I really like the deck building mechanism in general. I was a big fan of Dominion when it came out, but deck building seems to have been done to death in recent years. However, when bag builders came along, they breathed new life into the genre for me. They took the principles of deck building and created something new.
In case you’re not familiar with the idea, you draw tokens (or cubes) out of a bag and use them to take actions, which often involve buying more tokens that get added to your bag. There’s just something about rummaging around inside a bag hoping to pull out the tokens you really want that’s so satisfying.
Orléans was one of my favourite bag builders. It combined a kind of worker placement with bag building in a way that allowed for lots of different types of workers. Altiplano is effectively the sequel to Orléans and has just been released at Essen. It is by the same designer and uses many of the same concepts.
The big question is: how does it compare? Orléans is rated very highly on BoardGameGeek (currently the 24th highest ranked game in the world!). Could Altiplano be better? How does it differ from Orléans? Let’s find out…
Altiplano has a very different theme from Orléans (trading in South America vs medieval French nobility), but playing Altiplano feels very similar to Orléans – at least at first. Both Orléans and Altiplano provide you with a player board full of action spaces. You draw a certain number of tokens from your bag each round and allocate them to the various spaces.
In Orléans the tokens represented different types of workers (monks, knights, farmers, etc.), whereas in Altiplano they represent different resources (food, wool, stone, etc.), but their function is exactly the same.
You have to travel to the right location before you can take the appropriate action.
The big difference in Altiplano though, is that you can’t just take the actions when you want. There are a bunch of location boards arranged in a circle in the middle and you have to travel to the right location before you can take the appropriate action. Eg. If you want to take a forest action on your board, you need to travel to the forest board in the middle.
You get one free travel per round, but extra travelling requires you to allocate food tokens to the travelling spaces on your board. You can spend a coin at the village to buy a cart, which lets you travel further and this is pretty important because timing your actions with your location in the middle is absolutely key.
Effectively, the travelling board from Orléans, which always felt rather tacked on, has been integrated into all the actions. Not only do you need to plan which actions you want to do and in what order, but you also need to plan how you’re going to travel around to actually take those actions. It adds an extra layer of strategy to the game and I love it!
Altiplano is more like a proper deck builder.
Another significant change is that Altiplano is more like a proper deck builder. In Orléans, you would draw tokens from your bag, but spent tokens would just go right back in your bag – there was no discard pile. Altiplano introduces a proper discard pile (a rather funky 3D chest) for your tokens. Only once the bag is empty do you place all the spent tokens back in the bag.
This might not seem significant, but in Orléans you could never guarantee to get the token you wanted. You just had to work with probabilities. The more farmers you have in your bag, the more likely you are to draw one. However, in Altiplano, although you can’t guarantee to get what you want immediately, you can guarantee to draw the token you want eventually because you always empty your bag. This allows you to plan ahead with more surety, which I like.
An important aspect for any deck builder is deck thinning: how you remove tokens you don’t want any more. In Orléans, this is accomplished by effectively killing off your workers on one particular action space. They are then immortalised in the annals of history (a central board) and gain you victory points and other bonuses.
In Altiplano, each player has their own storage board where they can store lots of resources for points at the end of the game while simultaneously removing them from your pool of tokens. There are various rules for how you store these resources, which make for some tricky decisions.
However, one key difference here is that players were competing over spaces in Orléans. You could beat someone to a key place in history and gain the victory point bonus all for yourself. In Altiplano though, there is no competition because everyone has their own storage board.
It feels like multiplayer solitaire.
This leads to what I suspect will be people’s main criticism of the game: it feels like multiplayer solitaire. You can beat people to certain building tiles or bonus cards, but for the most part, you don’t need to pay much attention to what the other players are doing in Altiplano.
Orléans was never that interactive anyway, but Altiplano is definitely less so. Personally, this doesn’t bother me at all though. It means turns actually zip by pretty quickly because you can plan everything out without worrying too much about someone scuppering your plans.
Overall, I find the decisions in Altiplano more interesting and the whole thing feels more coherent and integrated. It reminds me of the main differences between Terra Mystica and Gaia Project. The designer has clearly made an effort to tie things together in a way that makes more sense. Altiplano also has a brighter theme, which is always a plus in my book: it just looks more appealing on the table.
Add in variable player powers (which I love!) and Altiplano is hands down a better game for me. I would rather play Altiplano over Orléans any day of the week and in all honesty I don’t think I will ever play Orléans again. If I owned Orléans, I would sell it and buy Altiplano instead.
What do you think though? Have you been able to play Altiplano yet?