I recently found a player-made map for Hacienda on Spielbyweb that looked like a good two-player map so I played with the map-maker, inserting terrain hexes since they are randomly selected for the online play. This map is bonedigger_12 and I want to thank the creator.
Cori and I tried this map on Saturday afternoon and had an…interesting time with it. She hadn’t played Hacienda for awhile and I’ve been playing online where the excellent implementation on Spielbyweb tells you everything you need to know and doesn’t let you make accidental rules mistakes, so a quick once-over of the rules began our session.
I started in the right-hand corner, building up a land chain while Cori chose to spread out in order to hit as many markets as possible. I bought lots of sheep, both intentionally and as lucky blind draws so I managed to collect a sizable flock that blocked Cori from one market. Cori was able to connect to three markets by the first scoring and still added enough land tiles to score most of her land areas. I’d reached four of the five markets, all but my original homestead with only single land/single animals.
I wish we’d thought to take a mid-game picture, but at the time I had no thought of writing up a session report. Try to picture that Cori had started 4 separate land areas, each as near to a market as she could get, and had connected to the markets. I had the lower right corner locked up, the land not quite reaching the middle market and the sheep reaching to the water hole on the right edge, but the other three corners were a single land and a single animal.
By the time we started the mid-game scoring, Cori was pretty sure this map was bullshit. She was really upset that I’d managed to get to all the markets while still having a large land chain whereas she was spread out all over the board; I had money to spare while she was scrambling to make enough to buy more cards. After the scoring, which turned out to be about 4 points apart, we discussed the balance that comes from each of our strategies. Most of her land still scored her points both for market access and land chains; it also left her with more maneuvering room. I had the benefit of one large land chain but the single tiles in the corners were a wash since there was nowhere I could expand. I also had very few opportunities now for making money. The single land areas aren’t big money-makers and there were only two more open spaces next to the sheep market. It all balanced out very nicely, we decided.
Now this is where I have to tell a story on myself. We at the end of the game, only 1 animal card left in the deck. I’d been buying one land card a turn in hopes of drawing one of the illusive pampas cards but finding only swamp, which I duly complained about. On Cori’s turn, she complained that she’d drawn a meadow which was useless since there weren’t any meadow spaces left. Ding, ding, ding…that’s the bell going off in my head finally! Why, yes, of course. Any land cards with no land vacant of that type may now be used as a pampas.
Cori went on to join the land area at the top with the one in the middle just below the large lake, and then placed a horse in the NE market. I used 2 of the 4 swamps I had to cover the last 2 empty spaces, giving myself 2 faux-pampas cards, one of which I used to join to the just-placed swamp tile to the SW of the center market, increasing my hacienda by 2 more tiles. On the next turn, Cori drew the last animal card and final scoring began.
Cori’s now-huge hacienda and the lakes she managed to buy were too much for me since the second half of the game was tough for me in the money department. Final score: Cori—142, Mary—134.
We’d had a good time with the map, even with the mistake, and agreed to play a second game with our newfound knowledge. This was a totally different animal and not necessarily a better one.
We both started grabbing land, expanding and connecting our areas so that by the mid-game scoring we’d connected to only 2 or 3 markets but had covered every terrain space on the board except for one forest. This had become a variation of Blokus as we both tried to cut each other off and reach the farthest corners of the board first; we’d fill in the animals later.
The result of this was a game that grew stale ¾ of the way through. With one huge hacienda, it was easy to reach the markets and water holes, and simply placing one animal in a market gave you plenty of money. We didn’t see how we would play it any differently in future plays—grabbing land was the way to go. Of course, you could still try to block your opponent from a couple of markets but if both players manage the same tactic, it all evens out in the scoring.
We decided that part of the problem was the ease of using “dead” terrain cards as pampas. This is my fault and not the map design. I purposely chose to place terrain as evenly distributed as possible and I now think this was a mistake. If I had chosen 2 types of terrain to short-sheet, say only 2 or 3 spaces, then it would be harder to deplete the remaining types. This may not totally fix it; maybe 2 players still need a bigger map or maybe the players need to be more inventive and imaginative in their play.
Oh, I almost forgot. The final scores in the second game: Mary—208, Cori—176.