Dale Yu: Essen Preview #6: Funkenschlag – The First Sparks preview
My Essen Preview series continues on – this time with a look at a single game, the newest edition to the Funkenschlag (Power Grid) family of games. (Previous editions of the Essen Preview can be found here). I had the opportunity to play a fairly final prototype of the game this past April, and I have been told that the game hasn’t changed much. This preview is based on my experiences from that game as well as a look at an early translation of the rules.
Funkenschlag: The First Sparks
Designer: Friedemann Friese
Publisher: 2F / Rio Grande
Time: ~60 mins (my estimate)
Funkenschlag: The First Sparks (F:TFS) was created to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the now classic game Funkenschlag (which was then re-done in English as Power Grid). F:TFS uses the mechanics that you are likely familiar with from Funkenschlag/Power Grid, but places you in a much different setting. The order of phases in each round, player order determination and technology cards (power plants) are all the same. However, in F:TFS, you are not building any sort of train track network or power plant grid. Instead, you are the leader of a Stone Age era clan, and your goal is to grow and spread your clan. You start with a clan that occupies one space, and you win the game when you are able to increase the size of your clan to 13 spaces.
The board is a modular affair, created from multiple 2-hex dominoes. Each hex has a central color which tells you what sort of food can be gathered/hunted in that hex. In order for you to gain a type of food, you must have one of your clan members standing next to a matching hunting area AND you must have at least one matching tool to collect that sort of food. Later in the game, you gain bonus food markers if you have multiple clan members standing next to multiple hunting areas of a particular type. Each player starts with an “Herbs” card, which is the lowest sort of technology card, and allows you to collect a single food token. There is an food supply area which is stocked with a base amount of food each turn for each type as well as extra markers being placed dependent on the number of matching areas found on the board. There are five types of food: Herbs (worth 1 food per marker), Berries (2 per marker), Fish (3 per marker), deer (3 per marker), Mammoths (4 per marker). In the game, food is merely a currency – if you need to spend food, you can “make change” with the other denominations/types.
The technology cards are analogous to the power plants in Funkenschlag. However, they are a bit more varied in F:TFS. There are two main types of technology cards: tools and knowledge. Tools are the cards used to help you collect food more efficiently. You are limited to three of these cards at most in front of you. If you buy a fourth, you must discard one of your previously collected tool cards. The tool cards all work in a similar fashion – they allow you to collect a number of food tokens dependent on how many tokens were available in that space when you started to collect. For instance, the berry basket allows you to collect 1 berry if there is at least 1 marker in the space, but you can get 2 berries if there are at least 4 present when you start, and you can collect 3 berries if there are at least 7 present when you start. You can have multiple tools which help you collect the same sort of food, and you may use all of them and choose the order that you use them in order to maximize your food token collection.
The other sort of technology card are the knowledge cards. These cards essentially give you permanent advantages that your clan can use for the rest of the game.
- Fire: you do not have to disclose your food tokens, and your food does not rot
- Intelligence: when determining player order, you are moved back one place in order (like Funkenschlag, it’s generally better to go later in turn order)
- Speech: discount on placing new clan members
- Transport Sled: You may have an extra tool
- Plough: gives you bonus field crops for tool cards
At the start of the game, these cards are set up similar to Funkenschlag. The lowest 8 cards are set up in 2 rows of four. You can initially only buy the lowest four, but you are able to see what is coming up in the future for purchase as well.
OK, time for the gameplay. Again, if you’re familiar with any of F:TFS’ predecessors, this will feel very familiar for you… Each round has four phases
- Buying new technology cards
- Going hunting and feeding your clan
- Spreading your clan
In the first phase, technology cards are “auctioned” off. The first player chooses one of the four available technology cards and offers it for sale.
Then, going from last to first, each player has the chance to purchase the card. [Correction from Henning at 2f: As PG, the first players must offer a card, but THEN the players can veto in player order (not reverse player order). The last player who vetoes gets the card. Meaning: 1st offers a basket. 2nd passes. 3rd vetoes and wants it. 4th now also vetoes and takes the card by paying the costs. This is important, as the leading players in turn order cannot be sure to get what they want. And the “last player” can always see what the other players “in front” want to get.] If someone other than the offering player wants the card, that player pays the cost (using food) to the bank. The cost is equal to the number of the card. A new card is drawn from the deck, the cards are arranged in numerical order again, and then the first player offers another card for sale. If all other players pass on the first offered card, the first player buys it, the board is reset and then the next player in order (who does not already have a card this turn) offers up the next card. At most, each player can only purchase one card in a game round. It is possible for you to pass in this phase and not purchase any cards – because you either cannot afford one or you choose not to buy one. Finally, after all players have had the chance to buy a new card, they lose some of their food stores to rot, and all players must discard 1/3 of their food value to the bank.
In the second phase, you go hunting to collect food for your clan. This happens in reverse turn order (so, it’s better to have the smallest clan). You collect food using your clan members, but are limited to collecting only the types of food seen on the tiles you are standing on… and only if you have the appropriate tool to collect that type of food. As I mentioned earlier, the tools work better if there is more food available of a given type – this is why it is beneficial to go earlier in turn order as it is more likely that there will be higher quantities available. If you have multiple clan members standing on different tiles that share a food type,
you get bonus extra food tokens of that type when you collect it. [Correction from Henning: you do not get additional food tokens, but your tools get more effective. You count a virtual food token on the harvest space, so your tool gets you the higher numbers earlier. Example: The berry basket you show, works like that: if you are next to two berry bushes on the game board, you already harvest 2 berries, if there are three (real) berries on the harvest space.] After you collect all the food you can, you must feed your clan members by spending 1 food per clan member. If you do not have enough, you must remove clan members from the board (as they have starved to death).
The third phase is expansion – where you put new clan members on the board. This is also done in reverse turn order. All of your clan members must be adjacent to at least one other. Due to the clever topography of the map, a space on a fully enclosed hex will be adjacent to at least 5 other spaces, so there are usually plenty of options for where to go… You may place up to 5 new clan members in this phase. However, you have to spend food to place your new clan members, and this is usually the limiting factor for placement. The cost for placing clan members ratchets up arithmetically. It costs 1 food to place 1 new clan member, 3 food for 2, 6 food for 3, 10 food for 4 and 15 food for 5 new clan members. Additionally, if you place your new meeple in an already occupied space, you must pay an additional food cost equal to the total of number of meeples in the space (including your newly placed meeple).
The final phase is bureaucracy (or upkeep). Here, you determine the new playing order – the new first player is the one with the largest clan. If tied, the tied player with the highest numbered technology card goes first. Then, you refill the food supply – using a fixed formula based on the number of players in the game. Finally, you place the highest numbered technology card in the tableau on the bottom of the deck, draw a replacement card and then re-arrange the cards in numerical order. Again, players will be able to buy the lowest 4 cards and can see the next four available for offer. After a first complete pass thru the deck, the market shifts to a 6-card market where all cards are available for purchase.
The game ends as soon as a player has 13 or more clan members on the board. When this happens, all players finish their placement phase, and whichever player has the most on the board wins. If there is a tie, the player with the most food left is the winner.
Thoughts about the game
Dale Yu: OK – so I’ve played the game only once, but the version I played was very close to what is being published… I think Friedemann was still doing a little bit of balancing with the numbers on some of the tool cards, but overall, I think that I got a good look at what is likely to come in the box at Essen.
I have to say that I loved it. Of all the Funkenschlag/Power Grid games, this will likely become my favorite one. Why? Mostly because it’s quick to play. Our first game which included a full rules explanation, questions, interruptions for other people (as it’s the Gathering), sleep deprivation (as it’s the Gathering), etc. took just over an hour. Which means that once people know the game, you should be able to get it played in under 45 minutes.
Despite the fact that the game took about half as long as our usual Power Grid games, I didn’t feel like I was getting any less gameplay. The decisions feel the same as Funk/Power Grid without the long buildup of the first phase. You’re essentially thrown right into the meat of the game from the start. The size of the board has been designed to encourage almost immediate territory battles. It is definitely advantageous to get into spaces first to avoid the extra food costs, but at the same time, you definitely would prefer to be later in turn order for just about everything else in the game.
The technology cards add a bit of spice to the game as well. Just as the power plants are different in Funk/Power Grid, there are also good and bad tools in F:TFS. I’m sure that within a week of release, some one on BGG will have crunched the numbers and provide people with a spreadsheet ranking the tools… The knowledge cards help give players some specific advantages, and I think that there are viable strategies that involve each one. The technology cards will also possibly lead you into specialization strategies, more so than in Funk/Power Grid.
