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Bring Glory to the Pharaoh in 2F-Spiele's Faiyum

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Designer
Board Game Publisher: 2F-Spiele
German publisher 2F-Spiele has announced its SPIEL '20 release: Faiyum, this being an engine-building, deck-building game of sorts from Friedemann Friese for 1-5 players that plays in 110-140 minutes.

Here's a thematic summary and gameplay overview:
The oasis-like basin Faiyum was artificially built 3,900 years ago by enlarging the Bahr Yussef channel that connected to the Nile to create a regulated flood plain. During the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, this swampland was slowly changed into farmland under the aegis of pharaohs such as Amenemhet III and Sesostris II. They ordered their advisors to build a system of canals and dikes to reclaim the land surrounded by desert and inhabited by crocodiles to turn it into a granary for Egypt.

Now, during the reign of Amenemhet III, you are the pharaoh's advisors, commanded to harvest goods, build roads, found settlements, and do much more for the good of Faiyum! You are being supplied with the necessary manpower, resources, and money, which means that if another advisor needs to use "your" roads, farms, and other buildings, they may do so since everything you build is owned by the pharaoh. The only thing you will own is the only thing that matters: the respect of the pharaoh.

Board Game: Faiyum

Faiyum is a strategic game for enthusiasts of planning games. The basic rules are simple: Play your cards one by one on your personal discard stack. After playing some or all of your cards, you take them back into your hand in "reverse" playing order, so playing cards in the best order is important. Newly purchased cards go directly into your hand, so the timing of getting and playing them is important, too. Each of the individual cards has easy-to-understand actions, but only by creating the best combined "engine" will you be a master advisor of Faiyum.

This game features a card mechanism reminiscent of deck builders and the market mechanism successfully used in Power Grid. Gain more and more valuable cards, and use the structures built on the game board to your advantage — in other words, for your reputation. In the end, the most cunning advisor who creates the best card combinations will win Faiyum.
You might be one of the pharaoh's advisors, but you are apparently somewhat limited in your planning ability as you can perform actions only if they're directly in front of you, that is, on the cards in your hand. Faiyum is a deck-building game, but unlike in most deck-building games, in Faiyum you have all your available cards in hand (akin to Concordia). When you play a card — either for the action listed on it or for $2 — you place that card in a personal discard pile on top of any other cards you've played.

Instead of playing a card, you can buy one of the four cards in the market, paying the price listed (or possibly a discounted price), adding that card to your hand, then refilling the market. All cards other than your starting cards are numbered, akin to the power plants in Power Grid, and only the four lowest-numbered cards of the eight cards on display in the market can be purchased.

Board Game: Faiyum
Game set-up for four players

Instead of playing or buying a card, you can refresh your hand. You first receive income, which is based on the number of cards in your hand; if you hold three or more cards, then you get nothing, so you really want to play your cards. You then take the top three cards from your discard pile and add them to your hand; you can then purchase additional cards, again only from the top, and add those to your hand. Thus, almost the only deck cultivation you can do is to leave cards on your discard pile and compost them under other cards.

So what are you doing with those cards? You might be clearing crocodiles from the wheat and grape spaces in order to place workers in the field; establishing settlements, towns and workshops; placing roads to connect settlements and building sites; collecting resources (wheat, grapes, stone, fish, roses) to use for trade or building; searching for gems; escorting the pharaoh; and so on. Each card other than the starting cards is unique, and the order in which these cards will hit the market in any game will differ — which means that you need to be flexible in what you're doing while (also) ideally crafting a long-term strategy that will net you reputation in the long-term.

From gallery of friedemann

As noted in the description above, you own nothing in Faiyum other than your own cards, resources, and money, so once you build a workshop, anyone can use it. Place a worker in the field, and someone else can then remove that worker for their own purposes. Place a building block on a building site, and whoever escorts the Pharaoh past that site will benefit from it. The Pharaoh wants to see progress, no matter who's responsible for it!

The higher-numbered cards contain more powerful effects, often bringing you lots of reputation in a single action, but all of the card purchases and workshop building and card retrieval is public, so others will scheme against you when they can.

Faiyum includes a solitaire game that you can play as a one-off or as part of a seven-game campaign. In the campaign, you need to score at least 150 reputation in your first game; once you do this, you receive a reward for your next game, then you must achieve one goal from a list of six goals in order to win. Once you achieve a goal, you receive another reward, then that goal is stricken from the list, which means that you must achieve all six goals over your next six games in order to be victorious in the entire campaign.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Faiyum, Egypt — image from Google Earth Chrome extension, which I highly recommend

Publisher 2F-Spiele plans to sell Faiyum in Europe through direct sales and regular distribution, while in North America the game will initially be available through the BGG Store. Says 2F's Henning Kröpke, "If the game is successful, hopefully early next year we will have a second print run with our worldwide partner companies, who will distribute their localized editions of Faiyum." 2F-Spiele took a similar course of release for Finishing Time, which I previewed here in July 2020.

Given BGG's involvement with making the game available in the North American market, I edited the English rules and card glossary for Faiyum as part of my BGG work. Let me know if you catch any typos so that I can flog myself in punishment.

Board Game: Faiyum
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