Fealty is an abstract strategy, area control game wherein players take turns playing pieces to a gaming area made up of large tile (6×6 grid) boards, each representing a duchy. The duchies are made up of landscape squares such as mountains, forests, or fields. These may contain roads and/or cities. Each turn all players will simultaneously select a card from their hands and add its corresponding piece to the board, following a list of constraints. These constraints become more and more limiting as the boards fill up with pieces. Each piece has some area of influence (printed on the cards and on the pieces). At the end of the game players place influence tokens on the boards in a particular order according to the pieces. The player with the most influence is declared the winner.
The game comes with 2 decks of cards per player (Missives and Suns), 6 double sided boards, and various tokens/pieces. The game is played with a subset of the boards so there is a lot of chance for variation by turning boards or flipping them. Players may choose to play a slightly more simplified game using the Missives decks; the Suns decks contain more complicated abilities. Each type of deck is the same for all players. Players shuffle their decks and draw 3 cards.
Each turn players will select a card (simultaneously), play their corresponding pieces in the order of the number on their cards (ties broken by proximity to a Presumptive Heir token that is passed to the player who played last each turn), and draw a replacement card. Piece placement is restricted. A player may not play in a row or column where he already has a piece (across the entire set of boards). A player must play in a duchy (board) that hasn’t had a piece placed in it yet this turn. Lastly, a player may not play in a blocked space (mountains, conflict markers, and other players’ pieces and influence tokens are all obstacles).
Many pieces have a special ability, for example a piece might allow a player to move one of her previously placed pieces a number of spaces or might allow a player to place a conflict marker within a number of spaces of the piece just played. Pieces also have a varying range of influence. Typically the higher the number on the card, the more spaces it will influence but the higher numbers will play later both during piece placement and at the end of the game during influence placement. At the end of the game, during influence placement, once a space has influence in it, no other influence may be placed. Some influence may be placed during the game (via special card powers) but most will be placed at the end. Spaces containing cities gain two tokens of influence and thus are generally more sought after during the game.
The game rules come with several variants, including one with less luck (players get to select from all their cards – i.e. the whole deck – each turn, no draw phase) and one with team play, as well as tournament rules.
I typically do not like area control games but this one was quick to play and made more interesting with the different card powers. I played with 2 and 3 players (I hesitate to play with 4; it might get a bit too unruly near the end looking at all the boards for placement). I wouldn’t suggest playing with anyone afflicted with analysis paralysis, but hey, it’s your life.
The overall quality is quite nice but the box is far too big for what’s inside (very annoying). This game has the potential for expansions with the addition of different player decks and boards.
Opinions from Other Opinionated Gamers
Greg Schloesser: Note that I have only played once so far, but I don’t see my assessment improving much, if any, with subsequent plays. The game is extremely chaotic, with the board and points being scored changing dramatically with each placement. A player can occasionally protect his territory by using the special powers of a few cards, but this is also usually not foolproof. The situation simply changes to rapidly and drastically for my tastes. I prefer more control, and this one doesn’t have much.
Larry Levy: Based on my one play with 4 players, I’d say Mary’s intuition is spot on–things do get pretty unruly and quite chaotic with the maximum number of players. With 2 or 3, I can see this being a pretty solid game. However, it’s just not my kind of design. It’s very abstract, which is a point against it and even with lower numbers of players, it’s bound to be fairly chaotic, which are two more demerits. It’s a thinky game where you probably have less control than you suspect you do and those kinds of games just don’t score highly with me. However, those who like straightforward rule sets with a good deal of screwage will probably find a good deal to like here.
Mitchell Thomashow: I played Fealty about ten times as a two player game. I think it’s excellent with two players. Mary is correct. I can’t imagine playing this with 3 or 4. Too much chaos and kingmaking. I enjoy the variability and the different placement powers of the cards. You can employ different styles of play and modify the game situation to suit your taste. It’s very similar to Kingdom Builder, although not as variable, and possibly more elegant. Yet I haven’t played Fealty since I acquired it around the holidays. I don’t know whether that’s because it’s been surpassed by too many other more interesting games, or if it wasn’t quite good enough to compete with those titles. I’ll definitely play it again at some point. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys abstract games, as it has some original concepts.
Dale Yu: I’ve played this maybe 8 times total – in all arrangements (2p, 3p, 4p). It’s a tense game when limited to 2p, and I definitely think it shines best at this number. In my usual group of 3, it went over pretty well. I didn’t mind the “chaos”, and I felt it was a pretty exciting game. Yes, it’s true that the potential scoring changed with each card played, but for me, that was a positive. It was interesting to see how single cards played early on might control as many as 15 or 20 squares, and then watch how later plays whittle away at that amount.
One facet of scoring makes things interesting is that the scoring is done in order from lowest to highest rank. In other words, regardless of which order you place the pieces in, the 10 pieces scores first and then the 20 and 30 and so on… As each one claims spaces on the board, those become unavailable for the later scoring pieces. This adds a bit more predictiveness to the scoring because you know in which order the tokens will score as they are played. I didn’t get too caught up in trying to see how each piece was going to score come the end of the game – I viewed it more as a tactical thing trying to place each piece in a good place when the time came to place it.
My one game with 4 was not a great experience. Two of the players were AP-prone and they were clearly bothered by the changing game status each turn. Much time was spent each turn calculating and recalculating the possible scoring effects of placements. Ugh. That being said, I am not completely turned off on Fealty as a 4p game, it would just need to be with the “right” sort of gamers.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!…
I like it… Mary Prasad, Mitchell Thomashow, W. Eric Martin, Dale Yu
Neutral… Larry Levy
Not for me… Greg Schloesser