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Altiplano Review


Quick Look:

Altiplano Board Game by Renegade Game Studios Box Art AlpacaDesigner: Reiner Stockhausen
Artist: Klemens Franz, Andrea Kattnig, Jeff Oglesby
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios, DLP Games
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 60-120 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Review:
Altiplano, a bag-building game similar in nature to the hit Orleans (it is by the same designer, after all), puts players in the Andes highlands (a.k.a the Altiplano, where The Emperor’s New Groove takes place) where resources are sparse and strategic planning is key to success. All resources are useful, from the more-than-common food to the hard-to-come-by glass, so no matter what your strategy, chances are you’ll have something to build off as you raise alpacas, catch fish, build roads, and take part in all the fun and exciting (yes, really) activities in which those on the Altiplano participate on a daily basis.*

*Cannot confirm they still live like this, so be sure to do your research before making such claims.

Also, there’s no denying lots of quotes from The Emperor’s New Groove will crop up while playing. Boom, baby!

Let me begin my review by saying I straight up love this game. I felt it was easy to jump into and kept me hooked from start to finish. The more I play, the more I love it. 

Those who know me are well aware of my love for games with a rich and engaging theme. While it may not look that engaging from the box, Altiplano's theme is, to me, wonderfully developed. True, it's not exciting in the same way as saving your city from an invading enemy force, but there is excitement in Altiplano. Making the most of your limited resources is, to me, an exciting prospect.

Put yourself in the shoes of Pacha, er...any of the workers whose role you undertake. You start with little to nothing. Yet, turn after turn, you transform small amounts of things into small amounts of other things. These things then turn into more things, and pretty soon, you've got yourself a plethora of things

But it's not just making something from nothing that's so engaging. It's the fact that resources are so limited, and building your bag-building engine is a delicate process, one you may not actually achieve to your preference depending on a number of outside factors, forcing you to rethink your strategy halfway through the game. For example, you may want to build a boat which would grant you your very first cacao, but then Kuzco next door builds it first, giving the all-powerful cacao to him!

Blast.

Welp, onward and upward, then. A minor setback, but there are so many different paths to take that can see your townsperson to victory. The boat idea fell through? Try buying an extension to your action board instead. Or take a job. Or store stuff away for the winter. All these things grant points, and all provide away to get the resources you not only want, but need to pull from your bag sooner rather than later.

Take placing resources in your warehouse, for example. When you do so, you lose the ability to use it for future actions. HOWEVER! Much like in any good deck-building game that has ways to trash cards from play (thus helping you get rid of cards that were useful early on but now just cumber up your hand), placing your now-unwanted resources in the warehouse not only gets them out of your hair (leaving extra room to draw the more useful resources), but can still help build up some massive points! 

I honestly can't get enough of Altiplano. It plays so smooth, the theme is rich and inviting (when's the last time a theme invited you to play, hm?), and the satisfaction of seeing all your hard work pay off is second to none. I think I've raved about this long enough (and no, this is not a paid advertisement. I really do like this game that much), but I'll continue discussing the various aspects of Altiplano further on, such as setup, gameplay, good, not-so-good, and final thoughts. 

Is Altiplano the game for you? Read on, fair gamer, and find out for yourself.

"Build your summer house somewhere else."


Altiplano Renegade Game Studios Alpaca Game SetupSetup:
Setup isn’t complicated, but there are a number of tokens to put out, so unless you have them all divided in separate baggies (which you won’t—unless you have a backlog of your own—because the baggie content in Alitplano is severely lacking), sorting them could take some time.

In a cacao shell, setup consists of placing the seven location tiles in a circle around the food and money tokens. Place the number of tokens and cards on the designated areas on the location tiles according to the number of players (the amount is labeled on the individual tile, which is awesome). Each player chooses a role tile and collects starting resources as stated on the tile. Players also start off with a container (for discarding used resources), a warehouse board, an action board, and a cloth bag.

Stack the extension tiles facedown, letter “D” at the bottom of the stack and “A” at the top. This stack of extensions acts as a timer, as the end-game is triggered when the stack is depleted. The other end-game trigger is when a location tile is depleted of all resources, including cards.

