Tuesday 27 November 2018


Plays: 2Px2.

The Game

Quarto is a short 2-player abstract game. It takes less than 10 minutes to play. The board is a 4x4 grid. There are only 16 pieces in the game, and each is unique. Every piece has four features. It is either tall or short, dark or light, solid or hollow, and square or round. The game pieces don't belong to any player. At first I assumed dark pieces belonged to one player and light pieces the other. Your goal is to form a straight line of four pieces which share one common feature, e.g. a line of four round pieces. Do that, and you win. In this photo above, whoever places a tall piece on that space at the top right would win the game. There is also an almost completed line of round pieces.

Players take turns placing a piece onto the board. Once placed, a piece doesn't move. A game is played over at most 16 turns, since there are only 16 game pieces. The twist in this game is you don't decide which piece to play on your turn. Instead your opponent picks the piece for you. Picking a piece for your opponent is a crucial decision. Not picking a piece which would let him win is just the minimum consideration. You need to also consider the many possible consequences when you pick a particular piece for him. Will it help him force you into a corner? Will it save him from trouble?

Pieces not yet played can be grouped by feature to make it easier for players to plan ahead. The tall pieces were grouped this way because at this time picking a tall piece would hand the victory to the opponent. So tall pieces were unsafe now.

The Play

Allen and I went to play at Boardgamecafe.net, and while waiting for other players to arrive, Wai Yan taught us Quarto. It's a short game, so it works well as a filler. Our first game was particularly short, because I was careless and Allen defeated me when we had only a handful of pieces on the board.

At one point I intentionally created a line of three tall pieces, thus making all remaining tall pieces unsafe. I wanted to manipulate the pace of the game. By making tall pieces unsafe, I was shortening the game. If I counted the number of remaining short pieces, I could work out when they would run out, and who would be forced to pick a tall piece for his opponent. Later I realised I was wrong about this. The board situation could change and unsafe pieces could become safe again. It was a simple matter of using a short piece to spoil that potential line of tall pieces. Once that potential line was disrupted, tall pieces would become safe again.

Another example can be seen in the photo above. Imagine if that leftmost square piece has not been placed yet. There would be a potential line of round pieces, and all available round pieces would be unsafe. However now that this square piece has been played, round pieces are no longer unsafe.

Analyse the board situation in this photo, and you will see there are three potential lines of tall pieces.

I won the second match by making a line of light pieces. Neither Wei Yan nor Allen saw this coming, probably because this was a diagonal line. I think Allen was quite focused on the threat of the tall pieces.

The Thoughts

I have seen Quarto before. It looked like the classy type of abstract game, with well-crafted wooden components. I have never sought to try it because I'm generally not into abstract games. Having played it now, I found it simpler and shorter than I had imagined. It is thinky, like how I imagine abstract games to be in general. Despite the low number of turns, sometimes you need to think long and hard because you need to think quite a few moves ahead. Both picking a piece on your opponent's turn and playing a piece on your own turn can be challenging mental exercises.

Friday 23 November 2018

boardgaming in photos: Deepavali gathering

6 Nov 2018 was Deepavali, a public holiday falling on a Tuesday. It was an off day which was neither here nor there, so I invited some colleagues over for some boardgaming. This is Taluva, a game I like, and also a rather photogenic one.

When playing Pickomino with six, it is not easy to earn worms (points). You don't get many turns throughout the game, so you must treasure every single one. Also with more opponents in the game, there is a bigger risk of your tiles getting robbed by someone else. Scoring zero is very possible.

CK was rather unlucky this turn. He picked 4 on his first roll, and 5 on his second. By his third roll, he still had five dice. He rolled four 2's and a 4 or 5. He had no choice but to pick the four 2's, which was horrible. He was taking his fourth roll now. He had only one die remaining, and he must roll a worm or fail this turn. He failed.

One problem of teaching Taluva to new players is I always feel I am bullying them. This is an open information game, and the tactics take some time to work out. So experienced players have an advantage over first timers. If I play too mercilessly, that seems mean; but if I intentionally play sloppily, that is disrespectful and condescending.

I taught Yee Fon and CK to play. One good thing about teaching an open information game is you can discuss very openly. The board situation is open information. There are no player cards hiding information. You can analyse the board situation for the new players, pointing out the risks and opportunities, and options they have.

Kwe Long brought his son, hoping to expose him to more types of games. We only had one child that day, so Kwe Long ended up mostly playing the children's games with his son. I taught them to play. This game is Chicken Cha Cha Cha, a memory game. I have given many of my children's games to my nephew and niece, since my own children have outgrown these games.

At Machi Koro I lost badly to both the first time players Yee Fon and CK. We used only cards from the base game. However I was too lazy to sort the cards into piles, so I used the market mechanism introduced in the expansions. I'm not entirely sure whether this caused any problem. Supposedly when playing the base game, all cards are available to all players at all times, like in Dominion. The market mechanism makes only ten card types available to players at any one time.

Zee Zun brought two friends, and I taught them Azul. They also tried Dominion, which Zee Zun was interested to learn after having played Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle.

A la Carte is an unusual game. Everyone gets a stove and a pan.

Yee Fon, Kwe Long and CK were all new to Hanabi. This is a cooperative game in which you hold your cards inside out, so that you don't get to see them, but everyone else does. You rely on your teammates to tell you what your cards are by giving hints. Playing Hanabi with new players brings some extra excitement compared to when playing it with a bunch of old timers. With new players, you have not yet established any convention or unspoken rule, which would have been helpful. So the game is more challenging. Let's take an example. When one player hints that some cards are 1's, it can be interpreted in two ways. He may be saying that these are cards you can play, or he may be saying that these are cards you have to discard. For a group of friends who have played Hanabi together many times, they would have established a mutual understanding of what the hint would mean under this situation. The game becomes easier. With new players, you don't exactly know what they are thinking and what logic they are applying. There is a fresh challenge when you play with a new group. This is like playing those communication games at company team building events.

Kakerlaken-poker, a game about lying and pretending to be lying.

Tuesday 20 November 2018


Plays: 6Px1.

The Game

Downforce is a light game with a car-racing setting, but it is more than just a race game. You will find that you need to make bets, you need to make predictions and evaluations based on limited information. There will be some cooperation. You are not just racing to be number 1. You are manipulating the whole outcome to be beneficial to you.

There will always be six race cars in play, regardless of the number of players. If there are fewer than 6 players, some players will control more than one car.

This scoring sheet lists all the ways you gain (and lose) points. Before the game starts, you bid for the car you want. The amount you spend for your car will be paid in victory points at the end of the game. Competition starts even before you rev up your engines. The car positions are randomly assigned, the deck of cards are dealt out to everyone. Cards are used for movement. Before bidding, you get to see your cards. You know which cars your cards will be good at moving. The starting positions of the cars, and your cards, are two of the three factors affecting your decision in bidding for cars. The third factor is the special ability card on the right. Whenever a car is randomly picked to be auctioned off, a random special ability card is drawn to be paired with it.

After the race starts, there are three points in time when any car passes specific milestones when all players will make bets on which cars will be in the top 3. Refer to the Betting Payouts section in the photo above. At each bet, you pick just one car. If at the end of the game the car is among the top 3, you get a payout. You don't necessarily have to bet on your own car.

After the race ends, you score points for your final position in the race. Refer to the Racing Payouts section at the bottom. If your car wins the race, you get 12VP.

Car movement is determined by these cards. Each card shows one or more colours, each with a number. When you play a card, you must move the cars in the specified colours as far as possible, in the specified sequence and taking the specified number of steps. Sometimes if a car is blocked, you will not be able to move it. White is the wild colour. You may treat it as any colour not already on the card. If you have two whites, they must be treated as two different colours. Cards are all single-use. If your car finishes the race while you have cards remaining, they are all discarded. You wait till everyone else finishes.

