Under The Microscope – Homesteaders

Abstract:  Homesteaders is a resource management game with auction and worker placement mechanics.  In the game, players are building a city beginning with a single homestead.  They will bid on building permits, build building, and receive resources, victory points, and abilities from the buildings.  The player with the most victory points wins.

Introduction:  Homesteaders was designed by Alex Rockwell and is published by Tasty Minstrel Games.  Players are pioneers in the American West in the 1800’s.  Each is trying to build a city starting with their single homestead or farm.  They must hire workers to tend their land and later run their stores and businesses.  This earns players money, victory points, and resources.  But workers must be paid.  Money enables players to grow their homestead to a settlement to a city.  If players use their resources wisely, they could be declared mayor of the city.

The game board

Materials & Methods:

Materials (Components):This game comes with a boat load of stuff.  The game board contains the auction and railroad development track.  There is a player screen for each player.  The screen has a reminder of the game turn on the back.  There are homestead tiles for each player in red, green, yellow, and blue.  Each player receives a homestead tile, a worker meeple, six silver, and two wooden cubes of their color.

Auction Tiles – These tiles are what are actually auctioned off during the auction phase.  There are several types representing the types of buildings in the game.  There are also special tiles that give immediate benefits when won.

Building Tiles- The rest of the tiles (and there are a lot) are building tiles marked either Settlement, Settlement/Town, Town, or City indicating the phase in which they are available. There is an additional type, Special, which become available after the Settlement phase.  Each building has several aspects.  It has a name like Market or Bank.  It has a victory point value, a cost in resources, an income area, and possible a bonus area.

There are a lot of  cardboard tokens – trade tokens, victory tokens, debt tokens, railroad track tokens, and silver ($) tokens.

Awesome components!

Now we come to the most awesome components – the wooden resources.  Cowboy worker meeples, painted cow meeples, gold coins, copper ingots, iron beams, wooden planks, and apples.  These are quality custom bits that really bring out the theme of the game.  These are used to ‘build’ or pay for buildings.

The game comes with a four page rule pamphlet, a start player tile, several reference tiles, and two wooden cubes in each player color.

Methods (Game play):  Each game of Homesteaders consists of 10 rounds.  Each round is composed of three phases – Income, Auction, and Building.  In the income phase, players allocate their workers to their properties’ income area(s).  Once all workers are placed, players collect their income – be it money, resources, trade tokens, or victory points.  After collecting income, each player pays their workers one silver each (to the bank) per worker.  That ends phase one.

Phase 2 is the Auction Phase.  Each round there is an auction for I call building permits.  These tiles indicate what types of properties are able to build that round.  There is one less auction than there are players.  Players can bid on an auction or opt out.  If they choose to opt out, they move forward on the Railroad Development track, which I will get to in a minute.  Players vie for the building permits, upping their bids until there are no more raised bids.  One interesting thing is if you are out bid on an auction you have the option to move to another active auction or more to the Railroad Development Track.  Once the winner of each auction is determined they paid their bid price for their building permit. They then select the building type indicated on their permit.  Periodically, there are also non-building tiles up for auction.  These give an immediate benefit like an extra worker or victory points.

If you can’t afford to stay in an auction you can take debt or sell resources in the market place.  Taking a debt chit gets you two silver but it takes 5 silver to pay back.    Debt must be paid for by or at the end of the game or you receive negative points.  Now to the marketplace.

The marketplace is used to buy or sell resources for silver at rates listed on Market Reference cards.  You can sell resources to get silver to pay for your auction bid.  You can do this at anytime.

If you choose not to bid in an auction you move your cube forward on the Railroad Development Track.  Each space on the track gives you the pictured resource when you move onto it.

A building tile

Phase 3 is the Building Phase.  The building permits have three types – Industrial, Residential, and Commercial.  These are the three types of building available.  Auction winners choose a building based on the type of building permit they won.  They then pay the building cost in resources shown on the building tile.  If there is an immediate effect/benefit they take that.  The buildings are added to the player’s play area or tableau.  Each building has an income that is activated when workers are placed on it in the

Income phase.  It may also have automatic income that the player receives each round without having to activate with a worker.

As mentioned the game consists of ten rounds.  Rounds 1 through 4 are the Settlement rounds.  Only Settlement and Settlement/Town buildings are available for purchase in these rounds.  After round 4 the Settlement only tiles are removed.  The Town building tiles are added, available for purchase now.  Also available is a new type of building – Special.  Special buildings are high cost, high victory point buildings.  In rounds 9 and 10 only the City tiles are available.

After round 10, victory points are added up and the winner determined.  Victory points come from the point value on buildings, gold, cows, copper, and victory point chits.  Debt tokens are negative points – one for one token, 2 for the second to total 3 negative points.  This increase incrementally for each debt token.  Points are totaled and the player with the most victory points wins.

Discussion:  I like this game a lot.  I was a bit apprehensive when I opened the box and saw the condition of some of the bits.  Tasty Minstrel had some unforseen issues with the first company that produced the game.  But Tasty Minstrel stepped up and fixed things quickly.  The second edition, due out any day now, will not have those problems.

Homesteaders in play

My first reading of the rules was a bit confused.  It took a second read for things to cleared up.  Set up is easy and fairly quick.  Game play is smooth and fast.  The theme is very well supported by the art and the components.  You can really imagine that you are building a town in the old west.  The game is easy to teach and learn but it has surprising depth.  It’s a subtle game that sneaks up on you. On first glance, it doesn’t appear to have the complexity that it does.  The game moves so fast that you have to think quickly to get your resource engine working so you can buy the needed buildings.

The interplay between the players in the auctions adds a lot of fun and strategy.  Can you outbid your friend to get that one property that you NEED to get your strategy going?  Is it worth taking debt?  Manipulating your workers to get the resources you need at the right time is tricky and the heart of the game.  You have to be flexible as a lost auction can crash your plans.  Resource management is the key.  Get your engine going soon or you’ll get left behind.  Because the game only lasts about an hour.  Several in my game group like the game quite a bit and one purchased it after only one play.  The second edition will be published soon.

Please visit the Tasty Minstrel site to learn more about Homesteaders.

Homesteaders is a fun and fast game that has enough depth and strategy to satisfy gamers.  Homesteaders is published by Tasty Minstrel Games.

Results:  4 out of 5 microscopes

Some of the pictures used in this review were sourced from Boardgame Geek.

One thought on “Under The Microscope – Homesteaders

  1. Great review! I love that you’ve started adapting the format of a research article into your Microscope reviews; that’s just so cool!

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