Stefan Feld can be a polarizing game designer. Many love his games; many love to hate his games. The Opinionated Gamers recently came together to rate all of Feld’s games that we had played over the years on our classic scale (i.e., Love it, Like it, Neutral, Note for me).
Aggregating these ratings, we’ve come up with the “definitive” OG ranking of Stefan Feld designs. This ranges from a tie for the greatest with an average 3.2 out of 12 ratings (we consistently like these games!), all the way down to game # 18 with a mere 1.2 average (a resounding not for us).
In addition to providing our aggregate ratings and resulting ranking, we have listed all of the individual ratings that went into this, along with some commentary from the Opinionated Gamers about the basis for these opinions. As you’re sure to see, we have quite a diverse set of opinions on Feld’s games, with the same game often running the gamut from “love it” to “not for me” ratings. So where does your favorite Feld game fall… how would you stack up his 9-year oeuvre… and where do you think La Isla will fall later this year?
Aggregate Ratings (4 = Love it; 3 = Like it; 2 = Neutral; 1 = Not for me)
[Game name – Average rating (Total # of raters)]
- Macao – 3.2 (12)
- Notre Dame – 3.2 (12)
- In the Year of the Dragon – 3.0 (12)
- Luna – 3.0 (11)
- Amerigo – 2.8 (9)
- Bruges – 2.8 (9)
- Castles of Burgundy – 2.8 (12)
- Roma – 2.6 (9)
- Roma II – 2.6 (5)
- Trajan – 2.6 (11)
- It Happens – 2.5 (4)
- Strasbourg – 2.3 (9)
- Rialto – 2.1 (9)
- Rum & Pirates – 2.1 (10)
- Bora Bora – 2.0 (11)
- Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel – 1.7 (6)
- Speicherstadt – 1.5 (11)
- Name of the Rose – 1.2 (5)
Stefan Feld is a designer for whom I always get excited about new titles from him. Unfortunately, my belief is that he’s on a downward trend. Last year’s trio of games produced only one minor hit for me: Bruges, while Rialto felt like a too-busy, overly complex San Marco, and Bora Bora was fairly terrible in many ways.
Notre Dame is an amazing game that works well for virtually any number of players. It’s one of the only games in my collection I’ve blinged out: I purchased, for €50, “real” Notre Dame gold coins from the vending machines at Notre Dame. In the Year of the Dragon is reverse Caylus: bad things will happen unless you plan way, way ahead… it’s unique in many ways, and one of the most intense Euros out there. Macao is a little messy, but still amazingly balanced and has incredible replay value. It has a mini Die Macher vibe going on.
The Name of the Rose feels like it’s not even a Feld game. Maybe it’s an escapee from the Darkest Timeline of Feld.
- Love it: Notre Dame, Macao, In the Year of the Dragon
- Like it: Luna, Bruges, Castles of Burgundy
- Neutral: Trajan, Rum & Pirates, It Happens, Amerigo
- Not for me: Bora Bora, The Speicherstadt, Rialto / Despise Vehemently: The Name of the Rose
Feld is without question one of my favorite designers of the past 10 years. He may not quite rank with my all-time favorites because only one of his creations (Castles of Burgundy) is among my top-ranked games. But there are very few designers whose games I so consistently enjoy. I’ve played 14 of his games and there’s only one (Rum & Pirates) that I wouldn’t be happy to sit down and play right now. That’s a remarkable run and I’m always anxious to see what new things Herr Stefan has up his sleeve.
Mechanically, the man is brilliant. The dice mechanics from Macao, Bora Bora, Burgundy, and Roma; the mancala action selection system from Trajan; the unforgiving rules from Year of the Dragon and Luna; the innovative use of the cube tower from Amerigo; and the wonderfully elegant auction rules from Speicherstadt–what consistently excellent and innovative ideas! Many criticize his use of the “point salad” approach, but to be honest, the concept has been around for a long time. Feld may take it to more of an extreme than some other designers, but it doesn’t bother me, as long as the surrounding game is a good one and the VPs are awarded for appropriate results. Similarly, the weak themes in many of his games aren’t a major concern for me; his games aren’t abstracts and the ideas are so good that I can easily forgive their lack of real-world parallels. Feld designs a certain style of game and, perhaps more than any other designer, you can tell whether you’ll be a fan or a hater after playing only a couple of his titles. I think my ratings clearly show which category I’m in!
