Thanks to Gadabout Games for providing a review copy of this game.
Hi Diddily Ho, Neighborino! It’s time for a
Turf War is an upcoming two-player game from designer Dan Nichols, to be published by Gadabout Games pending the results of their Kickstarter campaign (which launches tomorrow). In the game, you and your opponent will be trying to build the best yard, putting in all kinds of plants and other features, as well as trying to sway your neighbors into agreeing that yours is the best.
Each player gets nine dirt cards, a home/away card, a garage card, a piggy bank card, and a money card. The dirt will be laid out in a 3×3 grid. You also get to start with a rake, a tool box, and a watering can as your starting hand. Five cards are dealt out into a store line, and five neighbors are dealt into their own line.
You’ll start your turn by doing any start-of-turn actions you may have. Then, you’ll decide whether to be home or away for the round. If you decide to stay home, you get to play a card from your hand onto any yard card. If you’re playing a tool or pest card, you can play anywhere, but anything else must be played on a spot that has available place signs (a green plus). You can play in another player’s yard, but they must be away if you do, you sneaky person. Different cards do different things – green plants allow you to play more cards give you points or other actions; blue ornaments give you different scoring opportunities and the occasional immediate action; gray features give you various ongoing actions; orange tools give you immediate actions and then go right into your garage; and purple pests will usually devastate whomever gets them in the form of losing stuff or losing points.
You can also sway a neighbor while at home. The five available neighbors all have a special condition that will allow you to take them. If you fulfill the condition, or can pay the bribe, you claim the neighbor which is worth five points and can never be taken from you. A swayed neighbor is NOT replaced.
If you choose to be away for your turn, you first work. This adds $5 to your piggy bank. You will then be able to buy a card from the market. Purchased cards go into your garage. When you return home from being away (and only then), you can pick up all cards in your garage and add them to your hand. You can spend as many consecutive turns home or away that you want.
At the end of your turn, you do any end-of-turn actions, and then play passes to your opponent.
The game is over when the five neighbors have all been swayed. The player who has the most points wins.
I got a pre-production copy of this game, but it’s a very good one. The art is nice, and each card does a fairly good job of telling you what it is. If there’s a question, you only need to go to the game’s website where every card is described in detail. All cards are square, and I have to give Gadabout Games a LOT of credit for the amount of cards they were able to cram into such a tiny box.
I like the theme of this game. There aren’t a whole lot of yard building games out there, and I kind of like it when games address this sort of mundane task. Not everything has to be about apocalyptic battles between good and evil with hordes of miniatures and epic battles between hulking fantasy creatures. Sometimes, it’s nice just to decide between a gnome and a yard flamingo.
At the same time, the competition aspect of this game yields some underhanded dealings as you try to make the best yard. This leads to some take that mechanisms as you release pests into your opponent’s yard, but only while they’re away. More on that later, but thematically, it must be REALLY important to you to have the best yard. Or your neighbor’s a real jerk. I don’t know.
There are a lot of good ideas in this game. The home/away mechanism makes it clear what you’ll be doing on this turn – playing cards or buying cards. Like a traditional deckbuilder, you’re trying to get the right cards at the right time to maximize your score, and to get cards that will work together well. But instead of drawing a hand and dealing with what you have, the only source of randomness here is the order the cards come into the market. Every card you have is in your hand when you return home, and you get to decide the best times to use them.
This randomness, however, is one of the weak points of the game to me. And it relates to the take that aspect I talked about earlier. Pests are used to destroy parts of your opponent’s yard, and they can be played when your opponent is away. If you are lucky enough to have one come out just before your turn, you can swoop in and buy something that can absolutely devastate your opponent. The Termite Colony, for example, can be played on a space and force a player to trash every non-pest card underneath it. So, if a player has been working on a space with a Mighty Oak, which gives you 2 points for every card on its space, they’ll just lose everything, and there’s not a thing you can do about it. And the termites cost only 2 money, which means you’ll definitely be able to afford them since you get 5 money every time you work. And it’s not just the Pests. There’s a tool called the Crowbar, which allows you to take a card out of another player’s garage. These things in themselves wouldn’t be so bad, but there’s no protection against them. There should be some kind of Pest Spray you can use to block a Pest, or the Crowbar should be left at the scene of the crime after being used. Something like that.
I realize that, particularly in a two-player game, there’s going to be a certain amount of direct conflict. My problem is just the extent of the destruction to someone else’s engine for practically nothing. I suppose you could just stay at home the whole game, but then you’re not getting the stuff you need to win.
Anyway, on to happier things. Being able to sway neighbors is a good aspect, as it gives you some mini-goals to shoot for. This is something I always appreciate – games that just tell me that I can do whatever I want start to annoy me because I don’t know where to start. But, give me some goals, something concrete I can work on, and I’m happier because I know where to point my engine.
This leads to another issue with the game, although this one is more an issue with the current rulebook rather than the play of the game itself. The rules state that “when the last neighbor is swayed, the game is over.” I read that, and assumed that someone needed to sway every neighbor in the game. And so, it was a little shocking when our first game took around 90 minutes, instead of the 20 on the box. When I later watched the how to play video, they said the game ends when the fifth neighbor is drafted. And so I figured out that the five neighbors that are revealed at the start of the game are the five neighbors you’ll have for the rest of it (though the For Sale Sign lets you get new ones). The rules never say don’t refresh the line, but to be fair, they never say DO. So, yeah, I see where my mistake was, but I still think it needs some clarification.
Having the five neighbors only makes the game much tighter as you know exactly what you’re aiming for, and know there aren’t going to be any more (unless, of course, someone makes use of the For Sale Sign). So everyone is trying to get the same ones, and you can try to be strategic about which cards you take. Overall, it’s a fairly tactical game because you really have to react to changes every turn.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? If you don’t mind some fairly vicious take that in your tactical two-player card games, I think Turf War is one to check out. It’s got a unique concept and does some interesting things mechanically. Plus, it’s super compact despite the amount of cards you get. The Kickstarter campaign goes live on August 2, so take a look if you’re interested.
Thanks again to Gadabout Games for providing a review copy of Turf War, and thanks to you for reading!