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The settlement of the country is the work of the players in their role as noble builders in Milestones!
In this game, players work together to build roads, create marketplaces, and erect houses. With each milestone set along the way, they move further into the country.
But while they build together, when it comes to procuring construction materials, money, and grain each player is on his own. Thus, you must carefully develop your own network of goods, trade and colonization materials and optimize its use cleverly. Whoever also develops a keen sense of timing can grab the most valuable building sites and in the end win out.
When one thinks of famous game designers, the names that come to mind are usually Knizia, Kramer, Moon, Wallace and a few others. One name that perhaps should come to mind is that of Stefan Dorra. With over three dozen games to his credit – many of them quite popular – Dorra can certainly be listed amongst the most prolific of designers.
Milestones is Dorra's latest creation, this time done in partnership with Ralf Zur Linde. The two have collaborated on three previous designs, so it appears that a lasting partnership has been formed. Published by Eggertspiele and Stronghold Games, Milestones challenges players to colonize a new territory, requiring them to "build roads, set milestones, erect houses and establish marketplaces." This is a community affair, with all players contributing to the construction of the new town. However, each player is responsible for collecting and utilizing his own workers and resources, and the competition for the choicest areas in the growing town can be fierce. Proper timing is essential if one is to grab prime locations and rise to prominence and power in the new township.
The components are all high quality and easy to understand. The board depicts a large grassland area whereupon the town will be developed. A grid forming dozens of triangular plots is superimposed upon the board, with milestone locations set at the three corners of each triangular plot. These locations will earn players victory points when developing the city with milestones, houses and marketplaces. Bonus tokens are placed inside fifteen of the plots as indicated on the board. These tokens will earn the players extra victory points during the game and could earn even more points at game's end. The board also has serpentine scoring chart to track victory points.
Each player receives a personal board whereupon he will place recruited workers and move his playing piece, collecting resources and performing actions accordingly. This aspect of the game is quite clever and gives players considerable flexibility regarding the actions they choose and strategies they pursue. To begin the game, players each receive one coin and draft two workers, placing them onto two of the eight worker spaces located along the top edge of their boards.
Each turn, a player MUST move his playing pawn twice around his personal board. The board has eight worker spaces, three action spaces and the home castle. Landing on a worker space entitles the player to a resource of the type produced by that worker: stone, wood, sand, grain or coin. Further, the player also receives another resource for each matching resource he passed over on that turn. So, if a player passed over two woodsmen before landing on another woodsman, he receives three wood resources. Thus, there is an incentive to obtain multiple identical workers, which gives the player the option of collecting multiple resources with one move. Since timing is important in this game, this can be particularly advantageous. Of course, players will also want to collect different types of workers so they can have a variety of resources available. This, too, is important, as the variety of items that can be constructed require different types of resources. Choosing which workers to acquire and how to arrange them on one's board can be tough. There is another incentive when collecting and arranging workers. Worker tiles are actually "double-wide", depicting two different side-by-side workers. Each side has a numerical value ranging from 1 – 8. If a player manages to arrange his workers in sequential order, he will receive a coin each time his pawn ends a move on the Trading House. Money can be very tight in this game, so that one coin per turn can be very valuable. However, arranging tiles in sequential order can often upset a nice run of identical workers that would provide multiple resources with just one move. Again, another tough choice has to be made each time a worker tile is acquired or removed.
In addition to the worker spaces wherein players collect resources, there are four more spaces:
Trading House. A player may perform multiple actions when landing on the Trading House. First, as described above, he receives a coin if his workers are in sequence. The player may then hire workers, buy goods (two coins for one resource) and/or sell goods (two resources for one coin). When hiring workers, the player pays two coins and selects any one tile from the five worker tiles in the face-up display. He must place the newly acquired tile on his personal board. Previously placed workers may not be moved to accommodate this new tile. However, tiles may be completely or partially covered, causing an ever-changing array of workers on a player's board.
Board of Works. If you want to build, land here. The player may construct a street, house and/or marketplace, each of which requires a different combination of two resources. Building earns the player victory points and contributes to the town's expansion.
Marketplaces are additionally important in that grain may be sold there, and streets may begin or branch there.
Note that players may construct multiple items on a turn and in any order they desire. Finding the best possible combinations can yield an appreciable number of victory points and scoop prime real estate from your eager opponents.
When constructing a milestone or marketplace, the player may be able to acquire a bonus token that is located in an adjacent plot. The token can also be taken by building a house directly in the lot where it is located. Bonus tokens match workmen, so a player must have a matching workman present on his board in order to acquire the token. The token is placed on the worker (each worker can sport only one bonus token) and each time the player collects a resource from that worker, he receives a victory point. These bonus tokens may also yield points at the end of the game.
Mill. A player may spend two grain resources to supply a previously constructed marketplace with flour, placing a flour marker on the marketplace token. Each marketplace may only support one grain token. The victory points earned can be significant, as the player chooses any two uncovered milestone markers and receives their sum in victory points. Further, the player receives a coin … and I have already mentioned how valuable those are!
Castle. The space of reckoning. A player's pawn MUST stop here on each circuit around the board. The player must discard down to three resources and one of his workers departs. The player must cover the worker with a single-wide tile. Thus, players must consistently acquire new workers to replace those who depart each turn.
Play continues in this fashion until one player passes the victory point threshold as indicated on the track. This threshold varies with the number of players. The round is completed, after which players may earn bonuses based on the workers still in their employment. Each of the five categories of workers is examined, and players with the most workers in each category earn five victory points. Typically, a game is played to completion in just over an hour or so.
Milestones is a game that continues to intrigue me. My first playing left me ambivalent, but subsequent playings increased my interest and appreciation. I enjoy the decisions that need to be made. Choosing when and which workers to recruit and where to place them on your board are critical decisions. Do you recruit identical workers so you can have an abundance of one type of resource, trading them for coins as needed? Do you instead recruit a variety of workers so you can collect an assortment of resources at the expense of the option to garner numerous resources in one move?
Where to move your pawn is even more important. Do you take your time and slowly move along the workers, collecting the resources needed for construction? Or, do you rush through so as to beat your opponents to lucrative plots? When do you delay by moving slowly so your opponents will construct the road and marketplace networks that you can subsequently take advantage of the new locations?
Even though these decisions are not always agonizing, it is the ongoing necessity of making decisions that makes the game challenging and intriguing.
There is some creativity and cleverness in deciding what to construct and where to make placements. Sometimes the choice is obvious, but often players can vary their construction and placements to grab even more lucrative locations than what was apparent. Control over the path of the road network does decrease when playing with more players, and there is the potential of the "weak player" syndrome wherein a less skilled player can make moves that set-up an opponent for lucrative placements. Fortunately, these drawbacks are not sufficiently bothersome to detract from what is a good game.
Stefan Dorra has designed an impressive library of games, many of which I have played and enjoyed. Sure, there have been some of which I was not enamored, but that is true with any designer. Milestones is another solid design from this prolific designer, and may be one of his best.