Checking out the results, it looks like I’m far and away the biggest fan of Speicherstadt (particularly since it’s awfully close to a Love It game for me). I didn’t expect it to be in the upper half, but I’m still a little surprised that it’s in the Neutral/Not for Me category for almost everyone else. I find it to be a very elegant and very tense affair and a bit of a departure from Feld’s normal fare. The other surprise for me is the poor showing of Bora Bora. After all, this is a top 100 game on the Geek and was recently selected as one of the three Meeples Choice Award winners for last year. Maybe it’s a little too “Feldy” for the group!
- Love it: Castles of Burgundy, Macao, Trajan, In the Year of the Dragon, Bora Bora, Notre Dame
- Like it: Luna, Die Speicherstadt, Amerigo, Rialto, Roma, Bruges, Strasbourg
- Neutral: None
- Not for me: Rum & Pirates
One note of clarification to begin with; Tom translated my descriptions (Love/Own/Play/No/Gnaw Your Own Leg Off To Escape) into the standard Opinionated Gamer groups. But even with the translation, the gap I see is clear; there are five games I enjoy and play, a bunch I don’t, and almost nothing in the middle. So why is that?
As near as I can tell, it’s an effect of Feld’s design style; nearly all of his games cause one to say “gee, that’s clever” at some point – and then build a game around that cleverness. Often, the game feels pasted on around the cleverness, and as a result, the cleverness really has to strike home to work. The slow arrival of cubes in Macao and the Mancala mechanism in Trajan are the best examples of this working for me; Macao, in particular, feels _very_ abstract, but I still love it because the cube mechanism works so wonderfully well. (OK, and it’s fun to instruct everyone to rotate their wheels 51.7 degrees.) Macao stands out by a step because the choice to not have all cards in every game works extremely well for me; I appreciate the uncertainty.
- Love it: Macao
- Like it: Brügge, In the Year of the Dragon, Castles of Burgundy, Trajan
- Neutral: Roma
- Not for me: Luna, Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel, The Speicherstadt, Der Name der Rose, Rialto, Strasbourg, Arena – Roma II, Notre Dame, Bora Bora
I have a wide range of opinions on Feld’s games, with some being long-time favorites and others being games that I’d really like to avoid ever playing again. Notre Dame and Luna are definitely my two favorite Feld games, so if you dislike those then I think you can safely disregard my Feld opinions. I love Notre Dame because of how quick it is to play, how the drafting creates interactivity, and how it snowballs over the course of the game so your decisions crescendo. I love Luna because of how complex and convoluted it seems, but how it all ties together so well (despite the bizarre theme) and how you need to do four to five little, discrete actions in a particular order to accomplish anything meaningful, plus the timing and pacing of the rounds is highly interactive. On the other end of the scale, I find recent designs like Bora Bora and Trajan to be the epitome of inelegant, kitchen-sink designs that leave me feeling cold after hours of slogging through what feels like a meaningless point salad of mismatched mechanisms. To each his or her own.
- Love it: Notre Dame, Luna, Roma
- Like it: In the Year of the Dragon, Amerigo, Roma II, Rialto
- Neutral: Macao, Bruges, Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel, Die Burgen von Burgund
- Not for me: Speicherstadt, Rum & Pirates, Strasbourg, Bora Bora, Trajan
I don’t have near the diversity of Feld experiences as many of the other OP writers. However, I do enjoy several of them. My favorite is In the Year of the Dragon. It seems to have less of a “mish-mash of scoring opportunities” and thus allows a bit more focus. I don’t mind that it is a “harsh” game, since harshness is expected and it affects everyone equally; we can revel together in the game’s difficulty. I love the mechanics of Macao, but struggle with building what seems to be a victory point engine. It all seems to just be seat of the pants tactics. Notre Dame seems to be more under control, but has a drier theme. I’m neutral on Trajan, even though I have an unbroken winning streak, primarily because it just has too many interdependencies happening at the same time. It gives me a bit of a brain burn, and I never know until about ¾ of the way through the game whether I am actually in the lead. (In fact, it wasn’t until the last 2 or three turns that I discovered I was going to win by a large margin.)
