Recommend
45 
 Thumb up
 Hide
14 Posts

Founding Fathers» Forums » Reviews

Subject: An Abstract Dud, or a Triumphant Multiplayer "Struggle"? rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Brian McCormick
United States
Lansing
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Tasteless Brute
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Game Title: Founding Fathers
Publisher: Jolly Roger Games
Players: 3-5 (best with 4-5, in my opinion)
Length of Play: 90 Minutes


courtesy Outside Lime

While I cannot say for certain, I imagine that the founding of the United States of America is not necessarily a fascinating topic to most people around the world. Heck, it would be safe to say that many of my fellow Americans don't really care how this big ol' USA got started. But as for my wife and me, we've always been enthralled with stories about history, including the founding of our nation. A game about the Constitutional Congress of 1787, in which you play one of five key framers of the Constitution sounds pretty neat. Your aim is to receive the most credit (victory points) for how the United States Constitution ended up. Rachael and I thought this idea was interesting.

As such, the premise of Founding Fathers certainly helped pique our interest. The fact that it was designed by the same pair who made one of our favorites, 1960: The Making of the President, certainly helped get us excited, too. For the record, one of the two contributing designers also helped make a game called Twilight Struggle, if you've ever heard of that one. But unlike 1960 and TS, both which reside firmly within the Top 100 Rankings, Founding Fathers sits just out of reach of the Top 500 (#531). I admit, when I first got this game it sat unplayed for over 18 months, partially due to it's 3-5p requirement[/b] (I'll explain later). Worse, it took me three attempts to slog through the rules (a gripe of mine that I will also explain in great detail later on in the review). Eventually – finally – I was able to play the game and now that I have a few more sessions of Founding Fathers under my belt, I think I'm ready to give a verdict.

We liked the premise
We liked the designers' other titles
What the heck took us so long to play Founding Fathers?


courtesy thinwhiteduke

The Rulebook

Are there any other kids of the 80s/90s in the audience today? Remember the public service announcements at the end of some cartoons like G.I. Joe or Sonic the Hedgehog? Sonic would tell you not to talk to strangers, or Gung Ho would remind you “Don't judge people until you give them a chance.” You know, stuff like that. But kids didn't watch the show to see the PSAs. They were annoying little extras at the end of the episode standing between you and the next show in your Saturday Morning routine. Now, imagine that things got switched around. Imagine that the entire episode of G.I Joe was one big PSA and then the actual action and explosions and jets flying through the air were contained in those last 45 seconds at the end.

Sounds like fun?

Well, that is my roundabout way of describing the Founding Fathers rulebook. In the box you'll find a 20-page booklet with three pages worth of actual rules. The rest is crammed full of historical anecdotes, mini-biographies, and other tidbits that are intended to flesh out the theme of the game. Admittedly, I have read through these extra parts of the rulebook in my spare time and the info is really quite interesting. But it gets in the way of learning the game. It also gets in the way of referencing a rule in case you've forgotten something.

Remember how I said it took me three attempts to get through the rulebook? That was no lie. It went something like this.

Hmm. So this is how I set up the board.

Okay, and here's a picture showing...oh, wait. It's an actual sketch of the building's interior. Okay. Skipped.

Hmm. So this is how turn order works. Now, this example is...oh, wait. Another anecdote. Let me just skip that.

Where are the rules about how to gain victory points?


I say these things simply to warn you, reader, not to turn you away from the game. The first impression of a boardgame is often its rulebook (since we never judge a boardgame based on its box art or the components, right? Right?). And when you first pick up the rulebook, you may have a similar experience to mine. Please take courage and persevere through the rulebook.

The rulebook is long
It is packed with info unrelated to the actual rules
That makes it really frustrating to learn and to reference rules later
But it's still a game worth learning


The Influence markers, one color per player

Tension

After I peeled away the layers of extraneous knowledge and learned the ruleset, I realized that Founding Fathers was a very straightforward game, at least in terms of the core rules. On a turn, you take one action. You play a card (or a set of matching cards) to cast a vote in the Assembly Room. Or, you play a card (or a set of matching cards) to move up the debate track. Or, you play a single card for its event. Or, you discard one or more cards from your hand. Then, you draw your hand back up to a total of three cards, ignoring this last step – naturally – in the uncommon event your hand contains three or more cards at the end of your turn. Very straightforward.

