Well, I managed to make it home safely and have definitely returned to the domestic world of laundry, kids soccer games and assisting with homework. While the homework is going on (on the other side of the kitchen table), I’ve got a quick minute to talk about some of the new games that I played this week – most importantly, the new 2F game planned for Essen 2012 release called Fremde Federn (loosely translated as False Feathers).
But, before I get into describing Friedemann’s new game, I wanted to talk a bit about the whole prototype scene at the Gathering of Friends.
Without a doubt, there are a LOT of prototypes in play at the Gathering. In fact, for the first few days, it felt like there were more prototypes on the tables than published games! For awhile, I had renamed the event the GoP (Gathering of Prototypes)…. There are a number of reasons for this:
- The Gathering attendee list is a great cross sample of veteran gamers of all interests who can give plenty of good feedback to help finish up a prototype
- From the publisher standpoint, it’s a great way to show off a new game – both to polish a design as well as getting some early press on the games
- From the aspiring designer standpoint, with all the publishers present at the Gathering, it’s a great place to be able to show new designs to multiple publishers at one time
- For a small publisher, it’s a great place to show the games to other publishers to see if they are interested in partnering up for production. (For instance, I am working on the new game for Bezier Games, and Ted Alspach and myself spent a fair amount of time showing Suburbia to other companies to see if they were interested in joining us for Essen 2012 production of the game…)
I’m sure that I’m exaggerating a bit when I said that there were more prototypes in play, but not by much! I also think that the Nuremberg games contributed to the prototype proliferation in that 1) many of the new Nuremberg games got only lukewarm/neutral reception from many gamers and 2) many of the new games weren’t actually available at the Gathering this year (mostly due to release dates).
I have been to the Gathering in years past where I made a personal rule that I was not going to play prototypes – but this year, I found that I played a new prototype almost once per day.
There are clear rules about prototypes at the Gathering – namely that you can’t talk about them, write about them nor post pictures about them without getting explicit permission from the designer/publisher of said game. Sadly, a few of my favorite games from the week fall into this category of games that I’m not allowed to tell anyone about! But, there were a number of protos which the designers didn’t mind me writing about.
The first of these that I want to write about is Fremde Federn – with a working English title of False Feathers – designed by Friedemann Friese. This is the next game in his Friday line – a self-made challenge from a few years ago where Friese only works on the games on Fridays. He has a running blog on his own site about progress on these games, and from time to time he makes the components and rules available on a print-and-play basis (most recently on March 16, 2012). Other games that have arisen from this project include Friday and Black Friday.
As the story goes, Herr Friese looked at the list of Top 10 Games from Boardgamegeek.com and found that many of those games were not the sorts of games that he liked to play. Despite that, they were highly rated with the masses, so surely people liked to play them. So… Friedemann challenged himself to take inspiration from those Top 10 games and try to create his own game (which he could himself enjoy) borrowing mechanics from those other games.
He spent some time getting permission from the game designers of the games from which he would borrow mechanics, and once that was done – he started to glue together the different pieces to make a new game — I keep wanting to call it a Frankenstein game… The title translates to something like “to adorn oneself with borrowed plumes” which isn’t exactly the same as False Feathers, but this is a good alliterative working title for now.
But, enough of how the game came into existence, let’s talk about the game itself! I actually missed my chance to play it on the first Friday of the Gathering — in fact, I was in a different session of prototypes (which I can’t talk about!) – and by the time I was finished with that game, it was already past midnight, and Friedemann had put the game away for another week… However, though I was planning to leave Friday morning, Friedemann made sure to find me late Thursday night and I waited up until midnight to get in the first play on the following Friday!
In short, it’s a 45-60 minute game (well, that’s what I think it will take) which includes deck building, worker placement, card drafting, and a whole bunch of fun…
In the above picture, you can see the board… can you guess what games it takes mechanics from? Admittedly, it’s tough from just this picture. So let me add some other bits to the board…
Does that help? OK – still tough, but I’ll answer the question by the end of this preview!
