Review for One · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One – Feudum: The Queen’s Army

Thank you for checking review #107 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Feudum: The Queen’s Army

Feudum: The Queen’s Army is a board game expansion designed by Mark K. Swanson, JR Honeycutt, and Brian Neff that is published by Odd Bird Games. The box state it plays 1 players and has a playtime of 80 minutes.

Description from the publisher:

Oh Bullocks! The Queen’s tyranny is spreading into every corner of the kingdom. Her foot soldiers scour the countryside to hunt the behemoth—the bewitched king that was once her husband! Your small band of rebels will need sharp wits and a bit of luck to save the king and reclaim the land’s virtue, as well as your own.

The Queen’s Army is a solo variant expansion to Feudum. The game pits you against Queen Ann in an epic battle to score the most veneration points over 5 epochs.

First, her Majesty will ruthlessly target the bewitched King (The
Behemoth) in effort to diminish your fame. After the King is dead (or by the dawn of third epoch), she will mount her black horse to pursue your band of rebels with a vengeance.

The Queen plays the game with unlimited resources and no movement restrictions. Any actual resources she acquires along the way count as veneration points!

Can you thwart her quest for the King’s demise, while securing your own prestige? By the Sword of Leinad, you shall prevail!

Development Notes:

The elegantly crafted automa deck was developed in collaboration with J.R. Honeycutt (developer for Tesla vs Edison: Powering Up!) and Brian Neff. The expansion features an elegantly designed A.I. player that cleverly reacts to game conditions as well as keeping you guessing with unpredictable maneuvering.

Rounds are played just like the base game with alternating turns, round by round until each epoch is triggered. However, the Queen is less restrained by resource or route requirements making her a powerful force to reckon with!

My Thoughts

 The action selection aspect of this game is nice, and I love the added benefit of being able to have the actions be stronger under the right conditions. This makes planning ahead very important, and choosing the right actions for the round (and the order in which you execute them) matters even in a solo game (I assume it is just as critical with multiplayer experiences). Added into these layers are the ability to plan to take an action twice (using the proper card), taking 5 actions in the turn instead of 4 (by paying the right resource at the start of the round), or being able to take two actions in a row (again, by paying the right resource).

 Most of the actions in this game are relatively straight-forward to understand (with one glaring exception…and even that is simple in concept). Most of your time spent planning for your turn will be figuring out what to play to accomplish what you need to on your turn rather than trying to figure out what the card allows you to do.

 The same holds true with the AI decks. While I don’t necessarily see the need for five separate decks (yes, sometimes it allows them to do a fifth action but I would have preferred to see a single deck instead of five smaller ones), none of the actions they take – apart from guild – are hard to follow after a few times seeing them come up. I know Solosaurus bemoaned the “flowchart” of actions if they can’t do an action but, honestly, it is a negligible aspect of the gameplay experience.

 This is a game that rewards creating combos with your 4-5 actions in a turn. I imagine they are far more difficult to set up and execute in a game with more players, but the potential is still there. Being able to have a turn where your first action opens up the chance to score on your next action, which then enables you to do something on your third action which in turn allows you to score points on the fourth action – those are the kinds of turns I really enjoy. And, unfortunately, those are absolutely necessary to keep pace with the scoring machine that is the solo AI. But it sure does feel satisfying when a turn not only goes exactly as planned, but the execution of those works even better than expected.

 I enjoy the Epoch aspect of the game, with six different stacks of tiles. I like that one for sure is removed at the end of each round, although I wish it wasn’t randomly selected. It is a good design choice to allow only the current or previous Epoch marker that can be removed, and that a certain number of tiles must be depleted from that Epoch before the next one is triggered. And at first you might look at this and think you’re getting a minimum of 15 rounds, but there are other ways that those tiles get removed so really you’re going to be lucky to hit 10 rounds (and I have found 7 to be a fairly consistent number in solo play…that AI seems to pull tiles off there a LOT more than I can ever do).

 Which means you have about 28-40 actions to score as many points as you can. It sounds like a lot, but then you realize most actions which score require at least 1-2 actions to get into position to score those well. That aspect is one of the things I love about a Vital Lacerda design: your objectives to score are clear but require several scoreless steps to set them up effectively. And so of course I also enjoy that part of Feudum.

 The artwork and quality on the components in the game are excellent. This is a well-produced game, and you can tell a lot of love was poured into the little details on this game. I do wish the cubes were just a tad larger, but overall this game looks impressive on the table.

