Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Friedemann Friese


No. of Players:
2 - 4



For over a year German domestic politics have been unsettled by a series of scandals around some of our leading politicians, but these scandals have nothing to do with sex or corruption. Instead, our politicians do like to show off if they have received a Ph.D. at university, and with the development of anti-plagiarism computer-programs some politicians have been proved that they were guilty of plagiarism on a grand scale. It is possible that they either used a paid but incapable ghostwriter for their thesis, or that they simply wanted to save effort, but in the end this scandal has led to the recession of the Minister of Defence, and the chairs of several other politicians are shaking as well.

Why am I telling you al this? Well, due to these scandals Friedemann Friese finally had found an inspiration for his Friday game project, and so he started with the creation of Fremde Federn, a game which blatantly copies some of the most popular playing mechanisms of the last years. And as if this all was not enough, the game thematically is concerned with the rise of politicians, with the players using all possible means to triumph over their rivals in an upcoming election

Well, this raises the question which playing mechanisms have been popular over the last few years, and here - among other candidates - games like 7 Wonders, Agricola, Through the Ages and Dominion have been in high esteem by gamers all around the world. And indeed, Fremde Federn first was meant to take essential mechanisms from all four of these games, and only by the end of the design phase Friedemann removed the circular drafting mechanism found in 7 Wonders because it was overburdening his game. But now let's have a look whether these different games really can be welded together to form a playable new game.

In Fremde Federn each player begins the game with his own identical deck of cards and his staff of three campaign aids, and - just like in Dominion - it will be the aim of the players to improve their deck during the course of the game, adding strong cards which can provide victory points and removing the weaker cards from the starting deck in order to make the deck more efficient.

New cards from the deck can be obtained from a purchase bar which features a certain number of cards. This purchase bar is taken from Through the Ages, meaning that the cheapest cards available to the players are available at the left end of the bar, whereas surcharges have to be paid for cards from the right end of the bar. If the leftmost cards are not purchased during a round, some of them will be removed, whereas the other cards are shifted leftwards so that new cards can be added by the right end of the bar. These cards come from a semi-random deck which is split into five sections, with the cards of each section being shuffled on their own and with the section decks then placed on top of each other. This ensures that the cards will get more and more powerful and expensive during the game. However, and here is a minor change concerning the rules of Through the Ages, the purchase bar also may contain some useless cards which offer no possibility for action at all, and when making a purchase a player is forced to take all useless cards left of the purchased card into his own deck.

The cards of the player decks and also the cards which can be purchased offer different benefits, with some of the cards giving money or victory points, whereas other cards allow special actions or even may be used to add additional campaign aids for the ongoing round. Each player begins a round of play with five cards from his deck, and during the course of the round the players may use these cards whenever it is fitting (purchase cards showing coins in the purchase phase etc.). However, before any cards are played, the players first must determine the player order for the upcoming round, and for this the players simultaneously have to chose one of their hand cards and discard it into their individual discard piles. As each card in the game has a number (the better cards have the higher numbers), the values of the discards now are used to determine who plays first, so that the players face the choice whether they want to discard a high-ranking card, thus playing first but loosing the card's powers for the current round.

When the player order is standing, the players come into the action phase, and here they may start to place their campaign aids on different action spaces on the gameboard. During the course of the game, one additional new action will be added to the gameboard each turn, and this is the point where we finally have found the element of Agricola which has been incorporated in Fremde Federn. The actions available on the gameboard once again range from the possibility to purchase cards to additional money for purchases, victory points or special actions like the destruction of cards from the players decks. Each action on the gameboard only may be chosen by one player, and so it is important to be first player in order to choose freely among the available actions. However, not all actions are instantly performed, but some actions (like the purchase of cards) are used in the purchase phase which follows when all campaign aids have been placed and other actions were performed. For this reason the campaign aids are standing on spaces which still can be used, whereas they are turned to lie down when the space's action has been used.

As indicated, the players need to tune their individual decks to high efficiency, combining cards which score victory points (during the course of the game, not at its end) with other useful action cards which may give even more possibilities in the action phase. The game ends when one of three conditions is met: when one player has reached 95 victory points, when the 11th round has been played, or when the deck of cards available for purchase is depleted. The last four cards in the deck actually are Ph.D. degrees which can be purchased, and they allow the transfer of money from cards in the player's decks into victory points.

Can we really play a game which takes core mechanisms of other games, puts them into a blender and then claims to be playable? Yes we can! (Sorry, but I couldn't resist.) In fact, the game plays extraordinary well, with the different mechanisms supplementing each other without overburdening the game with an extreme volume of rules. In fact, the rulebook is barely six pages long, describing all parts of the game with the needed degree of detail and giving some hints from the author. However, Friedemann's great experience as a game designer becomes visible when you compare each mechanism in its original form with the way it has been implemented in Fremde Federn. Friedemann could not just take these mechanisms and put them together, but instead he needed to make some small but decisive changes at certain points in order to make the mechanisms work together smoothly. For me, the combination of these three mechanisms is a stroke of genius, even though Friedemann has worked with other authors` ideas. Even the title of the game Fremde Federn nonchalantly plays with a German saying which accuses someone of stealing someone else's ideas, but it is good to know that Friedemann did ask each of the involved authors for their permission whether he may use their mechanisms for his game. As a result, Friedemann now presents the gaming world with a game which features not one but several of the most popular playing mechanisms, and he invites the players to try his rather unusual creation!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany