Reviewed by Herb Levy

FÜRSTENFELD (Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 13 and up, 60 minutes; $59.95)


The World of Games is filled with colorful characters. Friedemann Friese is one of those characters – and his color is green. You can easily spot him in a crowd; he’s the guy with the green hair! You can generally spot one of this game designs too as green is a color found predominately on the box, on the board and on the artwork. Another of his idiosyncrasies is his love of letters. Actually, one letter. The letter “F”. Not only is a pair of Fs his initials but all of his designs begin with F. (What about Power Grid? That, my friends, began life as Funkenschlag.) And, of course, when he publishes his designs himself, they go under the 2-F label. This time around, his whimsical sense of humor manifests in another F game: Fürstenfeld.

The theme of Fürstenfeld is slightly bizarre. It seems that players are princes, each with their own field. On this field, they will produce three goods – hops, barley and spring water – which they will sell to the local breweries to produce beer! But they all have a goal in mind: to build their own personal palace! The first player to do so will win the game!furstenfeldbox

Each player begins with a personal “Fürstenfeld”, a board which contains six areas (the bottom three producing one unit of hops, barley or spring water; the top three empty, for the moment), two coins (for a starting bankroll of 2), a player order disc (in his chosen color) and a set of “building cards”. The larger, main, playing board has room for the supply of hops, barley and water pieces as well as money, a “palace price” space), a dual income track (used to determine player order) and breweries. There are 7 “demand” cards which indicate which resources are wanted by each brewery. Brewery cards equal to the number of players are placed on the board. These, and only these, breweries are open for business.

The game comes with two sets of rules: basic and expert. In the basic game each player shuffles his building card deck and draws three cards from the top. In the expert game, players draw 10 cards, keep one and then place the remaining 9 at the bottom of the deck in any order he or she chooses. Now the game begins.

Everyone draws three cards from their deck (creating a hand of four cards). Any spaces on a player’s board that produces are filled with the appropriate goods. Now, in player order, goods are sold.

In turn order, players sell goods to any ONE of the breweries on the board. Goods tokens are placed on the demand card of the chosen brewery. Players take coins for goods sold (goods will be valued anywhere from 0 to 3 coins per good). If more goods are sold than the demand card calls for, the price of those goods falls immediately after the player collects his money. The player now moves his player token from the income track he is on to the OTHER income track on the board. Relative position on the new income track determines player order for the next turn. (The player with the least income will go first.) Now, again in turn order, players may build cards from their hand.furstenpcs

No more than two building cards may be built on a turn. Most building cards display a cost which must be spent in order to build and place them on the individual Fürstenfeld. Building cards may be placed on ANY of the 6 areas on the board. Building cards do many useful things such as produce more resources, lessen the cost of future building card purchases, reduce the income total (without reducing the income) so that you have a better chance to go first on the next turn, gain extra income and more. Palace cards, however, are handled a bit differently.

Palace cards are labeled in Roman numerals from I to VI and have no set cost. The amount of coins needed to build them is based on how many palace cards have already been built. This is charted by the palace price cards on the board. With four players, for example, the first four palace cards will cost 8 coins. But, starting with the fifth, the cost rises to 10. Once another four are built, the cost rises to 12 and so on to a maximum of 18. (Cubes are placed on the palace price cards as palace cards are built to keep track.) Another thing: although you can build over any other building card, you may NOT build over a palace card. Once it’s built, it stays built. In the basic game, these palace cards may be built on any space. To make things a bit more challenging, in the expert game, palace cards MUST be built in the matching numbered spaces (e.g. palace I MUST be built in space 1, palace 6 in space 6).

After all builds are done, players discard down to 1 card. (Some builds allow you to hold more cards.) Discards go to the bottom of the building card deck. The catch here is that players can decide the order of the discards thereby “stacking the deck”, hopefully, in their favor. Now, brewery prices are adjusted.

Excess goods sold to a brewery drive prices down. However, if the demand of the brewery is not met (shown by empty spaces on the demand card), the price for those particular goods rise. Now, the next turn begins.

Play continues until someone builds all six palace cards but the round continues so that all players get an equal number of turns. If more than one player has managed to build all in the round, then whoever has the most coins left is the victor.

The basic game uses only 26 cards in the building deck. The expert game adds two more: the Scavenger and the Tourist Guide. The Scavenger allows you to “trash” or remove two cards from your hand rather than discard them to the bottom of the deck. This allows you to rotate through the deck that much faster. The Tourist Guide gives a player an income of 2 coins per palace card built. As you inevitably cover resource producing cards as the game progresses, having the Tourist Gide in play can be essential in maintaining a steady income to help build those final palace cards. These cards, along with the restriction on palace card placement and the initial “stacking the deck” ability that the expert rules provide greatly improve the game without adding cumbersome complexity. We recommend using the expert rules exclusively.

The market mechanic in Fürstenfeld is simple but works extremely well. All breweries display similar but different demands. Still, players need to consider which one offers the greatest return for their goods. Prices do not fluctuate all that much (going from 0 to 3) but downward spirals occur immediately when goods are sold which makes turn order important. (Having the player with the lowest income going first in the round makes a nice balancing mechanism.) But while money is important, it is not the most important thing. Building those palace cards is! If you find yourself with piles of money, you’re doing something wrong! Spend those coins while palace card costs are more affordable to maximize their value.

“Stacking” the deck, right from the start of play, is one of the skills that gets rewarded. This gives you information about what cards you are likely to draw as the game goes on. Not “perfect” information but information you can use. Do it right and you can get a handle on the cards coming up so you can plan accordingly. And speaking of cards… the cards are of good quality and the summary cards detailing all the cards and what they do are excellent. The graphics are good too. The only quibble is the pieces used to represent the hops, barley and water. They are nicely shaped to represent the resources, a nice idea but sometimes good ideas don’t translate well. These pieces lie flat which makes them a little cumbersome to use. Fumbling with them while you’re trying to chart changes in market values undermines their usefulness. Ironically, non-descript cubes of blue, yellow and green would be both more ergonomically appealing and functional.

Fürstenfeld combines elements of Bohnanza (with its deck-stacking), Dominion (deck-building) and your choice of any stock market game (with the rise and fall of the value of resources) you care to name along with its own distinct twist. The result? An easily learned and highly entertaining sixty minutes of fun that the whole family can enjoy. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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