Stefan Feld is the highest rated designer of games in recent years. The adjective 'Feldian' has come into popular use when describing a game that has various ways of earning victory points but also includes some luck element. We are under the Feldian spell ourselves because we like light to medium complexity in our games and most Feld games fall into this camp.
Stefan Feld is 43 years old and his first game was published in 2005. Since then publishers have been clamouring to add a Feld game to their roster, culminating in four games (yes really - four) games in 2013 and all are gems. This article will concentrate on games we own and it ignores promos and expansions (and we do own quite a few of them). Pictures will be from the back of the box because that will be much more informative for you readers.
In 2005 Revolte in Rom was published. This is a 2 player card game, made by Queen Games. Although it is a card game, it also uses dice. Ancient Rome is in crisis and the players use their cards to help improve the situation in the troubled city. Various 'routes' can be used. Maybe you would like to use force (the Praetorian Guard) or maybe politics (Senate), either road might lead to success or perhaps a little of both will be the key. There are 25 different types of character and building and each has a unique action. Some let you manipulate your dice or cards, some help you fight and some increase your capacity to collect victory points. Some help you make better use of other cards.The hand you are dealt at the start might influence your road to victory but you must be prepared to change your strategy mid-stream should your opponent block you at vital stages. An unusual feature is that the Victory Points are limited to 26 in total (so if you reach 14, you win). This is not much as you start with 10. However, every turn you hand back victory points to take actions so it is a case of going backwards before going forwards. The game usually takes a little more than 30 minutes but I have seen a game that took around 15 minutes. A perfect game for your lunch-hour.
Now we move to 2007 and two Feldian games were released, Notre Dame and Im Jahr des Drachen, our copies by Rio Grande and Alea/Ravensburger respectively.
Notre Dame is for 2 to 5 players and has an ingenious board design. The board is assembled in a different way depending on the number of players. Players have a hand of three cards each turn. Which cards are taken using a card drafting mechanic. Every player has 9 cards (the same). These are shuggled seperately and each player takes the top three. Now each player chooses one and passes the other two to the player on their left. Now one is chosen and the remaing one passed to the left. Now everyone has three cards to choose from. The cards represent certain actions. Play the hospital card for example and it limits the affect of plague (which is a constant menace and it is unwise to ignore it). The hotel card will earn you extra cash, and so on. You build up influence in the 9 boroughs and so you can plan a strategy around this mechanic. In addition, Parisian characters can be hired and they also will allow you to do special actions if you can afford to hire them. Each game lasts around 90 minutes and the player with the most Prestige wins. I love this game but Helga hates it so it will never be played again in this house ("Boo" say I, "Hurray" says Helga).
Im Jahr des Drachen (In the Year of the Dragon) takes players back to China in 1,000 A.D. That year must have been a tough year if events in this game are anything to go by. Each turn, 12 in all, reflects one month and the player must survive an event. Diseases, droughts, Mongol attacks and worse must be negotiated if you want to win. Each turn players can select actions - a) Build: When a player selects this action he may add palace levels equal to the number of builders in his employ plus one; b) Taxes: When this action is selected, a player receives 3 yuan (coins) for every tax collector in his employ and two for the action itself.; c) Harvest: When a player chooses this action, he receives one food for every food symbol on the farmers in his employ and one for the action itself; d) Fireworks Display: When a player chooses this action, he receives one firework for every firework symbol on the pyrotechnists in his employ and one for the action itself; e) Military Parade: When a player chooses this action, he moves his marker one space forward on the person track equal to the number of helmet symbols on the warriors in his employ plus one for the action itself; f) Research: When a player chooses this action, he receives victory points. The player with the most victory points after 12 rounds, wins. Note: Yes, in this game you get victory points for having the best fireworks!!
In 2009 Feld designed the second and last card game for two players. Die Säulen Der Erde: Duell der Baumeister (published by Kosmos) was based on characters in Ken Follett’s book The Pillars of the Earth. One player is Prior Phillip and the other is Bishop Waleran. Prior Phillip wants to build the cathedral in Kingsbridge whilst the Bishop wants to build his castle. The first to succeed in their endeavours will win. In typical Stefan Feld fashion, Builder's Duel presents players with a variety of mechanisms: Coins for purchase, raw resource chits which double as processed building materials (raw on one side, processed on the other), influence seals for conflict resolution, and two separate decks of cards that ultimately decide what players get to do in furthering their construction goals. Where the board game on this subject (not a Feld game) is complicated and slow, this is innovative, clever and quick, everything that Feld excels at.
