Menu

Founding Fathers

[Joe Huber is one of those guys who grew up with games. As he says, “I grew up playing Acquire and Civilization, and still enjoy both games today – if few of the wargames I also played back then. In 1995, I got back into gaming, discovering both German games (particularly Settlers of Catan and Auf Achse), 18xx (particularly 1830 and 2038), and TimJim/Prism games (2038, Fast Food Franchise and Time Agent). Most of the games added to my collection since have been German in origin, mostly light games and heavy games (as I usually find the middleweight games lack the fun of the light games or the control of the heavy games).” But Joe has done more, becoming a recognized voice in the worldwide gaming community as well as a published game designer whose credits include Ice Cream, Scream Machine and Burger Joint (the latter receiving an International Gamers Award nomination for best 2 player game of the year and cited as “Best In Category” for family games in the December 2010 issue of GAMES Magazine). Joe first appeared in these pages in the Fall 2006 issue with a review of Indonesia. This review is Joe’s 15th for GA Report and, in helping us start our 25th year, he offers up some “fatherly” advice.]

(Jolly Roger Games, 3-5 players, ages 13 and up, 90 minutes; $65)

 

Reviewed by Joe Huber

foundingfathersAs with a book author, a game designer rarely strikes gold with his or her first published design – but it does sometimes happen. Some Spiel des Jahres winners are first published designs including Mississippi Queen (featured in the Winter 1998 issue of Gamers Alliance Report) and Villa Paletti. Another very successful first release is Twilight Struggle (Spring 2006 GA Report), the first published design by Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews, which has risen very close to the top of the BoardGameGeek rankings and gone through many printings. Matthews then followed this up with a co-design with another designer, Christian Leonhard, in 1960: The Making of the President (Winter 2008 GA Report). While it hasn’t enjoyed quite the success of Twilight Struggle, it too has been wildly successful by hobby game standards, reaching the top 50 in the BGG rankings and also going through multiple printings.

There was therefore much anticipation for the release of Founding Fathers, another design by Leonhard and Matthews. As with Twilight Struggle and 1960, the game utilizes the card-driven mechanisms first popularized in We the People (Spring 1994 GA Report), generally more common to wargames but in increasing use elsewhere. Unlike Matthews’ previous designs, however, Founding Fathers is a multiplayer game, working with anywhere from three to five players. The game is themed around the Constitutional Convention of 1787; players influence the members of the convention, trying to make the resulting constitution best match their desires.

Each player has a hand of three delegates, referred to as a caucus. Four articles are set out as having already been decided and two articles are set out to be decided during the round: one in assembly and one in committee. There are four options each turn. The first is to have delegates vote in assembly. If a state has not voted, a player may have one or more delegates from that state vote, placing an influence marker on the delegates. The only restriction is that delegates will not vote against their positions. For example, a federalist delegate will not vote “Yes” on an anti-federalist article, and a small state delegate will only vote “Yes” on a small state article. If a state has already voted, the only option is to play more delegates from the state on the opposite side of the issue.

The second option for a turn is to debate. Here, one or more cards with the same position – federalist, anti-federalist, large state, or small state – may be played, placing an influence marker on the appropriate debate track or advancing one already present. The third option is to play the event on a single card. Other than for the principal delegate controlled by each player, the delegates each have a unique event; some are immediate, while others have ongoing effects. Finally, a player may snub delegates. To do so, a player discards as many delegates as desired. Regardless of the option taken, the current player finishes her turn by drawing back up to three delegates choosing from among three face-down delegates; the home state and position of each delegate is indicated on the back of each card.

founding2A round typically continues until there are 7 “Yes” votes or 6 “No” votes. (Rhode Island did not send delegates to the convention, so while 7 votes are required to have a majority 6 votes against are sufficient to demonstrate that a majority isn’t possible.) There is also one event that closes a round immediately with the article in assembly passing if there are more “Yes” votes than “No” votes. If an article passes, delegates voting yes score one point each for the player with an influence marker on them; a bonus point is added for each delegate whose position matches the position of the article under consideration. The article is then added as-is to the decided articles. If the article fails, the same procedure is followed, save that there are no bonus points (since delegates can’t vote against their position) and the reverse side of the article is added; the reverse side is always of the corresponding negative position (federalist/anti-federalist, large state/small state). All influence markers on the winning side are returned to the players, while those on the losing side are then moved to the committee room. If one player has the most influence markers in the committee room, that player receives one point per marker, has them returned, and may choose whether to add the article as-is or reversed. Otherwise, the article is simply added as-is and all markers are left in committee. Next, the leader in each debate position receives a token; if there is a tie, no token is distributed. New articles are placed in the assembly and committee rooms, any events with ongoing effects are discarded and the next round begins.

