I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this game. I knew Asmadi had a new game coming out towards the end of 2011. I knew the name was Fealty. That was all I knew. I knew nothing about the theme, the game play style, nothing. I was a blank slate. However, apparently the head of our game acquisition team knew a little bit more. “Yeah, I was told that their goal was to pack as much strategy into a fifteen minute game as was possible”. All right! This sounds like my kind of game!
The first time I opened the box I noticed one thing immediately: they had American-ized the packaging. The box is, at least, twice as big as it needs to be. It’s closer on par with the size of Dominion or Ticket To Ride. Ya know what? Unhappy face! That is what you get! I didn’t want to have to do it, it hurts me more than it hurts you, but you deserve it. Why?! I would have loved the game just as much, if not more, if you had just put it in an appropriately sized box.
Ok, now that we are passed that whole ugly episode, let me tell you a little about the game itself. After I got over my bout of “unhappy face”, it was time to start punching out pieces and reading the rules. The rules are printed in full color on heavy glossy paper, and are really logically laid out. I was able to read the rule book from cover to cover without having to jump around through a booklet of spaghetti rules, and when I was done reading those rules, I pretty clearly understood the game. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a novel idea to some people, but when you read rule booklets as often as I do, you learn that they are not all done quite so well. Bonus points should also be awarded to this company because the rules are only a few pages long, and that is including full colored example pictures, big type, and question clarifications at the end. You could get through the rule book in under ten minutes.
While I read the rules, my players helped me punch out and baggie up all the parts. While doing this we found three black chips were included in the set. These weren’t mentioned in the rules at all. I started to think that maybe they were a misprint. As if the manufacturer had accidently added them to their die-cut, but then I flipped them over. One of them was a pink-ish red on the back, one was blue on the back, and one was yellow on the back. Each of them had a small drawing and a word on them. Anyone who is familiar with Asmadi games is probably giggling right now, for you see, they had added in a miniturized version of “Win, Lose, or Banana!” in their set of Fealty. We promptly used our new discovery to decide who would go first, giggling the entire time.
Interesting things to know about this game, before we delve into the rules and strategies: The game comes with several small boards, which are referred to as duchies. These boards are two sided, and you do not use all the boards in every game. Instead you use one more board than you have players and place the boards out in a ‘Carcasonne’ style, lining up key features like the roads, to make the board fit together. This gives you a very different random board for each game. In addition to the random board, there are two different decks of cards that can be used in the game. These cards have different affects and abilities. So having different decks also adds a layer of uniqueness to every game. The rules also allude to the potential of expansion packs in the future that would add new decks and mechanics.
So once you have chosen your board and cards, you are ready to go. So what is the story line? What is our motivation for this scene?
The king has died with no clear successor! The players – potential heirs all – are scrambling to put together their powerbases by dispatching trusted agents and allies to garner support across the breadth of the kingdom. Nobody wants open warfare, but some conflict is sure to break out.
So you must claim the throne using your political wiles, in a piece laying, territory snatching, sort of way. This is where the cards come in.
Each player starts with an identical deck of nine cards. The cards correspond to nine tokens that can be placed on the board. Each of these tokens and cards are your agents, and each has special abilities and influence over certain areas of the board. For instance, the ‘Rangers’ only have influence over the forests. The knights have influence on any kind of terrain, but their range is limited to only what is immediately around them.
In addition to special abilities and terrain advantages, each of the agents have a ‘speed’ that is represented by a number. The player with the lowest number is the fastest, and gets to place their piece on the board first, and then play continues in numerical order, going from fastest to slowest. At the end of the game, influence will be determined by allowing the fastest pieces to claim territory first, followed by the slower agents.
Each agent also has a range. This is indicated by the amount of symbols that each agent has on its token. For example the Knight has one diamond shown on it’s token, so it may claim any type of terrain that is exactly one square (orthogonally) away from it. The Guard Post has two squiggles (roads) shown on it’s token, allowing it to claim roads that are up to two squares away from it. But remember that speed dictates what order spots are claimed in. The Knight is faster than the Guard Post, so if those two were near the same road space, the Knight would claim that territory before the Guard Post could.
Really, that is heart and soul of this game. Figuring out the math, in your head, about what spaces are taken by your opponents, which ones you can steal away from them by taking first, and which spaces are being left completely unclaimed. If you can keep track of all of that in your head, you are doing really well, and will likely win.
There are other rules that effect your ability to place pieces. You can’t place on mountains, or spaces where there are other tokens (such as conflict markers). You can’t place a piece on the same duchy as someone else on the same turn. You can’t place more than one piece of your color in each row and column on a duchy (kinda think of Sudoku for that rule). Each of these limits your ability to play pieces and helps to compound the situation.
The one thing I’m not sure that I can say is that it’s the “most logic you can pack in to a 15 minute game”. It’s a ton of logic, there is no doubt about that, however none of my games have lasted for fifteen minutes. My first game was with three players, and granted I had to teach them the rules, but the game took closer to an hour. In a “short” (one less board than normal) two player game, it took roughly 25 minutes for us to get through a game with a player who was already familiar with the rules. The issue is there is soooooo much strategy involved that it takes most people ages to think through their turns. The rules suggest using a chess clock if you have one, and for this game, I think that is an excellent suggestion.
So, in the end, I must say that I love this game. I can certainly see us playing this one again and again and again. The ever changing boards keeps things fresh and eliminates the ‘best opening move’ repetition that I see in chess games, however the amount of strategy and logic seems to me to be on par. Unlike chess, I think the learning curve is relatively small. One of the biggest complaints by starting chess players is simply not being able to remember how each of the pieces move. With this game, all of that is printed in a very clear fashion, and in multiple places (cards and tokens). Asmadi did an excellent job designing a really good game, and I can’t wait to see what they do with expansions.
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