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Faiyum: Crafty Card Combos and Crocodiles in Ancient Egypt

Candice Harris
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In 2020, Friedemann Friese and his publishing company 2F-Spiele invited us all to relax with his uniquely-themed, "after"-worker placement game Finishing Time — but now it's time for us to get back to work in ancient Egypt during the reign of Amenemhet III to impress the pharaoh and develop Faiyum!

From gallery of candidrum

Board Game Publisher: 2F-Spiele
Friedemann Friese's Faiyum is a deck-construction and hand-management strategy game fused with route-building elements in which 1-5 players take on the role of pharaoh's advisors in ancient Egypt, competing to earn the most reputation (victory points) by creating the best card combo-engine for harvesting resources and gaining money to build roads and structures, to gain the respect of the pharaoh.

I picked up a copy of Faiyum for myself the minute I read that it featured "a card mechanism reminiscent of deck-builders and the market mechanism successfully used in Power Grid". I'm generally a fan of board games that include any flavor of deck-building, so it seemed right up my alley. [Disclosure: BoardGameGeek sells Faiyum through the BGG Store to provide distribution for the game outside of Germany. —WEM]

When I unfolded the game board for Faiyum before my first game, I instantly loved its look and feel, and I was anticipating a pleasant gaming experience because of it. The colors are great and it's very well designed and illustrated by Harald Lieske. It also has this charming vintage appeal to it that I dig, which I'm assuming is a result of Lieske's history of contributing artwork to several older classics such as The Castles of Burgundy, La Granja, Arkwright, and many others.

From gallery of candidrum
Game board set up for a two-player game

The game board is a map of Faiyum with a channel dividing two separate peninsulas which are connected only by a dam, with both peninsulas being surrounded by a lake. There are resource spaces for wheat (yellow), grapes (purple), and stone (gray), clearly identifiable by color and graphics. All three types of resource spaces are considered "undeveloped" at the start of the game. Additionally, the wheat and grape resource spaces are swampy, and therefore covered with adorable, wooden crocodiles. (Googly eyes not included, but highly recommended!) There are also four building sites (brown) and one starting settlement space (red) on the board which are considered "developed" areas in Faiyum.

Off to the left side of the game board is the card market that demands your attention if you want to impress the pharaoh and stand a chance at winning Faiyum. In the vein of Friese's popular classic, Power Grid, Faiyum's card market has four spaces for the current card market where players can buy cards, and four spaces for cards that will be available later in the game so that you can plot and plan accordingly.

From gallery of candidrum
The current market (i.e., four lowest) cards with discount tokens


From gallery of candidrum
The four highest cards can't be purchased until they slide into the current market

During set-up, you shuffle the main deck of cards into a draw pile, then prepare a "final turns" stack which is seeded with four natural disaster cards that will trigger the end of the game. Each card has a unique, even number on it, and the card market is always sorted in ascending order such that the four lowest cards form the current market and the flour highest cards cannot be purchased until they slide into the current market slots.

The cards in Faiyum are action cards, and they are the heartbeat of the game. You don't have a personal deck of cards from which you're randomly drawing, but instead your cards will either be in your hand or in your discard pile reminiscent of Concordia. There's a variety of different cards you can purchase throughout the game, which keep things interesting — but can also look a little crazy and complicated when you initially skim through them. Even though there are a lot of different action cards to familiarize yourself with, they will click and make sense faster than you'd expect thanks to a few key features in the game.

First of all, there's an awesome card glossary that comes with the game, and it explains every card really well with plenty of excellent examples. I would be very surprised if anyone had a question after checking the card glossary, but regardless, there's more. [Second disclosure: I edited the rulebook, so this is nice to hear! —WEM]

The iconography on the cards is excellent. After you learn what the action is from the card glossary, the images on the card make sense and more often than not, you won't need to look up a lot of cards after a game or two. For example, there's always the main action graphically represented and then at the bottom of each card you'll see the cost for playing the action always has a red background and the benefit always has a green background, which makes the cards easy to parse at a glance. I've played Faiyum only with gamer friends, and they picked it up quickly due to the clear iconography, but I get the impression that even non-gamers can pick it up fairly quickly especially with a good teacher.

On top of the wonderful card glossary and iconography, each card falls into one of four types of actions, and when you understand how one type of action works, I found it easy to grasp how different cards of the same type worked. There are harvest actions to help you gain resources; build actions which allow you to develop Faiyum with settlements, roads, bridges etc.; commerce actions to help you earn money; and "other" actions the feature some different gameplay effects.