Die Spiecherstadt was published in 2010 by Eggertspiele, his only game in that year. Specherstadt lives (and dies for some) on its auction mechanic. Being a Feld idea, it is unique to this game. Players bid on cards with their workers. The starting player places 1 worker on the board above the card he wants to bid on first. In clockwise order the other players follow. This is done 3 times; it is not possible to pass. If there is already a worker above the card you want to bid on, then you simply place a worker above that worker. Resolution of the bids is done from left to right, and the purchase of each card is resolved. First the player that has first bid on a card gets to say whether he wants to buy that card or not. The price of the card equals the number of workers above that card. There is a good chance that the card has become more expensive then the player can or wants to pay. If the first player decides not to buy the card, then he removes his worker. The second player can now say whether he wants to buy the card or not. Since the first player has removed his worker, the price of the card is now 1 coin less. This continuous until a player has bought the card, or all players have passed (in which case the card is discarded.) This system allows for a high degree of player interaction. Sure, you want certain cards but you can also push the price up on other cards. A neat idea in my opinion. Die Speicherstadt is the name of the warehouses along the river in Hamburg.
2011 was a bumper year for Feld fans. There was Die Burgen von Burgund, Strasbourg and Trajan. First I will look at The Castles of Burgundy, published by Alea/Ravensburger. This is a game where choices must be made but the dice may well not fit into your master plan. Such is life! The dice mechanism is a great feature because it adds a little tension without allowing the game to become a dice fest. Each player has a different board and on every board the playing area is broken down into 37 hexes. These hexes are of 5 different ‘terrain’ – Dark Green is where you could build Castles; Yellow is where you will ‘find’ extra knowledge which you can make use of during the game or for victory points at the end of the game; Grey hexes are where you will place your mines; Light Green will be the location of your animals; Beige (I cannot think of a better colour description) will be the location of your buildings; and finally Blue are the spots for your ship tiles. Each of these choices are useful, the secret is to put ‘what’ where. Feld is the master of creating ‘paths’ to victory. The player just have to make use of these ‘paths’ successfully. In Burgund for instance, you might place a mine, this will gain you Silberlings (in effect, money) at the end of every five turns. That is useful but you might want to place your animal tiles. Clever use of placing the right animal in the right pasture could generate a plentiful reward of victory points. Castles are important because they will give you an extra turn. As you only get 25 turns so extra turns are very valuable. Shipping allows you to earn trade goods which will generate income later and every shipping used moves you up one spot in the player order. Going first, as in most Feld games, is an advantage. The construction areas are where you put your building choices. There are many to choose from and each one conveys a unique advantage. For instance, a Watchtower earns you victory points. A Bank gives you extra silberlings. A Market can assist you with your animals or your shipping. And there are many more. If you will pardon the pun but constructive decisions with building can change a game. And finally the yellow hexes. Making use of these hexes gains you knowledge and knowledge can be crucial. There are 26 unique knowledge tiles and, in effect, change a rule or rules to your advantage. You can get a maximum of six and an early acquisition can give you a direction in which to go as a strategy for the rest of the game. This mix of mechanics is just wonderful and if you are a game player rather than just a collector, you must get this game.
Strasbourg is another ‘must-have’ game. Published by Pegasus, Strasbourg places the players in medieval Strasbourg where they are families striving to gain influence and their place of prestige in the city’s machinations and politics. Feld created a unique auction system using cards. The cards you get are the luck factor that he always has in his games. There are several auctions each turn and players will get a ‘reward’ if they come first, second or third. Of course, the 1st place gets a better reward but do not underestimate even a 3rd place. After five rounds the player with the most Prestige Points, wins.
