Stefan Feld is one of the most prolific designers of the last 15 years. At a time he was coming out with several (arguably) classic games a year. He has his critics who might claim his games are just point salad, or theme-less. I admit, I haven’t like every title he’s put out on the market, but the games of his I’ve liked, I really liked. Feld is about as Euro-y a designer you’re ever going to play, so if chucking dice and bashing heads is your jam, you may not immediately love what he has to offer. However, I really recommend giving Feld a shot if you haven’t already. His unique designs have had a wide ranging influence on the hobby. Here are five of my favourite Felds!
The Speicherstadt is one of the simpler designs by Feld. Players are the heads of large trading houses in Hamburg’s suspiciously flammable warehouse district. Each round, cards are laid out to be bid on with an interesting auction mechanic. The sooner you bid on a card, the sooner you can snatch it up in the auction, but the more people who bid after you on the same thing, the more it’s going to cost you. Simple supply and demand. The cards you bid on are a variety of different things including contracts to be completed for points, tradesmen that can earn you money, ships carrying goods, oh, and firemen. As I mentioned, Hamburg has a tendency to go up in flames. There are four fire cards that will show up in the game, marked 1-4 (the last one is the last card to be drawn). When a fire card is drawn the person with the highest amount of firemen gains points equal to the number, and the lowest total firemen loses those points. At the end of the game that represents an eight point swing. The Speicherstadt is easy to learn, but has a lot of interesting decisions. Definitely one of my favourite Felds of all time!
In Notre Dame, the players take on the roles of influential families in 14th century Paris. The board is cleverly constructed with modular neighbourhood tiles, with the famous cathedral always forming the centre of the city. Each round, players draw the top three cards on their action deck, choose one and then pass them on. Players have the same deck of action cards, but they will come up in different order. After the draft, players will end up with three cards. Players then take turns playing action cards to execute things like going to the bank to collect money, or the carriage house to travel around town. When they execute the action they’ll place an influence marker in the correct neighbourhood. The more influence in the space, the better they can do the action, which makes for some interesting planning while drafting the cards. Notre Dame has a feature that is common in a lot of Feld’s games, the plagues or punishments, some looming presence that will affect the players if it’s not dealt with. In this game, the plague is represented by rats. You can help control the rat population in your hood, but if they exceed a certain amount you’re going to lose influence and points. Boo-urns! I love how tight this game is. The draft is important, but not the only element to consider. Definitely give this one a shot if you get a chance.
Castles of Burgundy
I’ve heard some people say that Bora Bora (another Feld design) is a Castles of Burgundy killer, but I disagree. CoB is a pleasant, engaging puzzle that I will play over and over again. Each round, players roll their two dice and then assign actions to them. The goal is to expand your kingdom by acquiring new building, ships, farmer’s fields, mines, and of course castles. Dice can be used to gain tiles from the communal board, or place those tiles in your kingdom. You can also use your dice to ship goods or gain workers. Figuring out how to maximize your turn is a lot of fun, and seeing what tiles come out and how they can be used towards your strategy keeps you really engaged round after round. A card version of CoB came out last year, and while I really enjoyed it, I just found myself wishing I was playing the original board game.
In Strasbourg, you are the head of one of the city’s influential families, looking to get your family members admitted into the powerful guilds. The game is played over the course of five rounds, broken up into three phases. You’ll be bidding on influencing the nobility, church, merchants, and various guilds. The Planning phase is really the ingenious part of the game to me. Each player has an identical deck of 24 shuffled Influence cards. Behind your screens, you draw cards one at a time, and then decide to keep going or stop. The more you draw, the more you’ll have to bid with in the auction for the current round, but you only have those 24 card for the whole game, so you have to make sure you leave yourself something for the last round. Once you’ve stopped drawing you can combine cards or leave them on their own in different facedown stacks, which will be your bidding pools. In the Action phase you bid on the guilds, merchants, nobility etc. Coming in first in the bid gives you the master status. You can place a family member on the council, take goods tiles, and place a family member in a guild in the city. Coming second in a bid will allow you to take a goods tile and place a family member in the city. Even third place in the bid allows you to choose either a goods tile or placing a family member in the city. Controlling the church and nobility allow you to define how the city gets built up with churches and buildings (worth end game points). Whenever you win a bid, you take the first player marker, and if you’ve played enough single bid auctions, you know going last is a real advantage. You can earn privileges, which allow you to defer your bid to the end, seeing what everyone else bids first. I love the asymmetrical, push-your-luck feeling of the Planning phase, when you have to decide how much to invest in each round. Strasbourg flew under the radar for a lot of people, but you should definitely consider trying it out if you can find a copy.
One of the traits of Stefan Feld, is that he likes to play with Mechanics. Trajan builds on the Mancala mechanic. It’s set in the Roman era. Players are Senators vying for political and military power. Each player has their own board that, among other things, has six trays with different coloured action markers. Each tray relates to an action, like constructing a building, deploying military, advancing their political interests, or visiting the seaport. Each turn, players take all of the action markers from one tray and deposit them one-at-a-time in the trays in clockwise order. The last marker they place triggers the action they can take on their turn. There are many different ways to earn points. and using the trays effectively can allow you determine your actions in interesting ways. Like many Feld games, there is a need you have to fulfill each round, or suffer a punishment. Of the games on this list, this one has the most going on in it. There’s not that much you can do to attack your opponents, so if solitaire engine building isn’t your thing, this might not be for you. Like many of his titles, Feld has created an engaging puzzle with Trajan. I play this one far too infrequently, but it’s never one that I consider getting rid of. Trajan will always be a game I’m happy to get to the table.