Among modern board game enthusiasts, no name is so quickly recognizable as Stefan Feld. A mathematician by trade, Feld has designed more than a dozen games and shows no sign of stopping. His games are popular because he takes the typical model of taking actions to get points, and adds an interesting and unique element that constrains choice and opens up strategy. Here are some of his best:
In this title, players are tasked with building the eponymous cathedral of Notre Dame. You can take actions to get more workers, pick up messages, and build the cathedral itself. All while avoiding plague rats and hiring the most helpful assistants. But you can’t just pick any action you want. Instead, you have a card draft.
Players have a deck of nine cards representing the nine different actions they can perform. At the start of each round, players draw three cards and only keep one. They pass the other two to the left. Of the two they get, they pick one and pass the remainder on. This leaves them with a hand of three cards depicting actions they can take. Then, during that round, they’ll take two of the three actions now available to them.
Not only does this focus your choices, but you have all the usual considerations of a draft. Do you pass the coin card on, knowing it would give your opponent a huge windfall if he took that action? Based on your opponent’s position, can you anticipate which cards he’s likely to send your way? The draft is exciting and layers new and interesting decisions into the design.
Image Credit: Rio Grande Games
Here, players are Roman generals. At least, I think they are. Admittedly, the theme on Trajan is a little thin. Still, it has something to do with ancient Rome. You can take actions to gain prestige in the Senate, gather and ship goods, visit the forum, or conquer foreign lands. But, again, you don’t get to take just any action you want. Instead, you have to master the mancala.
Each player has a circular mancala of six cups and each begins with two cylinders. You can choose any cup, pick up all the cylinders, and then drop one in each cup moving clockwise. All the cups are associated with one of the six actions and you perform the action of whichever cup receives the last cylinder.
The result is a tension not just on the board as players fight for actions, but even within your own personal space. Sure you could take the forum action now. But if I take senate first or the Trajan action, maybe that will set me up for a forum action with a bonus. So you are constantly evaluating whether it is better to do an action early, or wait a bit – thus allowing your opponents to beat you to it – but for a bigger, more effective action later. It’s an incredible feeling as you fight for both efficiency and effectiveness. And, because the rounds are controlled by how many cylinders the players move, you can’t wait too long or you’ll miss out entirely.
Image Credit: Passport Game Studios
Castles of Burgundy
Perhaps Feld’s most well received title is Castles of Burgundy. It’s even spawning a card game version out this year. In Castles, players are trying to build up their estate. There is a central board that has tiles for mines, castles, livestock, urban buildings, rivers, and knowledge. On a turn, players can grab a tile from the board, place a tile they’ve grabbed onto their estate, or ship goods. But they can’t just choose whatever they want. Instead, each player rolls two dice and those determine what is available.
On the main board, the available tiles are set into six sections. To grab a tile from section six, you need a die showing a six. Or a two to grab from two. Similarly, every location on your estate is numbered. So if you want to place a tile in a particular spot, you have to spend a matching die. Even the goods come in six flavors and you’ll need to have the right number to ship them.
But the presence of die rolls doesn’t mean it’s all luck based. Players can acquire workers who adjust the value of dice. And depending on what’s available, you have to make careful choices between grabbing something that you need and taking something just to deprive an opponent from getting it. As such, the dice don’t determine your choices or strategy. Instead, you get the fun and intriguing challenge of effectuating your strategy within the constraints of the die rolls. It provides a great experience every time and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular.
Image Credit: Ravensburger
It seems like every year, there are more Feldian titles being published. What have you played and what are your favorites?
Featured Image Credit: Rio Grande Games