- Love it: In the Year of the Dragon
- Like it: Notre Dame, Macao
- Neutral: Trajan
I only played Die Burgen von Burgund one time and had a bad experience (took FAR too long). I will probably try it again at some point… maybe it will go up in rating. I have yet to play Pillars of the Earth: Builder’s Duel (although I own it). I don’t think I want to play Roma II since I didn’t care for Roma, although I’ll check to see if it is similar before completely crossing it off my list. I’m not sure if I played Name of the Rose, it looks familiar… if so, it wasn’t memorable.
- Love it: Macao, Notre Dame
- Like it: Luna, Bruges, Amerigo, Trajan, Rum & Pirates, Strasbourg
- Neutral: Bora Bora, In the Year of the Dragon
- Not for me: Die Burgen von Burgund, Roma, Rialto, Speicherstadt
I’ve played all but the lowest (Name of the Rose), and I admire his dedication to designing quality Euros for what must be a relatively small market. For me, anything that gets a 7 on the BGG scale goes in the “Like It” category, and Feld games invariably have something that gets my interest and has me happy to play them again at some point. Most of these are still very Euro-y in a point salad kind of way, which is why they don’t drift up into the “Love It” category, but I like how he encourages you to take a strategic approach, but forces luck on you when making tactical decisions within that.
- Love it: Macao, Notre Dame, Luna, Roma, Roma II
- Like it: Amerigo, Casks of Burgundy, Bruges, Trajan, Bora Bora, Rialto, In The Year Of The Dragon, It Happens, Strasbourg, Rum and Pirates
- Neutral: Speicherstadt, Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel
- Not for me: None
I like the early Feld games (of the ones I have played) better than some of the recent releases. I like the built-in ‘disaster’ elements in his game that I think force players to make difficult trade-off decisions even if other players in the game do not. Like Larry, I am not bothered by the point-salad criticism. To me that just gives me more varied strategies to explore and helps keep me engaged during the game. The downside is that the complexity tends to encourage AP, which makes sessions longer and less enjoyable.
- Love it: Notre Dame, In the Year of the Dragon, Macao
- Like it: Burgund, Trajan, Bora Bora, Speicherstadt, Luna, Amerigo
- Neutral: Brugge, Strasbourg
- Not for me: Rialto
As much as I admire some of his designs, I feel like a lot of Feld’s work is mechanics with little or no thematic connection – and life is too darn short for that.
- Love it: Rum & Pirates
- Like it: In the Year of the Dragon, Rialto (but just barely)
- Neutral: Macao, The Castles of Burgundy, Notre Dame, Roma, Roma II
- Not for me: Name of the Rose
I like Feld’s designs for the most part. I don’t truly love any of them, but many are in the solid “Like It” category. That said there are a few that just don’t click for me.
- Love it: None
- Like it: Brugge, Burgund, Trajan, Notre Dame, In the Year of the Dragon, Roma, Roma II
- Neutral: Macao, Bora Bora, Speicherstadt, Strasbourg, Rum and Pirates
- Not for me: Luna
- Love it: Bruges, Burgundy, In the Year of the Dragon, Luna, Rum and Pirates, Trajan
- Like it: Amerigo, Bora Bora, It Happens, Macao, Notre Dame, Rialto, Strasbourg
- Neutral: Roma, Roma II, Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel, Speicherstadt
- Not for me: Name of the Rose
- Like it: Luna, Burgundy
- Love it: Burgen Burgen Burgen Burgen Burgen
- Like it: Macao, In the Year of the Dragon, Notre Dame
- Neutral: Bora Bora, Die Speicherstadt, Rum & Pirates
- Love it: None
- Like it: Roma/Roma II, Notre Dame, Luna, Rum & Pirates, Amerigo
- Neutral: Rialto, Bruges, Strasbourg, Castles of Burgundy, Trajan, Speicherstadt, Macao, It Happens, Name of the Rose, Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel
- Not for me: Bora Bora, In the Year of the Dragon
- Love it: None
- Like it: Amerigo, Castles of Burgundy, Trajan, Strasbourg
- Neutral: Bruges, In the Year of the Dragon, Notre Dame, Macao, Roma, Speicherstadt
- Not for me: Rum and Pirates, Rialto, Luna, Bora Bora, Name of the Rose
- Love it: Bora Bora, Luna
- Like it: Macao, Notre Dame, In the Year of the Dragon
- Neutral: Castles of Burgundy, Amerigo, Rialto, Trajan, Strasbourg, Roma
- Not for me: Rum & Pirates, Die Speicherstadt, Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel
Castles of Burgundy is highest rated on BGG at 12, then Trajan at 37. The Opinionated Gamers seemed to like the old Felds best (In the Year of the Dragon 118 to Macao 135) .Why do you think the Opinionated Gamers differ in their evauation of Feld from the broader BGG community?
