Courtyard (Blue Panther LLC, 2006 - Steve Jones) is one of several games by Blue Panther and shares the unique feature which categorizes them - the game has 100% wooden components. Produced with some clever wood-burning methods, the game looks like something you would buy in a gift shop and simply has an air of antiquity about it, even though the game is quite modern.
The game itself is one laying wall tiles, in which player are attempting to enclose courtyards that are worth points. Players must do their best to build large courtyards without setting up the other players. I found that the game is best with two players (or in two teams of two) and is a decent diversion - one that allows forethought with good payoffs, but also has a high luck factor. Neat components and quick gameplay make this a game that you might want to check out (it makes a rather nice gift) but hardcore gamers should certainly try it out before purchasing.
The game comes with two sets of tiles - sixty two wall tiles (of five types), and nineteen tower tiles (one of which is used as the starting tile). Each set is shuffled face down, and players take a rack, placing five random wall tiles in it and one tower tile. Tower tiles have a round tower in the middle and have walls exiting on two or more sides. Wall tiles are similar, without the tile, and have walls that start in the middle, heading towards one or more of the four sides. The youngest player takes the first turn, and then play proceeds clockwise.
On a player's turn, they either can place up to six of the tiles on their rack onto the playing area or discard up to six of their tiles back into their respective piles. Either way, a player then draws the amount of tiles that they played/discarded but must draw the same type (if I got rid of three wall tiles, I cannot draw a tower tile). When a player places tiles, they must place them so that they "line up" with existing tiles already in the playing area. Each wall must touch another wall, or the tile cannot be played. Many times this will cause an enclosed area to be completed - known as a "courtyard".
When a player finishes a courtyard, they score points (kept on a separate sheet of paper). A courtyard is worth the number of tiles in the courtyard times the number of towers adjacent to it. Empty tiles in the courtyard count as a tile in the courtyard. For example, a courtyard that has three towers and forms a 3 x 3 grid will score twenty-seven points. A courtyard with no tower scores no points.
The game continues until either one of the piles of tiles runs out, or until there are no more legal tile placements. At this point, the player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game:
1.) Components: The game comes in a wooden box about the size of a scented candle - and easily holds all of the wooden tiles and tile trays. Since the game is entirely made of wood, there really isn't any color; but that adds to the charm of it, I suppose. All of the tiles, box, and more have the words and pictures imprinted three dimensionally into them - and it's really rather cool. The tiles are made of thin, light wood but are durable enough to throw around without fear of destruction. The tile trays have holes in them that the tiles slide into and hold them quite firmly. I certainly wouldn't want every game that I have to look like this - but it is a nifty idea, and I enjoy the gift aspect of it.
2.) Rules: The game is really rather simple and comes on a single small page, with the rules printed on both sides. A few examples and pictures help explain the game, and I thought everything was clear, although it would have been nice had they shown an "L" shaped courtyard, since those happen often.
3.) Tiles and Strategy: It's hard to avoid comparisons with the king of tile laying games, Carcassonne; and all who I showed the game to were immediately reminded of that fine game. But it's really much simpler, as players only need match up the walls (roads). Scoring is fast, simple, and something that players have to watch out for. Small courtyards are usually rather simple affairs, as only a couple tiles need be laid for a mini 2 x 2 courtyard. Towers are fairly easy to lay around the board, although getting more than two in a courtyard is harder than it sounds. The reason for this is:
4.) Competition: Courtyard at first seems to be a nice, enjoyable, friendly game of tile laying. But it's really much more cutthroat than that. Five of the tiles simply have a wall that starts on a side, ending in the middle. They have no other purpose than to shut walls down, keeping other opponents from finishing their courtyards. Players also really can't afford to set up huge courtyards; because if you lay the groundwork for such a thing, why wouldn't I finish it on my turn? Many turns pass as players discard and draw new tiles, hoping to set up for the big score. And big scores are important; because if you can set up and score a gigantic courtyard, then you have perhaps an insurmountable lead, thanks to the speed of the game.
5.) Time: Games are often quick - sometimes quicker than you might imagine! Since a game can end when all the walls are finished, I've seen games ended in less than five minutes due to tile placement. Once you are ahead of the other player(s), why not work at shutting the game down? It's a viable and useful strategy, and it speeds up the game. But even if every tile is laid on the board, the game still takes a maximum of twenty minutes or so.
6.) Fun Factor: With four players - even with teams - I found the experience slightly jarring, as there is just too much happening between your turn to have any semblance of control. But with two players, the game is a fun, amusing way to pass the time, as you curve the walls around, attempting to score lucrative courtyards. I don't know how to explain this properly; but this is the kind of game that I could take and play with my mother, and we would have a blast, while Sam, my gaming partner, would probably be less enamored with it.
The box for Courtyard is one of the nicest things on my shelf and really looks elegant with the nice fonts and woodcarvings. Inside is a pleasant, enjoyable game. It's nothing that will shake the gaming world but is a good diversion for fifteen minutes and something that is fairly portable. If anything, it's worth a look - if only to see a game in which everything is designed out of wood.
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BoardGameGeek entry for Courtyard