Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Build It And They Will Come: A Review of Minigolf Designer

To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.
P.G. Wodehouse

Growing up in Southern California, my miniature golf course of choice was Camelot Golfland… which, I figured out (thanks to the magic of Google) is still up and running. In seminary, my roommate and I managed to win second place in a best ball Putt-Putt tournament in North Richland Hills, TX… which meant we were awash in arcade tokens and free games of minigolf. During our Fresno years, the way we celebrated Thanksgiving away from extended family was to go to Blackbeard’s and buy an unlimited play pass for the minigolf and the arcade. And I was bummed to find out while working on this piece that I somehow missed National Miniature Golf Day on May 8th.

More recently, my boys & I have been deeply, profoundly, and hilariously moved by the ridiculous blend of miniature golf & Wipeout that is the TV show Holey Moley. If you haven’t seen it, you need to correct that as soon as possible – both seasons are on Hulu, there are clips on ABC’s website, and the new season (“Holey Moley 3D in 2D”) arrived in June.

I tell you those things so you know that miniature golf is in my blood – the neon colored golf balls, those tiny golf pencils, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat… and that weird hole at the end of every minigolf course that eats your ball so you won’t go play again.

So when someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned the existence of Minigolf Designer, my ears perked up. I dug around and found out I’d missed a Kickstarter (that happens a lot) and that I’d have to order it from the company website. Having a little Christmas cash to burn, I did just that… and 2-4 weeks later, it arrived.

And what I got was a box packed full of gaming goodness… a quirky mix of mechanics, quality components, and simplistic art design that offers some interesting tile-laying challenges and plenty of opportunities for enjoyable game play.

Yeah, I like it. A lot.

Par Three

The objective of the game is straightforward – build a minigolf course that attracts people and satisfies the various demands of your investors. You need to stay within the property lines, not make the course too difficult or too easy, and layout the holes so that it’s easy to figure out where the tee box for the next one is located. 

The basic gameplay is equally straightforward – tiles are laid out drafting “lanes” (much like Kingdomino) and players choose tiles in an order based on which tiles they chose previously. There is a one-turn “look ahead” lane that can prove helpful… and a park bench at the front of each lane, where players can choose not to take a tile and instead have an early position for the next turn.

Once a player has chosen a tile, they place it in their minigolf course either orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to their clubhouse or any previously placed tile. 

Par Four

Just like miniature golf, the basics may be simple (hit the ball in the hole) but the particulars make it tricky (hit your ball through the windmill and bounce it off the angled bumper into the hole). The same thing is true with Minigolf Designer.

Each hole in your course is made up of at least two tiles – a tee box and a hole, both of which are rated at least 1 (and up to 3) in assessing the difficulty of a particular hole. The tile mix also includes a variety of straight and curved pieces rated from 0 to 3 to make longer holes and/or make your holes fit inside the property lines. Some tiles have a specific orientation, denoted by an arrow on the tile, that shows how they have to be placed in a hole.

Players track the difficulty of their course using their score cards and 36 small cubes. The objective is to keep the par number of each of your holes between par 3 and par 5 – while not exceeding a total of 36 for the par for your 9 hole minigolf course. 

Each course has property lines delineated by a blueprint card chosen by the player at the beginning of the game. Players are dealt three cards and select one to be their building site. Blueprints come in three different levels of difficulty – which also affects the number of points they’re worth at the end of the game. The highest level of difficulty has oddly shaped boundary lines and/or creeks and ponds that make building trickier.

In addition to course tiles, the tile set includes a number of tiles that show trees, dogs, patrons, tables… a wide variety of non-hole-related stuff. These tiles are useful for completely filling your building site as well as scoring points when your course is judged at the end of the game.

Par Five

The game enters the final stage when one player manages to complete their blueprint – whether or not they have everything “correct” for their course. That player has “stopped building” – and from then on takes tiles as a way to record points (and undercut the other players by taking tiles they want/need). The other players have a choice each turn to stop building and join the first player in collecting tiles or continuing to add to their course. When all players have stopped, the final accounting begins.