See? Setup wasn’t so bad (sorry if I scared you). Now you’re ready to bust a groove!

Rules and Gameplay:

Altiplano Board Game Renegade Game Studios Role Card Alpaca Farmer

While there is a lot to do in Altiplano, the rules are remarkably simple. Essentially, you place your resources on open spaces on your action board and then, going clockwise, players take one action by resolving an action on the location tile their character pawn occupies. Used resources go in your discard container. Once everyone has finished taking their turns (including one free movement; more can be taken by using a food token), the round ends.

Yup. Simple.

Now, there are more rules involved, but really, there’s not much else. Here are the four phases of the game:

1.     Drawing (tiles from bag)
a.     You may only draw as many tiles as your road’s level allows (upgrading your road is an action on the Road location tile).
2.    Planning (assigning tiles to action spaces, located on your action board)
a.     Decide how you want to use your resources.
3.    Actions
a.     Taken in turn order until all players have passed.
4.    Cleanup
a.     Here you may move unused resources back to your planning spaces. Beware, however, because doing so will keep you from drawing the maximum amount of tokens from your bag.

Many (but not all) resources are worth points, and you can get even more points by storing resources in your warehouse (although resources stored in the warehouse do not count for points, a slew of points may be obtained from storing stuff), completing jobs, building houses, and hiring (building?) boats.

Missions Expansion
Another scoring method comes from the included Missions Expansion. Before the game starts, each player is dealt three Mission cards. Each player chooses one card for themselves, then passes one of the remaining cards to the player on their left, and the last card goes to the player on their right. In this manner, players always have one secret mission and two semi-secret missions (i.e. one other player knows one of your missions, and another player knows the other).

Altiplano Renegade Game Studios Missions Expansion Cards

These cards provide bonus points for accomplishing certain tasks, such as being the first player to build a house, have a certain amount of resources at the end of the game, and so forth. Having played both with and without this expansion, I found that there’s really no good reason to play without it. After we finished one game, a player new to Altiplano commented how the Mission cards were very helpful for him (i.e. a new player). Because there is a lot going on, these cards provide some direction on where to start and, since pretty much all resources are useful for something no matter how far you are into the game, working towards these goals can help give direction to someone who may not have a clue as to where to begin. As for experienced players, the Mission cards provide variety (to an already diverse game) and more chances to experiment with strategies. Incomplete Mission cards don’t count against a player’s score, so even if players decide not to pursue that route, there’s no harm in it. In fact, it is still just as easy to win without using Mission cards as it is to win with them. And that, folks, is one thing I absolutely love about this game.

Theme and Mechanics:

Altiplano Renegade Game Studios Pacha I don't make deals with peasants!


Honestly, I never thought a lowly peasant’s life in the Andes Mountains would make a great board game, but when the sun hits that ridge just right, this game sings. And boy oh boy, the sun seems to be hitting that ridge just right all the dadgummed time. The theme is solid, and the mechanics fit the theme nicely.

Altiplano Renegade Game Studios Discard Container Tokens
Living that high in the Andes, resources aren’t so plenty, which makes everything you in your possession a valuable and necessary commodity. If you’ve never played a bag-building game (such as Orleans), then let me try and explain it as simple as possible. Much like a deck-builder, players in Altiplano use their starting resources to make new resources. Instead of consuming used resources (i.e. gone forever), they are sent to the player’s discard container, which they empty back into their draw bag once it’s empty. Thus, the more resources a player has (and the more variety), the more actions that player can take.

But wait! There’s more! Players control a single worker (farmer, miner, fisher, etc.), and on the main board (set up as a circle made up of various location tiles), this worker moves from location to location, only performing actions on the player board that corresponds to their current location. So, if a player wanted to exchange food for stone (hey, why not?) they would have to place their food tokens on the designated places on their player board (by the Mine icon), and their worker token guy must also be physically located on the Mine location tile on the main board. Moving more than once per turn costs resources, however, so allocating enough resources to be able to do enough actions to make your turn worthwhile takes some careful planning. This hybrid of resource management and movement compliment Altiplano very well, emphasizing the need to make the best of each and every turn.

Artwork and Components:

Altiplano Renegade Game Studios Alpaca Stone Ore Mine Location Tile

The artwork is simple, yet elegant. The location tiles consist of aerial views of the landscape depicted on the tile, so you can get a bird’s eye view of the Alitplano. The role tiles have individual characters drawn to fit their role, and the cards are, again, simple yet wonderful.

If I had to use one word to describe the feel the artwork brings to this game, that word would be “friendly.” As in, if I had to live in a rural area anywhere in the world, I would move here. The people look kind and friendly, the scenery is calming, and while there can be a race to score points, the gameplay feels relatively relaxed. I love it.

Altiplano Renegade Game Studios Broken Container
I had a little issue with one of the cardboard containers (see adjacent image). While minor and totally fixable with a bit of glue, it hurt my heart that the green container—my go-to color—was damaged. Still, it wouldn’t ever affect gameplay, and it was an isolated incident (freak accident, even). But, I felt that you, fair gamer, ought to know that was a thing. But worry not, because the components really are nice and sturdy, other than the aforementioned fluke.

The Good:

Altiplano Renegade Game Studios Alpaca First Player Marker
"No touchy!"

There are lots of ways to score points, making each game new and refreshing.

The mechanics and gameplay as a whole are solid.

The learning curve is surprisingly not too steep.

The grinning Alpaca first-player token makes every game a good game.

The more plays it gets, the more strategies fall into place.

The Emperor’s New Groove quotes that get thrown around throughout the game. (You threw off my groove!)

The Bad:
If you don’t like punching cardboard (and if not, why not?), then you aren’t going to appreciate the seemingly hundreds of punchboards included in the box. Personally, I find great satisfaction in saving all those tokens and cutouts from their cardboard prison.

Altiplano came with far too few baggies. Fortunately, I consolidate my games where I can and keep extras on hand for such occasions. Otherwise, the myriad tokens would be swimming free in the box as we speak. Of course, I could have snagged a few ziplock sandwich bags from the kitchen, but I’m not making lunch, so what’s the point? (Also, sandwich bags just don't look as good as those little baggies that come with games. Yes, I'm one of those people.)

Beware the player prone to analysis paralysis. With everything going on in Altiplano, playing with such people may require budgeting a bit of extra time. Maybe. Depends on your friends.

Final Thoughts:

Altiplano in all its glory! (Some assembly required.)

While it was a wee bit frightening to jump into the first game (there’s a lot of stuff…), the learning curve isn’t steep at all, once you get going. Time flies while playing Altiplano, and I always want the game to continue even after the end-game is triggered. The mechanics are solid, there are lots of different ways to score points (which keeps things fresh), and the Emperor’s New Groove quotes players find themselves saying don’t hurt one bit (Eh, Pacha?).

The more I play Altiplano, the more I love it, and the more I discover about the subtle nuances of the strategy and the game in general. While it may look like a lot at first, the icons and symbols are pretty clear as to what things do. We didn’t have to resort to the rulebook for explanations much at all, even during our first game (boo-yah!). While there is no “perfect game” (that I’m aware of), Altiplano comes close in its mechanics, aesthetics, replayability, and yes, even theme. Of course, this near-perfection is according to my game preferences, so it may very well be different for you. But, if you like lots of options for scoring points, undiluted strategy, and engaging gameplay time and time again, give Altiplano a shot.

Players Who Like:
If you like Orleans, you’ll like Altiplano. It’s similar in mechanics, yes, but it’s different enough that you’ll most likely want both in your game library. Fans of deck builders, lots of options wherewith to achieve victory, and alpacas will also find Altiplano to be a fun, engaging game.


Check out Altiplano on:

                  


About the Author:

Benjamin Kocher Author Everything Board Games Altiplano Review

Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding game designer. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with a rich, engaging theme. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Altiplano Review Altiplano Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on June 28, 2018 Rating: 5

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