 The more I played the game the less I liked the long and skinny board. It eats up my entire table, which is a long table, and makes it so I can’t leave this one set up AND be able to play a game on the other half of the table with my wife. So that means I either need to be able to dedicate an entire block of time to playing Feudum from start to finish, or I need to sacrifice potentially playing games with my wife (at least on that table) until this game is completed. And for a game that regularly clocks in at about 150+ minutes for me so far, that makes it a real struggle to get back to the table often (and thus the delayed review). Give me a board that is double the width and things would be far better. Or make the guilds at each end their own board so I can set them up however is most convenient for my gaming situation. There is no way I could see this being played on a small, or even moderately-sized table.

 More on this to come throughout the final thoughts, but the Guilds in this game are that opaque mechanic which will present a hurdle to new gamers. I imagine this is not only the case for solo gamers – but it is something that any solo gamer will need to be able to overcome. That might be to resort to watching playthrough videos to see how the interactions work to get it all to sink in, or to internalize each of the three interactions that each of the six guilds can provide. On paper it all sounds simple, yet in the midst of the game this is where things slow down to a crawl at times. Especially when the AI is taking a guild action, because you need to look up what guild action she’s going to take and what in there she will do, and then see if that can be done, and the manipulate the things to execute the guild action. When people talk about fiddliness in games, I imagine this is what they mean: manipulating bits on a board for an effect. It is fun and exciting when you can pull something clever off on your turn, but it becomes a chore on their turn. And, well, I’ll just lead into these thoughts…

Final Thoughts

When I read the rules for Feudum, I found myself thinking it didn’t seem too bad. And as I started playing the game, most of the action cards and interactions were relatively straight-forward. By the end of that first play, I was echoing the sentiment that Edward from Heavy Cardboard expressed: I don’t want to have to teach this to a group of new players. 90% of what is going on in this game is relatively simple and approachable, but it is that final 10% – the guilds (both how they function and how to determine control) where this game becomes bogged down.

Feudum is an ambitious game project from a first-time designer. There are a ton of levers to pull for interactions within the guilds, and I have no doubt this is the brilliance in the game experience for most players. Unfortunately, when playing the game solitaire this never felt like the impressive push-pull system of vying for control that it should provide. And part of that, I feel, is probably because I haven’t seen this system function in its ideal situation: with a group of experienced players who know what they are doing and how to effectively position for its control. So far my only experiences have been in isolation as a solo gamer, and the guild system has failed to impress every time.

And it is unfortunate, because I think once I truly get that area of the game mastered on my end, this will turn into a far better solo experience. One that might still last too long and take up far too much table space, but one that does still provide a fun and engaging solitaire experience. And so far it still succeeds at delivering those things, but it falls into the faceless “game in a pile of games” category right now as a solo experience. I’ve never regretted playing the game, because I’ve had fun plays, but it has always dragged on longer than I wanted – and part of that is the fault of those guilds. Because every time I still need to reference exactly what happens in the guilds and what my options are. I’ve got the action selection down just fine, but nothing is worse than stopped because I need to consult the rulebook on how Guild X operates. Or worse yet, to figure out what the AI opponent is going to do within the guild…which almost always is bad news for me as a player but it takes time to unfold.

There are so many other great things going on in this game that I can forgive Feudum for this obstacle. I’m determined to master it, even if it means dedicating myself to just spending a few hours watching a playthrough or two to see it all in action. And maybe this aspect isn’t an issue for you – maybe it’ll click faster or, ideally, you’ve played it multiplayer and want to see how it all plays solitaire with the Queen’s Army expansion added into the mix. And ultimately, that is probably the best situation: play it with others a few times first and then dive into it solo. Then maybe your first few plays won’t be spent trying to muddle out exactly how everything interacts, what moves are worth vying for, and how to keep up with the AI as they run rampant and gain control (and by extension a boatload of VP) of the majority of the guilds on the board.

Every time I’ve played I have found myself far behind by the end of the 2nd Epoch, and never able to quite catch up before the end. Which is encouraging, if there are ways to catch up and I simply haven’t found an effective strategy yet (which I am sure I have not, because every game I’ve felt like a bull in a china shop in terms of my approach to gaining points). And every play has gotten a little shorter, although it still gets slowed as I reference the guild section (maybe I need a really good player aid…), meaning that hopefully I won’t always need 2-3 hours to play a solo experience in Feudum. 90 minutes would be that sweet spot I want to hit with a game like this, and I hope to get it there…eventually. This one won’t be a regular on my table due to the size and length, but when I want a longer, more involved game to play when I have a few hours to myself – this is definitely one I’ll keep around to pull off the shelf. But if you are looking to buy this ONLY to play it solo, I can’t say I’d recommend it just for that unless you have already played the game and know you enjoy it. But for those who might already own Feudum and are considering trying it solo, that little expansion adds in an AI opponent that is relatively easy to navigate most of the time and that will provide a good challenge.