Things aren’t looking great! You’ve been kicked out of your kingdom (who knows why) and banished to a strange, faraway land. There’s some funny stuff going on here – the King is missing and there is a new and mysterious Behemoth wondering the countryside. Despite any apparent troubles though, this new land offers you and your mates a new start, a place to build up something for yourself. The people who live here are in shambles and looking for leadership! Once you gain reputation among the guilds, you will cement your position as a powerful ruler of a Feudum or two, and by serving your Queen and the guilds of the lands, seek to become the most prosperous Lord – ‘The most venerated in all the land!’.
2-5 Players| 2-4 Hours | Designed by Mark Swanson
One of the biggest draws of Feudum is its beautiful, eye-catching, and unique artwork. Artist Justin Schultz has done a fantastic job of bringing the game to life, and every component and piece of the game is unified with a consistent, colourful and distinct artistic style. There are comments in the community regarding how artistic decisions in the game limit the accessibility/readability (for example, the routes on the game board, and the iconography) but ultimately, after a little while playing these issues fade away and you are left highly immersed in a thematic game that is free from jarring graphic design elements.
How does it work?
Feudum is an action card selection game, with economic and empire management aspects. The aim of the game is to end up the player with the most Veneration Points – and these can be gained in a wide variety of ways. The game is broken up into rounds and then epochs. There are 5 epochs in the game, each of which will run from 1-3ish rounds. At the end of each epoch, players earn points for their current empire and participation in guilds. At the end of the game, bonuses are awarded by the Royal Writ cards, scoring of your empire, and points for the Epic Journey.
Every player is given a set of 11 identical action cards at the beginning of the game. Four of these cards are chosen to be played each round. Some examples of actions that can be performed include adding new character pawns to the board, moving pawns about, and influencing locations to gain control of them. You can also improve your influenced locations, harvest resources or money from them, and conquer (or defend) pawns and Feudums. Finally, one card allows you to perform guild actions, which will vary based on your guild membership. All players are allowed to trade with all the guilds regardless of membership, however performing administrative actions within the guilds (to earn points and generate resources) requires you to be a Journeyman or Master within a guild.
Players begin the game with nothing and each build up empires, influence over guilds, and generate resources, goods, and points as the game progresses. Building Feudums is powerful because it gives you reliable control over guilds, but Lords are required to honour the Queen with military service, so you are forced to attack other players or you will lose increasing amounts of points as the game progresses. Contrary to the common modern boardgame design, the majority of VP in Feudum will be earned during the game. Points from end game bonuses will make a difference in a close game, but are typically on the order of 20 or so, where points accumulated during the game will be somewhere around 100.
What do I think?
I’ve played Feudum three times now, with 3, 4 and 5 players. The most notable difference with increasing player count is the need for aggressive (combative) strategy increasing with player count. In my 3 player game, everyone had lots of space and there were no conflicts. As player count increases, space on the map becomes more scarce, and combat becomes necessary. There is no clear path to victory in Feudum, the game is a sandbox with many ways to get points and it’s possible to win without doing everything. It is important to keep in mind that this is a very interactive game, and it relies on players to keep each other in check with respect to point generating capability.
The Good Stuff
- The whole game is inexplicably charming. I can’t put my finger on exactly what, but the combination of art, theming, story and gameplay combines together into a game that is delightful to play, despite its shortcomings. The game has presence.
- I personally find the art incredible. It suits the game so well, it is a vaguely medieval style but with a clean modern twist, in lovely vibrant colours.
- Nearly every mechanic makes intuitive sense. There’s a bit of iconography that could be clearer, but on the whole after a few rounds it’s easy to remember all the actions.
- The guild reference card is very well laid out and helpful.
- Playing the game, you really feel like you are building an empire up from nothing. Improving your ruled locations from outposts, to farms, to towns, to Feudums, feels rewarding. Performing actions as Guild Master or Journeyman is also very rewarding for the player, and usually helpful for everyone.
- There is a good sense of ‘community’ because the guild mechanics push players toward working together. This encourages a lot of table talk and results in heavy player interaction.
- It is usually fairly clear what things you need to do for yourself each round so choosing cards only rarely takes a long time. It’s easy to eliminate cards as useless to you and pick out the four you need every round.
- The rulebook is comprehensive and well laid out.
- Feudum is nowhere near as heavy as it is perceived. For some reason it has a weight rating of ~4.5 on BoardGameGeek, which would make it the heaviest game I own. I think a much more realistic value would be 3.5-4 or even less. Its current rating makes it heavier than Lisboa, which in my opinion is completely false.
The Bad Stuff
- From the beginning of the game, there is very little idea what to do. You sort of need to set yourself mini goals and follow through on them to progress.
- It’s unclear how scoring works to new players. The first time I played I expected that I would get most of my points in the end game scoring which is not the case. I make sure to point this out when teaching the game – doing guild push/pull actions to get points during the game is very important.
- The game timer is quite bizarre. It seems to lead to games being quicker than intended/desired. The rulebook quotes 7-10 rounds, but I’ve not played a game longer than 7. This is because once players get settled, they seem to stay in the same place (thus repeatedly upgrading things in one area) which wears through the epoch stacks quickly (the mechanism for ending the game). Epoch I is rounds 1-3, then II is usually 2 rounds, and III and IV fly past in one round each. I am considering a house rule to remove or limit the progress die to previous epoch only to make for a longer game.
- The guild action card is almost universally used every round by every player. It almost seems like this could have been implemented as a separate action or phase, but having it as a card does force trade-offs in extenuating circumstances.
- Improving can be very frustrating when there are no epoch tiles (thus no points) available for that region.
- Access to resources is quite random. Of course you can buy them but money is very scarce in this game, it can be quite difficult to get your hands on specific resources.
- Once you are in a position where you have no money it can be a very long process (several actions, even multiple rounds) to get some more. Options are pretty much tax, and owning guilds. Without any towns tax isn’t possible, and even if you own a guild they might not pay you very often. The other option is harvest, and this relies on owning a farm. There is no other way to get money and this can lock you out of being able to do a lot of things for a long time while you recover.
- Lots of things in the economy are heavily reliant on a Guild Master or Journeyman doing their ‘job’. It’s not always in their interest or strategy of the controlling player to be doing these things. As such, either with or without intention many players can be affected by something out of their control.
- The economy system seems to break down very easily (this is evidenced by the reset at Epoch 3, all guilds are restocked to their initial game setup levels).
- Lots of the above problems are amplified by the fact that Feudum, while being big and heavy, is a short game in terms of the number of actions you execute over the course of the game. If there is only 7 rounds and you spend two of them trying to get something you desperately need (2 rounds because you need to build stuff around getting that thing) that’s a massive cost.
I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one – I adore Feudum. Despite a lengthy list of obvious issues, it’s just so easy to put them aside and play the game because its charm and uniqueness really serves to fill a niche that is currently lacking among published games. Recommending Feudum is not a trivial thing to do however. It is a fairly heavy game, not for the feint of heart and not for players who enjoy a lighter (less brain burning) experience. Feudum builds a lot on other ideas to combine various mechanics together which is where most of the complexity arises. If you enjoy games with a weight and style similar to Terra Mystica (empire building, lots of options, lots of player agency), don’t mind an unreliable economy and have a good group of like minded friends, then you would probably enjoy this.