This was the map we played. It is a little unusual due to the two loops. The junctions at those two loops easily cause blocking. The blue car is now being blocked by the red and the green cars. The race only lasts one lap. This is a quick game.

The Play

We did a 6-player game, so everyone had exactly one car. During bidding, since I had many black numbers in my hand, I decided I would get the black car. I bid quite high for it. In hindsight I should not have done so. If I had many black numbers, it meant others would have few, and thus it was less likely they would compete with me for the black car.

The car in the pole position was the red one, and Ivan won the bid for it. Being in the pole position had its advantages. He quickly sprinted ahead of the rest of us and created a gap. Only the green car was able to keep up somewhat. There was much blocking among the cars left behind. It was quite tough being blocked. It could really bog one down. In our game, we had blocking mostly in the early game. From mid game onwards, there was much less of it. It seemed the cars, especially those in the leading positions, moved very swiftly and smoothly.

Red had a huge lead at this point. Those yellow lines were the milestones for betting. The leading car had passed the first yellow line and was approaching the second one.

We had one funny moment around this time. If you look at the photo above, red and green were coming out of the second loop. One player played a card which had a green number, so he had to move the green car. He made a mistake, and instead of moving the car across the yellow line, he sent the car around the loop again. All of us pointed at that and started laughing - what are you doing are you trying to pull a fast one?! We all said that was certainly an unexpected strategy, and would have been super effective had he not been caught red handed.

In the second half of the race, many people rooted for green, and it eventually overtook red to win the race. My black car managed to break out from the lagging group, and gradually caught up to take second place. The hot red car ended in third place. I had a dilemma. At both first and second bets, I betted on red. At the second bet, green was doing better than red, but I gambled that Ivan would be able to regain the top position. I betted against the general consensus. By the third bet, it was obvious that red would not be able to catch up, so I knew I had to bet on green. My dilemma was between supporting red or my own black. This made me feel uncomfortable. I had bet on red, so I had the incentive to help it earn a good position. However, if my own black gained a good position, I would earn more points too. Helping one meant sacrificing the other. There was no win-win. In hindsight, I should have supported red. It came down to whether red or black would earn 2nd place. If red were 2nd and black 3rd, I would earn 5VP more. If black were 2nd and red 3rd, I would earn 3VP more. There was a 2VP difference so I should help red. Unfortunately during the game I did not make this proper analysis. Out of instinct I supported my own black. So I did not score as much as I could have.

The final positions - green was 1st, black 2nd and red 3rd. This by no means reflected the actual positions of the players. The green player did win the game, but I (black car owner) did poorly.

My final score was 12, and that was below average. The 5VP I spent on bidding for the black car was expensive. In our game we had an unusual situation. One of the players won his car without having spent any VP. That meant even before the race started, I was already 5VP behind him.

The eventual winner was the green car owner, because his car came first, and also he had bet heavily on himself. This was an unstoppable combo.

The Thoughts

Something about Downforce makes me uncomfortable. It is not a pure race game. Three things affect your final score - (1) how much you pay for your car (or cars), (2) whether you bet correctly during the race, and (3) how well your car(s) does at game end. In the first aspect, you exercise your evaluation skills. You decide which car (or cars) you want to invest in, and you try to win it at the lowest price possible. In the second aspect, you try to predict the result by assessing the current situation on the board, and also by guessing your opponents' intentions. A car which many people are supporting will likely do well. There is some groupthink here. Only the third aspect is purely about racing and coming first. However it is only part of your score, and sometimes not even a big part.

What makes me uncomfortable is the situation I experienced. By mid game green was far ahead and it felt impossible to compete. Not only had he bet on himself heavily, he also had many supporters because they too had bet on him. So it was no longer a racing game where everyone was trying to come first. The trailing players were only competing among themselves. This might be a groupthink problem. Perhaps the players should have ganged up on the leader, instead of supporting him.