That’s a good question David. I’d like to think it’s because we’re generally very longtime board game players and less taken with the shiny new thing. So we value Feld’s more streamlined older designs over his newer convoluted ones. But who knows, it may just be a quirk of which OGers submitted ratings and the relatively small sample size.
Great post everyone! Fun to her each person’s preferences and reasons for why some games click and some do not. I’m generally a fan of his work, but som titles work better for me than others.
I love the draft and rat pressure of Notre Dame, but felt In the year of the Dragon was just a degree to mean for me.
Amerigo was a pleasant surprise. The choices are often difficult and the basic large island vs. small island strategy is augmented by some interesting progress tile opportunities than can drive other strategies.
Luna is wonderfully weird. Just can’t think of another way to describe the game. For goodness sake the “move by wave or move by boat” alone is fascinating, let lone the Apostate and the main temple scoring positions. Wonderful and crazy!
I think the reason I like Trajan so much is wrangling the mancala rondel to your will. That thing has inertia! It’s like trying to steer an ocean liner. So sluggish at times, and difficult to deal with. Sudden changes in direction are possible, but will have consequences in the mancala that often will cost you other opportunities, and the variable round length is, in my opinion, brilliant. The rest is set collection and area majority, but so is the highly regarded Macao, so I’m not sure why this one gets the reputation is does.
Finally, Castles of Burgundy is wonderful, but I will never play with more than three. The downtime is incredible and unacceptable in a game like this where there is little to no reason to pay attention to your opponents who, like you, are agonizing over decisions which can make for a long, long, long game of sitting around and waiting. Other than that, a fabulous game.
Rialto is a pleasant surprise. It’s very simple compared to other recent titles. Very straightforward, and, for that reason, I like it. I have never played San Marco though, so I have no point of comparison. For me, the choose a stack of cards that everyone else can see makes for some delicious tension and bluffing opportunities. A solid game. Horrible art direction. I haven’t seen a board that looks so much like internal organs (this one intestines) since Martin Wallace’s famous “lung board” for Last Train to Welsleysomethingorother.
Bora Bora is a beast. It rarely hits the table because of this, and is the epitome of Feld bloat. I’ll play it, but my god if I have to explain it again, I’m going to have to have a few beers in me. It’s so dense, and the art direction of this is so garish it’s hard for me to even see what’s going on! I like the game, but in no way love it. My wife really enjoys it. Go figure.
Builders Duel. Come on. Who else has made a game where you throw pieces into the air to get your action selections! Awesome. Game less so, but inventive and actually felt more thematic to me than Pillars of the Earth itself in many ways. The competition between players is actually pretty intense in this one. That being said, it’s a bit of a one trick pony, so it didn’t last for me.
It happens is clever and light and fun. My kids dug it until they didn’t. They I let it go. Neutral for me all around.
Roma. Broken. Roma II, better, but not enough for me to really enjoy or want to play so I don’t have it, nor do I miss it. Clever idea that just didn’t work for me.
Speicherstadt is a game that I enjoy with the right people. I once played a game with a player that just intentionally set out to be a jackass to everyone the whole game (the same player who sold everything for a dollar in Container playing the “Wal-Mart” strategy), and it can ruin the experience, believe me! I won’t play this with two, but at higher player counts it starts to shine. Dry, dry, dry, but short enough with such a clever auction mechanism that I still like it. Not love it, but like it.
