Fences: The Ranch Game Expansion Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the Kickstarter campaign’s success. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Create the biggest farm as you can with new twists!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek mixed!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Your little farm has grown in size! With your newfound success (and good luck), you have decided to expand your operation to includes animals, making your little farmstead into a fully-functioning ranch. With new goals in mind and opportunities to pursue, you’ll have to manage not only the day-to-day operations of the farmland but the many animals, as well. Do you have what it takes to become the biggest ranch in the area?

Fences: The Ranch, designed by Adam F. CollinsTim Forbis, and to be published by Bearded Board Games, will reportedly be comprised of 66 Land tiles, nine Market cards, one Fox token, four Cow tokens, four Pig tokens, four Sheep tokens, two Tractor tokens, 16 Hay Bale tokens, one Horse token, and seven Sharecropper tokens. As this is a prepublished game review, I cannot comment on the game component quality. I will mention that the game components we received were of the same quality as the base game. The tokens in the game are represented by “Meeple” animals made of wood.

Note: We will not be covering how to play the game in this article since this a review of an expansion. If you are not familiar with Fences or want to learn more about how the game is set up and played, please read the Fences game review.

Expanding Your Operation

Fences: The Ranch is a collection of eight mini-expansions that can be included in the base game that changes how the game is played and scored. Each is summarized here.

Chickens

This expansion makes Chickens all the tastier. When the first Farm is completely closed, the tiles that have a Chicken are counted. The owner of that field scores as normal with additional points earned from the Chickens on the Land tiles. In addition, the player who scores gets to place the Fox token on any open Field. If a Farm is completely closed and contains the Fox token, the fox eats all the chickens! No points for you!

This new way of scoring forces players to consider the old adage that “size doesn’t matter,” so to speak. Building a big Farm with many fields sounds great, but each tile you place opens it to the possibility of a fox getting through your fences! Chickens are worth enough points to determine the winner of the game, making your management of these ranging birds into an exercise of size and border control that is as engaging as it can be downright frustrating due to the fox. Nothing puts a gamer into a “fowl” mood more than losing an easy point.

Gates

This expansion introduces 12 new Land tokens that include gate post images and 12 Gate tokens. The Gate tokens are used to enclose these points in the default closed position. This essentially cuts the Farm in two by adding a fence (which is the gate). What would normally be an opening can now be used to define borders and boundaries further. Before scoring, the player can opt to open the gate or close it, radically changing the scoring and size of the farm.

This is a very interesting expansion. It essentially makes the game and scoring much more dynamic, as the players can adjust the size of the fields in the Farms throughout the entire gameplay. While the base game locks the size of a Farm’s fields using the printed fences on the Land tiles, the expansion allows players to continually shift the fields’ size as strategy and tactics dictate. Great stuff that makes players think on a deeper level before placing their Land tile to the mix.

The Market

This expansion introduces six new Land tiles and nine Market cards. It introduces the concept of “supply and demand” by randomly determining what product at the Farmer’s Market is being looked for. In game terms, the currently in-play Market card adjusts the points earned when completing Farms. When a new “Market” Land tile is drawn and played, a new Market card is drawn and replaces the previous Market card.

The bonus points earned from the Market are no joke. They are worth keeping an eye on but are also limited in the time they are available. Your fields full of livestock might be in high demand at the moment at the market, but until you close those fields and claim the Farm, you won’t see one single bonus point. Close too early, and you might cheat yourself of points. Close to late, and the market might shift underneath you. The Market cards act like a delicious carrot that keeps the game moving along at a brisk pace and challenges the players to consider the pros and cons of short-term gains.

Hay Bales

This expansion introduces 16 Hay Bale tokens that are added to the fields during gameplay and are later collected for additional points. Careful planning is needed when placing the Hay Bales, as they are points to be earned, but only for those farmers and ranchers savvy enough to obtain them. The expansion demands strategic and tactical thinking, both in the short and long term.

