Sunday, 4 November 2018


Plays: 6Px1.

The first thing about Feudum that struck me - this is such a beautiful game! The artwork, the art style, the components - they are all impressive. This is a Kickstarter game, and some components have upgraded versions due to certain funding levels having been achieved. Be prepared to be bombarded with photos...

The Game

A game of Feudum starts with a mostly empty board, where none of the locations are controlled by anybody. Players are noble families sending out their pawns (family members) to roam the land, establish influence, gain control over the locations, and develop the locations. There are six guilds in which you compete to become the guild master, the journeyman or the apprentice. Guilds also offer useful actions. If you are the guild master or journeyman, you get to perform special actions which score points. There are many ways to score points in the game. The game is played over five epochs. There is no set number of rounds in each epoch. An epoch ends when enough locations have been improved. You score points for certain actions, and you also score points at the end of every epoch, and at the end of the game.

The big cubes are pawns, and not dice. There are different icons on the six sides, and the icon on the top side indicates the profession of your pawn. The pawn with a cross on top is a monk. The small cubes are resources. Each resource type has different uses. They are not simply generic resources in different colours. The hexagon pieces are influence markers. They determine who controls a location.

Every player has three pawns, so you have at most three of your family members roaming the board. You start the game with one pawn on the board. You need to take a specific action to bring an additional pawn onto the board. Every pawn on the board consumes one food every round, so although having more pawns around is handy, this comes at a price.

This is how the game is set up. A random disc is placed at each location. The grey discs are outposts, the green discs farms, and the yellow discs towns. These are settlements at different stages of development. Outposts can be upgraded to farms, farms to towns, and towns to feudums (fiefs).

Locations are linked together by paths of different types. The basic type is the road, which everyone can use at all times. Other path types can only be used when you have the appropriate vehicles. If you take a closer look at the few locations along the bottom, you will notice paths made of white birds. These are air routes, and you need to have an airship to use them. Water routes require ships. Underwater routes (not shown in this photo) require submarines.

These are three of the guilds in the game - the farmer guild, the merchant guild and the alchemist guild. To earn a position in a guild, you look at whether you have a pawn in that profession, and whether you control a feudum specialising in that industry. How many locations of a certain type which you control also affects your seniority at a guild. If you are the guild master or the journeyman, you enjoy a special privilege. You may perform an action only accessible to you. The guild master and the journeyman have different special actions. The guild master's action affects the next guild, the journeyman's action affects the previous guild. This is how a chain of relationships forms among the guilds. When you are guild master or journeyman, you earn points at the end of every epoch. Your special actions also give you points. Guilds are an important source of points.

Let's look at the merchant guild in the middle in more detail. This is a place where any player may buy resources. The journeyman's special action is to take resources from the farmer guild and place them in the merchant's shop. In other words, he is doing restocking. The guild master's special action is to move resources from the merchant's shop to the material stockpile at the alchemist guild. The alchemist guild makes vehicles and barrels, and it needs resources to do so.

The farmer guild lets players sell their resources for money and food. The alchemist guild lets players buy vehicles.

These are the three other guilds - the knight guild, the noble guild and the monk guild. The six guilds form a full circle. The guild upstream of the knight guild is the alchemist guild, in the previous photo. The guild downstream of the monk guild is the farmer guild.

These action cards drive the game. Everyone has 11 such cards. At the start of every round, you secretly pick four and set the rest aside face-down. During the round, players take turns playing an action card and executing the action. You only see icons on the cards. They are incomprehensible to players new to game, but once you know the game, they work well enough to remind you what the actions are.

Some action cards give you two options, e.g. the Guild action card on the right. You may choose the second option depicted in the lower right corner.

This reference card lists the 11 action cards. When Ivan taught us the game, it took a long time to explain all the details of these action cards. When we finally reached the 11th card, which was the Guild action card...

... we realised that at the back of the reference card there were 18 guild actions to be explained. Every guild has 3 actions, the basic one accessible to everybody, and two special actions available to the guild master and the journeyman.

