Designer: Friedemann Friese
Publisher: 2F Spiele / Rio Grande Games
Playing Time: 45 Minutes
Friedemann Friese has designed a wide variety of games, from party games to heavy economic games, and as a result his whole oeuvre isn’t a fit for many gamers – but by the same token there is likely a Friedemann Friese game for nearly everyone. The trick, then, is figuring out whether a new Friese game is one for you or not. That difficulty was amplified at Essen in 2010, as he contributed to a half dozen designs.
One of those was Fürstenfeld. Fürstenfeld is part of the big box 2F Spiele / Rio Grande line, so the green box tends to make one think of games such as Power Grid or Factory Manager. But Fürstenfeld, while also an economic game to some extent, doesn’t have quite the same focus as its predecessors. Here, players have just six spaces to utilize, first to make money and eventually to build a palace; the first player to complete all six pieces of the palace wins. The game includes both a basic game and an advanced game; the primary difference is that in the advanced game the components of the palace must be built on specific spaces. Those who have played both versions strongly recommend the advanced game, so this review will focus on that version.
The mechanisms of the game are simple. Each turn, players draw three cards, and produce hops, barley, and water. Then, starting with the player who earned the least money on the previous turn, players sell their goods to the breweries (for between 1 and 3 each), mark their income (to determine the player order for the next turn), purchase up to two cards (with sections of the palace starting at a cost of 8, and increasing over the course of the game), and discard down to a single card. At the end of the round, the brewery markets are adjusted, offering more for goods that weren’t fully delivered during the turn. If one or more players completes their sixth palace section, the player with the most money left over among those who have completed their palaces wins.
The heart of the game is the cards. In addition to the six palace segments, there are production cards, other cards which generate income, and a small number of cards impacting other phases of the game. The nine production cards, which generate one, two,or three of the good shown, are provided in addition to a base production of one good of each type. The other economic cards include banks (which earn a fixed income), a market (which allows goods to be sold as other types of goods), and an office (which allows a player to sell one type of good at a premium). Other cards provide discounts on cards, extra draws, income adjustments, and even the ability to hold onto more cards from one turn to the next.
I had the opportunity to play Fürstenfeld as a prototype, and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t really decided as to what I thought about the game. Even once the published game arrived, it took a few plays for me to figure out just what I thought of it; it was neither an obvious hit nor an obvious miss.
There are a number of things I like about the game. First and foremost, there are interesting choices. While not all of the cards are useful, there are enough useful cards, and enough variety in their functions, as to leave the player with non-trival choices. The theme, while not closely integrated with the mechanisms, is fresh, and the mechanism of having the player who earned the most in one turn go later the next turn works very well.
But there are a number of components of the game I have issue with. The markets are generally far too forgiving – I’ve never seen players generating enough goods as to really cause prices to drop. Part of the problem is that the cards which produce goods are very expensive, discouraging their purchase – particularly in the advanced game, where they may need to be covered over before they’ve fully paid off. Since the market can absorb twice as many goods as the initial production, even if players focus on that aspect, it takes a while before the market can’t keep up with the production. A _particular_ brewery can be oversupplied, causing prices to drop their, but that inflates prices in the other breweries. This in turn makes the warehouse of little value in most cases. Worse, I’ve consistently seen the winner complete their palace the second time through their deck, so any palace section discarded a second time is a concession of defeat. And that means that there’s not a lot of variety in the game – which, for me, means that it’s a game that I was done with after four plays.
One of Friese’s signatures is original mechanisms, and Fürstenfeld doesn’t disappoint on that front; the game doesn’t feel strongly like any other game I’ve played. Which means that I’m quite pleased to have played it a few times – when a game isn’t a keeper for me, it’s a far better experience if it offers something new. And for that reason, I would recommend trying the game. I can easily imagine the mechanisms making the game a keeper for many gamers, particularly if the small decisions that drive the timing of the second pass through the deck are more interesting for others than they are for me.