Macao is my wife’s favorite, hands down. The wind rose mechanic is brilliant, but can often lead to some frustration. Turn order is vital. The punish markers are exceptionally difficult, and the fact that ships can magically acquire goods while already at sea bothers me a bit. The definition of no theme. I’m neutral on this one, but will play it because of my wife’s enthusiasm. For me, it’s just mechanical. Short play time is a plus though. This one just hums along at a brisk pace.
Rum and Pirates and In the Name of the Rose I have never played, so no opinion there.
Thanks for the excellent writeup. I wonder with games like Speicherstadt and Container, if a player can play by the “wrong” strategy that ruins the game, is that the player’s fault or the game’s? I tend to feel that fragile games like that are inherently flawed, but I know plenty of other people think the games are still great even if they entail unwritten rules about player behavior and the need to uphold some spirit of the game.
I blame the game, which is why I don’t play Speicherstadt or Container anymore, but enough people I respect disagree with me that I at least allow for the possibility I’m wrong objectively, even if I’m right subjectively. :)
Nathan, I don’t think a game exists that can’t be “broken” by someone who is intent on being a “jackass”, as ggambill puts it. Rather than avoid such a game, I’d avoid playing with the jackass! But while I wouldn’t think Speicherstadt would be a problem with rational play, I’ve played in games of Container where the game didn’t work because the players weren’t on the same wavelength or just didn’t grok the very unintuitive economy of the game. I consider it to be quite a fragile game. That isn’t to say that it can’t be enjoyed by players by players who appreciate the experience, but with a mixed group, there’s a reasonable chance that it won’t shine.
Geoff, have you played Santa Cruz? It has public card set drafting similar to Rialto.
La Isla is such an awkward title to say…
Stefan Feld is sort of the PT Anderson of board games. People who consider themselves as aficionados of the hobby overpraise him to the point where I’m sick of hearing about him.
Bruges is awesome though.
Interesting read! I was a bit surprised to see CoB so “low” on the list.
My take on his games:
LOVE IT: Notre Dame, Castles of Burgundy, Trajan
LIKE IT: Macao, In the Year of the Dragon, Luna, Rum & Pirates, Bora Bora
NEUTRAL: Amerigo, Bruges, Romas, Strasbourg, Name of the Rose
RUN AWAY: It Happens, Rialto, Speicherstadt
Haven’t played Pillars of the Earth: Builder’s Duel
I haven’t tired of CoB after 26 plays and enjoy the different boards that have come out the diversify the experience. Always interesting to see the different strategies employed by different people in this one. First few games I was certain this was going to be one I would play often as people pondered a bit too long at times but that has not been an issue after the first few plays.
Notre Dame is always a hit when I introduce it to people. I remain a bit uncertain about the expansion cards however. People are always annoyed when I tell them afterwards that copies are hard to come by these days. This is the one that probably has been most consistent in getting plays each year with 23 plays over 8 years. Doesn’t hurt that this one is easy to pick up and teach.
Trajan’s mancala system fascinates me. Fighting the rondel to make it what you want to do when you see a need to change plans due to other people getting in your way is both frustrating and interesting. :-) I still feel there is a fair bit more to explore after 14 plays…
In the Year of the Dragon has left me quite grumpy at times. As such, this is probably why I have played it so rarely despite recognizing it as a quality game (5 times).
Luna was interesting but I tired of trying to teach it to new folks so I sold my copy after 4 plays. This is not an easy one to teach or newcomers to necessarily grasp.
Bora Bora doesn’t receive a lot of love in my area but every once in a while I can convince people to play (8 times). It can be a bit obtuse to grasp the first time but there can be some delicious nastiness in dice placement.
I know Rum & Pirates gets a bit of a bum rap on BGG, but I think there is a fairly fun game packed in the box. It has generally gone over pretty well when I’ve taught/played although that has only been a few times because of the bum rap it receives. I do think the pirate placement/movement mechanic is well used in this one.