Critics sometimes say that Feld games have a theme ‘put’ on them and are not really thematic. However, the majority don’t seem to care (they buy the games after all). They just enjoy the game even if the decisions in play have nothing to do with the theme. Trajan (published by Ammonit) is a victim of such criticism but, for me, this is his masterpiece so far. It is just a wonderful game. Players are Romans who must mix the various facets of the game in an effort to gain victory points. The theme is Rome so players can send generals and legionnaires to Northern Europe. They can ‘shine’ in the Senate. They can construct buildings in Rome. They can store and ship trade goods to the empire. They can stir up the people in the Forum. And they can obtain tiles in the Trajan section of the board (OK, that is not very Roman except that Trajan was a Roman). All of this mayhem is dictated how you use your action circle. In effect this works with a mechanic seen in Mancala games. The circle has 6 trays and at the start each tray has 2 markers in it. The markers are 2 of each in 6 colours and they are placed in twos in each tray. The first thing a player must do is to take all the markers out of one tray and then drop one at a time in each tray in clockwise order from the (now) empty tray. When the last marker has been added, an action will be available to the player in this turn. Obviously you take markers where you can that will help you do what you want to do (this is not always possible, c’est la vie). So, if the last marker was in the Forum tray for example, then you can take a Forum tile that will assist you in future turns. If you ended in the Senate then you would take that action, and so on. In addition, if you can get the last marker into a tray with a specific colour that matches one of your Trajan tiles you get that tile to help you later. On top of this you have the worry of pleasing the citizens who reveal their three ‘needs’ for each quarter of game. They will want three promises – Bread, Games and Religion. But which three are revealed in each quarter? It could be one of each but it could be three of just one. Usually it is two of one and one of another. Ignore their demands at your peril because if you cannot give them what they want, you lose victory points. One short is just about survivable but two or three short can easily lose you the game when the final scores are revealed. If a better game has ever been designed, I have yet to see it.
Nothing in 2012 – what was Feld thinking? Answer – he was thinking about four new games in 2013. Yes, four! And his games are not relatively simple board or card games á la Knizia, Stefan Feld games are full blown Eurogames.
Bora Bora appeared first from the publishing stable of Alea/Ravensburger, his third game that we own for that outfit. Bora Bora is a chain of islands in the South Pacific and players are aiming to settle and populate the land. For this they will use their own endeavours but an unwise player should not forget to make offerings to the gods. Players use dice to perform a variety of actions using careful insight and tactical planning. The heart of the game is its action resolution system in which 5-7 actions are available each round, the exact number depending on the number of players. Each player rolls three dice at the start of the round. Then they take turns placing one die at a time on one action. Place a high number on an action, and you'll generally get a better version of that action: more places to build, more choices of people to take, better positioning on the temple track, and so on. Place a low number and you'll get a worse action – but you'll possibly block other players from taking the action at all as in order to take an action you must place a die on it with a lower number than any die already on the action. A very neat idea as a game mechanic. Generally you do not want three high dice or three low dice. One high, one middle and one low are better. That way you can place the high on an action you really need and one on an action that will perhaps stop someone else doing the action they really want. The third dice is in the middle so it could be good or bad depending where you send it. Three task tiles on a player's individual game board provide some direction as to what he might want to do, while god tiles allow for special actions and rule-breaking, as gods are do. The player who best watches how the game develops and uses the most effective strategy will win.
Next in this bumper year was Rialto. Feld either designs medium or low complexity games. I certainly would not call any of his games that we have as being highly complex. Rialto is a very nice low complexity game that has a unique way to accumulate cards for each round. A hand of six cards per player +1 are laid out in full view of all the players. The first player may now take one of the hands and other players take a hand in turn order. One hand remains on the table. The cards are used in different phases in the turn. The game is set in Venice so a Doge action is obviously needed. Your Doge cards will move you along the Doge track. This track breaks ties (i.e. one most in the lead on it wins ties) which doesn’t sound much but it should not be dismissed, it has won games in our experience. Gold cards get you money of course, an ever-short commodity. Building cards will get you – well – buildings! These buildings can be improved during the game. Some buildings help you hold more cards than at the beginning of the game. Some allow you to interpret cards in your favour. And some can give you Victory Point advantages. Bridge cards let you place a bridge over one of the canals. In effect, it gives you the chance to make one of the city areas worth more or less depending if you are present there. Lots of bridge cards are not usually required but should a player not reveal at least one bridge card, he loses a victory point. Gondola cards work a little like bridges in that they link an area to another area. However, the Gondola player can place one man in one of the areas connected. Doesn’t sound a lot but can be very strategic. Finally councilman cards are used and players get to add councilors to the area in question. This game is quick, well under an hour with four experienced players. We haven’t yet played with five players and I am looking forward to trying that this year.