There are a number of ways to score points in Minigolf Designer:
  • You receive one point for each person pictured on the tiles in your golf course.
  • You receive three points for each tile chosen after you stop adding to your course.
  • You receive two points for each hole that is a par 3, par 4, or par 5.
  • You receive points from your blueprint card, ranging from 15-25 points.
  • You receive two points for each hole which helps form a circuit – in other words, where the green of the last hole is orthogonally adjacent to the tee box of the next hole.
  • You also receive points for satisfying the whims of your clients – there are two cards active each game. (For example, they might want trees… or benches… or holes with curves… or long holes.)
There are also a number of ways to lose points:
  • You lose one point for each unused par cube and one point for each extra par cube used. (In other words, you want the par for your course to be exactly 36.)
  • You lose one point for each spot without a tile in your blueprint.
  • You lose three points for each tile outside your blueprint.
  • You lose ten points for each missing or additional hole.
  • You lose three points for each hole with two greens or two tee boxes.
  • You lose three points for each mismatched connection.
  • You lose one point for each tile placed in the wrong direction (the aforementioned arrow tiles).
And that’s just the Family (or Basic) Game. In the Advanced Game, players have the opportunity to promise (using a deck of cards) to be the best at certain scoring areas… which can provide extra points at the end of the game as you are ranked against the other players. 

Alone Again (Naturally)

The solo mode for Minigolf Designer is the classic “beat your personal high score” system – which, given the design of the multiplayer game, makes perfect sense. You can play the Basic game or the Advanced game… either way, your turn consists of drawing two tiles and placing one into your golf course. Refusing both tiles costs you three points. Play until your blueprint is finished and score the game as usual. 

Stuff Tacked to the Clubhouse Bulletin Board

One of the punchboards provided in the game is the statistics sheet – which is never clearly explained in the rulebook. The designer, Alban Nanty, was kind enough to include this information to fans over on BoardGameGeek:
Well this sheet was added to use the empty space in the third punch board (taking the remaining place of a score sheet). I mentioned it in the component list in the rule book, but I didn’t find any space in the rule book to explain the usage.

Basically it explains how many Putting Green, Tee, straight tile, corner tiles, and field tile are in the bag. Moreover, by doing a simple division by the number of players, it tells you how many of each type, each player can hope to have. When you see a client face with an exclamation mark in one cell, that means the competition will be very tight for this type of tile with this specific client, if all the players try to fulfill the client constraint for all their holes.

Also the top of the Statistics Sheet reminds you that if you create 9 holes of 3 tiles + 9 field tiles, you will fill a 400 m² land. If you play with Mr Long, and if you want to have your 9 holes 4 tiles long, that means you won’t have space for field tiles (unless you chose a land of 410 m² or 420 m²).

This Statistics Sheet is mainly useful for ultra-competitive players. :-)
There’s also a nice tile sheet included in the box as well so you can, if you’re so inclined, see every one of the 264 tiles.

Final Thoughts

I’ve already noted at the top of this review that I like the game… but why I like it is important as well.

I think Alban Nanty has taken the part I like best about Kingdomino (the drafting system), used it to drive a tile placement game with thematic scoring (like Carcassonne but without the arguments about which set of farm rules we’ll be using), and provided the proper components (big cloth bag, easy to read tiles, clever use of cards to add variety) to make a really enjoyable game experience.

I’m not in love with the art on the cards, but the tile art and iconography work well. (Note: the cards are perfect playable – there’s no difficulty in reading and/or using them – I just don’t like the art style.)

I’d strongly suggest starting with the Basic game and leaving the Promise cards/tokens out of the mix until you’ve got a few games under your belt. The suggestion in the rulebook to only use the simplest (level one) Blueprint cards for your first game is also a good idea. 

Some reviewers feel like the all of the different scoring areas make the game difficult for new or casual players – but so far I’ve found that the combination of well-thought-out components (the large score board has all of the scoring rules clearly laid out in the middle of the track) and the thematic nature of the scoring keeps that from happening. 

I’ve been able to play the game with two, three, and four players… and a number of times solo. Each experience has been enjoyable – and I look forward to playing it more in the future as we return to face-to-face gaming with friends. I particularly look forward to the craziness likely to ensue when five of us build our minigolf empires all at once!

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website. It has been slightly updated.