Some games are deceptive. The box will lie to your face. Belfort is one of those games, but, oh, how I love the lies!
Don’t be fooled by the excellent, comic art on the cover here, there’s a good amount of meat inside. But what makes Belfort stand out from many other games in a collection is just how the layers of mechanisms combined with the art and humor give energy to the game’s presentation.
Belfort is a game about fantasy races building a city. Each player is one of the contractors working to add buildings to the city. The more buildings you add, the more areas (sectors) you control, and the more points you score.
You may have played a city building game before, but not like this. First of all, there aren’t grand city plans to work on, just buildings represented by cards and placement spots on each city sector. All the sectors are identical with the same kind of buildings in each. Now, I know you’re yawning, but bear with me.
The spots on each sector represent a building that can only be completed once per sector. That means that if you’re competing with a neighbor for control of a sector, there’s more to consider if you think they’ll try to build those buildings before you can. It’s a precise step-by-step process to get building plans, gather resources, and complete a building at just the right moment in the right sectors to score maximum points.
You may be slightly interested at this point. What makes this game even better are the penalties for going too far. If you build too fast and outpace your opponents, you’re likely to get taxed at a higher rate than others (paying more gold to the city). Rather than a catch-up mechanism, this game employs a leader-setback mechanism.
Belfort combines this area control style of game with worker placement and resource management actions. Separate boards illustrate the different mechanisms and the aesthetic of the game flows through each game board. With each illustration comes humor and a cuteness that lightens the heft of the play. This is a welcome disarming technique from the artist team (see below) that worked on this gem and an amazing achievement given how many visual designers were working at the same time.
Not many games take the time or relish in their presentation as Belfort does. What’s even more saddening is that this game was never recognized for its graphic design or visuals. Besides some positive game review commentary, no awards or nominations are present on the BoardGameGeek page.
Belfort works because the design makes you feel good and the game delivers good decisions throughout. Both of these are always directly driving the theme. Belfort never misses a chance to highlight the theme with a cute illustration or humorous commentary. There are even little Easter eggs hidden on the game board to find, a reward for closely admiring the board.
What’s crucial in game design is that people remember your game with a good feeling. My wife often forgets other Euro games we have played. She remembers Belfort.
Artists for Belfort: Josh Cappel, Jay Cormier (also designer), Satya Hody, Sen-Foong Lim (also designer), and Hans-Georg Schneider