The left section on this page lists the various ways of scoring. The first part lists actions which immediately give you points. The second part is for points scored at the end of every epoch. The third part is for points scored at game end.

So many toys! The mermaid is part of a mini expansion. Well, technically that's not a mermaid. It's a siren. That king piece is the start player marker. The horned giant and the sea serpent are monsters. You may recruit them to fight for you. The windmill is a bonus component, made available due to a Kickstarter stretch goal being achieved. There is a windmill game component which is just a tile with a drawing. This 3D windmill is just a fancy upgrade, not necessary for gameplay purposes. That yellow cube is called the progress die and it is not a pawn. You roll this progress die at the end of a round to possibly remove a landscape tile from the game. Depletion of landscape tiles drives the progress through the epochs and determines the pace of the game. So this progress die pushes the game forward.

That row of six stacks of tiles are the landscape tiles. Every time you improve a location, you may be able to claim one landscape tile. When a certain number of landscape tiles of a particular epoch is claimed or removed, the epoch ends and you enter the next epoch. The more improvements done, the more the game speeds up.

The sun rays represent the five epochs in the game. The icons in each section remind you what need to be done at the start of each epoch.

I won't explain all the actions in the game, but I will describe some of the ways you score points. I've mentioned holding position at guilds and performing the guild master and journeyman actions. The other main area of scoring is related to controlling locations. All locations are initially uncontrolled, and players compete to place their influence markers to win control of the locations. Control of locations gives points every epoch and at game end. Improving your locations also gives points. If you conquer a feudum of another player, you gain points. Fighting for locations, and using them, is the main plotline of the game. The guilds are the subplot. There are quite a few other minor subplots.

At the location in the middle, both purple and blue pawns (big cubes) are present. You need to have pawns present to place your influence markers (hexagons). Blue has placed two influence markers, and purple one. So blue controls this location, becoming the ruler. Purple becomes the serf. A location only allows up to three influence markers, in up to two different colours. Once two players have placed influence markers, a third player may no longer enter the fray. Only the first two may compete. Whoever places his second influence marker will become the ruler.

These are called royal writs. They are secret objective cards which are scored at game end, depending on whether you fulfil the conditions. The one on the left lets me score points if I control one or more of these three specific locations. I can score up to 17pts. For a royal writ to take effect, I also need to collect a royal seal for it.

The Play

I did a full 6-player game with Ivan, Tim, Allen, Jeff and William. At low player counts, an NPC (non-player character) comes into play. Ivan says it's a powerful queen character.

When the game starts, everyone gets to place a pawn for free at any start location. You also freely choose the profession. There are 6 guilds. In our game we each picked a different starting profession so that everyone controlled one guild.

In this photo you can see three of the six regions on the board - desert region on the left, hill region in the centre, and mountain region on the right. The location at the bottom right is a hard-to-reach one. It is not accessible by road. It is connected only by air route (tiny white birds).

This is the monk guild. At this moment Allen (yellow) was the guild master, and I (green) the journeyman. The Rosary bead slots were full now. If nobody bought any, and the master guild did not move any to the farmer guild, the journeyman would not be able to perform his action, which was to move beads here from the noble guild.

The knight guild is an important one, because this is where you collect more influence markers. The starting markers are barely enough, and I feel almost everyone will need to collect some sooner or later. At this point all three positions at the knight guild were filled. Tim (red) was guild master, William (purple) was journeyman, and Allen (yellow) was apprentice.

William (purple) ran into the siren (i.e. the "mermaid"). The siren song kept all pawns at this location locked, unable to move away until the siren was defeated in battle. The light blue tile beneath the purple pawn is a vehicle. The little disc on top of the purple pawn is a seal. Seals and sirens are part of the same mini expansion. Seals are good though. If your pawn catches a seal, he can feed himself for some time. You don't need to supply him with food until a specific future epoch.