This is a very interesting expansion to include in your games. When a Farm is completed by connecting and enclosing several Land tiles, the player takes a Hay Bale and places it in any adjacent field that is not currently closed. These Hay Bales are claimed by any player who completes a Farm wherein the Hay Bales reside. This could be anywhere from one or more Hay Bales, giving the player bonus points. What I find really interesting about this expansion is how it empowers the players to organize and distribute the extra points, challenging them to build creatively.

Tractors

This expansion adds some much-needed machinery to help the players become more productive on their land. The catch is, there are only two Tractors, and they must be shared. To use a Tractor, the player places the Tractor token instead of their Hen House token, giving up ownership of the tile they just played. By doing so, however, they are given the benefit of adding an additional Land tile in future turns if the new Land tile is connected to the Tractor. Using this method, the player can expand the Farm much faster. This benefit is also given to the player’s opponents, granting everyone a bonus.

This proved to be a challenging new rule to integrate into the game. So much emphasis is placed on proper and intelligent tile placement in Fences that each tile played is an important decision. Now double it. The Tractor gave each player that much more to think about. And while the second Land tile placed is not available for the player to claim, it did make the placement of that tile exceedingly important. The result was a new and interesting depth of tactical placement and strategic thinking.

The Horse

If tractors are not your thing and you prefer the tried-and-true method of “real horsepower,” the Horse token is for you. Instead of playing a Hen House to claim a Land tile, the player can optionally move the Horse token. Doing so will award the owner of the future Farms that are closed and the player who closed them a bonus of five points, which is shared. Of course, a Horse is smart and has a mind of its own. It will jump the fences and move to a new field when it feels enclosed, allowing all the players an opportunity for even more bonus points during the following turns.

The Horse adds a traveling bonus point opportunity throughout the game. It gives players a reason to close Farms that might not belong to them, as it awards points by doing so. Of course, this might suggest that players will go out of their way to “skunk” their opponents by closing Farms. Doing so is not a bad strategy, but nor is it overly beneficial. In a game where every point counts towards victory in what is almost always a close game, earning points by giving points can be a risky business.

Storage

This expansion introduces four Cow tokens, four Pig tokens, and four Sheep tokens. They are meant to physically represent the illustrated animals on the Land tiles. When placing a Land tile that completes a Farm, the player can elect to ignore an animal on the tile and take its physical token instead. In future turns, the player can place these tokens down to score additional points or meet Character Profile card requirements. Heck, you can even play out the tokens to reduce points earned by an opponent!

This is a great new addition to the gameplay. By allowing players to “bank” possible points, the game offers a new depth level that encourages players to put some points aside for possible future use and abuse. These bonus points, however, must be earned by not earning points. An interesting twist on risk and reward.

Sharecropper

This expansion introduces seven Sharecropper tokens into the game, with each player starting the game with one Sharecropper token each. When played, they allow the player to “share” points with an opponent. However, the player who completes the Farm also gets to take the Sharecropper token back, and is now in their possession for future use. Points are split and shared with any players who are sharing the land.

Oh, yes, please! With this snazzy little addition to the game, you can claim land already claimed by another opponent! This will allow both players to build onto the same land in hopes of creating a huge Farm that will score mega points. But don’t get too ahead of yourself and think your cooperative approach is beneficial to all involved. Points earned in a completed Farm with one or more Sharecroppers will reduce the total number of possible points earned. In addition, the player who completes the Farm gets to take the Sharecropper token back and use it for themselves to help “share” the crops to be planted (and the points). Talk about reaping the rewards!

To learn more about Fences: The Ranch, visit the game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The Child Geeks, again, enjoyed Fences and the expansion only served to further their engagement. According to one Child Geek, “The normal game is fun and the new expansions only make it funner. My favorite is using the gates because it makes scoring points feel a lot more interesting.” Another Child Geek said, “I like the game and I like it more now.” While it’s possible to enjoy all the expansions simultaneously, the Child Geeks only ever used one expansion at a time, preferring to change the base game with new scoring methods slightly. They told me this was because the game was already “pretty good.” When the last cow came home, and the fence closed, the Child Geeks further reinforced their love of Fences and fully approved of The Ranch expansions.

