Roads and houses and markets, oh my! The Lord of the Manor has tasked you with developing his lands. But you’re not the only one with a fat government contract. As you all work to blaze trails, build settlements, and supply them with food, can you reach the choicest spots before your opponents? Gather material to build, but don’t get too greedy lest your liege decide to tax your excess. Because in this game, all roads lead to a non-descript medieval castle.
How It Plays
Milestones is a resource-management game with an interesting use of the rondel mechanic. Instead of one shared rondel, each player has their own board to travel round and round. As they do, they’ll collect resources, build infrastructure to score points, and pay homage to the landlord. The interesting hurdle in this not atypical race is that your player board is frequently changing.
The rondels are really the heart, soul, and focus of the game. Each turn, you stop at two places along your rondel, allowing you to either collect goods or spend them. Across the top half of your player board are eight empty spots which you’ll fill with workers over the course of the game. Workers come on tiles, two per token, and so take up two spots when placed on your rondel. Each individual worker is identified with a resource he produces (wood, sand, stone, grain, or gold) as well as a separate numerical value (1-8). You begin the game with four workers by drafting two tiles from a common stock, and will be purchasing and losing others throughout play. Placing and keeping workers in numerical order, regardless of gaps in sequence or consecutive duplicates, will reap a small reward.
The bottom half of your player board has four spaces where you manage those resources in various ways. The Trading House allows you to exchange gold for resources, or vice-versa, at a 2-to-1 rate. You may also buy a worker tile for two coins. And if your workers are in numerical order, you receive a bonus coin. The next space is the Board of Works where you spend raw materials to build roads, houses, and markets which score points. Each improvement costs a specified combination of two resources. Ambling along you may next stop at the Mill where you expend two grain for one coin and a bag of flour, which supplies a market and scores points. Finally you will reach the Castle, the only mandatory stop on your rondel. Here you are required to visit the landlord – and it’s not a social call. First, if you have more than three total resources, you must hand over the excess to him. Second, he conscripts one of your workers for his own use; you lose that laborer permanently and cover him up with one of the provided handy-dandy half-tiles, if necessary.
During a turn, you choose which two spaces to visit on your rondel, provided you do not pass over the obligatory Castle, which counts as one of your two actions if reached. If you choose to land on a worker, you collect one of that tradesman’s resource, plus one extra for each of the same type of worker you just passed over that action. So if you line them up just right, you can potentially reap some bountiful harvests. Keeping them in numerical order is important, as well. The one bonus coin you receive at the Trading House may seem trivial, but in this game, it’s very helpful.
While you select actions and manage goods via the rondel, you will build and score by means of the main game board. At the Board of Works, you can construct as many roads, houses, and markets as you can afford and in any order desired. The board is a grid of triangles with numbered markers (1-5) at each angle. To build a road, you lay two segments along the lines on either side of an empty, numbered marker and place a milestone on it, scoring the number of points indicated by that marker. Roads must continue off the ends of existing paths or branch off from a market. They cannot loop back to form a circle. Market tokens are simply placed on empty markers either between existing road segments or at the end of one, scoring the number of points indicated. Houses are placed inside a triangle that is bordered by at least one road segment and then scoring the empty marker(s) at the corner(s). The final scoring action is performed at the Mill, where you supply an available market with a flour token and earn the points from two empty markers of your choice connected to that market.
Designated triangles are also randomly seeded with bonus chips that feature one of the five resources. If you build any improvement on a line or angle adjacent to a chip, and you employ a corresponding worker that produces that good, you may take the token, score one extra point, and place it on an appropriate worker on your rondel. Thereafter, as long as that laborer remains in your workforce, you score a bonus point each time you collect a good from that individual. A worker can only have one bonus chip – so no stacking.
As they score, everyone tallies their points on a running track on the main board. The game continues until some one reaches a predetermined mark, which is scaled to the number of players. However, that does not always indicate the winner, because in addition to this running score, a 5-point bonus is awarded to each majority in the five worker types, with two points handed out in the case of ties. After adding those, the player with the most points wins.
A Journey Worth Marking?
Variety is the spice of life…and gaming, too, I suppose. Milestones appears to be Stronghold Games’ first pure, unadulterated Euro style game after an initial run of highly thematic titles to inaugurate the company (it is published by Eggertspiele in Germany). There is also plenty of variety within the game itself to season the playing experience for the right gamer’s tastes.
Milestones is a rational and logical experience. Even puzzle-like. All information is open, there are plenty of choices, and little luck. The title’s two strong suits are the individual rondels and the ability to allow player decisions to drive game play. Its appeal will depend largely on your personal gaming preferences.