Downforce is about predicting a final result and then working towards making it come true. It is not just purely trying to be first. It is about creating an end condition where you maximise your score and minimise your opponents' scores. This is quite a different mindset from a more conventional race game where you are immersed in the racing tactics.

One possible problem is people may tend to bet on the same car. After all, the board situation is open information. If most people bet on the same car, then all these people will be supporting that car, and that car will do well. However, to stand out from the crowd, you can't be doing the same thing as everyone else. You need to do something different. Yet if you bet on a dark horse, that might not be a good idea because few or no other players would be helping you. Again, this may be a problem only in our game. In closer races, it is harder to determine which car is doing better, and players may be betting on more different cars.

I may be making the game sound more complicated than it is, with all that talk of evaluation, groupthink, reading others' intentions, I-help-you-you-help-me, and manipulating the board situation to your desired end condition. In the end, this is still a light game that you can easily teach to casual players and non-gamers. The game is engaging because even on other people's turns they may be moving your car. They may also be blocking your car. There is certainly plenty of interaction. You don't need to overthink it like I do.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

boardgaming in photos: Pandemic Iberia, At the Gates of Loyang, Zooloretto

5 Oct 2018. My copy of Pandemic: Iberia now sits at the office. Sometimes if I have free time on Fridays end of day, I go ask Benz and group whether they have time to play with me. I'd say "We need to have a meeting". In a recent game, I drew the nurse character, which involved using this marker at the lower left which looks like a target. This nurse marker always follows the nurse. Wherever the nurse ends her move, the marker must be placed in a region adjacent to her. All cities in the region are protected by the nurse, meaning no new disease cubes can be added. In this particular photo, Braga is protected and there is no risk of a 4th cube being added to trigger an outbreak.

We have started playing with the advanced variants in Pandemic: Iberia. The disease variant is simpler than the hospital variant, so we started with the diseases. Each of the four diseases has an advanced version, and you can play with one of these advanced versions in play, or more. Having all four in play will most likely be suicide. We are doing one at a time now. The advanced blue disease makes the blue disease spread more during outbreaks. Normally when an outbreak happens in a city, all adjacent cities get an extra disease cube. For this advanced blue disease, all cities 2 steps away get an extra cube too if they currently have no cube. It becomes important to avoid outbreaks of the blue disease. We managed to beat the advanced blue disease.

21 Sep 2018. The advanced red disease is harder to treat. If a city has 2 or 3 red cubes, you need to spend 2 actions instead of 1 to treat one cube. We did not manage to beat this one. Containing the red disease bogged us down. Maybe we should have spent less time on it and instead just race to find all cures.

21 Oct 2018. I played Dragon Castle with Chen Rui again. We picked a dragon card and a spirit card which we had not tried before. This dragon card (left) gives 1pt to every temple which is adjacent to a face-up purple tile. The spirit card, when activated, makes a tile available if its top or bottom edge is not blocked. Normally a tile is available only if its left or right edge is not blocked.

Chen Rui's big frown when she is not winning.

The dragon card very much determined how we built our new cities. We specifically planned to leave some face-up purple tiles.

This was Chen Rui's new city. She planned for the long-term - so many small groups of the same colours not yet linked together. She was going for big groups, which gave a better tile-to-point ratio.

I had many face-up purple tiles, and they covered every temple I had built. Those two blue tiles at the bottom were dead. I would not be able to form a group of four. They were blocked off by temples. I took them only because I wanted to deny Chen Rui who needed them.

Chen Rui's city was tall, but she had too few temples.

We played Azul again too, and this time I taught her the advanced game using this side of the player board. The 5x5 wall on the right has no pre-set pattern.

