Furstenfeld Review

A new game that I was able to try out today was Furstenfeld.

In Furstenfeld, each of the players is attempting to build their palace.  To fund this endeavor, they must collect barley, hops, and spring water and sell it to the local breweries (they can also collect money from banks). Functionally what happens is this: each player starts with their own board with 6 potential building sites. Three of the building sites start out populated with fields  - one that creates a single barley, one that creates hops, and one for spring water. Each turn, the players are able to choose a brewery and sell the goods that they've produced to one of the breweries. If they oversell certain goods, then the demand will immediately go down, thus causing the next players to not get as much money from that good at that brewery. After selling their goods, the player can place new cards on some of their 6 tiles (possibly covering things that were previously there), and discarding everything that they don't build except for one card. Once someone finishes building their 6th palace tile, the game is over and they are the victor.

There are several good elements of Furstenfeld, so I will just hit some of my favorites. First off, I really liked how aggravatingly small your tile sheet was. It really reminded me of Smallworld when I was dealing with constantly having to overbuild things and decide what was worth keeping and what could be discarded.  Specifically, the fact that palace pieces were worthless (except for winning, if you're into that kind of thing) and get in your way was frustratingly brilliant. You constantly find yourself debating whether to build palace tiles or whether you should build something that is actually useful. What's more, the game is setup so that the cost of the palace tiles goes up as more of them are built - so if you wait too long, then your palace will be incredibly expensive to finance.

The next thing that I liked about Furstenfeld was that each player had their own deck of cards. This really allowed each player to customize his strategy since he is able to both influence what remains in the deck (whatever he didn't build) and chooses the order in which he puts discarded cards under his deck. (This I believe is supposed to be one of the key strategic elements of the game but didn't honestly play much of a factor in our games - we didn't bother remembering in what order we discarded cards).

Another thing that I liked about the game was that the standard strategy of make tons of money doesn't work especially well if it is all you do. Now for a little sidetracked discussion. I read another review in which one of the cons is that towards the end of the game you wind up just sitting around hoping to draw your final palace cards, as you are only able to keep one card at the end of each turn and so, inevitably, you will wind up discarding palace cards and have to re-draw them. Whereas I saw this occur, this was really a flaw in strategy, I believe (and I can say this because I tried this strategy myself). There are several cards that allow players to keep extra cards in their hand or that let them draw extra cards each round that really minimize (if not totally eliminate) the effect of sitting around waiting to draw palace cards. These cards really are important and should not be neglected as would occur in the money-centric strategy.  Again, I am not saying that this element of waiting to draw palace cards will not occur - I saw it when I played - I just don't think that it is a major factor, and it definitely was not a big aspect of our games.

After that rambling pro, I'll mention one other. The game seemed to play well with a varied number of players. We have played with both 3 and 5 players, and both worked very well. The number of breweries in the game and the speed of palace tiles increasing in cost are both dependent on number of players, and so it keeps the game from breaking down with different numbers.

Now for the cons. First of all, and most majorly, this game is hard for me to both spell and pronounce. (Whereas this is true (I'm not German), this isn't really a con... I just figured I'd slip that in, because I don't think that I've pronounced the title of this game correctly yet.) Really, though, the first con had to do with drawing cards. The downside of each player having their own draw deck meant that some players could wind up with significant advantages early in the game simply by what they draw. One of the specific cards that is really powerful in the game is the "Building Crane" (I may have remembered the name wrong) which allows you to build all of your other cards for 2 less. If you draw this card in your opening hand, you'll have a significant advantage over someone who doesn't draw it until he nears the bottom of his draw deck.

The only other con that immediately comes to mind is that some of the cards seem pretty trivial. I honestly see the value in all of the cards, but some of the bonuses are small enough that you wind up not using them in the game since you are only allowed to have 6 different buildings at a time, and you are not allowed to remove them from your deck. I wish that the game had allowed some way of getting rid of cards that you didn't want without just having to build them and then build over them. I'm not really sure that something like this could have been added without breaking the balance of the game, however, so this is a more minor concern.

Overall, I debated the score in my head for a while and have come up with an 8.5/10. I like Furstenfeld and am glad to have played it. I would recommend that you all try it out if you get the opportunity.

I would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing a demo copy of Furstenfeld for me to review.

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