However, 1960 and Twilight Struggle are also very “straightforward” games, too, aren't they? But if you've played those games, you know that when it comes to actually playing them and exploring their options, those games are anything but straightforward. And it is the same way with Founding Fathers. The interaction between players takes a very straightforward ruleset and crams it full of tension, backstabbing, and nail-biting decisions. If you reduced Founding Fathers down to its underlying mechanics, it would appear to be a much simpler game than Daddy 1960 and Grand-Pappy Twilight Struggle. Indeed, I think a great number of people went in to Founding Fathers expecting an imitation of 1960 but playable by 3+ people, and a great number of people were disappointed.

Goodness, I think I'm going to end up using the word “Tension” about a dozen times in this review. But the word fits.

Simple
Tense
But can it match its predecessors?


The game board. Clockwise starting from Top-Left: The Committee Room, the Assembly Room, the Voting tracker, the Draw pool, the score track, the Debate Floor.
courtesy Outside Lime

How does it play?

I mentioned more than 18 months passed between the time I bought Founding Fathers and the first time I played it. That is because Founding Fathers is a game for 3+ players. Fans of 1960 and Twilight Struggle may be a bit perturbed by the inclusion of one, two, or three extra people into their little group of historical conquest, but I think it was a nice change of pace for the designers to create a game that accommodated more players.

As described above, each turn consists of picking one of a few choices. The choices are simple in execution but excruciating when you actually have to decide between playing a card for its special event or using it as a part of a larger vote in the Assembly Room. Pretty much every event in this game is powerful, though sometimes it is only powerful in certain circumstances. With that said, voting in the Assembly Room and winning debates are both essential if you want to win. Knowing when to play an event or to use that super-powerful card as a part of a simple vote is what makes Founding Fathers tick. What makes these choices even more difficult is the fact that you're playing with more than just one other player. The choice you make right now had better be good, because it'll be two or three or four turns until you get to make another choice. Sometimes playing a certain card to gain another Influence token seems incredibly powerful, at least until someone swoops in and flips a Resolved article against your wishes. Who knows? Between this turn and the next one, someone might have already closed the vote and ended the round. You might not get to make your next move, so you'd better make the best move now.

What ends up happening is that players are either crippled by AP or the game clips along at a nice pace. Between turns, you can be thinking of what to do next or keeping an eye on the Draw Pool to see if a state you need appears. The AP can be even worse in this game compared to 1960 or TS because you have more players thrown into the mix. Speaking of players, I think this game shines with 4-5 players but playing with 3 feels like a drag. Because player interaction adds a lot to what makes Founding Fathers so special, when you only have 3 players you don't get to experience the same sort of tension.

And with that being the case, this wild variability and chaos and tension between players nudges Founding Fathers out of “strategic” territory deep into “tactical” territory. Sure, there is some long-term strategy to be had, but for the most part it is the turn-by-turn decisions that determine the victor. I don't think that's a bad thing, by the way. Founding Fathers does a wonderful job of keeping everything balanced. Even the most powerful cards are kept from being too powerful. Take, for example, the George Washington card. If played for his event, George Washington will immediately end the vote in the assembly room, ending the round. While powerful, it also means that players don't get a chance to get more points out of that round of voting (since points are earned based on how many cards you played onto the winning side of a vote). Also, there are cards that block George Washington from being used.



Despite the game's heavy reliance on cards, there is very little hidden information in Founding Fathers. On the backs of the cards are the State and the Faction of each card, so you know what you're picking when you replenish your hand at the end of your turn, and your opponents know what you have available in your hand (it explicitly says in the rules that the backs of the cards are public knowledge and people can request to see the backs at any time). The only hidden info, then, is the special event on the card.

Play time is around 90 minutes to 2 hours. Surprisingly, it plays about as quickly with 3 as it does with 4 or 5, barring the possibility that your players are plagued with indecision. That is because the game is limited to 4 rounds, and a round ends once voting in the Assembly is closed. More players means more cards in circulation, meaning votes can occur more frequently, meaning that rounds in games with 5 players can actually end more quickly than with just 3 players.

