Reviewed by Joe Huber
(Cwali, 2-4 players, ages 11 and up, about 45 minutes; $41.95)
Ever since the release of Isi in 1999, Corné van Moorsel has been recognized as a strong independent game designer and publisher. In addition to such popular games as Morisi/Netzwerk, ZooSim/O Zoo le Mio, and StreetSoccer, he has designed a number of clever small games such as Floriado. Even better, Moorsel doesn’t have a standard game type – his designs feel particularly varied, making even a poor fit for one’s tastes a worthwhile experience. Essen watchers can be counted on to keep an eye on his latest offering.
His 2006 Essen release, Factory Fun, was not a game that looked like a likely hit, however. The name suggested an industrial feel to the game; those who found Ad Acta a bit too close to work, me included, might be forgiven for a bit of apprehension. Then it came out that the game was a puzzle game.
Puzzle games are a tricky breed; while some, such as Ricochet Robot (from the late, great designer Alex Randolph), have been quite successful, the mixed reaction to Turbo Taxi (from Friedemann Friese) seems to be far more common. Oftentimes, such games evoke a similar “too much like work” reaction; even when that’s not an issue, there’s typically a multiplayer solitaire element to the games that tends to limit their appeal. And from the pre-Essen reports, Factory Fun appeared to be strongly a multiplayer solitaire affair. But still, it’s from Moorsel, so it must be played.
The game itself is quite straightforward to describe but not nearly so simply to learn. Each player has a personal factory floor with a square grid on which to build, complete with an inconveniently placed support in the middle. In each of ten turns, players have the opportunity to take a choice of machines. Each component takes in one to three inputs, and produces one output. The inputs – and many of the outputs – are represented by four colors; some outputs are final products, represented as black. Each of the inputs must be supplied from a reservoir; players receive one of each color to start the game. Final outputs each have their own collector; other outputs must be stored in temporary holding tanks. Players can receive bonuses for using outputs from one machine to feed the inputs of another; doing so, and providing pathways from the reservoirs to the inputs of later machines, typically requires the use of piping. Of course, forming a loop of inputs is not allowed (perpetual motion not yet having been perfected).
Each machine has a base score for placing it; from this, one point is subtracted for every other piece played. A bonus chip is placed on any input supplied from another machine, rather than a reservoir; those points are only awarded at the end of the game. To make the placement of later pieces possible – if not always easy – players may move or remove pieces later. Removing a piece is free; any piece except for a machine may be removed. Moving a piece costs the same as placing it new, save for machines which cost two points. A player may make as many changes as desired, so long as her score remains positive. And machines must be placed once selected, or a penalty is assessed – unless the player was the last to choose a machine, in which case there is no penalty for discarding it.
My reaction to my first play of Factory Fun was positive, but guarded. I definitely enjoyed the game, but I had three significant concerns. First, it wasn’t a universal hit, in spite of being what I thought was a good crowd for the game. Second, it seemed to me to be one of those games that wouldn’t necessarily age well – the first few plays would be fun, but over time the game would be less enjoyable. Finally, the re-arrangement of pieces adds a bothersome memory element to the game – players are entrusted to remember their own positions.
The multiplayer solitaire element didn’t bother me, but I never expected it to; that concern was more tied into the question of how others would end up perceiving the game. Still, I liked it enough; I brought it into work, and my expectations for the game quickly – and significantly – changed. While the game doesn’t have universal appeal, it has a stronger appeal to people who wouldn’t classify themselves as gamers than I would have expected; I think the problem solving nature of the game helps make it a fit for engineers, among others. I’ve already played the game a dozen times, with the majority of those plays coming at work. This, in turn, has negated my second concern – the game has held up well, and in point of fact doesn’t display the problem some puzzle games do of the results being too closely tied to ability to make the game less enjoyable for some. The re-arrangement of pieces remains the only ongoing concern I have with the game, though even that is more theoretical than practical; I’ve seen cases that were close to having a problem, but none that actually did
There is one critical strategy to the game, which everyone should know from the start – aim to earn as many bonus points as possible. The difference between first and last before adding in bonus points is usually around twenty points; the difference in bonuses is frequently close to fifty points. Having noted the need to earn bonus points, the question then becomes how to do so. There is no single path to doing so, but a number of guidelines that can help.
First, try to avoid the machines leading to a final product (see the Statistics notes at the end of this section) – while they’re generous with victory points, they don’t help in the formation of chains of machines, and are often hard to place in reasonable locations. Second, try to grab the machines with a single input – these are often the easiest to put into chains. Third, look for machines with high volume outputs – each 3-output to 3-input connection is worth fifteen bonus points above and beyond the score for placing the machine. Fourth, look for machines with bonus reservoirs. These extra reservoirs often allow major routing issues to be solved.
I’ve found that a few other general ideas are worth keeping in mind. First, be very careful when selecting three input machines, particularly in the middle of the game and after. I’ve seen more players run into trouble because two of the three inputs are switched from what is needed than from any other issues. Second, if using all three holding tanks, be sure to find a machine that will use the items feeding a holding tank. Finally, don’t be afraid to move a machine if it will result in a greater bonus – it’s nearly always wrong to move multiple machines, but I’ve often seen a single movement have very positive results. Of course, players must avoid the temptation to make changes for the sake of aesthetics.
Out of 48 machines:
11 generate final outputs
3 of these have a single input (average of 6 points)
7 of these have two inputs (average of 10 points)
1 of these has two inputs and comes with an extra reservoir (6 points)
37 generate input types
8 of these have a single input (average of 4.4 points)
1 of these has one input and comes with an extra reservoir (3 points)
22 of these have two inputs (average of 7.9 points)
2 of these have two inputs and come with an extra reservoir (5 and 6 points)
3 of these have three inputs (average of 9.3 points)
1 of these has three inputs and comes with an extra reservoir (7 points)
Overall, Factory Fun has risen to being a favorite game of mine and one I’d gladly recommend to gamers as well as those who enjoy puzzles and problem solving. I’d approach the game more cautiously in two cases – first, if strongly allergic to multiplayer solitaire games and second, if the real-time draw of machines sounds too off-putting. The former I think won’t prove a problem for most, but it’s definitely a strong reason to try the game before playing it if at all possible. The latter is a real issue for many; I’ve seen many suggestions for alternatives, from bidding for machines to drafting, but none that wouldn’t significantly lengthen the game. With the published rules, the game can be played in 45 minutes comfortably; perhaps an hour or a bit more with slower players. That’s an ideal length for the game – it neither overstays its welcome nor finishes too soon – so none of the alternatives has struck me as particularly promising.
Factory Fun isn’t the least expensive game to buy, as there is currently no US distribution for the game. But many online retailers carry the game at a reasonable price; the strong production helps the game feel like a good value. The game is also notable for the lack of wasted space in the box – the components all fit back into the box without difficulty, but still without occupying any more space when boxed than is necessary; for those watching the size of their collections, Factory Fun holds its own very well. Overall, the game is a very strong offering from Moorsel – my new favorite among his designs – and one well worth seeking out. – – – Joe Huber
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