I just returned from the Gathering of Friends, and it was really nice to get back and see some of my gaming friends that I haven’t seen since 2019. Sadly, not all of my friends were able to make the trip – and Friedemann Friese was included in that group.
One of the things I most look forward to about the Gathering is the chance to play some new games from companies such as 2F, CGE, and others. I was super surprised to be asked by Joe Huber if I wanted to try the newest Friedemann game this year. Apparently, the physical game was in New York while the designer was home in Bremen.
Using the magic of pandemic conference calls, we had Friedemann join us via Skype, propped up on a tablet near the top of the board. Though it was at a severe angle, apparently FF was able to see the board and the pieces on it. Though he mostly was an observer, he could listen to us and see enough of what we were doing to answer questions and correct us when we made mistakes.
Our group of 4 met in a secluded room (mostly for noise reasons) and set up the game. As we were setting up, we were able to chat a bit with FF and catch up. The game is somewhat historical, showing the development of FIndorff through the years.
I’ll try to explain the game – but a bunch of caveats. I’m doing this mostly from memory. I have only played once. The game is clearly still an early to middle prototype; so the finished product could very easily be quite different. Or at least that will be my defense for any mistakes made on my part!
The board itself shows the district with multiple areas for building buildings. There are also two railroad lines that crisscross and encircle the city. The development of the railroad is actually the timer in the game, as the game end is triggered with the completion of these lines. At the bottom of the board, you’ll find the peat market – reminiscent of the fuel markets from Power Grid – showing the inventory and current selling price of peat. There is a time track on the right side of the board which advances one space with each building built in the game – from 1803 to 1916.
Each player gets an action board and a warehouse board. Finally, each player is given a set of starting buildings (different based on player count) and the remainder of the buildings are placed in the market next to the board. Each player is given some starting money, with players later in starting turn order getting a bit more as compensation.
On a turn, the player makes a move on his personal action board – which is essentially a vertical rondel. You can either stay in the same space or move downwards to take an action lower on the board. When you get to the bottom and must move your marker back to the top; there is a bureaucracy phase that immediately happens as you move the marker back to the top. You are only allowed a maximum of 3 spaces below where you start – so you can never make a full circuit of your rondel in one turn.
1] Buy – you can buy one card or pad. Cards can be built either from your hand or the open market next to the board. Pay the cost as shown on the card; certainly some amount of money and some have costs of rail pieces or houses. Each of the buildings shown on the cards has an actual construction year shown on it. If you build a card that is at least three spaces behind the timer, you can get a cash discount. Each building built moves the timer ahead one step. Play the card in front of you, and some cards provide you with a bonus or income going forward. Interestingly, if you build a card from the common market, you must replace it with a card from your hand – now everyone has the ability to build that card. You could also choose to build a “factory” – something that makes houses, rail sections or peat blocks. Another option is to buy an upgrade that lets you do more of a particular action for each stop of your marker on that rondel space. At the start of the game, you only get one instance of the four action options, but all can be increased with upgrades.
2] Workers – gain a worker. That is, take a meeple from the supply and add it to your area.
3] Production – place the required number of workers (one or two) on a factory building and gain the product of said factory. You can only produce at a factory once until you complete the bureaucracy step. The products are placed on your warehouse card (capacity ten things), though some building cards come with extra storage spaces.
4] Sell 2 peat / raise a house / build rails – Do one of the 3 choices. If you sell peat, take it from your warehouse and put it on the spaces in the peat market; take money based on the spaces that you filled. If you build a house; take a house off your warehouse and put it on a red house space. If you build rails, place a rail section from your warehouse and place it on the board; you gain $10 for the rail link.
Bureaucracy] Each time that you flip back to the top of your action board, you must go through a few steps. First, remove one peat from the market for each of your houses (you have to heat the houses). Then, for each pair of your house on the board and a worker in your area, place a rail section on the board and earn $4. Next one of your workers dies – place him back in the supply. Remove any surviving workers from their factories and place them next to the board. Finally, check your constructed building cards and take any income stated on them. Now continue the movement of your marker starting at the top of your rondel and take the action you want.
