Fertility: A four-sided game review

Fertility is a family tile-laying game for two to four players that takes 30-45 minutes to play. Recommended for ages 8+ on the box, it will go a little younger for game savvy kids – but do be aware it has some very small wooden pieces.

Speaking of which, the large game box contains a four-part modular game board (you only use three of them in a two or three-player game, four player boards, around 100 cardboard tiles, 80 wooden resources and a score pad. Both the art and component quality are average, being functional (graphically and artistically) and durable. This has kept the price below £30, which makes it relatively competitive in its field.

Thematically, forget about it: you are a blah blah in ancient blah blah doing blah blah (read: you’re a player flipping cardboard tiles to turn bits of wood into victory points). Well, that’s probably a little harsh – you’re placing tiles on a central board to gain resources that you’ll then place into shops to score points. But hey – the important thing is, Fertility has a few neat little tricks that make for an interesting and engaging game.

Teaching Fertility

Fertility is a super simple game to teach: even my rules averse better half managed to stay awake long enough to pick them up first time. And as there are no hidden player pieces, you can easily talk through turns (and/or give advice) during your first game.

A player’s turn is split into three sections: placing a valley tile onto the main board (mandatory), building a district on their own board (optional) and supplying shops on said board (also optional) – but you’ll find yourself doing most things on most turns. I walk players through the score pad describing each way to gain points, but it’s all fairly obvious – while the points available for majorities are also printed on the player boards for easy reference.

You’ll always have three valley tiles (read: resource dominoes) available to pick from on your turn (play one, then restock from a public choice of three at the end of your go). To place, you simply make sure at least one half of the domino attaches to a same-type piece already on the board – then collect any resources due. There are only four main resources, so you usually have some genuine choices to make – while you can also cover or run parallel to certain spaces to gain extra resources.

If you manage to cordon off a single surrounded space, it becomes a quarry. This either lets you build a monument on the space (those with the majority of these at the end get bonus points) or to take a resource of your choice. This adds a nice extra consideration when deciding placement, particularly with three or four players where the board will fill up quite a lot more.

Once done, you collect your resources (mostly wooden cubes, usually two or three) and decide what to spend them on. The kicker here is that you can’t save any, so anything you don’t use is wasted. Each player board has space for nine districts, with each starting with two of them printed on the board (they’re all very slightly different). You can but one district per round (from a choice of three) which cost 0-2 resources of your choice – with those costing more giving better endgame rewards if filled up.

Any resources you have left can then be placed into these districts, where they’ll stay until the end of the game (but once placed, you can’t move or spend them elsewhere). These tend to give points in various ways (set collection, multipliers giving you points for having lots of a resource on your board, or just straight points), meaning you can set yourself up to concentrate on a particular strategy or be a more opportunistic.

You end your turn by choosing a new domino tile to add to your play area, meaning you’ve always got three to choose from. After every player has placed nine of these tiles, you score up. You don’t lose anything for not completing your districts with resources, but if you spent any resources taking them I guess you can view that as wastage/inefficiency. Highest score wins and, speaking of efficiency, if it’s a tie the player with the least resources on their player board wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Kingdomino proved there’s life in the old domino dog yet – and Fertility is another solid example of what this age-old game mechanism has to offer. While falling short of feeling puzzly, the combination with simple resource management works well; while the restriction of having to always spend your resources as you get them adds a little extra tension to what is otherwise a very family friendly game. It’s just a shame that, while the modular board works and is welcome, it adds to what already feels like a long setup time for a very short game.
  • The thinker: There’s little here for the strategist, which is a shame as the various mechanisms on show slot neatly together in a pleasing fashion. I had a lot of fun the first play, working out how piece A slotted into hole B; but subsequent plays showed no room for further thought. I’m not suggesting it’s a poor game – far from it – and I’d play it again as a filler. But this is a tactical game, where any long-term strategy can easily be thwarted by any number of random factors – basically, you have to stay flexible so there aren’t really differing routes to victory.
  • The trasher: If you’re looking for interaction, steer clear of Fertility. The game makes most things available most of the time by design, and as pretty much anything you do scores there’s not really much room for denial strategies: you’re as likely to harm yourself as hinder your opponent. It all comes down to efficiency. You might occasionally get an anguished cry from an opponent as you take the space they wanted! But you’ll likely cost them a single resource – little to celebrate.
  • The dabbler: I really enjoyed Fertility. It’s very simple to pick up but always offers some interesting choices on your turn – and you don’t have to worry too much about what everyone else is doing. Don’t get excited by the lovely, cartoony box art though: sadly it’s all a bit yellow and brown on the inside. And the tiny wooden pieces, while practical to put on the tiles, are really fiddly – both for kids and those with fat fingers! To be honest, everything inside the (hugely oversized) box could’ve been taken up a notch, but don’t let that put you off – it’s a fun game!

Key observations

Fertility isn’t at its best with two players, which is a massive shame – and feels like a missed opportunity. The game play should work well for two – as with Patchwork, for example – but unfortunately little thought seems to have gone into this. For some reason you use the same board size as with three players, so it feels baggy; while you see too few district tiles to feel confident going for a long-term plan (even more so than usual).

There is a two-player variant which includes using, and discarding, extra valley tiles; but this would only support a denial strategy, which doesn’t feel like what the game is really about. A variant where you can cycle through district tiles instead feels as if it would be more in keeping with the game.

A common observation is the box to component size ratio, which is way off: what you get is a Carcassonne sized game in a Ticket to Ride sized box. As this is clearly aimed at families, it makes it even more bizarre: why not either reduce the size/cost, or beef up the component sizes so children can more easily use them?

And finally, it would’ve been nice to have a round marker of some sort. While tiles running out triggers the end of the game, it isn’t as easy to parse as you might think – and taking an extra district late on when you should probably be using those precious resources elsewhere can make or break a tight game.

Conclusion

Fertility is a very good family game, but personally I’m on the fence about it. I’m keeping it for now, but as I have other short tile/domino games that play better with two and play well with more (Maori and Kingdomino spring immediately to mind) I’m not sure for how long. I’ll have to see whether, over a few more plays, it does enough to earn a permanent place on my shelves. But while the jury is out for my ‘one in, one out’ collection, I’d recommend it for families and fans of the tile laying and domino genres.

* I would like to thank Catch Up Games (via Blackrock Games) for providing a copy of Fertility for review.

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