If you look closely at her player board, you can see that she is planning a pattern similar to the wall in the basic game. By planning this way, you will avoid creating any dead zone. There won't be any conflict between your rows and columns. However it may not be most efficient in scoring, and also your play becomes less flexible. Chen Rui managed to collect a set of 5 tiles (red) worth 10pts, which was no easy feat. However she still lost the game, thus the long face.

3 Nov 2018. My wife Michelle said she felt like playing At the Gates of Loyang, and I said yes! She seldom plays boardgames nowadays, and I'd be happy to play anything. She thought about this game because we were discussing the term "bland", and the bland food in the PC game Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom. That's a game about China too.

The card on the right is a regular customer, and this is an important part of the game. When you take on a regular customer, you are committed to deliver specific vegetables to him over four rounds. This gives you a steady income stream. There is a risk of penalty if you fail to deliver as promised. You need to plan your production properly and make sure you deliver. At the Gates of Loyang is a game of logistics. You manage both supply and demand. You want to produce a lot and deliver a lot. Sometimes you create the demand for what you produce, sometimes you commit to a demand and work out how to produce what is required.

19pts is a respectable score.

4 Nov 2018. My whole family has played Zooloretto before. We also own a copy of Aquaretto. Recently younger daughter Chen Rui said she liked Zooloretto and that it would be good if we had a copy. I have no idea where that came from. I don't remember her liking the game that much. The last time we played it was a long time ago. Anyhow, since she liked it, I bought a copy, and we played. When I took this photo I told her not to hunch. She decided to hunch even more. That's Chen Rui the Cheeky.

At the bottom right I had a fertile male panda meeting a fertile female panda, so they produced a baby panda (round token). On the left I had two fertile flamingos too. However they were both male, so they produced no offspring. I casually commented that these were gay flamingos, thus no babies. That term stuck, and from then on Chen Rui kept saying gay flamingos. She made it her goal in life to collect gay flamingos (well, technically she was just collecting fertile male flamingos). She is the kind who does crazy stuff.

I told Chen Rui that Zooloretto and Aquaretta can be combined into an advanced game. I have not read the rules to that yet. I wonder how it works and whether it would be complicated.

In my panda enclosure I managed to get a second pair of fertile pandas. They produced a baby panda, but this time I had no space for the baby. It had to go to the barn. This was bad for me. It would be a 2VP penalty per specie at the barn.

This was the second game of Zooloretto played recently. I filled all four of my enclosures perfectly!

Having played Zooloretto again, I am still not a particularly big fan, and I still prefer the simplicity of Coloretto. The additional game mechanisms in Zooloretto are not necessary to me. I can understand how Zooloretto is more appealing and feels more fulfilling. Coloretto feels simplistic and a little dry in comparison.

I suspect that the scores in Zooloretto will tend to be close. Most people should be able to fill or almost fill their enclosures. The difference in scores will likely be just from the difference of one or two animals in the enclosures, or the difference of one or two animal types in the barns. That dampens my excitement a little. It feels like I do more in Zooloretto, but the extra work doesn't really matter that much more. The difference is still more or less like in Coloretto. In fact in Coloretto the colours you collect well can give you a big advantage over others.

This was my second recent game of At the Gates of Loyang. This time Michelle and I used the other side of the player board - the red side, or what I call the Chinese New Year side. The only difference is aesthetics. There is no difference in gameplay. One slight problem is the prices of the vegetables. The prices are 3, 4, 5 etc, and not 30, 40, 50. Those 0's are actually icons representing the traditional Chinese coin, which has a square hole in the middle.

The game takes up much space. In this second game, Michelle took a lead from the early game. I had a poor start, not having any decent regular customer. I almost had to take a loan. Both of us preferred to avoid loans. It took me a long time to catch up. Most of the game I was trailing two points behind Michelle. I managed to catch up to her right at the end of the game. Tiebreaker was cash in hand, and we were tied in that too! The next and last tiebreaker was vegetables in hand and in the fields. Michelle had much more than me, so she was the eventual winner.

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.