When a location has two influence markers of the same colour, it is almost secured. As long as the location is not yet upgraded to a feudum, it cannot be taken by force. Technically it is possible to take it by intrigue, but it's cumbersome. The attacker needs to send a noble and make use of the noble's special ability to remove one incumbent influence marker. Then the attacker needs to place his own influence marker. In our game no one was willing to spend this kind of effort. We did fight for locations, but once a location was secured by two influence markers of the same colour, it was left alone.

At this point Ivan (grey) and William (purple) both had three pawns on the board. They had more flexibility in terms of where to perform actions, and in some cases their actions would be more effective. However their pawns were consuming more food too. At this point in the game, many locations had been claimed (hexagonal markers on discs). The unclaimed ones were mostly those far from the centre.

In a corner of the game board there is this pilgrimage path. There are only 7 steps, and the further you progress your marker here, the more you score at game end. However every step is not easy to take. You move at most one step per round, and in that round you need to have selected two specific action cards - the move card and the repeat card. That's a big commitment and it reduces your flexibility. If you decide to go on a pilgrimage, you probably need to be quite disciplined and persistent for it to be worthwhile. Allen and I were first to decide to go, and that soon led to juvenile jokes about Brokeback Mountain. Two grown men going on a hiking trip in the mountains...

When you gain a sulfur resource (yellow cube), you may decide to convert it to wine. If you are short on food, you can let your pawns drink wine instead, and wine fills them for two rounds. That sounds like a good deal, but there's a catch. When drunk, your pawn becomes defenseless and can be easily attacked and kicked off the board. In this photo, William's (purple) pawn is currently drunk on wine (yellow cube on top of it), so it is vulnerable. In our game his pawns were indeed attacked and ejected when they had drinking sessions. We were nasty people picking on defenseless drunkards.

If you convert a sulfur resource to wine, you put the cube in this section of the board. The barrel colours indicate who owns which bottle of wine.

The grey square tile on the left is a landscape tile. Landscape tiles are rewards for improving locations. They can later be placed at locations where you are a serf. Being a serf means you have influence at a location but someone else is the ruler. Only serfs may own landscapes, and not rulers. Landscapes produce items for you and also score points. This landscape tile on the left has produced a total of 6 sulfurs by now.

If you look at the score track along the top edge, you will see Ivan's grey marker at the far right, leaving the rest of us far behind in the dust. Only Tim (red) did a bit more decently. At this point we were in epoch 3. We used the windmill piece as our epoch marker.

My (green) pawns were all over the place, and the locations I ruled were spread out. I ruled one location on the islands on the left, one in the desert at the centre, one in the hills at the bottom right, and one in the mountains at the top right. Things turned out this way because I had a secret objective card that required me to rule locations in different regions. I later found out that I had misunderstood the requirement. It was not about ruling locations in different regions, it actually required that I rule three very specific locations, all of which were hard to reach. No wonder the point value was so high.

Ruling locations in different regions is good though, because at the end of every epoch, you score points based on how many regions you have presence in. That helped me a lot. Not that I was clever and had planned for it. I was just lucky my misinterpretation of that secret objective made me play this way.

At the location at the bottom right of this photo, both Jeff (blue) and I (green) had pawns. I was currently ruling because I was the only one with an influence marker. This location was important to me. If I maintained control by game end, it would give me at least 5pts because of my secret objective card.

This location right at the centre is a farm (green disc with lines), and all those cubes are resources produced by the farm. Developing agriculture is an important part of a player's progress, and I think it is almost a necessary stage. When your farm produces resources, you can sell them to the farmer guild to make money or to get food. Food is important because you need to feed your pawns every round. If you never build up a stockpile of food, you will always be distracted by the need to get enough food. In our game, only Ivan and Tim understood the importance of this agricultural stage early enough, and because of this, their gameplay was more efficient.

On the left there are three light blue vehicle tiles with no pawns on them. These are abandoned vehicles. If you are driving a vehicle and your next destination cannot be reached by that vehicle, you are forced to abandon it. Whoever comes along next can pick it up and use it like his own.

Let's look at that location at the bottom right again. Now my (green) ruling position had been taken over by Jeff (blue). I could have placed my second influence marker to solidify my position as the ruler, but I had other things I wanted to do (like going hiking...), so I gambled that Jeff wouldn't bother to overtake me. I bet wrong...

