Unless my tomatoes are crushed up and mixed with copious amounts of sugar, I’m not too into the little red suckers. Unfortunately, this means I wouldn’t do very well in Iceland – a country where vegetable-growing conditions are so great that one restaurant even make makes a tomato beer. Luckily, you don’t have to like tomatoes (or even vegetables) to play Reykholt, where you compete to produce the most vegetables and serve them to all the tourists.
How To Play
Compared to the large, sprawling, feed-your-people games that Uwe Rosenberg is known for, Reykholt’s ruleset is incredibly slim. There are only four phases to a round, with last simply consisting of board maintenance. Over the course of the game, you will be planting, harvesting, and turning in five types of vegetables to move as far as you can on the tourism track.
The crux of the game is built around the Work Time phase where you put out one of your three farmer discs and take the corresponding action. You start out with three workers at the beginning of the game and finish with three at the end. There isn’t any adding more workers or feeding your people. The simplicity of the worker placement extends to the kinds of actions you can take: expand your garden by adding greenhouses, plant vegetables in your garden, harvest vegetables from your garden, or discard items to advance around the track. There are also a few spaces that allow you to take (or force an opponent to share) Service Cards that provide you with immediate or ongoing abilities.
Once all players have placed their workers, everyone harvests one vegetable from their greenhouse(s) in preparation of Tourism Time.
In this third phase, each player advances on the track by turning in the requisite number and type of vegetables, harvested in the previous phase. Each player’s supply will inevitably sputter out during this phase as the number of vegetables increases along the track.
After retrieving workers in Homecoming Time, players will start the phases over again until the end of seven rounds where whoever is furthest along the tourism track wins.
You like tomato and I like tomahto… Let’s call the whole thing off.
Growing and harvesting vegetables is nothing new in the world of Uwe Rosenberg. We’ve seen this iteration in many of his games before. In the same strategic vein as his other titles, Reykholt stays true to the minimizing and maximizing of your actions and resources each turn. You know how many vegetables are coming up on the tourism track, how many you’ll harvest in your garden, and the number of workers you have to accomplish everything. In this regard, Reykholt presents a very streamlined experience. It’s ultimately a racing game. There are no victory points to acquire or endgame scoring. Reykholt moves along at an appreciable brisk pace, smoother than some of the more traditional racing games out there. Actions are straightforward and there is a decent amount of tension as spaces get taken by your opponents.
You spend the majority of the game managing your greenhouses and deciding which vegetables you should bother with. While this resource management isn’t the most novel of mechanics, Reykholt is helped by two features that do give it some distinction. The first is the sharing of Service Cards. Although one person claims a Service Card at first, another player can select an action to make their opponent share the card/ability with them. Just because you missed out on grabbing a card first, doesn’t mean you’re at a loss for the rest of the game. You may even share multiple cards with different opponents, making it feel like you have miniature alliances with your neighbors. I’m not sure I’d call this direct interaction, but you certainly do look to see what others are doing.
The second part of Reykholt that stands out is the way progression along the tourism track works. As mentioned above, you must turn in vegetables to move to the next spot. However, once per turn, instead of turning in the required produce, you can choose to take that quantity from the supply. Didn’t plant any mushrooms? Not a problem, you just got a farm-fresh delivery at your doorstep. Now, you may have enough mushrooms to turn in at the next stop or save them for planting later. This bonus action gives some leeway in the otherwise narrow “plant more, harvest more” road Reykholt forces you down.
Unfortunately, these two additions are not enough to pull Reykholt out of the pile of mediocrity. While the resource management race in the game is interesting in the midst of playing, the game becomes forgettable almost as soon as you close the box. There aren’t enough new twists and hooks in Reykholt to distinguish itself among Rosenberg’s plethora of other agrarian-esque designs. It’s not a tense as Agricola, as tough as At the Gates of Loyang, nor as much of a sandbox as Caverna.
Though there is a kind of progression as you build up your greenhouses, there is no real satisfaction that comes out of it. The overall cadence to the game is that of one step forward, two steps back. You work to build up a semblance of an engine, only to watch it all get torn down at the end. In fact, there are even actions on the board in which you turn in greenhouses to move along the tourism track without having to turn in vegetables. This switch from building to deconstructing feels like an awkward last-ditch effort. As everyone claws their way along the last spaces on the tourism track, someone manages one extra move and claims victory. Close victories can be nice, but they also feel lackluster game after game.
In many ways, Reykholt echoes my feelings about actual tomatoes: they can be great as long as you mix enough sugar with them. There’s a lot of potential in Reykholt, but, in the end, just not enough sugar in the box.