Brügge, by Hans im Glück, is are favourite Feld game of 2013. It is not very complicated after your first game but has tremendous replayability. Players must gather together various citizens of Bruges to their cause. The citizens range from royalty to beggars and there are 165 different characters you might ‘employ’. The very fact there are so many makes for a different game each time. Of course you might get one and you think “She was marvelous, I will look out for her again” and, of course, fate will dictate you may never get the opportunity. Characters you get allow you to gain advantages, some just work once and are then useless. Some will work all the time, maybe helping you to alleviate the various threats to your existence for example. There are some who will work every time except that you have to discard a worker every time you make use of their talents. And, finally, there are characters who will score victory points at the end. I think the game has a brilliant structure, you need cards (which have various uses), you need houses (a character won’t work for you if he or she doesn’t have a house to live in) and you need characters that will help you with your chosen strategy. You get 5 cards per round. Each card can only be used once but it has 6 different uses and as you can only choose one of these 6 actions per card, the game is full of micro-decisions. The seven actions are 1) gain 2 workers of the colour of the card; b) take money; c) discard a Threat Marker (Threats appear every round and should you get three of the same Threat you will suffer). My advice is to keep a good eye on your Threat levels. d) Build one Canal stage. Canals are a way of scoring victory points but get more expensive as you build them. e) Build a house so your characters have somewhere to live. f) You can hire the character and put him or her into one of your vacant houses where you can make use of the character. A lovely, lovely game. A word of warning – Feld’s games are usually not language dependent. Text is almost never a problem as the components don’t have text. Brügge is very language dependent. If you are playing with a set that is not in your native tongue you will have problems. And I have an official word that one card is a game-breaker i.e. if you acquire it you will probably win. The character is the Engraver (Graveur in my edition). Stefan Feld agrees that it is too good so he suggests you reduce his cost from 12 to 9 but limit his victory point addition to one per each different group represented by characters in your houses. Alternatively, take him out altogether. You will still have 164 characters in the game!
Finally Amerigo arrived on our table a few days ago. We have played it twice and we love it so far. The first game must be treated as a learning exercise. It is almost impossible to take on board the ramifications affected early on with gains later on. You almost feel it is pure luck what you do and what happens in the great scheme of things. However, then play it again and I think you will love it. Amerigo is published by Queen Games. For a German game it comes in a huge box, yet seems to weigh less than Bora Bora although the Bora Bora box is a third of the size. Part of the reason lies in the fact that Amerigo uses a Dice Tower, a mechanism that seems to polarize opinions – some love it, some hate it. You can guess which camp we are in. Amerigo is a game of colonization really. The board (which is different every time you play) features a number of land masses, islands you might say. You start with 2 ships and 12 Trading Posts. So you must sail your ships to anchorages where you can build a Trading Post. This will allow you to lay down terrain tiles, covering squares of the island. If the island is fully covered, it scores you victory points. Doesn’t sound particularly original but trust me, it is. The key to the game is the Dice Tower. There are seven sets of cubes, each comprising of seven individual cubes. The round has seven phases, each phase associated with a colour. At the start, all 49 cubes are dropped into the Tower. Those that come out are placed on a mini board next to the main board. The Dice Tower is so designed that most cubes will come out but some will be left in the tower, unseen by the players, and they may appear when more cubes are thrown into the tower. The phase starts with ships, which are blue cubes. The blue cubes are collected from the mini board and you look for the cubes that come out. As you have just put several blue cubes in, it will be no surprise if more blue come out than any other colour. From the cubes that do appear, the largest colour group dictates how many Action Points are available that turn. As a group though, any colour that comes out can be used as an action. So if 4 blue cubes came out with a green cube, you can choose a blue action or a green action and either chosen will give you 4 Action Points to ‘spend’. This is a great idea, one of Feld’s best I think. You go through this, dropping cubes in and taking actions until all seven phases have been done. That is the end of the round and a new round starts. Five rounds make a complete game. The 7 actions are Ships (blue), Cannons (black), Planning (red), Progress (brown), Building (green), Production (yellow) and Special Actions (white). In addition you can forego one of the actions mentioned to take some gold. Gold is important because you can use it to give yourself more action points and that can be incredibly useful. And, by the way, do not ignore the Pirates, a growing menace throughout the game. My tip – get some cannons!! Yesterday was New Year’s Eve and we had two groups round to play. The first group was us and Jürgen and Hansi and when they left, in came Bernd and Petra. Amerigo was played both times. It was clear to us that a first game was definitely needed to play constructively. However both groups had great fun and the game was a success. We finished the second game a few minutes before midnight and we rushed outside to see in the New Year and look at the fireworks. It is a tradition here that many people will have firework displays out in the streets and our road was no exception. It was cold but it was lovely as well.
Our Stefan Feld collection so far
Which brings me to wishing you all a very happy and prosperous New Year!!