouse and taking the ship for victory points, or simply taking the indicated amount of guilders from the bank. This latter option is quite useful when a player is low on funds.
In turn order, each player may then claim one of the revealed cards, or make an offer for a card previously taken that round. For example, if Rhonda takes a purchase card, the next player has the choice of either taking one of the remaining cards, or making an offer in guilders to Rhonda for her card. If the player opts to make an offer for her card, then each remaining player who has not already taken a card may also make an offer. Rhonda either must accept one of the offers and surrender the card to that player, or keep the card and pay any one of the players who made an offer. She is not required to pay the player who made the highest offer, which really opens some interesting options and tactics during the course of the game. For instance, in one of my games, I was ready to load my goods onto a ship, but desperately needed the one shipping card that was revealed that round. An opponent grabbed the card first, but I was flush with cash, so made an offer of eighteen guilders for the card, which I knew the player could not match. Another player knew that if I obtained the card, I would be able to complete two shipping contracts, so he offered just a few guilders. The astute player accepted this offer, thereby denying me the card. Nasty!
Once an offer is made and resolved, the two players involved are then “safe”, and the claimed card cannot be challenged again. When all players have either taken a card or accepted cash for one, players resolve the cards in turn order. Turn order is particularly important when it comes to shipping, as once a ship’s commodity requirements are met, it is removed from the display. This could leave a player coming later in turn order “high and dry” if the ship he was hoping to load has already been filled.
A round ends when only two or fewer ships remain in the display. The wind has arrived, and the remaining fleet departs. This is where things get even nastier. All commodity cards still in the players’ hands spoil and are discarded. Some commodities in the players’ warehouses will also spoil: all apples are discarded, and half of all cheese and spice. Only cloth remains untarnished. The advice here is to use the commodities if you can, especially apples, but at the very least try to get them into your warehouse before the ships set sail. New ship cards are revealed, and a new round is conducted in the same fashion.
Adding spice – and sometimes frustration – to the proceedings are action cards, which are mixed into the three main decks. These actions can be used immediately upon acquisition, or saved for future rounds. They provide a wide range of special abilities. Some allow players to preserve the specified number of commodities from round-to-round. Others allow players to acquire commodities and load them directly into their warehouse, albeit at a hefty price. There are some which allow players to swap resources with another player’s warehouse, while some allow the player to sell commodities for three guilders apiece. This latter card is particularly powerful when the end of a round is approaching and a player has a handful of commodities. Only one action card can be played per player turn, and the proper timing of their use can be critical.
The game ends at the end of a round when one player has acquired 50-points or more worth of ships. This generally takes three rounds, which takes about 1 ¼ - 1 ½ hour to play to completion. Some have complained that this is a tad bit long, and I reluctantly agree. The game lasts just a smidgen longer than I feel it should, but this could easily be corrected by reducing the number of victory points required to end the game.
I must admit that I have been disappointed with numerous Phalanx titles. Many of them seem lacking in excitement or challenge. Fortunately, Before the Wind does not suffer from this condition. I find the game to be filled with important decisions, many of which require proper timing and clever manipulation. The method of challenging the selection of cards is quite clever, and rife with opportunity for clever play. For example, if an opponent has his warehouse loaded and appears ready to fulfill a ship’s requirements, the player can opt to not reveal any shipping cards, thus denying that opponent the chance to ship. On the other hand, revealing a shipping card may well be enough enticement to prevent him from attempting to steal the card you desire. Further, the astute player will keep abreast of the financial situation of his opponents, and use this knowledge to his advantage when making offers or when attempting to prevent an opponent from securing a particular card. Careful observation, proper timing, and clever play are all required to achieve success and victory. Sure, luck plays a role, but it is a small one. Victory will generally go to the player who best executes his plan and takes advantage of the opportunities that arise.
Before the Wind is a fine design, filled with tension, time pressure and important decisions. It is one of the better releases from Phalanx games, and an impressive debut from Thorsten Landsvogt. If Before the Wind is any indication, he has a bright future as a game designer.
It's almost as if the name of the game Before the Wind (Mayfair Games, 2007 - Torsten Landsvogt) was made for jokes ("Break the Wind", etc.) Normally I roll my eyes at this sort of thing; but when I saw the box, I was sure that any sort of humor would be wonderful. Once again we have another drab theme of trading in times of yore, with lackluster artwork to help lull us to sleep. When I got the game, I sighed heavily, hoping that the game would overcome this overused and tiresome theme.
Fortunately, Before the Wind is actually a rather intriguing game, allowing players to load ships with goods while actively annoying the snot out of each other. It's a fairly intense, mean trading game, and yet I enjoyed it. What could have been a series of endless auctions turned out to be a quick, feisty, decision-filled game. The theme actually works well, including the spoiling goods; and while I yearn for something that's different thematically, I actually enjoy this game - an especially good three or four player game.
Each player is a merchant trying to fill their warehouse with the goods that different captains need. Each player takes a warehouse card, with eight spots to store goods. Several ships are placed face up on the board (determined by number of players). Ships are either large, which need four goods to fill, or small, which need one or two goods. Three stacks of cards: Purchase, Storage, and Shipment/Income are shuffled and placed in three piles on the table. Next to that are the four piles of goods cards (Spices, Cheeses, Apples, and Cloth) as well as piles of guilders (of which players receive 22). Players take two goods of their choice and add them to their hand; the starting token is given to the last player on a ship, and the first round is ready to begin.
The starting player turns over a number of cards from the three stacks equal to the number of players. They must turn over cards from at least two different stacks, and only two cards maximum from any one stack. (i.e. In a four player game, Sam can turn over 2 Purchase cards, one Storage card, and one Shipment/Income card). Beginning with the starting player, each player chooses one of the face-up cards, placing it in front of them.
The player can take a card that is face up in front of another player but must offer them an amount of Guilders. Everyone else who does not have a card yet may also offer Guilders, and the player with the card can either take the amount from any player, giving them the card and taking the money, OR paying one of the amounts offered to the offering player, keeping the card for themselves. Either way, the card involved is turned face down and can no longer be chosen for the remainder of the round. The player who took money is also out of the remainder of the round. Once all players have a card or Guilders, then cards are played in clockwise order. After the cards are played, the starting token passes to the next player, and players start choosing cards again.
Each card has a different action:
This continues until there are two or less ships still in the harbor at the end of a game turn. At this point, all remaining ships leave and are discarded. Each player then must check to see if any of their goods spoil. All good cards in hands must be gotten rid of, as well as all Apples in the warehouse, and half of the Spices and Cheeses in the warehouses, rounded down. New ships are turned up, and a new round begins. Play continues until one player reaches a certain amount of points (50 in a two player game, 60 in a three to four player game), at which point the player with the most points is declared the winner!
Some comments on the game…
Not for the easily stressed, Before the Wind is a highly interactive resource gathering game. It fits its blasé theme well and will please those who like to interact with their opponents a great deal. While I can see it fading into the sunset in several years, it's a game that will keep me occupied for now - one that allows me to actively gauge what my opponents are doing and keeping me on the edge of my seat the entire game.
"Real men play board games"