The goal of the game is to be the first to score 95 points (or to have the most points at the end of the round where the draw pile is exhausted and the final VP cards are purchased). There is a board placed in the middle of the table which has a column of actions available at all times to the players. To the left of this column are spaces for action cards – the number and composition of which change with the number of players involved in the game. To the right of the column are places for other action cards to be revealed, one each round. (Does this sound familiar yet?). Finally, at the bottom of the board is a marketplace where 11 cards are available for sale, with cards towards the right having a slight premium added to their cost.
To setup the game, each player is also given an identical starter deck of 10 cards. Seven of these cards are yellow in color and provide 1 coin to spend. Three of these cards are green in color and provide you one victory point. You shuffle these cards and then give yourself a hand of five cards. This will hopefully sound familiar to you from some recent SdJ winner… (By not naming it now, I save myself the trouble of writing a disclaimer!)
Each turn follows the same general pattern:
- Setup – First, the board is set up. A new Action card for the round is flipped up. This is done a la Agricola. The right side of the board holds the actions, and they are split up into groups of 3, 3, 2, 2, and 1 cards. So, you always know which are the first 3 actions that will come into the game, but you do not know in what order they will be flipped up. (And, while it would have been super-cool to add in the idea of a harvest at the end of each column, that hasn’t yet been added to the game…)
- Choose turn order – in an interesting departure from Dominion*, you have to discard one of the five hand cards to determine turn order for the round. All players secretly and simultaneously choose cards and then reveal them. The highest numbered card goes first that round, and the other players fill in the turn order chart in descending order. If two players tie for turn order number, they simply exchange relative order.
- Place workers – using the new turn order just established, you take turns placing one of your three meeples onto the action spaces. Generally, only one meeple can occupy any given space. The actions in the game include things like: get $1, get $2, buy a card, buy two cards, draw a card, discard 2 cards and draw 2 new cards, trash a card from your deck and gain $1 to use this turn, use a card twice, etc. You claim the action space by placing your meeple on the space, but you are able to use the action at any point during the round when it makes sense for you to use it… During your place workers phase, you can also play cards from your hand. There are cards which allow you to draw cards from your deck, some that give you more meeples to play, some that allow you to spend money to draw more cards, some that allow you place your meeple on an already occupied space, etc. There is no limit to how many cards you can play during each place workers phase. This phase continues until all players have placed all their meeples. At the end of this phase, a la Puerto Rico, all untaken spaces are marked with an orange disc. If these actions are chosen in a later round, the player who chooses them scores a number of VP equal to the number of discs on the action space. If you had any meeples left over (either because you chose not to place them or there were no spaces left available), you will score 1VP in the scoring phase for each unplaced meeple.**
- Buy Phase – If you had placed one of your meeples on a buy action, you then get a chance to buy card(s). In our 4p game, there were 4 different spaces where you could buy a card – so that theoretically you could not get shut out of a buy… To buy a card, you total up the coins provided on cards left in your hand as well as any coins you may have acquired from action spaces on the board, and then you use them to purchase cards from the market on the bottom of the board. The basic buy action only allows you to purchase one card, though there is one action space which grants you two buys. The first four cards can be bought at face value (seen in the lower left of the cards), and then like Through the Ages, the cards towards the right cost somewhat more – an extra 1 or 2 bucks to the cost. If you buy a card, you add it to your discard pile (a la Dominion). Another interesting twist is that there are some red cards that will emerge – and these cards do nothing – they provide no money nor action nor do they score VPs. Each time you buy a card, you have to look at the cards to the left of the purchased card in the market. If any of the red cards are to the left of the one you buy, you also have to take all of those red cards.
