Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Year Published: 2011
Number of Players: 2 to 5
Play Time: 90 to 180 minutes
Set-up Time: 5 to 10 minutes
Learning Curve: Medium
Ages: Rated 12 and up
Table Size: Medium to Large
At Gamestorm 16 I had the opportunity to play Belfort, an award-winning worker placement game published in the US by Tasty Minstrel Games.
In Belfort, players are competing to win control of several different city districts. To do so, they’ll use a variety of workers — namely elves, dwarves, and gnomes — to perform labor, gather resources, build new structures, and wrest control from other players.
Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG) gives us a pretty good overview of the game from their website:
Put your Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes to work in the Village and Guilds of Belfort to collect resources and build up the city!
Elves collect wood from the forest while Dwarves collect stone from the quarry. An Elf and a Dwarf together can collect Metal from the mines, and either one can collect Gold. Build buildings in the 5 districts of the pentagonal city and hire Gnomes to run them to gain their special abilities.
Belfort is a Worker Placement game with Area Majority scoring in each district as well as for each type of worker. Buildings give you influence in the districts as well as income, but taxes increase based on your score so the winning players will have to pay more than those behind! Manage your resources and gold well, choose your buildings wisely, and help build the city of Belfort!
Play occurs over 7 rounds, or 7 months in game time. Each round, players take turns placing their workers around the board, beginning with the starting player. After everyone has finished placing their workers, players are given a certain number of resources depending on how their workers were placed: elves may be placed to earn wood, dwarves may be placed to earn stone, elves and dwarves may be placed on one space together to earn iron, and either elves or dwarves may be placed to earn gold. Additionally, workers may be placed on any number of turn order locations; for example, it is possible to place in a Starting Player area and take control of the starting player position for the next round (handy!).
After resources are gathered, players take turn building or buying things. Each player has a hand of cards which represents different buildings, and each building has its own unique abilities. To unlock those abilities, players need to buy gnomes (generally at a cost of 3 gold, though there are ways to reduce that cost) and put the gnomes to work running the establishments.
After a certain number of rounds has passed, a scoring phase begins. Players earn points for having the most gnomes, elves, or dwarves, for having the most number of buildings in a given district (when you build a new building, you choose which of the five districts to place it in and place a marker there to indicate you control part of that zone), and so forth. After three scoring rounds have passed, the game ends.
One of the interesting things about Belfort is that players also need to pay taxes for the buildings they control. The more you own, the more taxes you pay. This means players who are ahead of the game in the beginning may wind up paying more, which has some impact on whether or not they’ll be able to maintain their lead.
Belfort also has a number of guilds around the city. During the worker placement phase, players can place a worker on one of the guilds and gain control of its special ability. Some abilities allow a player to earn more workers to place that round, others lessen the cost of certain resources, and others allow you to attack other players by stealing their resources or altering who controls which territories.
The end result is a varied game with a lot of different mechanics to keep track of. If you can master all of the different aspects of the game, you can put yourself in a strong position to win. If you find it difficult to keep several different balls in the air at once, it may be a bit tricky for you.
Belfort is a surprisingly engaging worker-placement game. It’s much more than just placing your figures on different parts of the board and trying to cut your opponents off at the pass. There is a little bit of that — only one person can have the starting player position or control one of the guilds on any given round, so it’s first come first served — but there are a lot of different strategies that may be employed to win the game.
With all of its different aspects, Belfort seems like it would have a lot of replay value. I only got a chance to play it one and a half times (the first time was cut short by our fellow players needing to head to another game) but I could already see how things change depending on the players and the board set-up. Guilds, for example, are not static; there are a number of them, and they changed during game set-up. Depending on which guilds are available during the game, you may either be playing a strategy of earning the most workers or a strategy of purloining your opponent’s goods.
If someone were to ask me to play a game of Belfort with them again, I’d definitely give it another go. It’s a fun game with a lot of potential. Fans of worker placement and strategy games in general will find a lot of replay value.
Belfort is a great worker placement strategy game, but it does have a few concerns in regards to accessibility.
In-game Text: There isn’t a lot of in-game text, but there’s just enough to make it frustrating for someone with a print disability. Players will need to be able to identify the names of the buildings they have in their hand, the names of guilds on the board, and certain other aspects of the game. As I was playing at a convention and had no means of modifying the game, I asked other players to help identify these things. The game doesn’t seem to benefit from a great deal of secrecy, so playing with an open hand and getting sighted assistance is an option.
Picture Dependency: Some of the game mechanics are depicted with pictures, which may make them difficult to discern for someone with a visual impairment. It would be possible to Braille some of the cards with shorthand representations for stones, wood, iron, gold, and locks.
Game board separate from player space: There are two spaces to keep track of: your own personal tokens and play mat area and the game board. Generally the game board is placed in the center of the table for everyone to see. If you have a visual impairment or mobility issues it may be difficult to reach the game board or to see what is on it. I was able to ask for sighted descriptions, and I handed tokens to other players to place them for me.
Fine Manipulation: There are a lot of small game pieces, tiles, and cards to go around. Many times, cards are placed flat on the table and tokens are placed on top, so it’s hard to use a card holder to manage your hand.
The blocks which represent your workers are reasonably sized, but may still pose a challenge for people with motor impairments. One thing I would give Belfort credit for is its use of different shapes for different tokens; elves are round, dwarves are square, gnomes have their own shape, etc. This makes it easy for someone with limited vision to tactilely differentiate between the pieces, and that’s certainly a plus.
Color Dependency: Like most board games, Belfort uses colors to differentiate between one player’s tokens and another player’s. Color blind players may choose to pick a color with a contrasting shade. Otherwise, the game does not make heavy use of color dependent mechanics, which I appreciate.