The Parent Geeks were big fans of the changes in the game. Previous gameplays with Fences left the Parent Geeks with a general feeling of enjoyment but not overly involved due to it being a casual game. Which it is. This was not a concern, but more of a universal acknowledgment from this group that Fences was – simply put – “easy.” The expansions changed that. According to one Parent Geek, “The original game was easy to understand, easy to play, and easy to score points. Ridiculous how easy it was to score points, actually, making each score feel like – you know – not that interesting. These expansions gave me what I was looking for. With all this new variety to score, it means there are different ways to think through your turns. I loved it.” Another Parent Geek said, “So happy to see the publisher revisit this game! I liked it before and love it now. The expansions are fun, add much more to the game without making it longer or harder, but most certainly much, much more involved and fun!” When the last tractor was put in the barn, the Parent Geeks fully approved the expansions and reconfirmed their love of the base game.

The Gamer Geeks previously disliked Fences, finding it to be a bit of a cliche when it comes to tile-placement games and considerably too easy to make them feel interested. These expansions changed some, but not all, of the elitists’ minds. According to one Gamer Geek, “What a shame. These expansions should have been included with the game right off the bat. Probably not a likely scenario, but it would have made the game more enjoyable. I like what they are doing here and I gained a newfound respect for the game itself. I still don’t think it is a gamer’s game, but I’ll be happy to play it with anyone if the expansions are involved.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I won’t suggest it is too little too late, but I will say I think the expansions should be introduced to the game right away. The base game is fine but too easy. You can score points blindfolded. The expansions add a much-needed level of depth. I approve of the expansions, but the base game still doesn’t excite me.” With the introduction of the expansions, the new vote from the Gamer Geeks revealed that Fences went from “rejected” to “mixed”! A positive outcome!

I found Fences to be a great game for families and anyone looking to introduce tile-placement games to new players. It’s a solid game. It’s also effortless for those already familiar and very well-versed in games, making Fences a forgettable experience (as it doesn’t bring anything new to the table). This is entirely a comment I provide here to inform the gaming community that these expansions do not change this. No more than adding a cherry to the top of a cake suddenly makes the cake taste better.

That said…

The expansions do provide the next level of depth you would want to experience after you are familiar with the base game, which shouldn’t take long. Since it’s casual and easy to learn, the game can only be played a few times before it starts to feel a bit old. The expansions breathe new life into the game, adding new strategies and tactics without overburdening the player or the gameplay. It adds another inch where others might want a couple of feet, but when it comes to casual games for the casual game playing community, you don’t want to throw in a lot of complexity. The expansions provide variety and subtle nuances to point collecting that feels refreshing and interesting.

I was amused to learn that this expansion is – essentially – all the great ideas for the game that didn’t make it into its initial release. You can tell there is a lot of love and creativity around its creation. I found each expansion to be a slight shift in the dynamics, but they were always tightly tethered to the base game. A good design decision to ensure continuity, but I can also see why they were omitted. While the expansions do provide new roads to travel, that journey isn’t very long. Individually, each expansion is interesting. As a collection, they are pure gold: good variety and lots of promise of reinvigorating the game and its players.

Do try Fences: The Ranch if you are already a fan of the base game. I believe you’ll find the new approaches to scoring and the gameplay to be a lot of fun. For those who have not already played Fences, you absolutely should, and you should also get the expansion. You’ll thank me. For those who didn’t care for Fences, to begin with, I don’t believe you’ll be changing your mind with the expansion as it builds off the base without skyrocketing to new heights.

As for me, I’ll be visiting these farms and rolling pastures with renewed interest for many game sessions to come.

This is a paid-for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus were financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek, which cannot be bought except by those who own their private islands and small countries.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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