08th Nov2019

‘Foothills’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

foothills-box

For those who’ve never heard of it, Snowdonia is a large and popular euro game set in the Welsh hills (unsurprisingly) that features trains, resource trading and victory point collection. What proves to be an expansive and highly strategic experience at four players is a little bit less exciting at two, however, and designers Tony Boydell and Ben Bateson recently decided to remedy that with the exclusively two player experience that is Foothills.

Also set in Wales during the early twentieth century, Foothills features a random setup that has the players placing a number of railway lines that are represented by a handful of cards, and then competing to build stations and tracks on them to see who can score the most points. An inbuilt opponent places navvies along the line at certain points in the game, meaning that the players have to plan and act fast. The actions themselves are taken from a number of double sided cards that can be traded up during the game, or even traded in for end game points.

As you can imagine because of its Snowdonia heritage and even from my brief description, there’s a lot going on in Foothills, so let’s break it down a bit. Firstly, it’s important to understand that the objective of the game is simply to score the most victory points, and as in many games, there are several ways to achieve this. First of all, there are a number of discrete, specific activities within the game that will award victory points when they happen – for example by building a station and gaining the points shown, but the main source of points is actually the action cards that drive each turn.

To explain how these cards become worth points, I will first need to walk through the way a turn plays. Both players have their own display of face up cards listed A, B, C and D. When these four cards are face up, they show their more powerful actions – such as taking stock or building. On their turn, the player chooses one of these cards, takes the action shown and then flips the card over to its weaker side (listed E, F, G and H.) At a few points in the game (either due to card actions or something printed on a railway card) the player might be able to send their conductor meeple to the pub, which is where things get interesting.

The pub (being of course the most important location in any walk of life) is where card upgrades take place, and it is only there where a player could trade in their A/E card for another A/E card from the randomised selection that are put out during setup and enable their original A/E card for scoring. Let me explain that in a bit more detail – essentially, they now have a new (and usually more powerful, but sometimes just different) A/E card to play on later turns, but their original A/E card is now essentially an objective card – some score based on how many stations you’ve built, or how many passengers you have, for example.

In this way, each turn unfolds with the player taking a card action, flipping that card and then passing to the other player. The cards that make up the railway lines (and act like a board, so that’s what I’ll call it from now on) begin to fill up with stations and railway lines, whilst the rubble that begins on them is cleared and discarded. the players trade in their cards over the course of the game, trading in and out and swapping their starting cards for ones that improve their engine, whilst also being mindful that the same cards that accelerate your board state might also be those that score for the areas you are focused on – creating another puzzle.

Each game of Foothills lasts for about forty five minutes on average including setup, which is straightforward but quite involved and fiddly just because of the number of pieces and the randomised elements. Foothills is quite easy to teach at a basic mechanical level but it takes many rounds of play to master, and like Chess, it gets better and better the more times you play it with the same person. Each side begins the game with the same deck of cards and starting conditions, so there is no question of having an advantage either way.

Foothills has rapidly become my favourite medium to heavy weight two player game, and it may even be fair to say that it is the only game of this depth and complexity that I own, which supports two players so well. As such, it’s fairly unique in my collection and certainly a game that I always look forward to playing. It fits in a small box, but takes up a lot of table space, so whilst I wouldn’t call it a travel game, it’s very good for two players who travel together and have the chance to set it up whilst on holiday, for example. A really good addition to any collection where two player games are the focus.

**** 4/5

Foothills is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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