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