Even when you lose a vote in the Assembly room, you typically get to add another Article to the “Resolved” track. Winning debate tokens throughout the game will let you get points at the end based on the type of resolved Articles. So, a player who didn't play much of a role in the actual voting process can still win the game if he dominated the debates. Hmm, a politician getting all the credit for something just because he was the fanciest speaker? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Goodness, I think I'm going to use the phrase “player interaction” way too many times in this review, too. But the phrase fits.

Lots of player interactions
Always several tough decisions to make each turn
The game slows down when people are indecisive
The game is more tactical than strategic


courtesy Sentieiro

Verdict

With all that said, I consider Founding Fathers to be a slightly-lighter, multiplayer Twilight Struggle, perhaps not in terms of raw mechanics but definitely in terms of feel and tension. But how can I say that? Many people expected exactly that and ended up disappointed. Well, here is what I mean.

Twilight Struggle and 1960 are tense because the game consists of you versus your opponent. There is no room for wheelin' and dealin'. You aren't going to make alliances or help your opponent. It is you or them, victory or defeat. If you win, it is because you played the game better, not because you played your opponents off one another or weaseled your way to victory. It creates a certain kind of tension between you and the opponent.

On the flip side, consider a game like Cosmic Encounter. The mechanics are simple and there isn't a ton of emergent strategy born out of the cards alone. No, in Cosmic Encounter you have to wheel and deal. You have to make alliances and backstab and trick and squeeze every advantage out of your opponents. It's a core part of how that game plays and it creates a different kind of tension between you and your opponents.

Founding Fathers seems to find itself wedged between these two sides of the spectrum. Boiled down to the essentials, the card play in Founding Fathers is not as strategic as TS or 1960. And the diplomacy and backstabbing between players is not as...backstabby as it is in a game like Cosmic Encounter. Founding Fathers borrows a bit from both with the aim of borrowing the two different types of tension from both. Some might play Founding Fathers and think “Jack of all trades, King of none”. Others might play and think of words like “elegant” and “balanced”.

It all depends on how much Euro you like in your games of conflict, or how much conflict you like in your worker placement games. Founding Fathers seems to walk that thin line. Is the Debate Room an arena of brutal conflict, or is it just another Favor Track like those found in so many Euro/worker-placement games? When you vote in the assembly, does it seem to you as though you are mounting an assault on your opponents, or is it just another method of placing your worker, this time in a fancy governmental building instead of a dirty field? That is for you to decide. I think that Founding Fathers can appeal to both sides of the aisle in that regard. There's enough tension and conflict and gotch'ya to keep those sort of gamers interested, but there's enough min/maxing and tactical placement and squeezing points from the proverbial stone to keep those other sort of gamers interested.

Why did this game fail to light a fire like 1960 and TS did? I think the theme played a key role. While a lot of people know about the Constitution and what it did for the USA, most of us aren't too knowledgeable about the particulars, and it is in the particulars of history that this game resides. We might recognize names like Alexander Hamilton or Benjamin Franklin or George Washington (all who are represented in this game), but who was Oliver Ellsworth? Why should I care about Robert Morris? Who was John F Mercer? How would Rufus King's special event make sense unless I looked up his biography included in the rulebook*?

I am interested in history but I am not a history buff. Off the top of my head, I have no idea who most of these people are or how they played a role in the Constitutional Congress. But the roles of Nixon and Kennedy in 1960: Making of the President, on the other hand, are very easy to understand. I can understand why the “Lazy Shave” card in 1960 would have the effect it does. Cards like NORAD and “Our Man in Tehran” from Twilight Struggle make sense thematically and I can understand why they do what they do in light of the historical context. However, I will say that if you read the biographies and/or if you learn who these people in Founding Fathers are, their cards make a ton of sense. Take the above-mentioned John F Mercer. His special event goes like this:

Gain 1 point for each delegate of the Antifederalist faction in your caucus (hand), not including Mercer, then discard them

But it makes sense. Mercer was opposed to a strong, centralized government and history records that he walked out of the Constitutional Congress without signing. Oh! Okay, his card's power actually makes sense. I will point out that a snippet of these historical tidbits are included on the cards themselves, a sort of “flavor text” I suppose. If you take a moment to read these texts and especially if you read the info in the rulebook, it enriches the theme by a significant amount. Yeah, this is the same excuse that the Arkham Horror fanbase makes:

"If you don't read the cards, you're missing out on the experience"

The same applies here.

