What's Eric Playing? #146: Avenue
So all the kids these days are playing roll-and-write games. Or they’re into drugs. Or neither, I guess? Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that there are people who are into roll-and-write games, but with a modern spin, so that way you don’t just have to entertain people by playing Yahtzee with them until the Sun consumes the Earth. One such game is Qwinto, which I have either already reviewed or will publish my review of imminently, depending on my capricious mood, but another is Avenue.
While I did just spend an entire paragraph talking about roll-and-write games, Avenue isn’t quite a roll-and-write, since, as you might notice, there are no dice. It instead uses dice cards so that you’re not totally adrift in a sea of randomness, as you might find yourself in other dice-heavy games (such as Catan). In this game, you’re endeavoring to build a network between various grape farms and the nearby castles. However, you can’t slack off! You must always do better. Always be closing, or something like that. Will you be able to find the right path to victory?
Setup is ludicrously easy. Give everyone a pen and one of these sheets:
Then, there are two decks of cards. The farm cards should be shuffled:
And then shuffle the path cards:
Set them out. Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start! Flip the first farm card and write its letter in the left bubble of the top-right section of your sheet:
Gameplay is also pretty straightforward. Remember those Farm cards?
Well, that indicates which farm you’re scoring this round. Sounds easy enough, right? Good. You score by connecting grapes (either purple or green; doesn’t matter which) to your farm. How do you connect them? Well, every “turn” a path card is drawn from the deck:
And you must do one of two things:
- Add that exact path somewhere on your sheet (no rotating!).
- Take a look at the top card of the farm deck. You may only do this once per round.
You are totally allowed to create dead ends, and you DO NOT have to place adjacent to an existing path like some sort of Kingdom Builder fever dream. I’m not here for that.
Anyways, you probably noticed that there are grey path cards and gold path cards. That’s because whenever four gold path cards have been drawn, the round ends after that turn. You discard all cards played that round from the game (do not shuffle them back in) and then score.
How does scoring work? Easy. You count the number of grapes connected to a path running through the farm’s square (note that your path has to go through the farm, not just touch one of its edges; this is a common error!). Sounds straightforward enough, which is exactly why it’s not.
If you scored higher than your previous round’s score, you earn those points. If you did not, you get nothing. While that’s a bummer, at least you will probably score next round, right? So you must always be increasing or you risk getting a 0 for the round.
Play continues until the 5th farm is scored, at which time the game ends. Now, you also get a bonus from the two castles in the top-right and bottom-left corner. You score one point for every purple grape connected to the bottom-left castle, and one point for every green grape connected to the top-right castle.
Now, add those 7 numbers together to get your subtotal. Then, subtract 5 points for every 0 you scored for a farm. You didn’t just think that you were going to come out of that with no penalties, right? That’s silly. (Note that you do not take penalties if you scored 0 for a Castle.) Compare scores and the player with the highest score wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
None. Honestly. The game plays the same with 1 person as it does with 10. You could stream drawing cards from a deck and put it on a YouTube Live event with a million viewers and you would have no meaningful impact on gameplay other than having to show the next card a whole bunch to randos. You can play this at any number of players, but if you have them all in the same room it IS likely gonna take a bit longer.
This is a tough game to play well on your first try.
- Avoid common pitfalls. Many people make common mistakes like forgetting to have a path running through the farm’s square, so they earn 0. They also frequently disregard the castles or create a bunch of dead ends. Try to make sure you’re not doing any of those things if you want to win.
- Keep track of cards you’ve seen. No sense making a big strategy around 4s if all the 4s have already been played. There are 4 gold and 3 grey of 1; 2; 3; and 4, and 3 gold and 4 grey of 5 and 6. Just so you know.
- It’s better to take an early 0 than a late one. Naturally, you’d prefer to take no 0s at all, but if you had to pick, the first round isn’t too bad.