For example, everyone starts the game with three Farmer cards, which are harvest actions. Farmer cards allow you to place a worker on an undeveloped resource space adjacent to another space that has a worker on it and gain one matching resource based on the space where the worker is placed.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of harvest action cards

Other harvest actions look and function similarly as you can see above from the following examples: The Senior Farmer works the same, except you gain two matching resources, the Grower allows you to gain two roses (a wild resource) when you place a worker on any undeveloped space adjacent to the channel, and Harvest Hands follows the Farmer rules, but allows you to spend $1-$3 to place 1-3 workers and gain 1-3 resources depending on where you place the worker(s).

Along with gaining resources, if you place any workers on a space that has a crocodile on it when taking a harvest action, you remove the crocodile from the game and gain $1 since you're draining the land and opening it up for development opportunities. There are even cute little crocodile icons on the top corners of harvest action cards as a reminder.

From gallery of candidrum
The building action cards function just like they sound and let you develop crocodile-free resource spaces by building a variety of different structures in Faiyum. When you build roads and bridges, they create a network connecting spaces and you'll usually gain some reputation from these action cards, plus a bonus reputation each time you build the first direct connection between two settlements, two building sites, or a settlement and a building site.

A key thing to note is that everything built on the board does not belong to a specific player; it is all common property for all players to interact with. This, combined with the card market variation, lends itself to a great deal of variety and some interesting player interaction.

Faiyum has a smooth flow to it and moves at a decent pace. It doesn't have any rounds or phases, but instead players simply alternate taking turns, in turn order, until the end of the game is triggered. Continuing with the vibe of simplicity, there are only three actions you can take on your turn, which I found makes it fairly easy to teach and get into for your first game:

1) You can play a card from your hand, either using it for its action or to get money for it.
2) You can buy a card from the current card market, placing it directly in your hand after paying the cost.
3) You can take an administration turn and do admin-y things such as gaining income and refreshing your hand and the card market.

Everyone starts the game with a hand of five cards (three Farmers, Settlement, and Two Roads) and some amount of money depending on turn order. When it's your turn, you can play a card for its action or discard it to gain $2. Regardless of the type of action card, you'll typically be playing cards to gain resources, money, and reputation (victory points) in some form, whether it's from harvesting, building, or taking some other late-game scoring cards. There are also "other" cards mixed in that allow you to do fun different things like take cards from the market at a set price or copy the action on the top of your discard pile.

From gallery of candidrum
You can instead buy a card from the current market and take the card directly into your hand after paying its cost, which will be discounted if there's a discount token on the card. Discount tokens are placed on all four current market cards at the start of the game, and they're also added to cards when players take administration turns. The cards in the market with discount tokens are usually hot items and timing is very important in Faiyum. You don't want to sleep on a good deal because odds are it won't be available next time it's your turn.

After you take your newly purchased card, you draw a card from the main deck to refill the market. Remember whenever you add cards to the market, you shift them to ensure all cards are in ascending order from the start of the market. This could shift existing cards in the current market making them cheaper in some cases, and more expensive in other cases. Again, it is important to pay attention to the card market and try to catch good deals before your opponents. Of course, there will be many occasions where you unfortunately won't have the funds you need to seize the opportunity, so money is also important to have on hand.

I found the key to doing well in Faiyum is all about gaining cards that can be comboed with your existing cards so you can build the best money, resource, and reputation engine. For example, one game I had a card that allowed me to gain roses, then I was able to get another card that let me convert roses into reputation. Another time, I had the Plantation card that let me build a workshop on a grape resource space to gain grapes and reputation, that I comboed with the Vintner, which let me place a worker on a space with a grape workshop to gain reputation and money.

From gallery of candidrum
Finding these card synergies is where it's at in Faiyum...and the more card combos you can create and execute, the better you'll do. With the main deck being shuffled every game and different cards coming into the current market at different times, I really enjoyed the mystery of not knowing exactly what my engine would look like each game, but just constantly surveying the card market for good cards, good deals, and good combo opportunities.

Eventually after buying cards and playing cards from your hand into your discard pile, you'll be wanting to get your cards back into your hand. That's when you should plan to take an administration turn. Administration turns have three main steps to them for gaining income, buying back cards from your discard pile, and replacing cards in the current market.

For income, you first (potentially) gain money based on the amount of cards remaining in your hand. It's always $3 minus the amount of cards in your hand, so if you have three or more cards in your hand when you take an administration turn, you won't earn any base income. Then you can remove 0-2 workers from any spaces on the game board earning $0-$2 accordingly. Sometimes this decision doesn't matter too much, but it mostly does. The reason is that if you remove a worker from, let's say, a settlement space, and your opponent has a card in hand that allows them to place a worker on a settlement space to get some goodies, you probably don't want to help them with that — but on the other hand, you may need to clear some workers for your own sake, and it ends up being a tough decision. Finally, you gain the top three cards back from the top of your discard pile (for free).