Building rail lines – either during action 4 or during Bureaucracy – results in peat being removed from the market during the first half of the game, causing the price to rise, and then in it being added during the second half, shifting the price back down.
The game continues until the rail lines are complete; continue playing to the end of the round so that all players have the same amount of turns. Then calculate your scores:
+50 per card built
+10 for rail left on your warehouse
+4 for house left of your warehouse
+X for peat – all sold at final market price
+1 per $1 leftover
The player with the most points wins. I have no idea if there is a tiebreaker or not; we didn’t need it because Joe beat us by more than 100 points.
So, my one game of Findorff was obviously a learning game, but I will say that the overall game is easy to learn and the game flow is intuitive. After a few rounds, I had the hang of the main mechanics – though of course I had no good idea of the relative value of the buildings.
There are plenty of interesting decisions to be made concerning building choice though. Some buildings give better in game benefits (especially income) – but they tend to be more expensive. Others are cheaper, but in the end, they’ll be worth the same amount of victory points, so they can still be desirable. If you build a building from the marketplace, you have to be sure that you’re willing to possibly part with one of the building cards in your hand because you have to replenish the market after building one of the public buildings.
There is a lot of interesting engine building going on here. Each of the actions on your rondel starts out with a value of 1, but they can be upgraded as many as three times. While I don’t think that I’d ever want 4 instances of any action, there is room for that on the action board. I’d say that you definitely need to get a few upgrades; but I’m really not sure what the right number is. After all, you don’t have to move forward on the rondel, so you could take the same action over and over, though it would cost you time. I passed on a few buildings that gave upgrades as their bonus, and in retrospect, I would have really liked to have built those buildings as they are doubly efficient. Their bonus upgrades help you for the rest of the game, AND you also don’t have to spend an additional action building the upgrade as they come as part of the building a card action.
You always feel like you need to do each of the actions early on, and the trick (I think) is figuring out when you can skip certain actions or at least make them more efficient so you can do them in fewer steps. Building cards is the big goal of the game given their scoring value, but in order to do that, you’ll need money and resources. Workers help you make things, but one of them dies each pass through the rondel – so you’ll need to keep gaining workers. Once you have a few buildings, you might actually be motivated to enter bureaucracy more often as your income there might be enticing as a reward.
The game is fairly snappy, with our learning game coming in right at an hour. If the timing doesn’t change, I’d expect this around 45mins with experienced players. The railway construction is the timer, and the game keeps pushing it forward. At the start of the game, building rails is a common thing as the $10 for income is a great way to fund your building desires. With each bureaucracy; rails are built for each building/worker combo, and many buildings require rails for construction, and those rails are added to the board as well. The fast pace suits me well, as I like games where players can plan out much of their turn as they wait for their turn to come up, and then this allows them to take a quick turn when it is their chance to do so. It also helped that we had Joe Huber at the table, and there was the usual Huber-speed acceleration that happens in any game that Joe plays.
Anyways, it’s hard to rate anything after one game, but I will say that my appetite for more Findorff is high right now. There are a lot of interesting decisions to be made, and I’ve got a couple of strategies that I’d like to try now that I know how the game works. The shorter game length will also be a positive point for my local game group as we have trended towards games at the 60-75 time frame at the most recently. I’m not sure when this game will be ready (though I think SPIEL 2022 is a possibility) – but I’ll be watching for it whenever it does come available.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (6 plays) – I had the chance to play Findorff six times – one to learn the game, and five with Friedemann virtually at the table – and the game is on my buy list. (Those who know me well know how rarely I state that.) Getting to play it six times meant that I got to see all of the building cards in at least one game, and that I got to see some of the many ways that the game can develop. Unfortunately, because I never played with a table of experienced players, I never got to experience _drafting_ the buildings, which Friedemann does recommend once folks are familiar with the game. The fact that the game plays well with five is a definite plus as well. If you enjoy tight, fast economic games, Findorff is one to watch for.