This was near game end, and almost all locations had been claimed. The only exception was the town (yellow disc) near the middle. It was on the river and reachable only by ship. I had considered visiting and claiming it, because of my secret objective card, but there was not enough time left.

Our game started slowly, but the pace gradually accelerated. In the early to mid game, everyone competed to claim locations. There was little improvement done for the locations. We all wanted to land-grab first. Epoch 1 seemed to have taken many rounds to complete, but later in the game an epoch only took one round. After we claimed the locations, we got busy improving them and scoring points. Near game end, every action felt precious. We had to carefully evaluate which actions would give the highest returns.

Nobody improved any location to feudums, i.e. the highest level. Improving a location to become a feudum scores many points, and also helps greatly in jostling for supremacy at the guilds. However, unlike outposts, farms and towns, feudums can be attacked. Also once you own a feudum, your status as a feudal lord obliges you to fight wars. You must attack others enough times by certain epochs or suffer a penalty. I think all of us were hesitant to go all the way to feudums because with so many people playing, the risk of getting attacked was high. We couldn't even get drunk peacefully, what were the chances of a feudum being left undisturbed?

Scoring was rather slow in the beginning. Seeing that the scoretrack went up to 200, I joked that the designer was overly optimistic. However by game end, Ivan's score hit 200! From the middle of the game he had created a wide gap with the rest of us. We could not reign him in. We probably could all try to compete with him in whatever he was doing, but doing so might not be efficient for us individually.

My secret objective cards were probably the saddest part of my game. I had planned to collect such cards early, then spend the game fulfilling them. It would give me some direction. In the end, of the two cards I held, I only fulfilled one small part of one card. I happened to have competitors at most of the locations I needed to control. I did well with the region scoring at the end of each epoch. I also did well with the guild scoring. Both did not seem like much, but they were a steady source of points. Eventually I managed second place, but just barely.

We played for about 5 hours, excluding rules explanation, which probably took an hour. It had been a long time since I last played a boardgame past 4am.

The Thoughts

Feudum is a point salad game - many different ways of scoring points. However you can't realistically try to do everything. If you decide on some areas to work on, you need to be committed and disciplined, and you need to forgo other areas. There are still two core areas you must spend effort on - controlling locations and controlling guilds. These form the backbone of your scoring strategy. If you are particularly weak in one of these two areas, you will be at a disadvantage. So this is not the kind of point salad game where you have myriads of disconnected options and everyone picks a few to specialise in. There are still two core areas in which you need to compete with everyone else.

Feudum is a complex Eurogame, with many rules and many gameplay elements. These many game elements form a complicated network of relationships. For people who like heavy Eurogames this can be attractive. The fun is in tinkering with the system and seeing what works and what doesn't. I do like heavy Eurogames, but in Feudum I find the whole system more complicated that it needs to be. More is not always better.

At the lower left you can see two locations connected by a river, and there is a two-coin symbol next to the river. This is not the kind of river on which you can travel by ship. It is a ferry river. You need to pay $2 to use it. However, the ferry service is not always open for business. It only operates when there are no vehicles available at the alchemist guild. When the game starts, there are two vehicles available at the guild, so the ferry service is closed. If players buy all the vehicles, the ferry service opens. If the master alchemist later manufactures a new vehicle to put up for sale, the ferry service closes again. I find this an unnecessary quirk. It adds complexity and flavour, but I'm not sure it makes the game much more fun.

I think what this game sets out to convey is the interaction among the six guilds. It is somewhat successful. Some of the interactions feel a little forced, e.g. royal seals being transformed into rosary beads, but as game mechanisms they work well enough.

Feudum is more interesting with more players. There is more competition, and also more opportunities for collaboration. There are more opportunities to take advantage of other players actions, due to the many interlocking game mechanisms. Players are always competing for locations, but at the guilds there are win-win situations you can create with some fellow players. Feudum is a rich game, and certainly a beautiful one. I just think it could use some trimming.

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