After four rounds, the game is over. Points are awarded to the player or players with the most tokens for each position; the number of points depends upon the number of articles with that position present in the final constitution. Whoever has earned the most points wins.

The production of the game is simple but effective. The cards are a bit thin and the colors a bit dark to carry the necessary information but it’s never caused a problem. The flowing text of the articles helps to convey the theme but slows down an attempt to read the articles. While not a problem for those focused on the gameplay, it might be a nuisance to those trying to engage in the theme. The player reference boards are very well laid out and further historical data is provided.

While Founding Fathers shares a historic theme with Matthews’ previous designs, in some ways, the game feels more like a European design. Players earn victory points through a variety of actions and, as a result, the game feels like it is more about earning victory points than it is about crafting the constitution. This isn’t a negative, in my opinion, but it does mean that the game isn’t necessarily ideal for someone looking for an in-depth simulation of the give and take that led to the US constitution.

Theme is still very important to the game, however; each delegate has a historically appropriate event and there is additional information about these men at the end of the rules. Further, the sixteen articles included touch on key decisions and debates of the convention. For example, players don’t debate the three-fifths clause directly in the game but it is one of the articles considered. Founding Fathers is not the ideal game for those unexcited by the idea of recreating the US constitutional convention.

While the theme might not be as integral to the gameplay as in Matthew’s past designs, the gameplay itself is closely related. But by adding more players, the effect is changed. 1960: The Making of the President felt very much like a tug of war to me while, in Founding Fathers, a player’s influence is generally more subtle. The effect is a lesser feeling of control; this is especially true with five players.

I’ve heard from gamers outside the US who find the theme of Founding Fathers off-putting. I find this interesting; many games – Thurn and Taxis which is about the start of the mail system in Germany is a frequent example cited – have themes of little interest to US gamers but still succeed thanks to the gameplay. But when I look at Founding Fathers – a game which I find quite enjoyable – what makes the game fun for me is the theme; the mechanisms aren’t poor by any means but don’t stand out on their own.

Furthermore, the game is expensive. While the price of board games has been increasing, with a retail price of $65 Founding Fathers still stands out particularly for a fairly standard production. But to be fair, playing and enjoying the game caused me to purchase a book, “Unruly Americans” by Woody Holton, about the Constitutional Convention and its causes. Those with less interest in the topic should likely try the game before purchasing it. For me, the game is worthwhile and a welcome addition to my collection.

 


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


Fall 2010 GA Report Articles

 

