Full disclosure: A review copy of Downtown Farmers Market was provided by Blue Orange Games.
Whoops; fell behind. I had a three-week lead on reviews, and then Life Happened, so now I’m a bit behind the eight-ball. We’ll see where that leads. In the meantime, though, I’ve got reviews for you! This one’s a relatively new Blue Orange Games title that I’ve been excited to check out. I live in the SF Bay Area, so there are near-constant Farmers Markets; honestly, a highlight of the location. Big fan. It’s a fun theme, so let’s see how the game plays!
In Downtown Farmers Market, you play as locals hitting up the farmers market over the weekend. Each of you has a specific set of challenges you want to complete while you’re there, so you may want to put some care into which ingredients you pick up and how you organize them. Will you be able to get everything you want? Or will the best things be out of stock?
There’s not a ton, surprisingly. You’ll want to start by shuffling and dealing each player four Challenge Tiles:
Each player should make a horizontal line of the tiles, in any order that they choose. The tiles can be flipped over for an alternate challenge on the back. Once everyone’s done this, deal them another four and have them make a column the same way (so that the line and the column define a 4×4 grid). You can remove the unused Challenge Tiles from the game. Then, shuffle the Food Tiles and make a row of five of them, face up:
Keep the remaining Food Tiles face-down in a stack. You should be ready to start!
Relatively straightforward one, here, which is always nice. Downtown Farmers Market is a tile-laying / drafting game where players work to strategically place Food Tiles to fulfill challenges and score points. Let’s go through how that works.
The player with the First Player token always starts the round, and each player takes one turn each round. A player’s turn depends on how many players you have:
- Two players: Each player chooses a tile and then chooses a second tile, returning the second tile to the box on their turn.
- Three players: The first player chooses a tile and then chooses a second tile, returning the second tile to the box. The second and third players choose a tile on their turn.
- Four players: Each player takes one tile on their turn.
Once a player has taken a tile, they can place it in any of the empty spaces to the right or below their Challenge Tiles (there will be a 4×4 grid, so players will start with sixteen open spots). Once a Food Tile has been placed, it cannot be moved. One Food tile will remain at the end of the round, carrying over to the next one. Once all players have taken a turn, pass the First Player Token to the right, so that the previous round’s last player will become the next round’s first player. Then, reveal four new Food Tiles and start a new round.
After players have placed their sixteenth Food Tile on the grid, players score their Challenge Tiles. Challenge Tiles have a variety of different scoring conditions, including (but not necessarily limited to):
- X of Ingredient: The pictured ingredient(s) must appear X times in the row or column, exactly.
- 0 of Ingredient: The pictured ingredient(s) must not appear in the row or column.
- X of Same Ingredient: Choose an ingredient; it must appear exactly X times in the row or column.
- X Different Ingredients: X different ingredients must be present at least once in the row or column.
- X Total Ingredients: The total number of ingredients in the row or column must equal X. They may be any type.
- Majority: The pictured ingredient must be the majority in the row or column.
- Score Per: Earn the points listed for each ingredient (or set of ingredients) in the row or column. Ingredients can only count towards one set, but a set may be split across multiple tiles.
Total scores, and the player with the most points wins!
Young Shopper Mode
For a less complex game, skip using the Challenge Tiles. Instead, ingredients will score based on their majorities.
Instead of a row of five Food Tiles, use a row of three, immediately replenishing the row when a player takes one on their turn (none are returned to the box, no matter the player count). Players should always have three Food Tiles to choose from.