*side note: I know I raised hell about the anecdotes in the rulebook. Actually, I am grateful that the designers included so much history into the rulebook for reference.

I enjoy Founding Fathers. I think there's more depth to it than meets the eye, but it takes a few plays to see it. For most groups it will end up being one of "those games" that you take off the shelf every few months and play, you have plenty of fun, but you don't feel the urge to play it again until a few more months go by, and for a lot of people that'll be fine. I fall into this category. For a smaller subset of people, Founding Fathers might actually be the "multiplayer 1960" that you've been searching for.

Final Verdict
Simple mechanics.
Every turn gives you a tough decision to make.
Good interaction between players
Component quality is mixed: the board and tokens are good, but cards are sub-par quality. Sleeve 'em.
Slowed down by AP-prone players
More tactical than Strategic, making the game feel a bit too swingy for some people
Theme is far less approachable
Miserable rulebook


Thanks for reading!
  • [+] Dice rolls
Gordon J
United States
Eagan
Minnesota
flag msg tools
Print and Play Gamer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I've been wanting to get this for awhile, but just didn't know how good or bad it was.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Joe Simpson
United States
South Bend
Indiana
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
patton55 wrote:
I've been wanting to get this for awhile, but just didn't know how good or bad it was.

I love this game (currently in my personal Top 10). The game can also be played with two-players just fine but is definitely better with more. You then have to watch out for everyone other than just the person sitting across from you. Much more tug-of-war.

I agree with the review above for the most part. The theme is less approachable but we get into Revolutionary American history so that made the game hit my radar right off the bat. Also, I didn't think the rulebook was all that bad. The game is simple enough to figure out so the rulebook isn't that much of a drawback. There are far worse offenders in bad rulebook design than this.

The card quality was an issue I know for the first edition. They upgraded the card stock for the second edition and had replacement decks for the people who had first edition. I haven't had an issue with the cards after that.

My personal pet peeve is the awful color choice (Pink and Purple!?) for two of the player colors. I believe the reasoning was for it to stand out from the board but...it makes it look ridiculous in my opinion.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jason Birzer
United States
Burke
Virginia
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
patton55 wrote:
I've been wanting to get this for awhile, but just didn't know how good or bad it was.


It has been on Yucata.de for a long time, so the ability to try it out has been there for a while.

BTW, the second edition made improvements to the cardstock. I haven't played with my copy yet, but it should be better than the first edition.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim Dietz
United States
Sigel
Illinois
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice review.

Since we knew that the game was on a topic unfamiliar to most Americans (who sadly believe the Constitution was written on July 4, 1776), the decision was made before the game was even finished to include a ton of history into the product.

Most of that was so that gamers can appreciate the history of one of the biggest moments in American AND modern world history. But frankly, commercial thoughts mattered, too--adding the history in makes it more marketable into the education sector.

* *
There are a couple more historical games coming from Jolly Roger. The next up is Kremlin. There will be some history added there, too, as there will be biographic notes for all of the historical politicians included in the game.

Later in 2014, there will be a couple of other games that take place in moments of history--those, too, will have historical notes and information. I don't think they take away from a game's fun--and since I also teach, etc...I feel compelled to sneak education/learning in wherever possible.
14 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Morcerf
United States
Columbus
Ohio
flag msg tools
It is an art -- the growing of the moustache! I have sympathy for all who attempt it.
badge
You can dwell on the sh*t, or you can just leave it behind in people's beds & keep going.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I love the historical/flavor text in the rulebook.

jollyrogergames wrote:
Later in 2014, there will be a couple of other games that take place in moments of history--those, too, will have historical notes and information. I don't think they take away from a game's fun--and since I also teach, etc...I feel compelled to sneak education/learning in wherever possible.