- Don’t go too hard on the first farm, unless you can connect it to the second. If you score too many points in the first round, you’re setting yourself up for future hardship. Unless you are just consistently connecting all your farms together, in which case you’re just setting yourself up.
- Try to look at the next farm early, if you’re going to. It helps you figure out where you need to go and how you’ll get there, which is never bad.
- I generally try to look at the next farm on the first card played unless I absolutely need it. Sometimes I do need it. Other times I just don’t care about what farm is coming first.
- Castles are awesome. If you can connect the castles to each other, you will really score a bunch of points.
- Connect your farms. Many players think that’s not allowed, but it totally is. If you scored 5 points from Farm A and you connect it to Farm B this round (and it’s scoring), you will score all the grapes on that path, not just the new ones.
- Generally, the game seems to incentivize having all the farms on one path. If you do that, provided you extend the path every round you will always score because you will always have more grapes connected than you did the previous round. Bonus points if you can connect the farms to the castles as well, since then you’d just re-score your final round’s score (since all the grapes must be purple or green, and both castles are part of your network).
- Have a plan for numbers you don’t need right now. I generally put a 2 on the purple castle and a 4 on the green castle if I don’t need them right away. Prevents the temptation to make those dead ends later.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Short. It’s a pretty quick game unless you play with people with analysis paralysis, in which case just tell them to go faster.
- Cute theme. The art is also pretty whimsical, which I appreciate.
- Good level of luck-based tension. It’s a nice kind of stress during this game to be hoping / praying / swearing for a certain card and either getting it or not. It’s a lot of fun.
- Highly variable. Since the farms and the paths vary so much, it’s never quite the same game. I generally try for the same strategies each time, but that only gets me so far.
- Pretty easy to transport. I played it on an airplane with my Dad, once, even. He thought it was okay.
- Pretty accessible to new gamers. It’s got the sort-of-Yahtzee feel, but with a fun theme and pretty interesting gameplay (people love paths, or at least, I do).
- Honestly, I just love the concept. Building routes and paths is super exciting to me. It’s part of why I love, like, Tsuro / of the Seas so much. And why I still have a soft spot for Ticket to Ride.
- Having games with disposable sheets gives me an existential crisis when I play them. I think that might just be a me thing, though. I just think all the time about what happens if I run out of sheets and then I can’t play the game anymore and never stop to consider that I’ve literally already scanned the sheets so I can print more. Or getting them laminated, as has been done in the follow-up, Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama.
- Definitely not an interactive game. You might be able to look at someone else’s board during the game, but that has hardly anything to do with you since they probably went in a completely different direction than you did with their life. Other than that, you’re all just playing a solo game together. It’s not a con for me, but it might be for others.
- You’re probably going to get wrecked your first game. That’s just how it goes. The strategy is a bit hard to grok until you’ve seen a game through and really internalized your inadequacies. Or, at least, that’s what I did.
- Almost completely improved / reimplemented by a successor. Similar to what Tsuro of the Seas did to Tsuro (and, imo, what Lost Legacy eventually did to Love Letter), Avenue has been pretty much reimplemented by Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama. It adds whiteboards, a second side with some randomly-generated starting points, and Decree Cards which change some of the scoring rules for the game, allowing you to significantly alter the game every time you play. While I like Avenue a lot, it’s hard to ignore that.
OVERALL: 8.25 / 10 (WITH A CAVEAT)
Overall, Avenue is super. It’s short, highly transportable, got a cool concept, and delivers it with a cute theme. It’s one of my go-to openers at game nights, and I’m pretty much always down for a game. That said, Kokoro is at least the same game as Avenue, but with (in my opinion) better art and whiteboards + erasable markers, which already significantly improves Avenue. Plus, it’s (to my knowledge) a licensed re-theme of the game, so it’s not anything weird or uncomfortable. While I think Avenue is great, I’d highly recommend just getting Kokoro unless you absolutely hate the theme or whiteboards, and I’ll have a review of the changes Kokoro brings to Avenue coming in the next few months.