So, the game will feel very familiar to players already accustomed to the original. But, I think the F:TFS gives you all the great parts and none of the filler. To use a NASCAR analogy, Funkenschlag/Power Grid is like the Daytona 500. There’s about 4 hours of racing, and then in the end, they throw a yellow flag, bunch up all the cards, and then there’s a tension filled 20-lap sprint to the finish. Of course, it helps to be in the front when the sprint starts, but just about everyone in sight of the leader has a chance to win the game. Funkenschlag is like that long car race as the player in last place gets the best chance to get the best cards and the most food which should allow the player to catch up, and oftentimes near the end game, all the players end up bunched together because that is what the game encourages. F:TFS pretty much just puts you at the start of the sprint, and you end up with only the exciting parts of the game!
Of course, I won’t know for sure about the game until I get my copy and get a few plays in… but after my first game, I feel pretty confident that this one will be the one played most from now on – and not just because it’s the newest one…
Valerie Putman: I don’t usually buy expansions, but one exception is new maps for games I already love. I prefer the strategy of Power Grid to sell just the map with the rules to Ticket to Ride’s strategy of selling a stand-alone game. When I heard there was a new Power Grid game and that it was going to be a stand-alone, it was going to be a hard sell. It needed be different enough to justify full box treatment while being similar enough that the connection to Power Grid didn’t just feel like a marketing strategy. Wow, did it deliver. I loved, loved, loved it. It has all the flavor of Power Grid but delivered in an unquestionably fresh way. I particular, this is everything I ever could have hoped for from a sub-60 minute Power Grid experience. This is a must buy for me and I expect to play it at least a dozen times next year. This one was a home run.
Jennifer Geske: F: TFS is a more accessible version of Funkenschlag/Power Grid that presents all the same interesting decisions offered by its predecessors in a compact 45-minute game time. By making all resource types available (and viable) early in the game and allowing multiple players to expand their networks into the same location from the beginning, the game offers a lot more choices than in phase one of Funkenschlag. However, with the shortened game time, the consequences of each decision, including the early ones, are quite significant. You can try to recover from an early mistake, but it’ll either cost you dearly or it’ll be too late for you to reap the full benefit of the course correction. As far as which version I like better, it’s a difficult choice. I enjoy the game play of F: TFS more than its predecessors, and do agree that it’ll probably hit the table more often at game nights. However, I feel that it’s missing some of the nuances that I both love and hate about Funkenschlag. In Funkenschlag, if a plant that is great for someone else shows up, you can at least try to bid it up a little bit to make the other player pay more. In F: TFS (if my memory is correct), there isn’t a mechanism to do that. If you are offered the technology card before the other player, you can buy it at cost just to take it away from him/her. If you pass, they can get it at cost. As many games of Funkenschlag come down to someone being short one or two dollars in the latter turns, not being able to affect the purchase phase seems a little restrictive. Also, because all resource types are available the entire game, it is more possible for someone to ‘stumble’ upon a windfall (supply is greater than demand) of a resource type. Skilled gameplay can mitigate some of the issues, but I don’t see a good way to slow down someone who is running away with the game. The artificial dividers of phases in Funkenschlag kind of serve as equalizers sometimes as the expense of slowing down the game. Overall, I enjoy F: TFS and look forward to trying out the published game later this year. It will get more plays due to its accessibility, but it won’t replace the tension in the latter rounds of a game of Funkenschlag.
Joe Huber: In writing up my thoughts on this game, I discovered that there are more games Friedemann has designed which I rate an 8 or higher than for any other boardgame designer. And, at that – I rate less than 1 in 4 of Friedemann’s designs an 8 or higher. But this one – might make that mark. I have enjoyed Funkenschlag – the original Funkenschlag, not the watered down Power Grid – since it first came out, and I was nervous as we started to play it that it would suffer for me because of the comparison. But F:TFS (to steal Dale’s acronym, which I suspect might be impossible to pronounce without spraying saliva) worked well for me, in no small part because it focuses effectively on one element of the game – the power plant auctions – and ties it to greatly simplified board play. Including instructions, our game took 90 minutes, but I have no doubt it will play in 45 minutes or less with experience, and offer a real challenge in that condensed time frame. I’m not as confident as Dale that this game will be played more by me than Funkenschlag going forward, but it’s certainly got the potential of doing so. I’ll definitely be buying a copy to find out.