Next you can optionally buy back additional top cards from your discard pile by spending $1 per card. Your discard pile is never shuffled, and this makes it very important to consider the order in which you play your cards in Faiyum. Buying cards back from your discard pile can get expensive, so if you don't consider the order when you play your cards, you might not be able to afford to pick up some of your best cards, and that would be sad. With this in mind, it's also a good way later in the game to bury weaker cards towards the bottom and just never pick them back up. Although, there's no hand limit, so you could always hold onto the weaker cards and cash them in for $2 by discarding them towards the end of the game, and that might help you buy some juicy, late-game scoring cards.

The last step of your administration turn is to replace 1-2 cards in the current market based on player count. You'll always remove the lowest card(s) with discount tokens on them first, then the lowest cards. The remaining cards in the current market get discount tokens, then you refill the market, always shifting cards into ascending order.

Players continue taking turns, playing cards, buying cards and retrieving cards from their discard pile until eventually, the fourth natural disaster card makes its debut appearance in the card market. When this happens, players can no longer take administration turns, which can be rough if you're not planning for it. In most of my games, I was the one to trigger the end of the game by strategically timing my final administration turn well. This allowed me to swoop up all of my cards one last time and the others were stuck with whatever they had in hand. If you try this at home and make your friends bitter, you didn't hear it from me.

From gallery of candidrum
Natural disaster cards in a four-player game

After the end of the game is triggered, players can only play cards, buy cards, or bow out by taking the natural disaster from the card market with the most reputation. In a four-player game, the first player to quit gains 10 reputation, the next player gains 6, then 3, and 0 if you are last. This often adds a bit of tension since it becomes a race to snag the extra bonus points before the end of the game. The player with the most reputation wins the game and is considered the pharaoh's most cunning advisor!

I didn't get to play Faiyum with five players, but I'd imagine it would be a bit wild since the card market would likely change a lot in between each of your turns and therefore it would be harder to plan out your turn. It could be totally fun, though! I'm sure I'll give it a try at some point, but alternatively, I was pleasantly surprised how well Faiyum plays with two. It was quite enjoyable, and there were plenty of moments of tension with the card market. Plus, I really like that you use the full deck of cards for every player count, but with the timing of administration turns, you never really know which cards will end up getting removed from the game and this adds to the variation of Faiyum.

The solo mode is similar to the multiplayer gameplay, so there aren't a lot of new rules to learn if you plan to play Faiyum solo. You can play one-off games and try to beat your best score, or for something a bit more interesting, they've also included campaign challenges. You have seven different goals to achieve, starting with gaining at least 150 reputation in a game, and each time you fulfill a goal, you can unlock a variety of achievements that change the solo rules slightly in your favor.

From gallery of candidrum
Faiyum is an interesting deck-construction, hand-management game that seems to have a lot of variation from game to game, which I find especially interesting considering you use the same deck of cards each game. I can't really think of a game that feels exactly like it, which is a plus for me. I'm a deck-building fan, which is originally what drew me to it. If there's deck-building of any sort mixed with player interaction on a game board, I'm all ears, so I'm not surprised that I've been enjoying Faiyum.

It's not a very thematic experience, but the cardplay is where it really shines. I appreciate how each game I played evolved completely differently depending on the timing of when different cards appeared in the market, which ones got purchased, and how different players chose to execute the card actions relative to the state of the game board. Plus, creating those rewarding card combos always felt very satisfying. The more you play, the more you'll know the potential of the cards, which could seem like it'll eventually get boring, but when you have no clue when different cards will be available or when they'll be removed from the market from an administration action, you have to be flexible and prepared to readapt your strategy each game.

Then you have the game board being built up differently each game, too, which helps keep each game feeling fresh. For example, one game I placed the first worker on the smaller peninsula and we were off to a tighter start and had a different experience than when the first worker was placed on the larger peninsula.

I appreciate the simplicity of Faiyum. It's awesome that there are only three main actions you can take on your turn, and you can explain the cards as they appear in the market, so it ends up being a straightforward teach and quick to get into with new players. Don't get me wrong, though, because while the game structure is relatively simple, the decision space gets deeper and more complex, the more cards you acquire.

If you enjoy strategy games with awesome cardplay opportunities, player interaction, and/or adorable wooden crocodiles, then Faiyum is worth checking out.
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