The individual rondels are a fresh touch to the mechanic. Half of your player board will be unique from your opponents. Therefore, options and strategies vary slightly from player to player depending on what types of workers each has available and in what order. It may not be apples-to-oranges, but nonetheless, managing that workforce is the most interesting, puzzling, and potentially frustrating part of game play.
Trying to manage a “Jack of all trades” approach is unlikely to be successful. In our plays, it proved too laborious of a process yielding too little, too late. Don’t try to play the Renaissance Man, because this is the Middle Ages. Instead, those that leveraged a couple of specialties zipped around their board, converted gold and surplus goods into other resources, and built at a faster pace. Of course, if you speed round too quickly, or don’t have the proper workers correctly lined up, then a visit at the Board of Works produces little in return, as well.
Still, organizing your workforce requires a balance. You want your tradesmen in an efficient order to maximize resource collection with a minimum number of stops. Yet at the same time, you’ll want to keep them in numerical sequence. Don’t knock the one coin bonus! Indeed money is so tight and beneficial that most players will snatch gold producers as soon as possible. You don’t need to create Fort Knox or the World Bank, but money does make the world go round.
That imposing and looming Castle is the 800-pound gorilla on your rondel that will make monkey business of your carefully planned workforce. Being forced to fire a worker can be maddening, but it’s a critical component of the game’s character and really the only thing that shakes things up a bit. In some ways, it serves as an element of spite, but coming from the game rather than other players, which gives you a modicum of control over the mechanic. It can even serve a useful purpose from time to time as a means to remove a worker out of numerical order or one that provides material you’re not wanting.
Milestones’ only luck element is also tied up with workers. While at the Trading House, you may purchase workers from a stock of five available tiles which are drawn and replaced randomly, as needed. It does occur sometimes that the five available tokens are not ideal for your situation. However, since you lose a worker every trip around your rondel, one of the game’s hallmarks is learning to adapt with your evolving workforce. Personally, I think the randomness is quite minor.
The Castle also discourages hoarding material, forcing players to build frequently, or else lose resources. This creates some tension, because players can set each other up as they develop the board. You could easily pull off an impressive score with a nice combo, but discover that you just opened up a similar opportunity for an opponent by doing so. Looking for points that lead others away from prime real estate is another puzzle element to game play.
Milestones creates almost a perfect balance between tempo and choice. You’re only allowed two actions per turn, so downtime is minimal. While that may seem restrictive at first glance, a couple of things offset that limitation. First, you set the pace at which you move around the rondel. Frequent stops to pick up everything may take more time, but will yield bigger scores. Second, there are a handful of ways to earn points. This gives you some options to concentrate on collecting specific goods and building certain improvements.
Despite the cooperative building element, this title is largely a bubble affair. There is no interaction. Yes, you don’t want to gift wrap a golden opportunity for the next player – and you have a good chance of avoiding that thanks to all of the open information. However, you still need to collect resources and build to score points. Overly concerning yourself with opponent moves may result in analysis paralysis and low scoring runs, both which will slow the game. Besides, the mere fact that you must pay attention to others doesn’t really negate the game’s principally solo feel. The game scales fine with 2 players, but this compounds its solitary vibe. Playing with 3 or 4 is preferable.
Speaking of “feel,” Milestones is one of those games clearly geared toward a certain gamer type within what is already a niche hobby. I think most Euro fans will enjoy this offering, but it’s a difficult title to recommend broadly. The theme is completely irrelevant, and overused at that. The components are sturdy and of nice quality, but roundly generic. The artwork is appropriate, but elementary.
I typically prefer more baroque games with chance and player contention, but I also value relaxed and elegant titles on occasion for a change of pace – if they’re done well. Milestones fits that criterion. Your mileage may vary. One of my sons who is a budding Euro gamer really enjoys it. My casual gaming (and strategically-minded) brother-in-law appreciates its mechanical sophistication, but feels it lacks an attractive “punch.” My Ameritrash-leaning son played it once, but hasn’t taken me up on any offer to revisit it since.
Milestones is definitely a well designed game. With only one element of randomness – and of minimal impact even then – your decisions are the heart of play. The use and design of the individual rondel is novel, while the cooperative building provides some give-and-take tension. Really, it all hums along smoothly at a nice pace. However, it can get mechanically monotonous – at least, or especially, for those preferring a bit more interaction, unpredictability, and/or thematic sweep. While the rules are simple enough for casual and younger players, this calm, cerebral, and weakly-themed title will find limited appeal among those groups. Instead, it is an archetypal Euro aimed at experienced hobby gamers. As such, it certainly hits the mark. With its unique use of the rondel, fans of the style will find it a nice, middle-weight addition to their collection.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Stronghold Games for providing a review copy of Milestones.