At the end of the game, for each column and row, score one point per ingredient that is the most common in that row or column. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Functionally, the game gets significantly more aggressive at lower player counts. With more players, I tend to keep an eye on what’s best for me, not what’s worst for you (since taking tiles I don’t need is obviously bad for me). With fewer players, however, I get the option to play spitefully and start dumping tiles out of the game, so now I have a strong incentive to keep an eye on what you’re doing and start throwing out tiles that you need. The game is decently unforgiving, on that front; you’re unlikely to score all of your Challenge Tiles with two players, just because it’s so easy to throw out a tile that you need if your opponent is paying attention to how you’re constructing your grid. With more players, it seems possible, but now you run into the problem of additional players with their own goals that overlap with yours. Here, they’re not necessarily playing to hurt you, but what benefits you might genuinely benefit them to take, so they might take that tile instead. That’s … market games, for you. Not much more to say on that front. If I’m playing with more players and I have two roughly equivalent Food Tiles, I will take the tile that is more likely to benefit other players, but that’s about the limit of spiteful play that’s wise at higher player counts. Given how quick the game is, though, I wouldn’t say I have a particular preference on player count. It moves pretty fast and is relatively easy to reset.
- There’s a real critical aspect to how you place your Challenge Tiles and which ones you place where; think about complements and what’s attainable. A pretty useful heuristic is the score that the Challenge Tile gives; the higher the score, the more difficult that the game believes this challenge is to complete. If you only stack the hardest Challenge Tiles on your grid, well, you might be able to complete most of them, but you’re going to have points where you struggle to prioritize one over the other or may not be able to actually do everything. Try to go for a balanced set of Challenge Tiles so that you’ve got flexibility; ideally, not every space in a row or column needs to contribute to its corresponding Challenge Tile. That can free you up to go for the other Challenge Tile for that row / column, as well. Splitting your focus might just mean that you do both Challenge Tiles poorly.
- Sometimes you’re going to have to give up on a Challenge Tile. Even if you’re holding out for the Perfect Tile, unless you’re going first that round, the odds of you getting that tile are pretty low. Giving up and pivoting may let you salvage the other Challenge Tile in that row / column, rather than potentially making you pollute the rest of your grid trying to save space for the One Perfect Tile that may not even exist.
- You’ll generally see 1 – 3 ingredients per Food Tile. Plan accordingly. Sometimes single-ingredient tiles are super helpful (when you need low numbers for a Challenge Tile) and sometimes you’ll prefer more or a more diverse set of ingredients. Just keep in mind there aren’t any blank tiles or anything like that, so you’ll always be taking something. Knowing what to expect can help a lot with how you strategize.
- At lower player counts, spite is a powerful motivator and an even more powerful strategic tool. Use it to your advantage. You really can just discard a tile because it would help your opponent out. Just keep in mind that once you do that, there really is no going back. They’ll notice and likely respond in kind, and then you’re playing a very mean version of this game. That will definitely appeal to some folks. If doesn’t, then the higher end of the player count spectrum may be more your speed. But if you’re playing with two, it’s almost always worth checking what your opponent’s Challenge Tiles are and then discarding tiles that would be helpful for them.
- Even if you’re not playing spitefully, it’s usually worth keeping an eye on what your opponents are doing. If for no other reason than keeping yourself roughly up to speed with how the game’s going, sure, but also, there will be times where you have Roughly Equivalent Choices (several tiles that are about the same in terms of their benefit to you). If you can’t decide between a few tiles, I’d recommend taking whichever tile probably helps your opponent the most. That way, you’re just ever-so-slightly making their job harder.
- That all said, do not hate draft in this game. Hate drafting typically refers to taking a tile or card specifically to keep it out of your opponent’s hands and making the best of it. This is a pretty tight game, tile-wise, and hate drafting a tile you don’t need or can’t use is almost always a bad idea, even if it would really help your opponent. It may be fine if you’ve already completed the row and column and have a free spot, but it’s usually better to focus on your scoring than trying to hinder your opponent’s. This especially applies at higher player counts. If you hate draft against one player, you still have other players who are unaffected by this move. Focus on you, instead.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I actually like these box sizes quite a bit. From a storage standpoint, I do wish that they had the game’s name printed on the top (just because I have deep shelves and tend to store games longways), but they’re a fun size and quite nicely displayable and portable. They also have that magnetic clasp which I really really like. It makes closing the box satisfying.
