ZESTREA (meaning Dowry, in Romanian) is a board game for 3-6 players, in which all players play as Boyars (Romanian nobles from late middle ages).
The goal of the game is to earn the most Zestre, through negotiations, arranging marriages, and working the Land, all while struggling against Hard Times.
Zestrea represents the wedding gift, usually in the form of household goods such as bedding, plates and cutlery, carpets, etc..
It was given to Maidens by their parents or guardians when they got married and moved to start their own family.
Zestre cards are the currency and victory points in ZESTREA
Zestrea is the articulated form of Zestre, just like "The Dowry" is compared to "Dowry".
We chose to keep the Romanian terms for Zestre and Boyar in the game, because they are small additions that do a lot to set the mood, and prepare the narrative for the crazy things that end up happening in the game.
For more details about the game, you may download the instructions manual PDF on the buttons below.
The main characters in the game are the villagers: Lads and Maidens. Those are the terms for boys and girls that live on the estates of the Boyars (the players). They live and work, make babies and suffer hardships, all part of traditional village life.
The villagers have unique names, some traditional, some more kooky. They provide personality to the villagers... After all, isn't every person a unique special snowflake?
Land is valuable in ZESTREA. It brings prosperity! Villagers work it on the Production turn. They produce Zestre, and occasionally babies.
An estate of one of the Boyars might look something like the image below, with two married Couples living on two plots of Land, a Maiden living on the third, and a newborn enjoying a turn where she does not cost any resources to feed.
You might notice Helmut and Dumitru are a cozy couple on the second plot of Land. This type of progressive measure is uncommon, but valuable - same-sex Couples do not produce babies by random chance, though they can adopt.
Only heterosexual couples can be married normally in the game, due to the nature of Romanian traditions. However, same-sex Couples can be achieved in the game in multiple ways, using Fate cards: Boyars can arrange weddings abroad, where it is legal, use a sex change card on an already married villager, or stealing the Bride...
The history of Romanians is complicated and messy as all cultures. In Zestrea, this is illustrated via the Hard Times. Those are cards that happen once per turn and make life difficult for the Boyars and their villagers.
Events such as Fires, Floods, Communism and Bandits can reverse the odds for some Boyars, who thought they were doing well (or struggling hard). The cards trigger game mechanics that are symbolic for the events they represent, but in a funny way rather than historically accurate... Those who treat history too seriously risk repeating it!
There are 15 total Hard Times in the game, but each turn only 5 of them are played, so each session is different and fresh.
A Zestrea game starts with 3 Good Times, which are a variation of the Hard Times with a good, sunny view on the back. Those initial turns are meant as an engine-building step, to kick off the game and provide a slight tutorial at the same time, for players to get accustomed to the game and have a chance to make deals before the real game begins.
Therefore, a game consists of 3 Good Times followed by 5 Hard Times. Players who want a longer experience can play with more Hard Times and see how far they can push their strategy and luck.
Fate cards are the Boyar's way of rebelling against the odds, and trying to take life into their own hands. Some are also schemes and tricks they can perform on other Boyars, but they are diplomatically dubious to say the least...
Fate cards can help Boyars, or harm them, depending how they are played. Fate cards provide deeper strategy to the game and can turn the game around for those less fortunate.
There are 23 Fate cards and 12 Roles (Fate cards applied to Villagers for life) in the game. They can be purchased by the Boyars at the auction, or in exchange for 2 Zestre, or received when a Maiden is married off.
ZESTREA started as a game jam project at Clujotronic Game Jam 2018. Inspired by the theme "inheritance", the game was about arranging marriages by rolling dice to see if the couples agree to get married, while the families starve due to catastrophies - floods, communism, Genghis Khan, etc.
The audience at Clujotronic loved the game, played it extensively on the final day of the jam, and Zestrea received praise for its humor and interaction mechanics. We won second place in the competition we did not know was happening, and our simultaneous reaction was "We can print more prototypes!".
Later, as we played it more, we created more depth and strategy by the addition of Fate cards, that the players can invest in during the game, to create more interaction, and use the mechanics in new ways.
We also cleaned up the cheap dirty humor from the original prototype in favor of more positive humor... A lot of the work that went into the theming of the game ended up making the game better from a gameplay perspective too.
To follow the development and insights, read our BLOG! We aim to be open with our development struggles and what we learned along the way.
Are you a journalist who wants to write about Zestrea?
You can find a few pretty graphics and photos to download HERE (Google Drive link)!
If you are a reviewer or a boardgame cafe, interested in Zestrea, please throw an email our way!
If you need anything more, contact us at zestrea [at] zestrea.net!