For those looking for a reason to give Fürstenfeld a try, it is a nicely produced game. The water, hops, and barley are represented with well shaped wood pieces, the money is wooden coins, and the cards are well produced. Oddly, the board on my copy bubbled a little; I haven’t seen that on other copies, however. I would recommend that those who enjoy nicely produced light business games and like the theme check it out. For me, however, the game just doesn’t stack up with other Essen 2010 releases – including others from Friese.
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:
Dale Yu’s Opinion: (3 plays, all with published version)
After my first game of this — at the RGG stand in Essen, as a 2er with only the Basic rules — I was almost convinced to never play it again. After some cajoling from the other guys in my local game group, I have given the game a second chance — and I’m glad that I did as the game has a bit more depth than I had initially thought. However, after playing twice more, I doubt that there will be much more desire to play the game.
The “full” game is a decent economic game – once you get past some little niggling annoyances such as the fact that wooden pieces that are used in the market to determine prices completely obscure the information beneath which actually tells you the price. In the three games that I’ve played – the winner seemed to be the player who was best able to draw the right cards at the right time — and this works on two levels. First, IMHO, there seem to be a few cards which are extremely beneficial to have early on, especially if the other players don’t have these cards — such as the Office which lets you sell goods at a
+1 bonus or the Crane which gives you a $2 discount on building buildings. Both of these cards have appeared strong enough to unbalance the speed at which particular players could start building their engines. Then, at the end-game, the game seems to be determined by whichever player (of those that got off to a fast start) were able to draw the estate cards in the right order. And – while I’m normally a gamer who doesn’t mind a good dose of luck in his games – for some reason, it bothers me here. I think that it might be because I want a market game to be meatier – more like Funkenschlag than this game.
Of course, after only three plays, I really don’t have enough experience to know whether my experiences or perceptions are valid or not. However, like Joe, I have found that there isn’t enough variety in game play to make me want to play multiple times. Again, it’s a solid game, but nothing about it makes it stand out from the crowd. The rules even mention that most players are likely to only go through their deck 1.5 times in a game, which seems only to confirm to me that the outcome is likely based on who is able to draw the “correct” cards in the first half of the second pass through the deck. Overall, the game is distinctly average for me. I would still play it again if others suggested it, but I’ll not be requesting this one in the future. Dale’s opinion: Not for me…
Patrick Brennan’s Opinion: (exactly 1 play)
It works nicely enough, but it’s just repetitive and the endgame seems overly luck based given its nature. You start with an income engine of 1 of each of the 3 different resources, which you sell in one of the markets. Each market gives a price for each of the 3 resources which will go up if under-utilised and down if under-utilised. With the income, either buy one of the 3 buildings in your hand onto your personal tableau or save your money. Each player has an identical deck of building cards, and the decision each turn is whether to build one of these or hope for better cards next hand. With only 2 drawn each round, you’re either going to get lucky and get buildings you can afford for a strategy you’ve started down, or not. Anyway, your aim is to initially produce a lot and make lots of money, and the buildings will produce more goods or reduce building costs or allow you to churn faster through your deck or warehouse goods from turn to turn, you get the idea. Eventually you need to make enough money to afford to be able to replace your income engine / buildings with the 6 non-producing palace cards, first to do so wins the game. As you get to go through your deck several times, if you work at it, you can remember exactly when those palace cards will re-emerge into your hand and save accordingly. I’m not sure I want to work that hard. The defining question turns out to be will that final palace card re-emerge from the deck just when you’re cashed up and in a position to build it or will you be forced to wait a bunch of turns for it to come out and will someone else get luckier with their timing? That seems a lot of end-game luck. The building decisions / strategy you choose can vary quite a bit, but it’s driven by what comes up in your deck early and what you can afford. At least they provide a measure of interest in continued replay. But the rounds are endlessly identical – income, sell, build/save, income, sell, build/save – and I’m just not sure it’s an end-game I want to rely on once I’ve invested 60 minutes in a game.
