Friedemann Friese

2F Spiele 2009

No. of Players:
2 - 5



With all these new and interesting games being released over the course of a year it seems hard to keep up a good, general view of the games market. Sometimes a game falls below my screen, only to be discovered several years after its initial release, and this was the case with Friedemann Friese's Funkenschlag. I acquired a copy of the game quite recently, and was quite taken by the simple but at the same time delicate mechanics which Friedemann has put into his game of electrical power suppliers. A big exclamation mark has been set, and thus I was rather eager to see the newest game in the Funkenschlag universe which was going to be released at the SPIEL 09 convention.

Fabrikmanager reduces the scope and task of the players from national to local level by putting the players into the positions of managers optimizing the output of their factories. Each player possesses a factory building featuring 12 halls where machinery can be installed, plus one room each for computer systems for optimization and control. In addition, there is also a staff canteen where workers to operate the machinery must be placed. In the factory halls each player has a starting equipment of two minor production machines and three minor storage areas, but during the course of the game machinery tiles can be bought, eventually replacing the older tiles with more effective ones.

[IMAGE]The kind of goods which the players strive to produce is not defined, but instead each produced good is directly turned into money at the end of a turn. But although no markers or other tokens are available to represent the goods, the players are faced with the basic problem of keeping balance between goods and storage areas, since a good can only be produced if there is a storage space available. So, it does not pay off simply to invest into production machinery, but instead storage tiles also must keep up in order to operate the machines to their best output.

But what else do the players need to create profits? Machinery needs energy to run, and workers who can operate the whole thing, pushing the right buttons and pulling the right levers. So, a close examination of a machinery tile reveals the number of goods it can produce, but also the number of workers which are needed to operate the machine and the level of energy it consumes. At the beginning of the game the balance of a machine's input and output is more unfavourable, but during the five rounds of play better machines become available which allow the production of more goods while the manpower and energy levels remain stable. Story areas on the other hand are more simple, since they do not need energy of manpower, but instead they just list the number of storage places which are available if the area is purchased and placed at a player's factory.

Roboters are another kind of tiles which can be installed in a factory, and as a rule only one roboter can be installed for each machinery tile which is present in the factory. Roboters consume energy, but they either increase the player's production of goods, or they can help in the production processes by reducing the number of workers needed to operate the machines. Helpful also are the last two kinds of tiles - computers for optimization and control. These tiles reduce the energy consumption of the whole factory, and like the roboters they also increase the production capabilities or reduce the number of needed workers.

As you can see, workers and energy are the most important resources which a player needs to manage, but in a direct comparison the handling of energy is relatively easy. During the game a player always adds up his whole energy consumption and subtracts all beneficial effects of optimization and control, recording his final level of energy consumption at a scale on his factory's funnel. At the end of a round when profits are calculated the player has to pay for his energy consumption, so that the profits are reduced, and furthermore the energy price may slightly increase with each round.

The centrepiece of the game are the workers, and not just the production process but actually the whole game mechanics works around them. Thus, each player has a general stockpile of 7 workers, and at the beginning four of these are placed at the canteen of the player's factory since the starting machinery requires four workers to operate it. This leaves the player with three available workers outside the factory, and these free workers must be split between bidding for the player's order and the installing and removing of machinery, roboters, storage and computer tiles in the factory.

At the beginning of each turn a number of player order tiles is available for auction, and whereas the tiles with the lower number mean an earlier position in the player order the tiles with the higher numbers give rebates on the purchase of new tiles for the factory halls. Following the reverse order of play from the previous round, the players now undergo a short and straightforward auction phase in which they can bid workers to obtain a certain player order tile, and at the end of the auction phase each player has a tile and the new order for the following phases of the round is determined. The workers which were used for bidding are not available for the player for the rest of the round.

The players then step forwards into the market phase where it is determined which factory tiles are available for purchase. All tiles available in the game are arranged on an overview board in form of a clipboard, and they are divided into columns of tiles of the same kind with the cheaper tiles at the bottom of the column and the more expensive tiles in order on the higher spaces. However, this clipboard is not the market, but instead each player now moves tiles from the clipboard to a market area, with the number of tiles corresponding to the number of available workers the player still possesses. Tiles which are moved to the market always must come from the bottom of a column, so that the more expensive tiles only can be reached by moving the cheaper ones into the market as well. However, as an additional hurdle tiles do not remain in the market, but instead every tile which is not purchased in the following phase will be moved back onto the clipboard at the end of the round. Thus, the players always face an empty market which must be filled.

The order in which the players may acquire machinery, computers, robots and storage tiles from the market was decided by the auction of the order tiles, and now the player with the lowest ranking tile is allowed cherry-pick. The other players follow in order, but naturally their choice of available tiles is getting more restricted. However, possession of a higher order tile also has its good side, since the higher numbered order tiles actually give their holders a rebate which can be applied to all purchases which the player makes during this market phase.

As indicated, the newly acquired tiles cannot simply be placed into a player's factory, but instead a free worker must be used to install the new tile. If all spaces in the factory are filled with tiles, an additional worker needs to be spent in order to disassemble an already mounted tile in order to make space for the instalment of the new tile.

The fact that the game only lasts for five turns puts an enormous amount of pressure on the players, since each and every worker is so valuable that a player cannot afford a hasty move. Thus, the players spend quite a bit of time constantly updating their cost-benefit analysis, and especially newcomers will make some painful experiences if they have not yet mastered the delicate interdependence between the different uses of the free workers. In a way, this high strategic level is boon and bane at the same time, since the players who have overcome this initial hurdle will be awarded with a well-constructed optimization-game.

Even author Friedemann Friese seems to have come to this conclusion, since the first page of the rules actually displays a short commentary in which he tries to boost the morale of new players by giving the advise not to play with the maximum number of players right from the beginning. And indeed, if all seats are taken the coaction of turn order and market mechanism can have devastating effects for an unwary player, so that it is wise to learn Fabrikmanager with a lower number of players. However, if you generally like challenging games of optimization, do not by put off by those first pitfalls. Grit your teeth and work yourself up from the position of apprentice boy right to the manager's seat, since the world of Fabrikmanager looks much brighter once you have finished your apprenticeship!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany