Fief: France 1429
Review By: Chris Globus
Designer Philippe Mouchebeuf
Artist Patrick Dallanegra, Jarek Nocoń
“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” – Joan of Arc
I love Fief. Let’s get that out of the way. The theme and the presentation are meshed together so well that you feel like you have a feudal house, securing your lands and legacy for the future. The immersion into the game can make winning almost feel anticlimactic. Almost. But, like anything you love, it’s not without its flaws. More on that later.
At its heart, Fief is a negotiation game. Building your position, from your opening placement, is the key to victory. However, should you make a poor move, or lose a battle, your game is not over. Leveraging your position, whatever that position is, can turn your fortunes around.
Looking at the board, you have two overlapping fields in any given area. One is your fief, which is your path to a Lord title, and the other is your Bishopric, which is your path to a Bishop title. Each Bishopric overlaps two or more Fiefdoms, and the Bishop title is voted on by each player with a village within the Bishopric. (Lord titles are purchased directly, once you have occupied the Fief.) Right from the start, you have to work with, and against, your neighbors to control who will receive that Bishop title. It doesn’t have to be any of the players who occupy that Bishopric. More often than not, you’re going to be looking for a balance of power. A Bishop title makes a lord eligible for a Cardinal title, and from there, your lord can become Pope, which is worth 1 VP (3 VP for victory).
I have seen many games where that would be the whole of the thing. A game of church power politics could be a decent game in its own right, but that is only one aspect of Fief. We also have an area control wargame, where you are attempting to secure one or more Lord titles in your attempt to be crowned King, also worth 1 VP. There are improvements you can build, like windmills to increase your income, and fortifications to reduce your opponent’s attack.
At this point, we have a solid negotiation game mated to a solid area control wargame, but there's more.
There’s a combination action card/event deck that players can draw from. Action cards are used to improve your income, remove negative events, cause an uprising, or even assassinate a lord. Events such as plague can kill units and/or lords, and heavy rains can keep armies bottled up in villages.You also can draw from a deck to add new lords and ladies to your house, and always be on the look out for D’Arc, a title that elevates one of your ladies to become the Patton of Middle Ages France.
Alliances can be made between two houses through marriage, which increases the number of VP required to win to 4, but is nicely balanced so that if an alliance and a single player both win, the single player wins the tie-breaker, so you aren’t forced into an alliance that may not be to your benefit.
The art of the game really benefits from the theme, as it invokes the classical period works. The board is beautiful, and features all the room for the components, while each player mat is well thought out, providing the same spaces for each player’s pieces.
The individual lords and ladies, with their own looks and names, lends itself to a fun personalization of the characters. There the theme comes through again, when it’s Sir Charles defeating Sir Eric at the battle of St. Paul, rather than blue plastic guy over red plastic guy.
These days, many games feature expansions. Unfortunately, a lot of these expansions feel tacked on, or providing some slight variation without enhancing gameplay. Not so with Fief. Each expansion adds to the overall game, providing new units, different player abilities, or new avenues to victory. The only exception could be the Crusades expansion, which while thematically relevant and interesting, ends up as a distraction from the main game board, at least with my group. Your group may differ.
Also, the Kickstarter featured some really nice plastic buildings to replace the cardboard tokens. If you like that kind of thing, and I do, I would try to acquire those as well. Now I just need to add some nice metal coins…
As I noted previously, there is a flaw to the game: the rulebook. Fief: France 1429 is a remake of a French game, Fief, so the rules suffer a bit from translation issues, and the fact that the French version of the current game actually has slightly different rules, making attempts to clarify the rules a tad more challenging than other games. There are two FAQs available, so it’s important that you find both the FAQ for the current version, as well as the one for the correct language.
In spite of this, the rules are understandable. Rather there is a bit of wiggle room for rules lawyers, but as you find the clarifications and establish your precedents, your games will run smoother.
I highly recommend this game. It plays in a few hours, set up is easy as everything has a place, and there is technically no player elimination, as the game should be just about over if that were to happen. Subtracting half a tic for the minor rules issues, and I give this game a 7.5 out of 10.
For victory, and for France!
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