Rick Thornquist’s Opinion: (more than 10 plays)
My experience seems to be quite different from the others. I quite like the game, and I’d say most people that I’ve played with like it as well. A couple have even loved it. There is a caveat here, though: I have always played the basic game. That’s because every game I’ve played has had a newbie in it, and this is one where you really do want to play the basic game first. I do know the advanced game, though – it’s not much different and my opinion would be the same.
Many of the problems that the others have pointed out don’t appear to me as problems. I think of them as challenges. I’ve played quite a few times, and each time the cards in my deck have come up differently. Sometimes they order they come up has been less than desirable, but the challenge there is to make it work – and I have made it work, and won, quite a few times.
Dale and Patrick have an issue with the luck of the draw towards the end of the game. I completely disagree with this. Since you get to choose the order of the cards you discard to the bottom of your deck, if you have any brains at all you’ll stack them to your advantage. That means you should generally know how they’ll come up towards the end of the game. That’s not luck, that’s strategy!
Anyway, I’m very pleased with the game and am happy to bring it out when I need a medium-weight game that plays in an hour.
Larry Levy’s Opinion: (2 plays, 1 Basic and 1 Advanced)
My experience with the Basic game was quite poor (money was far from scarce, so it was just a matter of seeing who got to their Palace cards once they had made their stash). I was told, however, that the Advanced game was the proper way to play, so I agreed to try it that way before swearing the game off. And it is definitely an improvement. By the end of the game, I saw glimmers of how things can be manipulated. So this is a game I’d be willing to play again. But right now, I’m not terribly enthusiastic. I think it may well come down to good fortune, but for reasons different than those cited by my fellow OGers. For example, I don’t think the opening cards are that crucial; in both games, one player got off to a terribly slow start, but one won and the other barely lost in a tiebreaker. There are quite a few ways of acquiring the money you need to build your palace, and while it’s nice that there are multiple paths to victory, the fact that they seem to work almost equally well means that small things can determine the outcome. For example, in my last game, the winner benefited because the other players were forced to cover up the production cards of the kind he was still producing. So he was able to get top dollar for his crops each turn, simply because of the way his opponent’s Palace cards came up. I don’t think anyone felt cheated and the winner played a solid game, but it was a little dissatisfying that that provided the margin of victory.
I also disagree with Joe that the markets don’t drop significantly throughout the game. Of course, we may disagree on the definition of “significant”: this is an efficiency game, so a price drop of $1 per unit could well prove to be significant in the right situation. In my first game, there was a lot of good screwage, as players were able to take advantage of their warehouses and manipulate turn order to their advantage. It may have helped that the three crops were a bit unbalanced, so there were natural shortages and surpluses. Of course, I, the winning player, had some good banks in play, which gave me money regardless of my production, so I was able to work around this. But the market still had an effect. In my second game, the winning player went with a huge production strategy, so there were some big swings. There was also a couple of Market buildings in play, which allows you to convert up to three of one type of crop to another before selling; obviously, that can lead to big swings. So I think the market mechanism works, but it’s just one of many ways of making cash.
It’s a sound game and there’s a goodly number of decisions. But I’m unconvinced if those decisions are the biggest factor in determining who wins. The game has some very enthusiastic fans, so that, along with my respect for Friese’s design abilities, leads me to suspect that with more plays, I’d be able to navigate things better. However, at this time, the game isn’t really enjoyable enough to warrant those extra plays. I might be missing out, but there’s only so much game time and right now, I’d prefer to devote it to other titles.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it: Brian Yu
I like it: Luke Hedgren, John Palagyi, Valerie Putman, Rick Thornquist
Neutral: Patrick Brennan, Jonathan Franklin, Joe Huber, Mark Jackson, Patrick Korner, Larry Levy
Not for me: Ted Alspach, Andrea Ligabue, Tom Rosen, Dale Yu