Fast Feld Franchise
Among the fifteen-ish new games I tried at the Gathering, four of them were Stefan Feld’s:
Feld’s formula — take a good (possibly great) idea and then bury it in 8 layers of crap.
The eight layers of crap is the typical Euro — “You have lots of ways to score points.” Because there isn’t an auction (in any of the games I’ve seen) the ways to score points must be reasonably balanced. Not necessarily per point, but in general effort. One path gets steady points, another gets lower points until you hit a threshold, then higher, one is a set collection game, one manipulates turn order as well.
It’s all technically well done. One local has been saying I’d like Castles of Burgundy, and he’s right. It’s a good game. I also like Brugge. (I’m not sure on Trajan, yet).
And all Feld’s games do have a clever idea:
- Bora Bora’s dice worker placement, where the value determines how good an action you get, but all future plays must have a lower value. Brilliant (But I still dislike the game). (Avoid)
- Brugge’s card as action systems is the least clever, but workable. (Indifferent)
- Castle of Burgundy’s little dice game is fine. (Indifferent plus, may rise)
- Trajan’s ‘Mancala with bonuses for getting bead patterns’ is a great idea. (I have no idea. I should play it again).
But none of those ideas can carry a Euro. So…. eight layers of crap. In my mind, that keeps Feld’s games from earning the JASE label. Even if I don’t like any of his games, he’s certainly worth watching. (And I do like some of them, but not enough to buy).
Compare this with one of my favorite new games from last week — Love Letter. Love letter has 16 cards, a round takes 2-3 minutes, and you play until someone wins 3-5 rounds (a bit more by published rules).
Love Letter is a ‘pure’ game. It does exactly one thing to near perfection. Now, whether you like a pure game depends on whether you like its “one thing,” but the elegance is admirable, like a clever mathematical proof.
Of course, none of Feld’s games are pure. The shortest Euros are still 20-30 minutes, and those ideas are too abstract to even carry out that weight (Trajan could maybe do it).
The problem with these games isn’t that they are built from the “Idea + 8 layers of scoring” formula. The problem is that Euros are built from a “60-90 minutes with no runaway leader” formula.
People love or hate McDonalds (or love to hate), but you pull into any Mickey D’s in the country and you know what you are getting. You buy consistency, and you also buy a meal that is ready to go in 2-3 minutes. Making a few thousand restaurants, each with untrained chefs following a three-ringed-binder turn out a consistent package quickly and cheaply is no mean feat.
But small wonder that they don’t make the tastiest hamburgers around.
Say what you will grammatically; food modifies fast in this case.
I like fast food (a bit too much), and people can have detailed arguments about which fast food burger chain is best (everyone who doesn’t say Whataburger is wrong, at least for the chains that exist in Texas. I am willing to stipulate that better exists I haven’t tried). And, of course, some people want pizza or chicken or tacos or burritos or whatever.
There’s room for debate in fast food.
But, in gaming, I’d much rather try the pure game. The game that takes 60 minutes because that’s how long it takes to play; not the game stretched or compressed to 60 minutes because that’s what the market demands. I’d like Eclipse more if it took an hour less, but you can’t compress fun.
I played Seven Ages on Saturday, which is a monstrous game with few decisions a turn. It’s too slack (IMO), and has it’s own “8 layers of crap” problem. (I had very little to do for the five hours or so we played, which was fine because I was zoning for most of it). It’s ripe for a redesign, but honestly the new game would still take at least a day. It’s not going to be 90 minutes.
In fact, I think I’m becoming wary of games that list their time of 60-90 minutes. I’ve seen that logo around a lot recently; I’m tired of gaming’s fast food cookie-cut fun.