Oh? Drop a clue for us as to what those games might be?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Brian McCormick
United States
Lansing
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Tasteless Brute
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
jollyrogergames wrote:
Nice review.

Since we knew that the game was on a topic unfamiliar to most Americans (who sadly believe the Constitution was written on July 4, 1776), the decision was made before the game was even finished to include a ton of history into the product.

Most of that was so that gamers can appreciate the history of one of the biggest moments in American AND modern world history. But frankly, commercial thoughts mattered, too--adding the history in makes it more marketable into the education sector.

* *
There are a couple more historical games coming from Jolly Roger. The next up is Kremlin. There will be some history added there, too, as there will be biographic notes for all of the historical politicians included in the game.

Later in 2014, there will be a couple of other games that take place in moments of history--those, too, will have historical notes and information. I don't think they take away from a game's fun--and since I also teach, etc...I feel compelled to sneak education/learning in wherever possible.


Thank you for your comment. Please don't misunderstand: now that I've learned the game and have been able to play it many times, I appreciate the rich details included in the rulebook. Founding Fathers is a game that my wife and I tend to play within the same group of people and so we've all grown to learn and understand more about this period of history, which is really cool. Not many games can claim that, and it was brave to incorporate so much historical info into the game.

That said, I still stand by my original complaint. The rulebook is cluttered with a lot of historical anecdotes. Perhaps the formatting was what threw me off.

Keep making great games. It is better to make brave design choices and have people like me complain about it on occasion than to be reserved and "safe".
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Clyde W
United States
Washington
Dist of Columbia
flag msg tools
Red Team
badge
#YOLO
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
This is a favorite game of mine. So good!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jason Matthews
United States
Alexandria
Virginia
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
JoeRockEHF wrote:
patton55 wrote:
I've been wanting to get this for awhile, but just didn't know how good or bad it was.


My personal pet peeve is the awful color choice (Pink and Purple!?) for two of the player colors. I believe the reasoning was for it to stand out from the board but...it makes it look ridiculous in my opinion.


Joe, I realize the choice of color palette will be lost on most players but the use of pastels like pink and purple was historically driven. If you go to a place like Williamsburg and walk around the interiors, you will see why we chose those colors.

My thanks to Brian for the very thoughtful review.

Jason
20 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Joe Simpson
United States
South Bend
Indiana
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
JasonMatthews wrote:
Joe, I realize the choice of color palette will be lost on most players but the use of pastels like pink and purple was historically driven. If you go to a place like Williamsburg and walk around the interiors, you will see why we chose those colors.

I love history but yes, that is one thing I have not been able to do is head east and visit any of these places I've always read about. Only makes sense to add historical colors to an already history-packed game. Thank you for the insight Jason!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
O.Shane Balloun
United States
Bellingham
Washington
flag msg tools
www.cascadecon.games
badge
Cascade Games Convention: Bellingham, Washington's premier tabletop board game playing event
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
A very gracious response by Jason Matthews.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim Dietz
United States
Sigel
Illinois
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
DeMorcerf wrote:
I love the historical/flavor text in the rulebook.

jollyrogergames wrote:
Later in 2014, there will be a couple of other games that take place in moments of history--those, too, will have historical notes and information. I don't think they take away from a game's fun--and since I also teach, etc...I feel compelled to sneak education/learning in wherever possible.


Oh? Drop a clue for us as to what those games might be?


Well, one is Kremlin. It's including 52 historical Russian/Soviet politicians, so there are very brief bios of each of those politicians--birth/death dates (cause of death...a lot of "suicides" for early Soviet politicians), locations, and then three historical tidbits for each of the politicians.

Next will be "Cthulhu's Vault"--and while it's about the Cthulhu mythos, I'm hoping we'll have room for some Lovecraft biography and a bibliography.

After that--I can't say, except that the two games are by the same designer, he's German, and the one that is completed is quite good (19th Century).
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Brian Workman
United States
Phoenix
Arizona
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Is Kremlin a reboot of the old Avalon Hill game or a start from scratch?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.