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[Review] Feudo

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

When I first opened the box of Feudo (Zugames, 2004 - Mario Papini), I was a little surprised. It appeared to be a war game, and I was surprised that it had been sent to me, as I am not really a big proponent of war games. I consider them long, rule-heavy, and too “historically” accurate for me to really have fun. But the game only had four pages of rules and seemed to act like a Euro game, intriguing me. Could it be that Feudo was a successful mix of Euro game and war game? Very few games have done this successfully.

After playing the game, I am extremely impressed. I think that Mr. Papini has actually pulled off this war-Euro hybrid successfully. The rules are simple, but the game play is tense and strategic. It’s a decent two-player game and a fabulous four-player game. The game plays at just under two hours, and there is only a smattering of luck in the game (how the plague moves) with no luck in combat. The lack of luck in combat, however, makes the game very unforgiving, and all players should be at an equal level; because once you lose ground in Feudo, it’s extremely difficult to recover. Still, take it from a non-war gaming fan; Feudo pleased me, and I don’t enjoy many war games.

Four square cardboard boards are placed together randomly to form one large board made up of many different territories. Most of the territories are hills, but there are four wood territories, six mountain territories, sixteen villages, and five towns (each with a different name). A blue plague pawn is placed on the village that is closest to the town of Evesham, and a Convent piece is placed in the middle space of the board. Each player takes pieces and cards of one color. There are ten army pieces, five coat-of-arms, and ten cards - one corresponding to each army piece. The army pieces have a picture of the unit, a name for the unit, and a red number on one side (full strength), and a black number on the other (plagued). Each player also gets five trading cards: three blanks, one with two shillings pictured on it, and one with four shillings. Players, in a randomly determined order, place their castles - one on each side of the board (a coat-of-arms is used to determine where the castle is located). All of the players’ pieces start in the castle and are placed with their red number face up. One coat-of-arms piece is placed on the scoring track for each player. Twenty plague cards are shuffled, and ten of them form a plague deck for the game with the remainder being put away. The game takes ten turns, and each round occurs the same way.

Each round has six phases. In the first phase, the player with the current lowest victory points (ties broken randomly) decides the turn order for that round. (Whoever placed their castle last goes first on the first turn.) In the second phase, all players choose three of their army cards and one trading card to form their hand for that turn, placing all other cards aside. The third phase, Plague, consists of the top plague card being drawn, and it’s effects being followed. Different effects might occur.
- The plague might move according to the number of towns and directions indicated on the card. The convent piece in the middle of the board shows the board’s directions, and all the towns are in straight lines with the plague wrapping-around the board if necessary. All armies in the space the plague lands, or those adjacent to the plague are plagued (turned to their black side if on the red side, and killed if already on the black side).
- The plague might not move, but instead all pawns in the same space or adjacent spaces are plagued.
- The plague doesn’t move; rather, all pieces in all spaces on the edge of the board are plagued.
- The plague doesn’t move; rather, all pieces in the “cross” spaces that run up the middle of the board, forming a cross, are plagued.
- The plague doesn’t move; rather, a fog hits the board, forcing all units to move a maximum of one this turn. Also, any pieces currently in the convent leave the game, being converted into friars or nuns.
The only way that plague pieces can heal themselves is by moving into the convent. Any number of pieces can occupy the convent for one turn and then are healed, where they can leave at their whim.

The fourth phase is the most important - the movement phase. Each player, in turn order, plays one of their army cards, moving it. The amount of spaces that can be moved is equal to the number shown on the piece with the following restrictions:
- Any piece that enters woods must immediately stop, and a maximum of one piece is allowed in woods.
- The “First Knight” piece must always be alone.
- Only one piece maximum per space, unless the Baron, or Milady piece is in a space, where they may be joined by one other army.
- Knights and Milady are not allowed in towns or villages.
- Pieces may pass through their own pieces but not opponent’s pieces.
- No piece may ever move through a mountain.
- When a full-strength Milady lands next to an opponent’s Baron, she can immediately charm him, canceling that player’s moves for the remainder of the round.
- When a plagued Milady lands next to an opponent’s army piece (not Baron), she can spread her disease, giving that piece the plague.
- No one can ever move in or out of any castle.
After all three army cards are shown, the players, in turn order, reveal their trading cards. For each coin on the card, the players may move any piece one space or move one piece several spaces, etc. Also, if the player has moved a mercenary piece, one coin must be allotted to “pay” the mercenary. The army cards a player used are returned to their hands, but the trading cards are discarded until the sixth turn, where the player gets back all five.

The fifth phase is the attack phase. In turn order, players may make any available attacks if they want. Attacks are simple, adding up all the numbers of attacking pieces and comparing them to the defender’s forces. The player with the higher number wins the battle, and the losing piece is eliminated with it and its matching card being removed from the game. The only exception to this is the Baron pieces, which are just relocated to their castle, and Milady pieces, which can’t attack or be attacked ever. The attacking player wins points equal to the number on the killed piece, and the losing player loses points equal to the same amount. Pieces in forests get a +5 defense bonus, in villages get a +3 bonus, and in towns get a +7 bonus. Towns with nobody in them have to have an attacking force of at least 8 power to conquer them.

Victorious attackers may advance in the last phase. For no cost, they may move into the territory left free by the enemy, following all movement restrictions. (i.e. Only a Baron, mercenary, or footman may capture a town). A captured town yields victory points equal to the number of spaces it is away from the conqueror’s castle, using the shortest route possible. If someone loses a town, they lose the victory points they accumulated. Players may have negative victory points.

There are a few special rules in the game. If a player is down to less than four fighting units, their Baron’s numbers increase. (We called him “Super-Baron.”) When one player reaches twelve victory points, the King appears, taking points away from players for cowards (minus one point for each piece still in their castle). From this point onward, the King now helps the player in last place, increasing their shilling cards by two. After the tenth turn, the player who has the most victory points is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The components for this game are of the highest quality - absolutely superb. All the tiles are extremely thick, and the numbers on them are easy to read. The coat of arms is all over the uniform of the pictures on the units, and each unit is very simple to distinguish from others. One thing I found interesting was the medieval artwork that saturated the entire game - something that people who enjoy this type will be pleased to see. At first I thought the board was fairly plain, but the war gamer types assured me that this was a good idea, as it made moving pieces fairly simple. Everything fits inside a large, extremely sturdy box with more medieval artwork covering it. The victory point track was nice with a mention of the phases and defense bonuses on it. The only two minor quibbles I had with the game was that there was no movement cheat sheet (After a couple turns, it was easy to remember; but at first, I kept looking it up.), and that there is no way to tell when a Baron becomes “Super Baron”. (We stuck a coat-of-arms symbol on him.) Still, the level of quality for this game is superb.

2.) Rules: As I stated, the rules are four pages and easy to understand. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was if a player’s victory points could go below -13 (the lowest number on the track), so I emailed the designer, and he told me, “Yes.” Other than that, however, the rules were very clear. The games I played went well, with players learning as they went, but most everything was figured out in the first turn. A few things weren’t entirely intuitive, such as the abilities of Milady, or the King’s abilities, but everything would be considered simplistic to a war gamer, yet fairly heavy for a Euro gamer. This isn’t a novice game, by any means, yet it wasn’t that difficult.

3.) Players: The designer told me that a two-player game was more strategic, while the four-player was more tactical; but I found that both seemed fairly similar. I haven’t tried a three-player game yet, but it appears that it may be lopsided against the player sandwiched between the other two.

4.) Number of Units: At first, I couldn’t believe that a game where one only had ten pieces would be deep or long, especially when each unit had only one number. But I was impressed at how the same number represented strength, movement, and victory points and at how well this worked in the game. There were reasons to use every piece, and the board got pretty crowded, especially in the four-player game. A player needs a good number to take over a city, but can be thwarted by one, well-placed piece on the other side.

5.) Errors: If you make an error in judgment, you can lose critical ground. In my first game, I twice thought that I had the drop on one opponent, who, because of turn order, showed me that he, in fact, was the one in charge of the situation. Losing a key unit can be quite costly and can deteriorate your strategy. Fortunately, the game, with the intervention of the King, and “Super-Baron”, allows players who are in a weak position come back and still be involved. I suppose that the game could be an elimination game, but one would have to play extremely badly for this to occur.

6.) Time: Ten turns sounds like a game would end quickly, especially when each player only has three or so moves per turn. But great thought goes into each move; and therefore, games can last a while - I’m guessing between 90-120 minutes for a four-player game. The rules even have an optional 15 or 20 turn game, but I would not attempt one of them - ten moves is more than satisfactory. By turn 8 or 9, things start petering down, but the game can often still be decided at that point.

7.) Milady: She is an extremely powerful piece that can thwart an opponent’s plan, and I’ve seen her turn the tide of the game. Of course, her special abilities, charming and infecting, made for a lot of jokes during game play. I’m not sure if this is politically correct, but no one I played with cared; and a lot of laughter ensued when I explained the rules.

8.) Fun Factor: The game requires a bit of thought, and I would classify it as a medium war game/heavy Euro game. I enjoyed it immensely and was involved in the games I played. It had very little downtime. Knowing how to maneuver pieces around was fun and interesting, and everyone who played the game enjoyed it.

This may indeed be a “gateway” game, one that can get war gamers interested in Eurogames, and vice versa. Of course, both groups might claim the game as in their group, but that’s a good thing. It’s a heavy game and not for casual players. But if your seeking a war-ish game with Euro-scoring, and simple, yet flexible rules, this is an excellent one. I’m very impressed with Zugames first release and look forward to their games in the future. If they have the smooth mechanics and tremendous pieces this game has, then they should succeed. Feudo is an excellent game, a worthy centerpiece to any gaming night.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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