Amerigo was fun initially but after 8 plays started to feel stale. I’m not sure there is a lot of variation in game play (at least it starts feeling that way after a while). As well, the box was just too huge. With Queen going all megasize box now, there are going to be a lot of hurting bookshelves in the near future!
Bruges was fun, but the day I played it 6 times in one sitting probably did me in and I didn’t want to come anywhere near the game for a while. I’m happy to play someone else’s copy as long as we play with the fix on that one character…
I find Name of the Rose interesting but the game takes too long. I’m surprised to find myself liking this one somewhat since I generally don’t care much for games that focus on deducing who other people are.
It Happens was dry and boring and I wanted to quit during the instructions. I prefer San Marco over Rialto. Speicherstadt just didn’t ring my bell.
I agree, Larry, I’m also a bit surprised Castles of Burgundy isn’t a bit higher, although 2.8 is still quite a good rating. I wonder if some of the folks here didn’t play it often enough for the duration to come down. Like you, my first few games ran quite long, but now we just zip through it and even with 4, the games play quickly. But everyone seems to need a few games under their belts for that to happen.
I love the retrospective format. A designer doesn’t have to be dead to have his body of work critically reviewed. And thanks for the recommendations! My most recent Feld game was Bruges, and I’m hoping to try Notre Dame soon. – Drew Davidson
What I find fascinating is that Feld has a design philosophy that is about as far as gets from my own (going from mechanisms, putting as much “small rules” and “extra ideas” in them as possible) but more often than not, I really enjoy his games. My favorites are Notre Dame, Brügge, Strasbourg and Burgen von Burgund. All of them original in their ways and the decisions are tough, but you are able to combine actions to greater effect.
If Feld has a weakness than it might be that sometimes that he overblanaces thing. But f everything is equally important, its difficult to get progress and games tend to be same-y. I loved Speicherstad the first time I tried it, the second time it felt already quite familiar the third time I was frankly bored already. Trajan held my interest longer, but after winning 3 times in a row by concentrating on creating Trajans (without painting myself into a corner on the mancala board or running out of food). All the subgames are so balanced that it doesnt really matter what you do there, as long as it somewhat reasonable. I dont think I found a “killerstrategy”, but it certainly renders a part of the game pointless for me.
I want to play, too :)
Love it: Castles of Burgundy, It Happens
Like it: Macao, Notre Dame, In the Year of the Dragon, Bruges, Roma,Roma II
Neutral: Luna, Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel
Run Away: Speicherstadt
Need to try again, but looking forward to it: Trajan, Strasbourg
Should try again, but probably a run away: Amerigo, Rum & Pirates, Name of the Rose
CoB may be love it, because I just started playing it on Boite a Jeux, but enjoying it so far. One play ftf was enough that I purchased it, but have not played with my copy, yet
It Happens is a good filler. I wouldn’t want to play all day, but a game or two is fun and always seems to generate some laughs.
Macao, Notre Dame, IYotD were all love its when new, but I’ve not played any of them in a few years nor have they demanded my attention enough that I suggested any of them over the new stuff coming in. This article might prompt me to pull them out and try again.
Bruges was love it after one play, but has dropped to like it and may fall further with more plays. It seems too short to develop (my) strategies.
Roma and II are fun, but there are too many other 2ers that I like better.
Pillars has admirable mechanics, it’s ok, but again too many good 2er’s that don’t get played.
Luna is currently in a neutral state, it’s flickered as high as like it, but never to love it.
Speicherstadt just doesn’t work for me. I don’t think I’ve ever played with cardboard, so might give it a try but won’t seek it out.
Trajan has one ftf play and a couple on Boite, I did pick up a half price copy at B&N, so we’ll see where it windes up.
Strasborg had one play, I remember thinking, “This is ok.”
Rum & Pirates is better than Talisman, but not my type of game. It’s a little long for what it is.
Amerigo left me cold, but we didn’t set up the cube tower variant as suggested so you don’t get all the cubes out of the tower. I’d like to try it with the flipped internal part to see if it becomes more interesting.
Name of the Rose was fun, but even the non-color challenged messed up the colors a couple times which kills that particular game.