- The inside of the box having a removable insert is a very nice choice, as well. Without that being removable, it’s really hard to get at the tiles; I appreciate the usability work that went into the box design.
- The modularity of this game is pretty fun. I like choosing my Challenge Tiles every game and the bonus of them having different challenges on each side. It gives me a lot of flexibility in deciding how I want to fulfill my grid and build it. It’s a simple design choice that gives the player a lot of input in their own setup, which allows them to feel ownership of their strategy from start to finish. As a move for empowering players go, it’s a very good one.
- I like the art style! It’s fun. It’s almost clip-arty? I think it’s pleasant, especially the cover art (though it makes me wish more of those ingredients were in the game!). I really like the color choices, too! Set against a white box cover, it makes the game really pop and catch the eye.
- Plays pretty quickly. Once you’ve gotten a feel for the game, I’d be surprised if it took twenty minutes (unless two players are playing an intensely spiteful game). It’s a really quick drafting game given that you’re just kind of placing and moving on, with limited constraints. It’s not that you can’t place on a given spot; it’s just that you shouldn’t.
- A lot of the challenge of this game is solving your own complex grid problem, which can be pretty fun. The interacting constraints can be a lot of fun (or a huge pain, if you weren’t careful during setup). I like it, though! It’s really satisfying when you find a tile that works really well for the row and column it’s placed in.
- It’s also nice that they have a less-complex variant for players looking for that kind of thing. This doesn’t surprise me a ton, given that Blue Orange tends to have a good sense of their target audience, but I like that this game can grow with newer gamers to be increasingly complex, if they want it to. The Young Shopper variant is pretty simple (but still offers some strategy), and the full game is a nice step up.
- The inherent mean-ness of the two-player game may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I didn’t mind it, but it’s a surprisingly aggressive play given the kind-of-cutesy art style. I was mostly surprised, to be honest, but this game can get mean, since it’s essentially penalty-free hate drafting. You’re not forced to use the second tile you take; you just get to burn it. So why not burn whatever your opponent needs most?
- I find free-placing tiles in a grid stressful, but that’s just my mildly-neurotic desire for everything to look perfect. The photos are going to take a lot of refinement work. I’ve accepted it. But, while only partially serious, I do find this kind of thing challenging. We’ll see how the pictures turn out.
- The perils of iconography strike again: it can be a bit confusing to parse what all the scoring criteria mean in your first game or two, which may lead to some frustrating mishaps. I think the most common mistake is players thinking that the “X of Ingredient(s)” means “Score the pictured value per set of Ingredients of this type”, which are two very different challenges. Not much to be done there, but keep the rulebook nearby and maybe talk through players’ Challenge Tiles in the first game to make sure everyone’s on the same page? It’s helpful if both types of Challenge Tiles appear (so that you can quickly distinguish between the two), but that doesn’t always happen.
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I think Downtown Farmers Market is pretty fun! It’s got a few draws, I think: solidly fun theme, pleasant art style, and a quick and simple gameplay loop that makes it easy to get the game to the table and play a few rounds of it. Nice thing is, it’s also pretty easy to sweep, reshuffle the tiles, and go again, especially if you’re playing with two people and just going back and forth. I suppose, at some level, the game doesn’t reach for much more than what it is, but I also don’t think that’s really much of a problem? It seems like they set out to make a simple and fun strategy game about strolling through a farmers market and getting ingredients, and that’s exactly what this game is. Plus, the portability makes it a nice gift for my friends who are into farmers markets or games that appeal to couples and small groups alike. It’s a good spot for a game to be in, and I think Downtown Farmers Market occupies that space well. There may be some hiccups in the early game around the iconography on the Challenge Tiles, but I think that will be pretty easy to solve if you keep the rulebook close at hand. Just make sure everyone understands their tiles before the game starts, at least. If you’re looking for a quick tile game or you’re a big fan of farmers markets, you’ll probably enjoy Downtown Farmers Market! I thought it was pleasant.
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