[Jeff Feuer is an active member of the Long Island Gamers, one of the longest continually running gaming groups in the United States, and, in real life, a mathematics professor. As he says, "I've been computer gaming since the Atari days (including having played many of the incarnations of Civilization as well as some Railroad Tycoon and the Age of Empire series) but, except for ...
Read More
[Gaming transcends geographical boundaries and, recognizing this, Gamers Alliance is international in scope. Andrea "Liga" Ligabue is one of our valued contributors from outside the borders of the United States. He is an active participant in gaming in his native Italy, being closely involved with Club TreEmme, and a driving force, serving as Coordinator and Head of Program behind Italy's large gaming convention: Play: The ...
Read More
[When it comes to games, Marty Goldberger has an impressive resume. He worked for SPI games in its heyday, designing Inkerman and serving as a developer on many SPI titles including the legendary Campaign for North Africa "monster" game. Marty is a Mensa member and adventurer, diving with dolphins as well as plunging into depths of over 800 feet in a submarine. Marty first appeared ...
Read More
[K-ban, aka Steve Kurzban, has been an active gamer for decades. Always a fan of sports games (with a strong affinity for baseball and race car simulations), K-ban has always been a strong influence in spreading the joy of gaming, from running backgammon and Strat-O-Matic Baseball leagues in the 1970s and early 1980s, to reporting on the New York International Toy Fair for GA Report, ...
Read More
[In those days before the internet, information about games was relatively hard to find. Game publications were few and far between and those that existed were either specialty publications limiting themselves to a specific genre or company or too short-lived to satisfy the need to know. So, with the supreme confidence of someone who doesn't know any better, I embarked on a journey to fill ...
Read More
[Frank Hamrick and games crossed paths at a very early age. From the time he was 7 years old - and taught Monopoly by his grandmother, the seed was sown and has since blossomed. From Monopoly, Frank graduated to wargames and, when looking for something lighter and shorter, discovered The Settlers of Catan and his fascination with Euros began. And then he went to the ...
Read More
The 47th Element This has been a long time coming. It takes many elements to put together an editorial, an issue, an organization. First of all is a love for the subject. From this love comes determination and dedication, additional and necessary elements in making the whole thing work. You also need an element of, for want of a better phrase, "reckless abandon". You can ...
Read More
[In the estimation of many people (and I include myself in that group), Sid Sackson was one of the greatest game designers of all time. If he had only designed Acquire, that would have been sufficient to grant him legendary status. But Sid didn't stop there. His list of quality designs are staggering: Bazaar, BuyWord (named GAMES Magazine's Game of the Year), Holiday, Kohle, Kies ...
Read More
[Joe Huber is one of those guys who grew up with games. As he says, "I grew up playing Acquire and Civilization, and still enjoy both games today - if few of the wargames I also played back then. In 1995, I got back into gaming, discovering both German games (particularly Settlers of Catan and Auf Achse), 18xx (particularly 1830 and 2038), and TimJim/Prism games ...
Read More
[In our years of publication, games from Queen have frequently appeared. The first time was actually a "double dose". In the Winter 1999 issue, two Queen games were featured: Schnappchen Jagd (designed by Uwe Rosenberg who would go on to even greater success with IGA winner Agricola) and Showmanager (still my favorite design by award winning game creator Dirk Henn). This is the 12th time ...
Read More
[I first played this game at The Gathering of Friends and liked it enough to make this review number 677! - - - - - - - Herb Levy] (Alea/Rio Grande Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, about 60 minutes; about $35) Reviewed by Herb Levy The bonnie green fields of Scotland provide the color of the box and the setting for ...
Read More
[Block wargames from Columbia Games have often been reviewed in Gamers Alliance Report. Ironically, the first Columbia Game to appear in GA Report was a collectible war-related CARD game - Dixie - in the Spring 1995 issue. This review is the 9th for Columbia Games and the 678th for me! - - - - - - - Herb Levy] (Columbia Games, 2 players, ages 12 ...
Read More
[Few people enjoy a better - or more well deserved - reputation than Greg J. Schloesser. Greg is a formidable force in the world of games. Starting and developing a readership as one of the most respected reviewers on the internet, Greg has spread the good word on gaming by being the driving force behind TWO gaming groups (the Westbank Gamers of New Orleans and ...
Read More
Reviewed by Nick Sauer (Mayfair Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $45 ) In Lord$ of Vega$, players enter the glitzy world of Las Vegas by building and fighting for control of casinos on the strip. The game is designed by James Earnest and Mike Selinker and published by Mayfair Games. The game's Las Vegas casino building theme may remind one of ...
Read More
[Expect a spirited conversation when you talk with Ben Baldanza. That may be because, in real life, he is the CEO and President of Spirit Airlines. But even successful business executives need to relax and Ben has been playing and collecting games since playing card games with his family as a child. Ben plays regularly with gamers, formerly in the Washington, DC area and now ...
Read More
[Tasty Minstrel Games is a newcomer to the gaming scene. Their first appearance in these pages came with Homesteaders in the previous issue (Summer 2010). This makes it two in a row for the company and my 679th(!) review for GA Report. - Herb Levy] (Tasty Minstrel Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-90 minutes; about $35) Reviewed by Herb Levy If ...
Read More
[Throughout our years of publication, we have been fortunate in attracting a diverse group of quality and insightful gamers from all around the world. One such person is Chris Kovac. As Chris, a Canadian, has said: "I have been a gamer since my University days in the 1980's. Initially a wargamer, I was converted over to Euro Games by a friend when he introduced me ...
Read More
[Game design is like magic: if you do it right, it looks easy. The reality is that a lot of hard work and dedication goes into making a game work. No one knows this better than Al Newman. Al started designing games back in 1973 and his credits include Super 3 by Milton Bradley, Babushka (Ravensburger), Match 3 (Nathan), Wacky Wizards (Western) as well as ...
Read More
[Larry Levy is one of the best known voices on gaming. His internet posts always attract attention for his insightful commentary and he has written for many game review publications. Not only that, Larry also conducts unofficial "game of the year" award tabulations, attracting voters and interest from around the world, with his highly entertaining - and thought provoking - The Meeple's Choice Awards. There's ...
Read More
[Few people have had such a broad experience in the world of games as Pevans. Pevans is the pen name of Paul Evans (well, a Paul Evans – hence the pseudonym). This Paul Evans is a British gamer who has been writing about games for well over 20 years. He was the founding editor of Games Games Games magazine and edited it for 12 years ...
Read More

If you enjoy games, then Gamers Alliance is right for you!