Credits: Designed by Friedemann Friese (of Power Grid fame), published by Rio Grande Games. Players: 2-5. The game rules are the same for any number of players and the game scales nicely by adding more breweries as the number of players increases.
Time: About an hour.
Complexity: Easy to play, hard to master – very much a classic in this sense. The rules are not hard but it is quite challenging to plan ahead for victory, with hand management and deck memory being key skills.
Components: Solid wood money and commodities, one deck of cards (they are really coaster-sized tiles that are played like a deck, so a bit of a card-tile hybrid) and sturdy board with nice art. Overall I’d say the components are high-quality.
Theme: Medieval farming and brewery supply economics. It’s a pleasant theme but is “pasted-on” in the sense that nothing feels very specific to breweries. The players could easily be supplying a bakery or factory with some slight changes in art. The buildings are things like offices and banks and while the art is good they are very predictably the sort of buildings that are built in many games of this genre.
Fürstenfeld is a game in which players race to develop an income-generating farm and then, when the time is ripe, to abandon their farms by building an expansive palace on top of their former livelihoods. Players in the game run a small farm – or Fürstenfeld – which supplies several local breweries with water, hops and barley. Prices rise and fall at these breweries depending on supply and demand so players need to be aware what is being planted on the farm next door to avoid selling a good that has already flooded the market. The core mechanic of the game is to continually draw and then use or discard tiles to the bottom of the player’s deck while being careful to note the order of the discards – as players will see them again near the end of the game.
Each round all players start by drawing three tiles and harvesting goods (placing them on their developed farm tiles). Next, the first player in turn order sells goods at one brewery, develops up to two tiles on the six-space Fürstenfeld, and then discards (always to the bottom of the deck) down to one tile in hand. Other players follow this pattern in turn order, with any reductions in price due to exceeded demand happening immediately and any raises in price due to unmet demand happening at the end of the round. The turn order for the next round is based on income – least income means first to act and so on.
The tiles are a mix of “farm” tiles for each commodity (producing one, two or three goods of the appropriate type) and buildings. Both farms and buildings cost money to develop and if placed in one of your precious six locations will replace any tile already there – effectively removing the previous tile from the game. Since the eventual goal is to replace all six of your sites with palace tiles you must plan carefully so as not to run out of money before your palace is completed. The palace buildings mostly just take up space but the variety of other buildings will all give some benefit, ranging from very useful to not useful depending on the specifics of the rest of your tiles and the stage the game is at when you draw them (or draw them a second time…).
Buildings give the sorts of bonuses that one would expect: drawing extra cards, keeping extra cards, more money, storing goods and a few others. My one complaint about the cards is really that the bank buildings are so good that you really always want to buy them ASAP. This isn’t a problem per say, but since you are reducing your farming space to do so it means that you won’t be as involved in the markets if you rely on bank income – and the market system is both elegant and very fun so it seems to me that focusing play away from the markets is not ideal from a “fun” standpoint.
I’d say this game should prove to be quite fun for players who enjoy deck management and light economic themes. In some ways it plays a bit like Dominion in reverse – you start with a large deck and try to extract value from your deck to build up value in front of you. Actions and tiles are simple and intuitive and the game feels really streamlined as you play your turns. I don’t feel that there is any one feature that is groundbreaking or particularly unique, but I think that Fürstenfeld is very well executed – the mechanics do their job well without getting in the way. There is also an introductory game that can be played to become familiar with the tiles which uses nearly identical rules but a much simpler winning condition – it should take about the same amount of time but you will likely only want to play it once or twice before moving on to the normal game.
The one caveat that I would place on Fürstenfeld is that players who can think ahead and remember the order of their discards (not all the cards, but some critical cards at least) will have a significant advantage – in fact that is a large part of the skill in the game – so if you are a player who has no interest in that mechanic then you may be frustrated by Fürstenfeld. Overall, I think Fürstenfeld is great fun. It’s quick and casual but has some depth in the market manipulations and long-term planning of your deck while at the same time remaining approachable for a wide range of gamers due to the simplicity of the mechanics.