Thursday, September 07, 2006

16 Short Faidutti Reviews

The November 2006 issue of Knucklebones magazine is out and it contains my first article for them, "Professor of Chaos", a biography on Bruno Faidutti and his games. I encourage you to take a look, and in the meantime here's a complementary article to whet your appetite: a short review of every one of Bruno Faidutti's English language games other than Knightmare Chess. (I'm not a chess fan.)


Boomtown (B+)

Publisher:
Face 2 Face
Co-Authors: Bruno Cathala
Release: 2004
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/10/10964.phtml

An auction game with majority control and logistical elements. This game shows off many of Faidutti's strengths. It's well-themed and it's got some funny elements. None of the elements are terribly innovative, but they combine together in a coherent, interesting method. Sometimes the game can feel a little repetitive & long, but when it goes fast it's great to play.

Castle (B)

Publisher: Blue Games / Descartes / Asmodee
Co-Authors: Serge Laget
Release: 2004
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/10/10757.phtml

A card management game. Sometimes people deride Faidutti's games because they can be quite chaotic, turning on a dime, and I'll generally accept that as individual preference. However, some of Faidutti's games shine entirely because of their chaos, and this is one. All you're trying to do is empty your hand of cards, but the catch is that there's a limited play area for the cards, and each card has a special and wacky power which can influence the cards already played and those to be played in the future. The result is enjoyable just because the results can be so unexpected. And trying to figure out the right order to play your cards can offer up some nice strategy too.

China Moon (B+ to C+?)

Publisher: Eurogames / Descartes / Asmodee
Co-Authors: None
Release: 2003
Full Review: None yet.

An abstract movement game. This is the one Faidutti game that I've played but haven't been able to review yet. It's a clever abstract movement game where you're bouncing around cute little frogs, hopping over other frogs, and trying to collect points along the board. I've only been able to play 5 player thus far, and that game descended into total chaos. There was no ability to plan, and it felt like the results were largely random. I'm waiting to see if a fewer number of players plays better, and that's going to ultimately decide my final rating.

Citadels (A-)

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Co-Authors: None
Release: 2003
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/10/10836.phtml

A logistical game with elements of role selection and bluffing. This is generally considered Faidutti's masterpiece (thus far) and rightfully so. You draw cards and collect coins in order to build the city districts marked on those cards. The catch is the roles, one of which you get each turn, and which allow you to do various special things to propel yourself to victory. Some people get upset at the Assassin roles which stops another player's action and Thief role which takes their money, but if you don't like them stop taking the roles which cause you to be hit by these characters. You're only as much of a target in this game as you allow yourself to be.

Corruption (B-)

Publisher: Atlas Games
Co-Authors: None
Release: 1999
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/11/11116.phtml

A blind bidding and bluffing game. This is a severely underrated Faidutti gem, I think mainly because of its early publication date and its uninspiring components. This is a pretty neat simultaneous auction game, where during each round of play you're trying to bid on a number of different awards, and you're doing so somewhat blindly. There's even a few "roles" which can be mixed in with your bids. It's quick, but it's thoughtful, and if you haven't played it (and you haven't) you should.

Democrazy (C)

Publisher: Blue Games / Descartes / Asmodee
Co-Authors: None
Release: 2000
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/10/10963.phtml

A voting game. Over the course of the game you try and pass various votes to make your particular collection of resources more valuable than your opponents. I like the idea of a voting game, but the result leaves me a bit cold because it's so random and so chaotic that it feels like you don't have much real chance to strategize. This is a love-or-hate game, and I find that it goes over quite well for more casual players and quite poorly for more serious players.

Draco & Co. (C+)

Publisher: Blue Games / Descartes / Asmodee
Co-Authors: Michael Schacht
Release: 2001
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/12/12224.phtml

An American take-that game. This is a neat Guillotine-like game where you're constantly trying to arrange the order of a set of characters (here, in a circle) so that you get the most money during periodic toasts. It's a very American game, with most of the plays involving fairly random cards that move characters this way or that. There's not a lot of strategy as a result, but the gameplay can still be amusing.

Dragon's Gold (A-)

Publisher: Blue Games / Descartes / Asmodee
Co-Authors: None
Release: 2001
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/12/12207.phtml

A card management and negotiation game. This is another of Faidutti's masterpieces. You play a set of cards to kill dragons, but then more importantly must negotiate with the other players to divide up the dragon's loot afterward. The result is social, tense, and very enjoyable. If you don't like interacting with other people in a game, you'll hate it, but if you do you'll discover it's a best-of-class game because the negotiation is so fast-paced and cutthroat.

Fist of Dragonstones (B-)

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Co-Authors: Michael Schacht
Release: 2002
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/10/10734.phtml

An auction game. This game is a pretty pure blind bidding game. Each round you bid on 10 characters which give you specific advantages, and you try to do so in such a way as to get dragonstones and convert them into victory points (through various special character powers). I've always found the game a bit overwhelming in its sameness--you play auction after auction--but I nonetheless enjoy it every once in a while.

Iglu Iglu (B)

Publisher: No U.S. Publisher
Co-Authors: Bruno Cathala
Release: 2004
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/11/11135.phtml

A tile-removing tactical movement game with some majority control. This is the one Faidutti game I've reviewed that isn't yet available in an American edition, but it was just too cute to ignore. It's an action-point game where you spend moves to catch food and build igloos while an ice sheet slowly melts under you. It's thematic and it's got some innovative rules, the best of which is the slowly melting ice. For some reason it never gets a lot of play for me, I think because it's a bit complex (rulewise) for its light play.

Knock! Knock! (B-)

Publisher: Joly Roger Games
Co-Authors: Gwenael Bousin
Release: 2004
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/12/12223.phtml

A bluffing game. You play face-down cards to other players, some of which are good, some of which are bad. Based on their limited knowledge of what you have in your hand, the other players try and let the good cards in and turn away the bad cards. This game is paper thin, with no depth, which is the reason for my B- rating, but conversely it also does a brilliant job of its core mechanics: bluffing. It's fast, furious, and funny, and if you're looking for a 15-minute bluffing game, this is it.

Mystery of the Abbey (B-)

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Co-Authors: Serge Laget
Release: 2003
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/9/9375.phtml

A deduction game. This is a beautifully produced and beautifully themed game that fits into the same niche as Clue, but in a Medieval monestary. There's different rooms that you can move among which genuinely do different things and there's some chances for wild and crazy occurrences through various decks of cards. I've grown a bit less in love with the endgame the more I've played, because it seems like players always make a run to guess when they have most of the answers, then someone randomly wins. Still, the process of getting there is neat.

Queen's Necklace (B-)

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Co-Authors: Bruno Cathala
Release: 2003
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/9/9462.phtml

An auction and blind bidding game. You collect gems in (sort of) timed auctions, then three times per game you spend those gems in blind bids, hoping to put together the most gems of each type. I love most of the mechanics in this game, but don't like the fact that it places a very serious premium on card-counting: if you know what gems each player has you'll do much beter in the blind bids than if you don't. If you play in a group where everyone counts cards or no one does, this will work better than otherwise.

Terra (C+)

Publisher: Days of Wonder
Co-Authors: None
Release: 2003
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/10/10076.phtml

A cooperative game of card management and set collection. Crises are besetting the Earth, and all the players must play their cards to offset them, but each individual player will do better if he hoards his own cards into collected sets. I actually don't think this is a very good game, but it is a great conversation starter for issues of collective action.

The Hollywood! Card Game (B)

Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Co-Authors: Michael Schacht
Release: 2005
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/11/11652.phtml

A card drafting & set collection game. This feels more like a Schacht design, in the Coloretto family. You draft cards using an entirely unique method and in doing so try and collect large sets of similar cards. It's an ultra light filler that doesn't have much to it, but in that category of 10 or 15 minute play is a perfectly enjoyable, but largely innocuous game.

Valley of the Mammoths (C+)

Publisher: Euro Games / Descartes / Asmodee
Co-Authors: None
Release: 1991
Full Review: http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/12/12265.phtml

A wargame. This is Faidutti's oldest game that's on the American market. It's a very traditional wargame, but with lots of interesting nuisances, such as two seasons, fun event cards, and roaming animals which can be predator or prey. It's in a totally different class from Faidutti's other games, and would generally be considered too slow and clunky nowadays, but if you're still playing wargames, this one is worth a look.



With all that said, here's my personal ranking of the Faidutti games currently on the American market:
  1. Citadels
  2. Dragon's Gold
  3. Boomtown
  4. Castle
  5. The Hollywood! Card Game
  6. Iglu Iglu
  7. China Moon(?)
  8. Corruption
  9. Fist of Dragonstones
  10. Knock! Knock!
  11. Queen's Necklace
  12. Mystery of the Abbey
  13. Valley of the Mammoths
  14. Draco & Co.
  15. Terra
  16. Democrazy
The top 10 are the ones that I'm generally willing to play.

5 comments:

Tommy said...

You've posted lists of games with letter grades a couple times in this blog. There seem to be quite a few B's and very few A's. Do you have a checklist in your mind as you're assigning grades? Are there any A+ games? Have you ever listed the A+ games here or elsewhere?

Shannon Appelcline said...

It's a conversion of my RPGnet ratings to a slightly more meaningful scale.

RPGnet uses a 1-5 point scale for Style (which I use to mean component design, beauty, utility, etc) and Substance (which I use to mean gameplay).

Overally, my average rating over 332 reviews is a Style of 4.00 and a Substance of 3.77, which as you'll see in a second converts to a B/B-.

When I convert to a letter grade, I add together Style and 2*Substance, to generate a number from 3-15. 15 is an "A", 14 an "A-", 13 a "B+", etc. The overall results tends to be that if it's a great game it gets an "A", a good game gets a "B", and an average game gets a "C", with component quality slightly adjusting that up and down. I'll also adjust slightly up or down if I really meant to give the game a half point rating (e.g., 4.5, 3.5).

So, there's no A+ on my scale; A is as good as it gets. As I generally recommend buying, Bs I generally recommend playing, while Cs are average which isn't that exciting in my book.

Gerald McD said...

Nice work, again, Shannon. We enjoy Boomtown, and after reading your full review of Dragon's Gold, I've decided to add it to a pending games order. I need games for at least 6 players, we enjoy negotiation games such as Bohnanza, the rules seem simple, and it plays quickly. Sounds like a perfect fit for our family gaming. Your article was good timing for me.

Mike said...

Hard to credit that Hollywood gets a passing grade... but each to their own.

How are you defining chaos?

Shannon Appelcline said...

Generally, I mean wacky and unexpected things can occur and can upset your plans.

When taken to the extreme, this can make it impossible to strategize, but that's not the case for lower levels of chaos.