- Scoring phase – like Dominion, you have scoring cards in your deck that aren’t played during your turn. However, unlike Dominion, these scoring cards do not score only at the end of the game, in this game, they score each round that you have them. In the scoring phase, you simply reveal any scoring cards in your hand and take the VP for them. IN a cool twist, remember how I mentioned earlier that there are action spaces that allow you to double any card? This also works with the VP cards, and a great way to use that action is to double a 10VP card so that you score 20VP!
- Cleanup – at this point, you now take all the cards you’ve played this turn (which includes the card you played to determine turn order) and place them in your discard pile. Then you draw a new hand of 5 cards. If you don’t have enough cards to draw, then you shuffle your discards to make a new deck.
- Repeat until game end. The game continues until one player has at least 95 points or when the final VP cards are purchased. There are 4 special VP cards which are always found at the bottom of the deck. They simply score a number of VPs equal to the money spent on purchasing them. There is no limit to how much money you can spend on these cards, and they do not go into your deck – you simply score them once when you buy them.
*Disclaimer – I am one of the developers of Dominion. But you probably knew that already. Despite that, my in-house counsel continues to tell me that I need to remind you of this.
** Any rules with the double asterisk are not entirely clear to me and may be incorrect. Hopefully Henning or Friedemann will eventually read this and clarify the rules at some point.
So, how does it play? Surprisingly well! And, I don’t mean that with any snide connotations at all… It’s just that I was admitted skeptical of how the game would play when Friedemann was starting to explain it to me, but the pieces definitely fit together very well. While the individual components/mechanics are easily identifiable, they combination is a completely unique game with its own challenges. Yet, having so many mechanics borrowed from other games made it very accessible to me, even on a first play.
Rules were made easy because so much of the game could be explained in reference to other games. “So you start out with a deck like Dominion, 7 and 3…”, “Each round, we flip up an action card like Agricola”, etc.
We played a 4p game with myself, Joe Huber, Ian MacInnes and Friedemann. The game moved along at a good pace – surely helped somewhat by myself and Joe – and finished the rules explanation and game in about 80 minutes. After the game, both Joe and I felt that gamers who were familiar with the game and the cards should be able to get this game in 30-45 minutes. Additionally, though we were slaughtered in the final scoring, both Joe and I felt comfortable with the structure of the game. Having a bit more knowledge of the available actions on the board and on the cards – I think that I’d be a bit more competitive the next time around.
The scoring in the game quickly accelerates at the end, as it takes you some time to build up an engine with your deck to acquire the high-valued scoring cards. However, once this happens, especially with the ability to double them, the game quickly moves towards the 95VP mark. In our game, we were actually pretty close by the end of round 8 – with all players having scores in the 40s. By the end of round 10, when the game had ended, Friedemann had 116 or so, while the rest of us were in the 55-65 range. (Clearly, the three newbies missed the vital strategy of picking up the 10VP cards and then doubling them!)
As it stands now, there are about 55 cards in the deck to draw from, and the abilities on those cards are quite varied. There appears to be plenty of room for different strategies at this time – though admittedly, I’ve still only played it once. I very much liked the idea of the turn order decision making process – as the stronger cards all have higher turn order numbers. There is obviously an advantage to playing earlier in the round as you are more likely to get the action spaces you want – but when you have to give up a very strong card to get that position, it’s definitely not an easy decision to make!
According to Friedemann, the composition of the cards is fairly fixed, and the overall structure of the rules are pretty solid. Of course, some cards will be modified as a result of two Friday’s worth of testing at the Gathering, but progress has moved along enough that they are already acquiring artwork for the different cards. The game is scheduled for Essen 2012 release, and I am already anxiously awaiting my chance to play the finished version. Heck, I might even wait for the next PnP set of cards to be released and play it myself!
Well, time to return to the real world for a bit. I do intend to write up a more general review of my week at the Gathering soon, and maybe a more focused review or two – but we’ll have to see how the work schedule goes in the coming week. With over a dozen OG writers in attendance at the Gathering though, hopefully there will be a number of reports coming your way soon!
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor